Madness

For those of us who aren’t insane, it’s tempting to think there’s a willful component to it. Insane people look like we do; speak clearly; get empathetic and engaged like the rest of us. Then they cross some barely perceptible borderline around an idea, and we hesitantly become aware they simply don’t make sense. It’s a classic moment in film and literature. The realization is finally inescapable, and suddenly all sorts of terrible things seem imminent: “you’re mad!”

I’ve been thinking about madness because I’ve been thinking about survivors, whom I’ve been thinking about because a lot of very intelligent, respectable people are publicly saying our civilization is likely to destroy itself. That’s supposed to be the insane proposition: the world is coming to an end!

But let’s imagine the scientists and the engineers actually know what they’re talking about. Let’s imagine that nuclear, bio- and nano- technologies really could, suddenly, even immediately, wipe out everyone. Which side of madness are we on?

Privately, I have been seduced across the border more than once. I know the strange, disconnected feeling of having abandoned the world ‘everybody else’ believes in; like swimming straight out to sea with people lining the shore yelling, “stop! stop!” while only I know there’s a submerged island just a little farther out, and I’ll surely be able to stand on it. It takes courage. It takes faith. It takes a deep, deep sense of self-conviction. It takes insanity.

I believe we’re all complicit in our situation, like in those stories where the future is foretold and even those who, forewarned, take every action to preserve themselves – still can’t. When the inevitable moment comes, it comes. Even the actions we pride ourselves on as ‘progressive’ and helpful – save electricity; give to the Democrat – no matter how we behave, it’s all part of the same self-destructive group conspiracy we perpetuate because it’s the only, normal, thing to do.

I sit and I talk to my boys. No-one is teaching them that real people, right now, are trying real hard to create monsters and machines that can remorselessly and forever destroy them. They don’t know what to do with that kind of information. We’re not here because we’re rational, responsible people. We’re here because we woke up this morning and didn’t really have a choice about it. My boys are thinking about rock concerts and puppy dogs. I’m thinking about survivors.

I don’t know what to do. Survivors have been studied, and it seems they might be different. Somehow, at least it feels to me, there exists a way to address our situation that comprehends it fully – like Alexander with his sword at the Gordian Knot. It doesn’t feel, to me, like we can do this in any way we’re currently trying. It’s a problem: your own children are threatened. It’s not clear how it’s approachable. We may all have to go a little mad.

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