Living with long odds

In a climate this demented, with gun laws like ours, we’re lucky there aren’t more nutjobs like Jared Loughner

The author is a frequent contributor to the CN&R and other publications, as well as an adjunct English instructor at Butte Community College.

During a long career teaching in community colleges, I’ve known a handful of students like the pathetic nutjob who gunned down that Arizona congresswoman in a Safeway parking lot.

About once every five years, a guy would turn up in class who was clearly off the rails. Some were on medications that kept them within bounds of acceptable behavior. One symptom of certain psychological disorders, however, is the tendency sufferers have of taking themselves off their medications, a fact that keeps the ball spinning as to when or whether controlled madness might slip out of control.

I once had a student who came to class in a loincloth, and another who spoke out in favor of rape. Then there are the occasional Bible spouters, people with a dangerous glint in their eyes that creates apprehension about what might be in their backpacks.

Faculty members are seldom given a heads-up about these people. Because of confidentiality concerns, teachers must confront classroom weirdness without benefit of information about potential problems.

In the case of the Arizona whackjob, the authorities at Pima College expelled him for reasons that have slowly been leaking out, but I’m sure his expulsion will be traced to episodes in which he scared the bejesus out of more than a few teachers and classes.

When it comes to madness, it’s hard to match the insanity of our politics and our gun laws. Under the guise of the Second Amendment (“a well-regulated militia,” etc.), any crazy person has access to semi-automatic weapons that have nothing whatsoever to do with militias or hunting. And, under the guise of patriotism, people like Sarah Palin irresponsibly target people like Congresswoman Giffords, literally and figuratively making them targets for the free-floating insanity of people like Jared Loughner, the Arizona assassin.

It’s often said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Old guys like me have seen this particular brand of national insanity played out ad nauseam, when political rhetoric overheats, inspiring the afflicted and the insane to do what afflicted and insane people do, especially in climates where so many respected figures seem to sanction their craziness.

In a few weeks, I’ll be back in front of students again. The odds favor me not having a crazy person in class. In a climate this demented, with gun laws like ours, those odds are the only real protection for students and teachers alike.