Thursday, March 24, 2011

Extremism and Madness

Salutations, New Mad Nation.

I'm starting to get sick of that greeting. It may be gone by next time. Savor it, just in case!

That said, let's turn to today's topic - Extremism and Madness. One of the forms that Madness can often take is a passionate extremism. The Mad, such as myself, are furious with the world around us for all its injustices (towards us or otherwise). We see the world in a very specific way, pursuant to our careful deliberation on reality, a deliberation necessitated by the threats issued to us by that reality. Though many Mad people undoubtedly have very different conclusions about the nature of things, they are more likely than not to be extreme about it.

This is one of the things that is likely to get people (re)branded as "mentally ill" if they are not careful.

If you are surrounded by people who are not as mired in the Academy, your extremism might only be viewed as annoying, or a sign of your stupidity; if you're lucky it might even get you endeared as a lovable cook. But where Psychiatry/the Clinic has its hooks in your peers, extreme attitudes are most often associated with some kind of mental illness. Believing that you are right about something that you have passionate belief for can, when expressed with too much vigor, be seen as a variety of disorders - a manic episode, borderline, antisocial personality, you name it. Whatever symptoms they can attach, they will, because the Academy and its supporters (unwitting though they may be) do not like extreme thinking.

You might say that in a system concerned with mental hygiene, extreme thoughts are considered unsanitary.

Disagreeing with parents can be seen as "Oppositional Defiant Disorder" in the wrong hands. It really isn't a far cry from there to saying that a revolutionary with plans to destroy a corrupt system has some kind of disorder as well. You may have noticed that many crimes are unnecessarily linked with a mental health condition, and I believe this is a deliberate tactic on the part of the American animus to further entrench the sense of "otherness" to social deviance. In short - medicine is used as often as possible to explain away any legitimacy behind the motivations of those in direct opposition to the dominant culture.

It wasn't that long ago that slaves were considered to have a mental illness if they were not happy with being slaves.

I think people fear extremism because they see that when you are passionately dedicated to a set of beliefs, you have few friends and many enemies. And most every message we receive from the culture around us suggests that this is wrong - that it is better to compromise on beliefs, at least a little, in order to preserve peace and harmony. Never discuss politics or religion when meeting a friend's family, for example; in fact, maybe don't discuss those matters with anyone at all. Perhaps people are bitter about having had to let go of their convictions for the sake of convenience? Whatever it is, many people see extreme beliefs and hate it; they will start by calling it immature, but eventually it works up into frustration, anger, and the eventual accusation that there is something wrong with you, because clearly you'd have to be insane to stick to your guns for so long.

Hmm. Maybe so. But I don't think that's a bad thing. Because the peace and stability that ambivalence has been working so hard to uphold is not peaceful or stable to the Mad - it is oppressive and suffocating. What is the point in trying to make peace with your neighbors when their very mode of existence is insulting? Better to avoid them altogether, in my opinion. Many people seem to believe that happiness comes when there is peace between people, and that may be true, but peace is not the same as agreeing not to argue about things you violently disagree about - that is a truce. And a stagnant, muddy truce. A quagmire, even. Not good in my book.

At some point, you may have to try to get over it; somehow, we have to find a way to live and get along. Extremism shouldn't take the form of trying to violently persuade everyone around you, because not only is it rude, but also extremely ineffective. But neither should having extreme views be seen as a bad thing. It is one of the great pleasures of Madness - a freedom from ambivalence. And it is convictions like these that change the world.

How can we call so-called "manic episodes" a mental illness when they have led to some of the greatest breakthroughs in human history, in art, science, culture and exploration? How much incredible development is the result of this beautiful force, this driving rage towards accomplishing what must be accomplished?

And yet, how much horror. Similarly extreme convictions have led to genocide and suicide bombings.

What makes one kind of extremism different from the other? Whenever there is a controversial issue, those in support are always viewed as extremists, but whether that extremism is viewed as brilliance or insanity is entirely up to the history books and who is reading them. I submit to you that there is nothing inherently wrong with extremism - it is Madness, and Madness, like any other identity, is not wrong. It is as prone to goodness and badness as any other identity.

Psychiatry gives nods to the creative benefits of things like "mania." But I feel pretty confident that support would run bone dry once the crosshairs of that brilliance are leveled against the institute itself. People appropriate the language of mental illness to define those who are branded by it however they wish; if you are "Bipolar," and you have a brilliant idea, then those around you will call you "Genius!" if they agree, but "Manic! Did you take your meds?" if they don't.


Thanks as always, New Mad Nation. See you next week.


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