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The Human Evasion by Celia Green

Chapter 11 : The Alternative to Sanity: What Would It Be Like?

Let us now pause to consider what the alternative to sanity might be.

Recognized forms of mental illness do not provide an alternative; they are plainly best regarded as subdivisions of sanity. They have the same unawareness of reality, and the same intense focus on personal reactions.

The average paranoid, for example, is obsessionally interested in rights and wrongs and status and justification. These concepts are all very meaningful to the sane.

It is true that the small selection of facts which are permitted consideration by the paranoid mind differ a little from the selection made by the average sane person. But it is doubtful whether the distortion introduced by the suppression from consciousness of all the facts which might indicate that one is not Napoleon is actually any greater than the suppression from consciousness of all the facts that might make one dissatisfied to be merely human.

If we suppose that sanity is itself a careful avoidance of some other psychological orientation, dimly or subconsciously perceived, we may be able to make some kind of a picture of the not-sane by inverting the characteristics of sanity.

Obviously the first defining characteristic of the not-sane would be that they would be more interested in reality, or the universe, than in other people. Newton might, at first sight, appear to qualify. But it is clear that he did not approve of his interest in reality. He 'grutched the time' spent on theoretical physics 'unless it be perhaps at idle hours sometimes for a diversion'[1]. As Master of the Mint, he showed great initiative, intelligence and determination in hounding a forger to his death. So he is not likely to exhibit the personality-structure of the not-sane. (Though obviously he had his not-sane moments, as when he worked obsessionally at the Principia for eighteen months.)

There is a general supposition among the sane that sanity is a particularly altruistic state, and that any deviation from it would be marked by callousness, cruelty and vindictiveness.

This supposition need not be taken at face value. When paranoids and manic-depressives claim to have nothing but kindly attitudes to all mankind, this is interpreted as a cover for their repressed hostility. Statements about their own motivation made by sane people should be regarded with a similar open-mindedness. It is always useful to try the technique of substituting opposites throughout -- e.g. 'Sanity is a particularly sadistic state, and any deviation from it would be marked by sensitivity, kindness and generosity.'

In so far as the sane person has chosen to focus his attention on other people, rather than on reality, we may expect that he will desire to limit them as painfully as he himself is limited. This fundamental hatred of others (and particularly of the aspirations of others) might possibly be resolved by recognizing one's drive to the infinite as something to do with infinity. But the sane person cannot do this; in fact, the repressive force is so strong that he can scarcely admit the idea of infinity to consciousness at all.

But it does not at all follow that this is what would actually be felt by someone who was primarily interested in himself and the universe. It may fairly confidently be asserted that he would see nothing interesting in being cruel to people. Having accepted his won aspirations, he would probably be unusually tolerant of the aspirations of others. (In the same way that, according to Freudian psychology, the person who does not reject his own id-impulses will have a tolerant attitude towards them when they appear in his offspring.) Finally, we may guess that the not-sane person would find the repetitiveness of most human interactions rather dull.

Sane people are bad at psychology. This is not surprising because in order to keep yourself and everyone else in a state of unrealism, you have to have certain techniques for not noticing things. (Psycho-analysts would no doubt claim to be good at understanding psychology. But it is noteworthy that sane systems of psycho-analysis are exclusively about people's reactions to other people.) We may suppose that a not-sane person might not have quite the same reasons for denying himself psychological insight. He would therefore probably be good at psychology (but not in any way that sane people would appreciate -- they would think him unrealistic because of his interest in reality.)

The characteristics which the sane person dislikes most are urgency, singlemindedness, unconditionality, and self-sufficiency. I almost used the word 'independence', but this might have been misleading. In a sane world this does not mean 'doing what you yourself want, regardless of other people'. It usually means 'showing your independence of other people by doing something other than what they want'. Incidentally, the desire to demonstrate 'independence' is particularly aroused in the sane person by anyone showing signs of urgency, singlemindedness, unconditionality or self-sufficiency.

'Independence' is best demonstrated by opposing the purposes of the urgent one. This is a useful safety valve in the sane society, and in itself goes far to ensure that it will indeed be a self-regulating mechanism for preventing the fulfilment of its members. (It is most important that it should be this, in order that everyone should feel frustrated by people and not by the universe.)

I have mentioned some unfamiliar attitudes; let me try to describe how they might arise (even if, in practice, they never do).

A person with a sense of urgency might feel that because everything was uncertain, but his death highly probable, it was desirable to do anything he considered important with the minimum of delay. Single-mindedness and unconditionality might well follow.

A person might arrive at a position of self-sufficiency by a little reflection on his complete aloneness in the presence of the enigma of existence. He cannot be sure if anyone else exists; even if they do, there is every reason to suppose that they possess no information relevant to the problem.

The question is whether anyone has ever been, in any serious way, not sane.

I have examined the history of the human race with care. Kant gives the impression that he liked the inconceivable, but his books are too long; Einstein was interested in the universe, but bad at psychology; H.G. Wells saw that research consisted of taking risks, but declined into sociology.

My best candidates, therefore, are Nietzsche and Christ. It may be objected that their ideas cannot possibly be of interest, since one went mad and the other was crucified. However, I think we should not hold this against them.

They may have felt a trifle isolated.

[1] Letter to Robert Hooke, 1679.
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