I take the subway to work everyday.
Around the place I get on the subway, there’s a guy who would generally be referred to as “homeless,” as if the most salient fact about him is that he doesn’t own a home. One day a week, usually in the middle of the week, he hangs up his clothes to dry in a small park that no productive member of society would ever step foot in. During this time he’s basically (but not totally) naked. If you catch him at the right time, you might get to see him using a bush as a urinal. Sometimes, he doesn’t bother with a bush and he just pees where ever. On other days, when he’s more or less fully clothed, he wanders around the area. Sometimes he minds his own business. At other times, he shouts things at passers-by, real or imagined.
Around the place I get off the subway, there’s another guy who hasn’t managed to purchase a home yet. This particular gentleman is engaged in a multi-year war of inappropriate words and gestures with several imaginary enemies. It can be a bit startling to come up from the subway to witness a guy screaming curse words and giving the middle finger to his imaginary enemies, but you get used to it after a while and nobody else seems to notice (it is interesting that so many people are now able to totally ignore someone screaming obscenities several feet from them, as if that sort of thing is a natural part of the landscape).
In previous, more uncivilized eras, these sorts of guys would have been “institutionalized.” In our, more enlightened era, we witness their bodily functions, put up with their obscenities, and hope that they don’t become dangerous. This is progress.
After the shooting in Colorado, we’ve been given two stories about how to control the actions of crazy people. The right has generally said that we just have to put up with a certain amount of crazy. Just step over the puddle of urine in the street as you walk by. The left thinks we can direct the actions of crazy people by banning guns and other things. We’ll just pass laws that effectively isolate the crazy people in certain parts of town and seek to mitigate the damage they cause (perhaps we can just effectively turn one particular corner into a de facto urinal).
A few people recognize that these are not the only options. But these views are hopelessly reactionary. Putting up with this sort of the violence is the price we have to pay to live in a dignified society, in which even the most violently psychotic person is “free.”