I’ve been talking with Alison a lot over the past week about insanity — particularly insanity in societies. Obviously individual people can be insane — usually broadly defined as mental or emotional distress that interferes with functioning normally in society. But what would it mean for a whole community to be insane? Is that even possible?
Alison recently wrote a post on this over at Pagan+Politics, with some thoughts on the recent shooting in Tuscon. I’m not going to repeat everything she said there, but to summarize, some recent thinking suggests that aggregates of people can indeed collectively suffer from mental illness. In such a situation, the sane person is one who experiences mental or emotional distress.
How would we know if our whole society were insane? There are a few things I can think of, off the top of my head:
- Just as a mentally ill person has mental or emotional distress which interferes with normal social functions, an insane community might collectively experience mental or emotional distress that interferes with normal relations with other societies. North Korea, the most isolated nation in the world, might be an example of this.
- Communities might exhibit symptoms of specific mental illnesses. Thinking the rest of the world is out to get them (paranoia), cycling through periods of activity and lethargy (manic depression), thinking that nothing is worthwhile (clinical depression)… Unusually large numbers of people in a society suffering from these disorders could suggest insanity in the overall community.
- Perhaps, if the community as a whole is insane, any sane individuals would appear insane — perhaps appearing to exhibit paranoia, for example, when in fact the whole crazy community is out to get them!
- Disconnect from nature and natural law. Ultimately, we are part of the earth’s ecosystem, and if we are not working harmoniously with it, then somewhere, somehow, something is out of balance.
Maybe you recognize some parts of modern western society in what I’ve listed above. I certainly do.
I recently saw a quote from Mohawk John Kane, which touched me deeply.
“Our culture was based on and committed to nature. Those that have tried to transform our knowledge and teachings into beliefs or religion have lost their way. The good news is that nature will always be there to teach even when we fail to…
“We could lose every word or act our ancestors ever tried to hand down and get it all back if we just can return to respecting our relationship to creation. No great spirit, no hocus pocus, no faith; just awareness.”
Links, quotes, and ideas of interest from the past few days:
- “If only I could throw away the urge to trace my patterns in your heart, I could really see you.” –David Brandon
- Poem for Bridget on Imbolc: Welcome to the Sun. “Glad mother are you to the constellations.”
- From our “Wedding on the Edge” blog, a post on the origin and meaning of the word ‘edge’: approaching the sharp point of decision. Also, a post inspired by this quote from Oscar Wilde: “How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?”
- Over at Pagan Parenthood, some thoughts inspired by Bill Plotkin. Western culture is dominated by adolescent ideas, goals, desires, and worldview. What we’re doing about it.
- “Do not speak, unless it improves on silence.” -Buddhist saying
- At Pagan+Politics, I wrote about the turmoil in Egypt and whether the US is, or should, engage in realpolitik. How is Egypt in 2011 like Germany of 1872? Pragmatic power politics vs. the reality of social justice.
- “Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.” – The Buddha
- This post was not by me, but it got me thinking: is it better to save 10,000 lives, or send your kids to college? Many of us face that choice, whether or not we realize it.
- “Conquer the angry man by love, the ill-natured man by goodness, the miser with generosity, the liar with truth.” — the Dhammapada