aNewDomain — Am I insane? How would you know?
“They” say that if you’re asking the question, you aren’t crazy. Crazy people never question their insanity. But that’s bullshit. I’ve spent too much time with the mad, the clinically disordered and the legally insane to fall for that old line. Fixed delusions are one thing — I’ve never seen anyone question one of their own delusions — but plenty of people question their own questionable sanity.
I do it, and I bet you do it too.
Decartes’ litmus test for existence was thought. Us existentialists counter that no proof is needed; you exist, and your subjective experience of existence is good enough. But what about your sanity?
Defining Sanity, Sanely …
Culture and society have a lot to say about who is sane. Maybe in a remote village in Guatemala, if you talk to your dead parents, that’s a holy thing — a sign of a grounded life. But if you do it on the city bus in Denver, maybe not so much.
Religion as a whole seems pretty much insane (for lack of a better word) to me, but society has deemed some religious beliefs to be sound. Of course, it determines others as unsound. It’s OK to believe that when the priest puts the wafer in your mouth it transfigures into the flesh of Jesus. It isn’t OK to believe that if you cut off your testicles and drink poison you will wake up on a spaceship on the Hale-Bopp comet. Scientology and Mormonism get a bad rap, but they don’t think anything any nuttier than the other faiths. Wear the magic underpants or pray the rosary — all of it has to do with divine intercession.
Religion is low-hanging fruit, you’re saying. Guaranteed to piss everyone off, too. It is, but it’s just the start.
Culture, our culture, is crazy. Who you vote for is probably crazy. The reality is that most people (deemed societally sane, mind you) don’t think through policies and issues. They think about which team they’re loyal to or who they’d want to have a beer with, then agree with all the policies of that platform. People don’t make sensible voting decisions, either. Just look at the political field today in the presidential race. There are very few reasonable choices in the mix and, by and large, they aren’t at the top of the polls.
We’re deluded about everything. We refute science with personal stories. We’re deeply racist and, when someone explains institutional racism to us, we don’t get less racist. We double down, insisting black people deserve to be murdered by police, and post more memes about how tough cops have it.
We drive cars based on how many cup-holders they have or how many horse-power, rather than actual practical considerations — cost of ownership, gas mileage, our real-life transportation needs. Alright, a giant Cadillac SUV is better than a giant Ford SUV. But is it $43,000 better? Really?
To make matters worse, we constantly make the fundamental attribution error. We take undue chances — like running red lights or trying to beat the train — when we could die because of those choices. But, and this is really insane, we neglect to do tasks when the stakes are right. You haven’t sent in your manuscript, submitted your screenplay, applied for that promotion or that new job, tried to finish college. The first choice can kill you and other people for the sake of saving five minutes. The second can change your life forever in the best way possible and has no downside.
But we choose one, consistently, over the other. Most of us.
So, if you were crazy, how would you know it? You are crazy, and you don’t know it.
The best we can do, really, is to try to keep our madness productive. Use it to think logically around problems. Use it to find meaning in tragic events. We should try not to use it to justify hatred or hateful behavior. Love one another madly, don’t fear the irrationally — but hate one another with a clear-mind, because, if you do that, you probably won’t end up hating anybody.
There’s a paradox here, even in what I’m saying. There’s something crazier than believing in something, and that’s believing in nothing. Oh, nothing exists, that’s a fact: but believing in it — while totally rational — is crazy.
Take trust. It isn’t sane to trust people, over and over again. You give your friend chance after chance and he never changes, never comes to his senses. But you keep trusting. Because you should. You keep taking him in, holding his hair while he pukes, making excuses for his public behavior — you don’t keep doing those things because he’s a good person. You keep doing them because you are.
And that’s totally crazy.
There’s a lady on the corner. Old cardigan, dirty hands, sign drawn on cardboard: “Please help, I’m hungry.” And you drive past her because you saw a bit on the news or on Fakesbook about a person who begs professionally, makes 40 grand a year begging, drives home to a house nicer than yours in a car you can’t afford.
Then you go back and give her five bucks. Because you’re crazy. It doesn’t matter if she’s a liar, it matters if you’re good to people who need help. If you end up giving a few bucks to a scammer … well, that’s a risk you run. Madness. And if the absolute best someone can do is to beg on the corner, to fake poor, well, maybe they deserve some empathy too.
You’re crazy. I am. Face it. Embrace it. Get down with it. Let your freak flag fly, as they say nowadays. Or, to quote Seal, “We ain’t never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy.”
It would be crazy to take in a stranger. A Katrina victim, a Syrian refugee. Utter madness to drive to Ferguson and pass out water. Complete insanity to give up eating meat because it dawned on you that cows are as intelligent as dogs.
Somewhere in all this madness is a vein of sanity, of something bigger than just plain logic. The things people believe, they seem really weird sometimes. But sometimes they point at the ultimate in self-interest, in the final truth of existence: Love is worth it.
How insane is that?
Images in order: Straight Jacket via Wikimedia Commons; René Descartes via Wikimedia Commons; Beyond Human courtesy DarkVomit; Homeless Man By Doczilla (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons