What is insanity? The most familiar definition that comes to mind is from Einstein who said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It is peculiar to think of insanity this way, particularly because it flies in the face of normalcy. Many believe that the socially responsible and acceptable thing to do is to adhere to certain norms and customs and traditions, and that these will allow you to adequately function in society. What normalcy doesn’t guarantee, however, is individuality, or originality. To be an individual, one must do things differently and expect different results. But what of a society that values doing things differently only to achieve the same results, such as participating in all the counter-cultural rituals to gain acceptance as an ‘individual’ ? Can it be said that such a person has achieved individuality?
”Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” -F.Nietzsche
Insanity. What I find insane is society. Civilization. Tradition. Custom. Ritual. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the utility of consistency. I understand the pragmatic element of predictability, from a linguistic standpoint as well as a logical and epistemological standpoint. After all, learning curves are greatly reduced by assimilating the knowledge past down by forbearer, no? And we can’t very well go about creating our own neologistic language and expect to be effective interpersonally, now can we? But where do we draw the line between maintaining and gaining? Passing on and passing over? Subsisting and thriving? Progress requires change. Change requires adaptation. If we sell out to maintain the status quo, if we fail to commit to the efflorescent incarnations of possibility in favor of the denouement of equilibrium, we must embrace our death; for we have already died.
Society is insane. Look at the way they scuttle around in the rat race, trying to secure these temporal provisions; see how they frantically instill meaning and comfort into fabricated facticities. Observe the perduring populous that embodies repetition; always allied to the alacritous attachment of doing the same thing, over and over again, and always expecting different results. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. In the end everyone’s demise is the same. Society is a self-fulfilling prophecy; a reflexive perpetuation proselytizing more of the same. The social consciousness does not readily expand but rather, it promptly strengthens itself onto itself.
So what is insanity? A break from conventional norms, I suppose. So sanity, once again, is doing the same thing over and over again. The endorsement of cultural customs, e.g. materialism, hedonism, consumerism, aceticism, celebrityism, sciencism, etc. I suppose the great majority of people think they aren’t insane because they don’t expect different results. Predictability is offered as a sycophant of security.
That is the real tragedy. When people not only do the same thing over and over again, but they do not expect different results. They have been sedated or conditioned or desensitized to rudimentary routines and rituals. 9 to 5. Primary, secondary, tertiary schooling, followed by a stint of rebellious youth, cue the career, make room for marriage, corral some kids, restfully retire, and then comes the inevitable surprise of death.
Sanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results.” This rationalist program will inevitably suffer the same stifling fate as freedom. Time waits for no man. If you are not progressing, you are regressing. Life is meant to flourish. Growth and evolution should be the cynosure of contemplation, the mark of progress. But not by any quantitative measure imposed by external authority. It should be an inward journey. Growth is not static.
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” -R.W. Emerson
Insanity is characterized by senseless or abnormal behavior by societal standards. But how amazing it is to look at societal standards! Especially through the perspective lens of time! How standards change!
So the question of insanity remains. Are you insane for following your desires? Even if your desires lead to your demise? Even if they cast you into chains? Even if they toss you into pain and hardship? Would you be willing to escape sanity and embrace the lucres of authentic freedom? At what price?
Men are never really willing to die except for the sake of freedom: therefore they do not believe in dying completely.