~ This post is a part 3. There was also a part 1, wherein I laid out a basic definition of sanity: sanity is the ability to see reality and act appropriately. And there was a part 2, which considered the role of mental illness, which part one had omitted entirely. For good reason, as it turns out! And part 2 is there to explain why. ~
~ Part 3 is basically me pasting a comment of mine in response to reader Jen's question under part one: what about when society is insane? I just came across it and thought hey! A couple of edits and post. Easy content! Thanks, Jen. ~
An English teacher of mine in High School used to "blow our minds" by saying shit like "Sometimes insanity is the only sane response to an insane world."
In fact, the only sane response to an insane world is sanity. It will in no way help you to manage insane risks by either A) pretending that you, too, are irrational, or B) becoming in fact irrational. You are better equipped to survive and thrive with sanity intact. Actually, A) may be a sane option: even a fairly healthy society has us all act crazy in a lot of little ways. But acting crazy is not the same as going crazy. As you do the odd, irrational thing to placate the odd, irrational norm, your sanity will have no problem with that. Those expectations and norms are part of the reality sanity lets you see, part of the reality sanity helps you negotiate: the bedrock facts, and how to deal with society's distortions of the facts.
Sometimes, the sanest response to an insane society may be to emigrate.
Sometimes though, they've got you walled in, or held at gunpoint. In those worst, most insane societies, a sane mind is an ever more indispensable asset. Survival depends on your ability to recognize what your environment is, and discern what the appropriate (beneficial) responses to it should be. In a truly insane society, it is the sane mind that will be best able to recognize society's insane and suicidal elements for what they are. It is the sane mind that will be best able to chart the best course given the presence of the known, dangerous, harmful elements. This is little different from a hunter-gatherer devising strategies to minimize the risk of death by tiger.
The tiger is, from a human standpoint, insane. If a human acted like that, you'd call that human a psychopath! And when they're part of our reality, humanity finds nothing particularly daunting about coping with homicidal animals. Just another recognized cause of death. Just another thing to put what steps you can in place, to manage the risk. But when the homicidal animal is homo sapiens - including any organized body of homo sapiens - suddenly we agonize! Why should we?
Well, because it frustrates us that people act in irrational ways! We seem to think this is unacceptable human behavior. For no good reason, we think this. It's not the actual insanity that drives us crazy, it is that we labor and die under the delusion that humanity is, or "should be," perfectible. That's crazytalk. Humanity is animals too.
Humanity has outgrown the threat of other animals, and has become its own tiger. The course of sanity is to recognize this. Accept it, to a degree: not complacently, but as a step on the way to a stomp. Social elements can be poisonous, suicidal, homicidal, genocidal - in a word, insane. We need to accept that as a problem; we need to identify what parts of the insanity can be treated, minimized; for the parts that are beyond all treatment (at least within our current means), we need to determine the best way to negotiate those hazards.
What is our best way to do all this? To become crazy? No, to remain sane. To drop crazy expectations of a perfectible humanity and see the humanity we have for what it is, and for all that it does. To see reality, and act appropriately.