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On the Nature of ‘Sanity’ and ‘Insanity’

Since the recent Aurora shooting, people and so-called “experts” have started speculating on the mental state of James Holmes. One the popular “theories” floating around the intertubes is that he was somehow mentally ill or becoming mentally ill. I saw a recent post on metafilter where one of these so-called “experts” tries to say that any essentially any version of “reality” that is different from the so-called normal version is somehow pathological. He also goes on talk about cross-cultural differences in perception and prognosis of mental illness, but seems to miss the bigger question. What is ‘sane’ or ‘insane’ and why? I believe that answering that question is far more important than rambling on how to detect and treat ‘psychosis’ and here is why-

If you look at the world around you or read enough history it is obvious that so-called “normal” human beings are, for the lack of a better word, delusional.

Let me explain my points with a few examples-

1. The majority of human beings believe in the existence of an anthropomorphic ‘god’ who just happen to be very interested in the daily lives and beliefs of human beings. But have you ever wondered why an entity who could create and destroy universes might care about the sexual or other “moral” choices of human beings. I mean.. do you care about the sexual behavior of termites or bother yourself with whether they might worship you or not? Do you measure your success by how many termites believe that you are the one true god? Are you concerned about the termites worshiping any other human as a false god? Do you consider the residents of one termite mound as the ‘chosen’ ones? and yet you are only human. So why is belief in any religion, traditional or secular, not considered a serious mental illness?

2. Consider the sordid history of “medical science” which until the last 60-70 odd years could not effectively treat even very common diseases and disease conditions such as various bacterial pneumonia and hypertension. Did the inability of physicians to effectively treat diseases stop them from coming up with various fanciful notions of the etiology of diseases and methods to treat them leading to the premature death of most patients? It is only in the last ~ 60 years that going to a doctor has finally become less dangerous than not going to one. But have you ever wondered- why did physicians keep on believing in theories and treatments that plainly killed many more patients that helped them?

3. Human beings, throughout history, have fought wars amongst themselves. In almost all wars and armed conflicts throughout human history, active participants stand out as the one group that consistently loses the most- even if they are on the so-called “winning” side. While these losses take myriad forms from death, disease, injury to PTSD, other personal losses and financial losses- active participants are always the biggest losers. But has that stopped people from fighting wars, joining the military or otherwise answering the ‘call of duty’. It is very odd that we celebrate people who will screw over their own lives and future happiness to enrich a few cynical moneybags or mollify the egos of a few sociopaths.. I mean leaders. Are those who fight wars on their own accord sane?

The insanity and self-destructiveness of so-called “normal” human beings and societies easily surpasses what the most “mentally ill” and “delusional” individual is capable of.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. ThousandMileMargin
    July 28, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    All human beings are crazy. Just in different ways.
    Denial and delusion is an essential part of the human condition.
    To be truly sane you must have a mental map of how the world works that is functionally accurate. Most people don’t even try, a few rare individuals might identify all the falsehoods they used to believe and wise up, perhaps over the course of decades, but I doubt that anyone ever completely rids themselves of their delusions.

  2. jackal
    July 28, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Like Chris Hedges thinks, I believe your average conformist hireling does more harm because he enables the crimes of leaders. Read his short essay, “The Careerists” at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_careerists_20120723/

  3. P Ray
    July 28, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    Maybe some people need those delusions since they feel lost without someone else to tell them what to do or to hear criticism.
    They probably also believe the person giving them the criticism … can actually solve their problem.
    When it’s more likely that the criticism comes from the idea to show that some thinking has been done about the deficiencies of the course of action, rather than “I just felt like pissing on your idea”.

  4. July 28, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    quick, advipoops, you’ve got to delete all your porno….

    rooshiepoops said you can’t be good at game if you look at porno….


    If game was so superior to porn, why would it be threatened by it?

    • P Ray
      July 29, 2012 at 10:55 am

      How would men have attractiveness standards – if they didn’t look at women who made a living off their looks?
      P.S. The Sun newspaper in the UK has the excellent Page 3 girls.
      And many mainstream movies have sex/nudity scenes nowadays, e.g. Anne Hathaway in Havoc.

  5. July 30, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Only the insane have the strength to prosper.

    Only those who prosper truly judge what is sane.

  6. Dillon
    July 30, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Any souce defining sanity and insanity will define what’s in its own best interest as sane and what’s not as insane.

    There’s no objective definition of sanity or insanity.

  7. July 30, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    advipoops, was this you before your life of prostitutes?

  8. July 31, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I must disagree with point one. The relationship of man and termite is not of a similar nature to that of God and man. For a multitude of reasons; here, mainly because man is not the creator (truly or supposedly) of a termite. If one considered man’s relationship to say a character he had created on the Sims one is likely to find that man is as obsessing as he supposes God to be. That being the case man is no less delusional for thinking that a being worthy of worship would be exactly like himself.

    And three: Post WWI the potential rewards of war have been greatly thinned, however, before the first Great War the possible benefits in status, honor, position far outweighed the risks; this is especially true when one considers the drastically lower body counts before the 19th century. The benefits of a number of positions in war were so great, or at least perceived to be so great, that they were only allotted to nobility.

    Silly humans are delusions for such a multifarious array of idiocies, misnomers, and bad thinking that these reasons feel cheap and sloppy.

    • Ray Manta
      August 1, 2012 at 8:03 am

      before the first Great War the possible benefits in status, honor, position far outweighed the risks; this is especially true when one considers the drastically lower body counts before the 19th century.

      It’s my understanding that wartime casualty rates in modern times have gone down, not up.


      • August 1, 2012 at 9:04 am

        I’ll have to find the study I was thinking of. It might have been numbers of casualties, as opposed to percentages of lethal hits.

      • Ray Manta
        August 1, 2012 at 9:16 am

        Sure, no problem. In terms of absolute casualties it would be just about impossible for ancient militaries to exceed what happened in our two world wars. There just weren’t enough people back then.

        In the article I referenced the decline in death rates is attributed to the increasing strategic value of dispersion. Essentially the more lethal the weapons become, the more important it becomes for soldiers to spread out and take cover (as opposed to bunching up). So increasing firepower has the paradoxical effect of reducing body counts.

  9. November 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Ignorance is bliss and people enjoy fairy tales rather than reality (though I know reality can be pretty unpleasant, but I’d rather the truth over pretty lies).

  1. August 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm
  2. August 10, 2012 at 12:02 am
  3. May 2, 2013 at 5:14 pm
  4. September 8, 2015 at 8:41 pm

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