Sadly, it is becoming increasingly clear that Jared Loughner, the mentally disturbed man who shot Congresswomen Giffords and a whole bunch of other people in Tucson last week, was a Philip K Dick fan (Though he does not list any PKD books in his favorite books section of a profile page) In yesterday's Washington Post a story recounts Loughner's contact with fringe culture. The money quote:
"Loughner's favorite writer was Philip K. Dick, whose science-fiction tales travel a mystical path in which omnipotent governments and businesses are the bad guys and the average man is often lost in an identity-shattering swirl of paranoia, schizophrenia and questions about whether the universe and the individual are real or part of some vast conspiracy."
The day before, conservative pachyderm John Podhoretz wrote this:
"[Loughner] may, in other words, have found his intellectual solace not in political ideology of any sort but rather in the false-reality fantasies of writers like Philip K. Dick, who all but invented a science-fiction genre about how the powerful have the rest of us living in a dream world in which we are manipulated. The most commercially popular version of this worldview is The Matrix, the 1999 film with Keanu Reeves as a computer hacker who discovers that he and all of humanity are actually trapped in a gigantic machine in which they are serving as energy sources for other machines.
The Dick view was, it turns out, quite literally out of the brain of a paranoid schizophrenic, as biographies of the writer himself reveal. But given that tens of millions have read Dick’s work and probably hundreds of millions of people have seen The Matrix and its sequels, not one frame of The Matrix nor one word in Dick’s hand can be blamed for the fact that they may have deepened one singular individual’s madness. As was true Saturday and as is true today, the villain is not “violent rhetoric” but the diseased and evil brain of Jared Loughner."
Max Fisher at the Atlantic called Podhoretz's theory one of the '5 Strangest Explanations for Jared Loughner's Attack'
In his own defense, or rather trumpeting some sort of vindication after the WaPo article, today Podhoretz writes:
"The point I was making is not that readers of Philip K. Dick, of whom there are many millions, are going to go out and shoot people. It’s that people who live in a disordered reality would be especially susceptible to a portrait of the world that suggests disordered realities are real and actual realities are false. That this notion seemed less plausible to many than that Loughner was driven to a murder spree by talk radio says a great deal about the reality distortions that grabbed hold of the minds of eager liberals over the past six days."
Ironically, while everybody was convinced that violent political rhetoric made Loughner snap - turns out he likes Phil Dick books. Will the angry villagers now hunt down the literary legacy of Phil Dick with pitchforks and torches because one of his fans lost it? I doubt it. But this makes me sad. This line in the WaPo story really hit me:
"He had friends, but then all of a sudden . . . he had nobody, and that's not a nice place to be."
Our community of Dick-heads is really pretty small. This guy certainly could have been part of it. The WaPo article concludes:
"Over the past two years, Loughner "was desperate to hang out with people," Montanaro said. "He'd just show up at our houses, call us constantly and would even pay for us just to get us to chill with him. It was rather annoying."
By last summer, evidence of Loughner's increasingly deteriorating mental state was littered across the electronic worlds he inhabited.
On one site, Above Top Secret, Loughner left dozens of posts with bizarre theories about U.S. currency, the Constitution and grammar. Finally, another regular on the site wrote back that "I think you're frankly schizophrenic, and no that's not an amateur opinion and not intended as an uninformed or insulting remark. I really do care. Seek help before you hurt yourself or others or start taking your medications again, please."
Loughner, known on the site as "erad3," responded, "Thank you for the concern.""Dick was so incredibly prescient in seeing moments like these: real connections between people in 'artificial' realities. Dick is able to make it clear exactly how 'fake' consumerist culture can be. Dick's ultimate conclusion, in my opinion, is that these connections forge and ground our realities, rendering 'false' realities real. Our digital interactions are limited by our lack of physicality, but they are not rendered completely powerless either.
Reality, like home, is where the heart is. Sadly, for Loughner, there was no 'there' there. Loughner's rampage shows the effect of long-term isolation and alienation, the toll mental illness takes on the psyche, and the desperate, existential need we all have for connection.