Insanity

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How does someone become crazy? I think there are at least three primary factors: one is genetics, another is congnitive dissonance and a third is trauma. Some people apparently inherit genes that predispose them to depression, bipolar disorder and possibly schizophrenia.

With schizophrenia, I recall reading long ago that there was a high correlation among victims whose mothers had had the flu during their first trimester. This makes some sense, as a virus can reach the fetus, while bacteria usually can’t. Just what the virus may have done to the developing brain I don’t know, and I’m not sure if anyone does, but that’s a fourth possible factor.

Cognitive dissonance is when someone is lying to you explicitly or implicitly, and you want to believe them, but your perception tells you otherwise. That can make people crazy. especially if it’s combined with trauma.

There are a lot of kinds of trauma. Divorce can be traumatic for adults and children both. For some, having been adopted can be traumatic, depending on the situation in the family, and how the family deals with the adoption. Then there are the various kinds of abuse: verbal, physical and sexual, all of which can have an impact. Bullying has been in the news a lot, and has been cited as the frequent cause of teenage suicide, particularly of teens who are different in some way. Those perceived to be gay can be especially at risk, but it also applies to those who are overweight, are the wrong color or religion, or maybe even just shy. Teenagers can be merciless, especially when they’re insecure themselves, and that doesn’t apply just to teenagers. Consider all the hate groups in this country. Why do people find it necessary to hate?

About 45 years ago I was given a book called Training for a Life of Growth. The author remarked that the predicament of a chameleon on plaid was mild compared to the conflicting influences young people are subjected to. Those influences have only proliferated since then, and you can see some of the effects in politics, among other things.

The Republican party in particular, though not alone, is increasingly based on beliefs instead of facts. No one in the party wants to give you a straight answer about abortion, inequality, race, or the climate, to name just a few issues. All of these touch a lot of people emotionally, so that they often can’t think rationally about them. And there are plenty of people willing to take advantage of other people’s irrationality.

To believe, for instance, that our use of petrochemicals for power and a lot of other products is a factor is global warming is threatening to a lot of people because its implication is that we need to change our lives in a radical way. People fear change, and understandably, since it can be catastrophic. But it’s more likely to be catastrophic the less we’re willing to face it and begin dealing with it. That approach applies to a lot more things than just climate.

So there are climate change deniers, just as there are Holocaust deniers. You could argue that these represent a form of insanity, even if they don’t match our stereotypes. Denial of reality can be a form of insanity, even if it doesn’t take the form of wild hallucinations, as in schizophrenia.

It follows that whole groups, and even societies, suffer from a sort of collective insanity, or delusion, if the term suits you better. Groups and societies ostracize anyone who believes things that go against collective beliefs, to one extent or another. In this country we’ve been relatively open to new and different ideas, but not always. Wilhelm Reich, the psychiatrist and scientist who was a colleague and student of Freud, had his scientific work declared fraudulent by scientists who rarely, if ever, tried replicating his experiments, his books were burned, and he was sent to prison, where he died. Were his discoveries valid? We still don’t know. Few, if any, are trying to replicate his research.

Immanuel Velikovsky was another psychiatrist and scientist whose published ideas ignited a firestorm among scientists. Among other things he thought that Venus had been ejected from Jupiter and become a comet, that it had several times passed near Earth, at one point causing the Biblical plagues of Egypt, and that Mars had also passed near Earth. Besides that he gave much evidence for the Great Flood recorded in the Bible and a lot of other places, which scientists had decided was a mere legend, since they believed that nothing to do with religion was reliable knowledge.

Velikovsky never received an unbiased hearing from scientists while alive, but at least some of his predictions proved true: Venus’s surface is very hot, it has a tail (though no longer visible), and Jupiter emits a large quantity of radio waves. What seems insane now may turn out to be quite true later.

Individual behaviors can be caused by many things: some genetic, some environmental, some to do with personal histories and relationships. These behaviors can sometimes be disturbing, if not downright bizarre. To the extent they’re based on individual perceptions, they may turn out to be understandable, if not actually reasonable. Hindus and Buddhists talk about Maya as a sort of delusion we all suffer, which we might call collective insanity. They say it’s possible to learn to see reality as it is, though the lives of bacteria are too short for us to clearly perceive, as the lives of stars are too long. Still, within the constraints of our construction and field of activity, we can learn to see more clearly and sanely. This may or may not affect the people we see as clearly insane. Some are too damaged to be able to heal. But those of us only relatively insane have some choice in the matter. All we need is courage and commitment. And possibly some kind of guidance.

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