This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, December 15, 1993

December 15, 1993 - crazy

"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God." - Walt Whitman#

Sometimes, you read a slew of apparently unrelated texts, and realize abruptly that all of them are talking about the same thing.

Item: Molly Ivins' latest and often hilarious book, "Nothin' but Good Times Ahead." One of her pieces deals with the homeless, particularly the homeless population resulting from a "brave liberal experiment" called de-institutionalization. In the 60s and 70s, thousands of mentally ill people were released from what Ivins called their "incarceration" in various big state hospitals.

Ivins says that the failure of this program -- which she doesn't dispute -- was in large part because the second half of it called for the increased funding of local mental health centers. That never happened.

Item: a novella by Colorado author Dan Simmons, called "Sleeping with Teeth Women." The story is based on the legends and social history of the Lakota Sioux. Simmons describes how the Sioux honored even the "winkte" -- homosexuals -- and the "contraries," or people who behaved in an opposite fashion to all others members of the tribe. While most "self-respecting braves" wouldn't care to be either, the Sioux tribe nonetheless considered these variations from the norm to be "wakan" -- holy. They also had the deepest regard for dreams and visions.

Item: my wife, who spent some time on a scholarship in the old Soviet Union, told me about the Russian "holy fools." Before the Soviet revolution, the people fed, cared for, and even revered these people. How did you spot a Holy Fool? Well, if a man walked naked through the streets in the Russian winter and seemed unbothered by the arctic chill, he was obviously "touched" -- touched by God, or so the people believed.

Now maybe this is what comes of too much reading, but I can't help but notice something odd. Contraries, holy fools, and the touched have always been with us. In the past, at least in some cultures, we respected them.

But in today's more enlightened age, we view them with fear. As Molly Ivins puts it, we recoil from them as if their condition were contagious.

Of course, some people, for whatever reason, really are dangerous. And if they are violent, if they cause harm to another, surely the people collectively have the moral right to do something about it. Causing real physical harm to someone else is criminal. We put criminals in prisons, or sometimes, in hospitals.

But that issue -- when, whether, or where to put them -- isn't always clear. On the one hand, there are sometimes chemical causes for odd behavior. It may also be true that other kinds of strange but non-violent behavior are chemically caused.

On the other hand, many scientists, artists, musicians, poets, and even saints just didn't or don't act like regular folks. Do our educational, social service, medical or legal establishments have the wisdom to determine -- in the ABSENCE of any violent behavior -- that such people should be caged, whether it be behind bars, or behind potent drugs?

It's probably the case that no two of us could agree about just what "holiness" means -- or if it means anything at all. But I can't shake the suspicion that if the genuine article showed up -- real live holy men or women -- most Americans wouldn't have the wit to recognize it.

Or if we did, we'd soon find a way to punish them.

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