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BLANKLEY: Keeping the world safe from lunatics

Shall we suppress arts that overexcite human emotions?

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others, it is predictable that some self-centered politicians and political commentators quickly assumed the killer must have been provoked by political comments. Following on that conclusion, they naturally argue (notwithstanding their exposure last week in the House to the reading of the Constitution, including the First Amendment) that whatever political words may have provoked him to his irrational violence should be silenced.

But as news organizations have begun to flesh out the interests and activities of the purportedly psychotic killer, I am struck by several nonpolitical factors that may have shaped his mind and provoked his action.

(When dealing with the irrational mind, we must recognize it may be influenced by anything from a fig to a figment of its imagination: All must be grist for the suppression mill.)

Three reported nonpolitical factors particularly are worthy of consideration for governmental suppression, I would modestly propose: music, literature and classical Greek philosophy. In later columns, I may discuss those second and third nonpolitical influences on the alleged psychotic killer. Note the alleged psychotic killer's admiration for, among others: Ernest Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea," Lewis Carol's "Alice in Wonderland" and Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" (literature); Plato's "Republic," Homer's "The Odyssey" and "Aesop's Fables" (Greek classical philosophy).

In this column, however, I want to limit discussion to the first factor: the unambiguous role music played in provoking the alleged psychotic killer to violence.

The Associated Press reported: "A former Mountain View High School classmate, Gabriella Carillo, 22 ... remembered [Jered] Loughner as a tall, thin, intelligent teenager who was good at basketball, liked to read and worked hard in his high school band classes but didn't seem to apply himself in other courses.

"I know that he caused a lot of trouble in his classes other than band," she said. Ms. Carillo, who played in the high school orchestra, said Loughner had few friends, and most of them were in band. According to the alleged killer's close friend Bryce Tierney, "He was raised on writing and reading music."

Apparently, in high school, only his exposure to music and musicians absorbed his attention - a key indicator of the real culprit in provoking him to violence. Note also that his recent social-media postings were filled with both music and musical references. Keep in mind that music is intentionally composed and performed to elicit strong emotions in the audience.

Musicologist Julius Portnoy has found that "music can change metabolic rates, increase or decrease blood pressure, effect energy levels and digestion, positively or negatively, depending on the type of music. Both hemispheres of the brain are involved in processing music. The music in these studies is not the 'lyrics,' but the music itself, the melody, the tones, the tunes, the rhythm, the chords. . . .

"Music has ... been documented to cause sickness. The right or wrong music ... can be like a poison to the body. ... Music is very powerful, like a drug, and can even be an addiction. In the case of Patty Hearst, it was documented that music was used in the aid of brainwashing her."

In the book "Elevator Music," author Joseph Lanza states that "certain types of music over prolonged periods in certain conditions, were shown to cause seizures."

In the book "The Secret Power of Music," author David Tame observed of music, "It can be said that of all the arts, there is none other that more powerfully moves and changes the consciousness. It can be said that music is a very powerful and awesome tool that can have positive effects, virtually life saving mentally and physically when used in the right context but has equally destructive and detrimental potential if used negatively."

If the politicians and commentators are serious about protecting elected officials from violence, they have to consider the urgent need to curtail and silence the composing and performing of music - in all its forms.

Although I myself always have loved music - and, in fact, have been a fairly good violinist since I was a young boy - one cannot avoid the implication that music may have provoked the alleged killer to his actions.

Indeed, it may be the case that from Beethoven's early heroic music in support of Napoleon to the mentally ill German composer Robert Schumann's romantic music, which may have inspired Austrian Habsburg culture (which, in turn, precipitated World War I) to Richard Wagner's myth-driven music, which inspired Friedrich Nietzsche's Ubermensch philosophy and the Nazis, to the current works of popular composers - music can be seen as either the witting or unwitting cause of much human violence.

If, as it is being argued, we should suppress normal political rhetoric on the grounds that it may have provoked the alleged psychotic killer to his irrational violence, then surely we should consider suppressing music of all kinds - the No. 1 suspect not only in the provocation of the current purported killer - but of many killers and wars over history.

Just as it is argued by some that the beneficial effect of robust political debate on the democratic process can be no defense against its suppression in the hope of calming the nerves of future psychotic killers - so even more essentially must we now suppress all music (and as I may demonstrate in future columns, we must also suppress all literature and Greek classical philosophy). To avoid any confusion, please understand that this column is a parody. I am not really in favor of suppressing all music, literature and classical Greek philosophy.

Tony Blankley is the author of "American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century" (Regnery, 2009) and vice president of the Edelman public relations firm in Washington.

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