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The Human Evasion by Celia Green

Chapter 1 : Sanity

On the face of it, there is something rather strange about human psychology.

Human beings live in a state of mind called "sanity" on a small planet in space. They are not quite sure whether the space around them is infinite or not (either way it is unthinkable). If they think about time, they find it inconceivable that it had a beginning. It is also inconceivable that it did not have a beginning. Thoughts of this kind are not disturbing to "sanity", which is obviously a remarkable phenomenon and deserving more recognition.

Now sanity possesses a constellation of defining characteristics which are at first sight unrelated. In this it resembles other, more widely accepted, psychological syndromes. A person with an anal fixation, for example, is likely to be obsessional, obstinate, miserly, punctilious, and interested in small bright objects. A sane person believes firmly in the uselessness of thinking about what he does not understand, and is pathologically interested in other people. These two symptoms, at first sight independent, are actually inextricably related. In fact they are merely different aspects of that peculiar reaction to reality which we shall call the human evasion.

As I shall be using the word "reality" again I should make it plain at once that I use it to mean "everything that exists". This is, of course, a highly idiosyncratic use of the word. I am aware that it is commonly used by sane people to mean "everything that human beings understand about", or even "human beings". This illustrates the interesting habit, on the part of the sane, of investing any potentially dangerous word with a strong anthropocentric meaning. Let us therefore consider the use of "reality" a little longer.

It is first necessary to consider what might be meant by the word "reality" if it were usually used to mean "everything that exists". It would have to include all processes and events in the Universe, and all relationships underlying them, regardless of whether or not these things were perceptible or even conceivable by the human mind. It would also include the fact that anything exists at all -- i.e. that there is something and not nothing. And it would include the reason for the fact that anything exists at all, although it is most improbable that this reason is conceivable, or that "reason" is a particularly good name for it.

In fact it is quite obvious that to most people "reality" does not mean anything like this.

Particular attention should be drawn to the phrase 'running away from reality' in which "reality" is almost always synonymous with "human beings and their affairs". For example: "It isn't right to spend so much time with those stuffy old astronomy books. It's running away from reality. You ought to be getting out and meeting people." (An interest in any aspect of reality requiring concentrated attention in solitude is considered a particularly dangerous symptom.) This usage leads to the interesting result that if anyone does take any interest in reality he is almost certain to be told that he is running away from it.

Although so far we have given only one illustration, some impression may already begin to emerge of the way in which the sane mind has allocated to all crucial words meanings which make it virtually impossible to state, let alone to defend, any position other than that of sanity.

In fact by now this is the chief means employed by sanity to defend itself from any possible attack. Formerly it found it necessary to claim a certain interest in "reality" in the sense of "that which exists". There were religions, and systems of metaphysics, you may remember, which professed a certain interest in the creation of the world, and the purpose of life, and the destiny of the individual.

Now no such disguises are necessary.

I am reminded of a book called Flatland in which an imaginary two-dimensional world is described. Towards the end of the book a non-dimensional being is encountered -- a point in space. The observers listen to what it is saying (but of course, since they are of higher dimensionality than its own, the point being cannot observe them in any way). What it is saying to itself, in a scarcely audible tinkling voice, is something like this: "I am alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. I am that which is and I am all in all to myself. There is nothing other than me, I am everything and all of everything is all of me and all of me is all of everything..."

The human race has taken to producing similar noises. Perhaps we would not be surprised at the sociologists murmuring to themselves from time to time, "in society we live and move and have our being", as they scurry from communal centre to therapeutic group, but these days everyone is at it.

The philosophers have discarded metaphysics and have a tinkling song of their own which says, "In the beginning was the word and the word is mine and the word was made by me." This is rather a strong position in its way, because if you try to criticize it they will point out that you can only do so in words, and they have already annexed all the words there are on behalf of humanity. (And the meaning of the words is the meaning humanity gave them, and they shall have no meaning beside it.)

The theologians are finding theology rather an embarrassment, and one can only suspect they would be happier without it. Their tradition does make it a little more difficult for them to put God in his proper place, but all things considered, they're keeping up with the times pretty well. Sartre said "Hell is other people"; the up-to-date theologian says "God is other people".

It might have been thought that the "existentialists" would make some sort of a stand for the transcendent, but it hasn't been serious. In fact many people have found that a liberal use of existentialist language, loosely applied, has been extremely helpful in stimulating an obsessional interest in human society. (This interest is variously known as "commitment", "involvement", and "the life of encounter".)

The questions which remain are these. Are people, in fact, matters of ultimate concern to other people? And still more, can they be sources of "ultimate solution" to them? If they are not, what psychological force is at work to ensure that these questions are so seldom asked? Why, if you ask a question about man and the universe, are you given an answer about "man in society"?

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