Americans think they have a nut problem.

Another nut with guns has slaughtered good people. This week, the nut had a ridiculous number of high-powered rifles in a hotel room. He set a new record, an even greater body count than last year when another nut wiped out people in a Florida gay nightclub.

And people will again pray for the nut’s victims. There will be the usual gnashing of teeth: who was the nut? Why did the nut do such a terrible thing? How did the nut become a nut? What kind of surveillance will keep us safe from nuts? What new ways can we sacrifice our freedoms and liberties so that law enforcement can spot nuts before they do nutty things?

I know nuts. Back in the 1970s I worked in a huge, pre-reform psychiatric hospital, the kind with heavily barred windows and vast back wards that smelled of pee. It was awful.

There was an electroshock room that had people on gurneys waiting in a long row every morning, a disassembly line for a procedure that looked and sounded exactly like the one shown in Cuckoo’s Nest, except the patients were, mercifully, pre-sedated.

Beginning in the Eighties I served as a Public Defender. It was clear what drove many of my clients’ problems: they were nuts. The worst was a guy who shot his girlfriend in the gut as she bailed out of the passenger door of their moving car. He kept driving to their apartment building, parked the car, turned around and calmly shot her toddler in the face as the boy sat in the back seat. The deer rifle my client used was legally purchased.

I mean, the guy was nuts.

Some people have broken minds. It’s an unavoidable fact. Some are born broken; others break over time. Human beings go nuts. We‘ve always had nuts among us, in every culture, throughout all of history. We’ve struggled, but we’ve not figured out how to make this problem go away. Who knows, I may be tomorrow’s nut.

Here in our tiny village on the rice plains of central Thailand we have the same range of mental health as any other society. There’s one guy who makes his way around on a rickety bike, clearly nuts, mostly smiling, seemingly happy. We’re all kind to him, and he doesn’t seem likely to harm anyone.

But no one would let him near a loaded gun.

And if he did find a loaded gun and if he used it to hurt someone, the village would quickly come to a consensus about what caused the disaster.

And it wouldn’t be that we have a nut problem.

Robert Sykora, Suphanburi Province, Thailand

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