Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Nature of the Unhinged

The other day, suddenly, I turned round to Patrick and started talking about insanity.

I don't know why I did this. I don't suppose he did either.

I asked him what insanity was. He didn't answer.

I told him what I thought it was. He found what I said interesting.

I said the insane person is not the person who lives in their own world. It's the person who does not accept that other people live in a different world not theirs; be that different world one of their own, equally private, or be it the public world more commonly subscribed to.

I have a friend in Durham who believes things that might lead many to think him mad if they were to judge him only by the things he believes in. Yet he is not mad at all. This is because he is able to suspend identification with his exotic world view and take up the point of view of others when he talks to them.

That process of self-abstraction, I think, makes all the difference. It is also the hallmark of courtesy towards others. Even if you are certain that you're right, you can accept that your truth is not their truth, your reality not theirs.

6 comments:

May said...

Who is Patrick?

Jonathan said...

Patrick is one of my good friends here in Kuwait. A history teacher from California he has provided me with nourishing intellectual banter, especially about Islam, Africa and the US. His valiant efforts to explain the US electoral system to me have been vigorously pursued.

Not a coffee drinker (he prefers chocolate milk..in abundance)a jar is nonetheless kept waiting for my visits, pining in my absence.

We work together teaching oil men, none of them as beguiling JR, alas. We were going to Ethiopia before Christmas but then got screwed by not knowing when our holiday was until it was too late.

Unlike me he has his civil ID, which means he can have a life out here, beyond transportation by taxi and using the internet in cafes.

Selena Dreamy said...

the insane person is not the person who doesn't live in their own world. It's the person who does not accept that other people live in a different world not theirs;

Well, that pretty much sums it up. All that needs to be added, though already implicit, is that there may be two mutually exclusive points of view, and yet, that both may be right...

D.

Jonathan said...

Oh my God, Im embarrassed...

Thanks for your quotation Dreamy, it showed me my blunderousness.

I meant, of course:

'The insane person is not the person who LIVES in their own world'

Double negatives are freaky.

I reckon you read it the right way anyway? Or would you disagree now? I've changed it in the main post.


I know what you mean about two such mutually exclusive views being right. Though to me its more that both are wrong in an absolute sense, and right in differing ways relatively.

To me truth is a multicoloured bird. Each of its wings are different. And yet each on its own is not the full deal.

So both relativism and absolutism miss the mark. Absolutism denies that the feathers are more than one colour, relativism that each feather combines in a single higher unity that transcends them, and is more than them.

If that makes sense.

elberry said...

An interesting topic, insanity. Some people are sane in the sense that they don't have hallucations or the like, but their personalities are so unpleasant that over time they come to seem insane. i don't think there's really an absolute divide between sanity & insanity. It seems something to do with one's ability to manage daily life though in a sick society a sane man might be unable to fit in. Conversely, there are probably people who are insane yet in some contexts quite rational.

Jonathan said...

Yes, I agree with what you say regarding the ability to manage. This chimes with what I think is very sociological in the notion of insanity.

If you can fit in well with the social norms and practices of a community you will be considered sane by that community, even if your secret beliefs are highly exotic; and whether or not as a community you collectively believe the moon is made of raspberries.

I woulndt want to be too relativistic about insanity, however. I think a real kind exists and see it rooted in an extreme non-reflective form of solipsism, beyond all ability to ironise, or to relate.

In that context the romantic elements of the nobly eccentric individualist dissapear, and one is merely left with the sad and the unreachably private.

Glad you seem to have had a nice time in Prague. Yes, Slavs do stare! Though it never bothered me.