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What if I told you that madness is normal?
And how do you know that you're mad? "To begin with," said the Cat, "a dog's not mad. You grant that?" I suppose so, said Alice. "Well then," the Cat went on, "you see a dog growls when it's angry, and wags it's tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad."
- Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland
We don’t like to use the word madness anymore. Neither do we strap people in strait jackets. Or electrocute them. Certainly not lobotomy for sure.
We do however medicate anyone that dares to play outside the boundaries of accepted social behavior. It’s apparently more humane to send someone into chemically induced submissiveness than by using physical restraints.
Thus we are in an era where we don’t talk about madness let alone play with it. Its presence is shrouded in shadows and painfully misunderstood as a consequence.
By terming it mental illness we attempt to reduce the social stigma. Yet it is still not something you'd talk about as openly as saying you're under the weather today or are being wheeled in for surgery tomorrow.
If Christ should appear on earth he could on all hands be denounced as a mistaken, misguided man, insane and crazed.
- Henry David Thoreau
Society expects decorum among all it's participants. This process of domestication begins as early as infancy, as the child is clothed.
You can no longer be seen with your private parts waving gleefully in public. The seeds of shame are sowed early as are the seeds of conformity to social norms. Schooling further endorses and enforces compliance to acceptable social activity.
We strongly encourage interaction and discourage if not frown upon withdrawing into introspection. Yet all the messiahs and prophets we follow blindly are men who wandered off into the wild, away from the social melee. They returned, with magnificent visions, and salve for mankind's malaise.
Anyone attempting the same today would be considered anywhere from dubious to dangerous. Not a messiah, but a menace. When did visions become hallucinations? When did 'blessed by the gods' become 'cursed by the devil'?
The western world has passed the expansionist phase of wanting to make the whole world speak one language and conform to one ruler (I hope). Today nobody really cares if you speak the Queen's English or a heavily accented one. As Roberto Agudo says we don't need to 'fetishize certain accents and disdain others'.
Everyone has a unique accent shaped by geography, social hierarchy, education, ethnicity, and first language. If the linguistic expression can be destigmatized, why not that of cognitive expression?
It's taken us a good 100 years to accept and normalize sexual exploration and expression across the gender spectrum. Sigmund Freud stated that bisexuality is the normal human condition. But homosexuality was considered a sin and punishable by law.
It was only removed as a psychiatric disorder in 1986. If this was a 'progressive' move then what of the indigenous tribes of the world who prior to colonization, had accepted and respected homosexual, bisexual, and gender-nonconforming individuals in the community.
With modernity, what appears to be a greater acceptance for eccentricity and deviance in society, is but tolerance in exchange for value. A 'crazy' billionaire will stay within the good books of the social system, due to his contribution to the GDP. Creative 'rockstars' likewise offer a means for society to believe they too could dream beyond the ordinary they've been trained to embrace.
But when their use has been extracted or substituted, they are destroyed by the scandals, which were always their true nature - sometimes hidden, sometimes tolerated, never truly accepted.
Madness and Genius
With modernity, there appears to be a greater acceptance of eccentricity and deviance in society. But on closer inspection, this is not acceptance but tolerance in exchange for value. A 'crazy' billionaire will stay within the good books of the social system, due to his contribution to the GDP. Creative 'rockstars' likewise offer a dream for society to live vicariously through, beyond the norm they've been trained to embrace.
But when the value these geniuses provide society, has been extracted or substituted, they are destroyed by scandals, which were always their true nature. Thus madness remains hidden, sometimes tolerated, sometimes manipulated but never accepted.
Playing with Madness
In kindergarten, children are often found talking to themselves or playing by themselves with imaginary playmates. Why is this same behavior diagnosed as a mental illness in adults? Just because it isn’t acceptable social behavior?
Society has dominion over perception, definition, and treatment of sanity. Today we believe madness to be a disease. Yet in ancient civilizations, madness was seen as a gift from the Gods. People accepted and embraced deviant behavior instead of enforcing conformity.
Today, we attempt to fight the aberration of madness aggressively, while masking our disdain for deviation under the guise of compassionate 'treatment'. Maybe as a collective, we’ll improve our mental health by understanding that it is in fact mental wealth - an abundance of expression that is better expressed than suppressed. But then, if we accept all forms of expression...
Where do we Draw the Line?
Let's consider freedom of speech. Just as one man is free to express himself through speech, similarly a man ought to have the freedom to express himself through actions. We debate on how & when one man's freedom of speech causes harm and injury to another. But this is more a matter of jurisprudence than morality itself. Should it not be likewise with man's behavior and expression?
In a discussion with the Trial lawyer and Program Director, Robbie Crabtree, he brought up the subject of pre-emptive arrests and incarceration, best depicted in the movie 'Minority Report'. Tom Cruise in the story heads a Special Crimes Unit that arrests murderers before they commit their crimes. This makes me wonder if psychiatry might be doing the same with heavy psychiatric prescriptions and increased pharmacological dependency.
Robert Whitaker discovered that the most scientifically identifiable factor for the increase of severe psychiatric problems is the increase in psychiatric drug use. In his book 'Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America', he exposes the effects of long-term psychiatric drug use - causing those with minor emotional variations to exhibit severe, chronic disorders and mental disabilities.
This is why we ought to call out our society or the system as insane; in its treatment of the individuals that comprise it. Apart from wondering where we draw the line, the question of who should draw the line must also be asked.
Defining a Baseline
We as a society want a 'normal' that we can enforce on people. But how do we define this as normal? Instead of accepting the norm, perhaps we can find an average mean instead.
For instance, the basal metabolic rate is measured in a physically and psychologically undisturbed state, in a thermally neutral environment, while in the post-absorptive state (not actively digesting food). Some organisms maintain favorable temperature without relying on ambient heat. Others undergo dramatic metabolic changes, according to food availability, external temperature, and activity requirements. So it can be difficult to define "standard" rates of metabolism for many mammals when temperature data is excluded.
Likewise from a psychological perspective, defining a basal rate of sanity must be measured in a physically and psychologically undisturbed state. Food can be equated to thought here, which when undigested becomes a trauma. External temperature can be equated to the individual's environmental circumstances; family, friends, colleagues, etc. Like mammals reacting to their environment, one may choose to hibernate from social contact or react with high energy outbursts.
Thus, it is difficult to define a 'standard' of mental sanity when the environmental factors are so diverse, distracting, and even destructive. From this we can gather it is more prudent to change the environment than the individual. And what we perceive as insanity maybe the individual's healthy mental response to extreme environmental conditions.
"Madness is rare in individuals - but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule." - Friedrich Nietzsche
What can I Do?
All this talk is just that - talk. It may be improbable to change society or the system overnight, but what we can do immediately is change our own perception.
Each one of us can initiate a conversation, with compassion to support the individual and courage to challenge the system. Maybe it won't make a difference, maybe it will.
But the deepest compassion and the greatest courage you can show is for yourself. Support your own unique expression and challenge the conditioning that keeps you repressed. And this will make a difference!
Play with your madness! Remember it's only madness when you get mocked or rejected. When the same is celebrated and appreciated, it's called a genius!