EXTERMINATE

Above this text is a picture of Dalek Sec, a member of the notorious, antagonistic race of aliens known as the Dalek from the television series Doctor Who.  The Daleks are an intensely xenophobic race of cyborgs, and while only four members remain alive, they are bent on the genocide of every other race.  Dalek Sec (then Dalek leader), however, had a revolutionary idea on how their species could remain alive.  Sec noticed that humans managed to always survive throughout time, and suggested having their bodies fused with those of the Daleks.  The end result looked something like this –

This is a new Dalek Sec, having fused with a male human host.  As a result of his transformation, Sec discovered emotions and humanity, but at the cost of power and superior intellect.  Sec claimed that humanity was the key to survival in that it allowed for compatibility with other races and evolution as a whole, while Daleks themselves were rigid and unchanging.  Sec’s comrades eventually betrayed him since, being xenophobes, combining with “inferior” DNA was treason, and also because his morals and emotions made him insane.

So the question is, who was really insane?  Dalek Sec, for giving up clear genetic superiority and virtual invincibility (Daleks are impervious to nearly all weapons and are armed with a death ray and computer hacking device) for the sake of emotion and survival, or his comrades, for sacrificing all joy and purpose in life for sole, unquestioned superiority?  In the end, it comes down to a simple preference between power and humanity.

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Insanity (?)

In my previous posts, I’ve gone into depths of certain things that relate to insanity, as well as the word itself.  What does this do for you, however, in terms of telling you what insanity, what the essence of this word is?  There are so many literal and figurative meanings behind it, from disease to acts to personality to insults.  To truth to insanity is, in fact, that there is no truth to insanity.  Would you call somebody who sacrificed a human being, who built stone behemoths to protect the dead, or who worshiped animal Gods?  In the future, will they call those who called fish eggs a delicacy and used oil as a fuel insane?  Who is to truly say?

Many words are relative: normalcy, intelligence, strength, etc.  This is especially true for a word such as insanity.  Insanity is a word defined by the society that is currently using it, and as that society progresses and changes, so does the word insanity.  Today, for example, insanity is no longer an acceptable medical diagnosis, due simply to its relative nature.  Any disease of the mind is now called a mental illness (shocking) because it does not make one “insane,” it simply impairs mental functions.

hen using the term insanity, one must always be careful.  Maybe they are insane, maybe you are insane, maybe I’m insane.

“The good thing about weirdness is there is always somebody weirder than you.  You’re all saying, ‘At least I’m not as weird as this guy!’  And I’m saying, ‘At least I’m not as weird as the people in the loony bin!’  And the people in the loony bin are saying ‘At least I’m an orange!'” – Jim Gaffigan

Shine on, you Crazy Diamond

Syd Barrett

In an earlier post, I had compared the use of the drug LSD to symptoms of the mental illness schizophrenia, and how the two can relate.  The connection between this disease and illicit substance is best illustrated through the life of former Pink Floyd member and founder, Syd Barrett (1946-2006).

Interestingly enough, the unique sound of the band Pink Floyd is often attributed to Barrett and his drug obsessed lifestyle, but too often do people forget that he only had a short stay with the band, lasting fewer than ten years.

Rock and roll never seems to mix well with drugs, and all too often do bands get split apart because of addiction.  In Barrett’s case, however, the problem was not any sort of addiction (while a drug, there is no addictive quality to acid itself, though some people rely on the hallucinations produced to a point that they mimic an addict).  As the band progressed, Barrett began to act eccentric, skipping rehearsals and constantly showing up late to concerts, as though he was unaware of the band’s existence.  One night, the members of Pink Floyd simply chose to go on without Syd, replacing him with their newest member David Gilmour.  Barrett hardly seemed to notice.

Barrett’s musical career was far from over, however.  He had many solo albums, each seeming more trippy and otherworldly than the last.  Eventually, it became evident Barrett was suffering from a mental breakdown when he was hospitalized.  It was not too long after when he was a diagnosed schizophrenic.  The cause was proven to be the result of his drug abusive past, and the effects were irreversible.

Barrett’s last public appearance was in the Abbey Road music studio during the recording of Pink Floyd’s album Wish You Were Here.  Barrett had gained a great deal of weight, shaved off all hair on his face (head, facial hair, eyebrows) and spoke in incoherent ramblings.  The band members, shocked at what they saw, produced three recordings in memory of their old friend: Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pt. 1 & 2, and the song that would later provide the name for the album.

A great mind is truly a terrible thing to waste.

Sethe Be Crazy

As I have mentioned numerous times in my previous posts, insanity can be caused by a variety of factors, but they can always be classified into one of two groups: genetic or environmental factors.  Sethe, the main protagonist from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, is an excellent example of the impact environment can have on one’s sanity.

Normal, comfortable, stable, and happy are but a few words that would do absolutely nothing to describe Sethe’s life (words such as slavery, rape, broken home and ghost-of-my-murdered-baby-haunting-my-house would do much more justice).  The life of a slave, especially a female one, is an experience unmatched in torment and misery.  The physical and mental scarring Sethe had faced left its mark on her, and as a result caused her to make irrational decisions when she was faced with problems involving her past.  Sometimes, such behaviors were minor.  While a long-lost friend of hers, Sethe had a hard time being around Paul D. (at times), as he reminded her of a past life.  Here, nobody was harmed, Sethe was just trying to forget the past and avoid her inner pain (completely normal).  However, the damage done to Sethe’s mind ran much deeper than her awkward social graces around Paul D.

Remember that baby haunting Sethe’s house?  Well, spoiler alert, she killed it, in addition to nearly beating her two sons to death, and making her way to Denver.  Now, (maternal) filicide can usually be traced to some sort of mental disturbance.  The key factor here is that we know about what had happened to Sethe in her past.  She was a slave, and saw an old “friend” of hers attempting to halt her escape her, and her children’s, escape.  In Sethe’s mind, slavery was worse than anything, even death.  At the same time, the basic function of all species is to reproduce, and so to kill her own children would be to go against a basic human impulse, making the decision irrational.  This decision was based off of the impact left on her by her environment, and how the majority of people (even slaves at the time) would not have made such a brash decision.

While one decision in life is hardly enough to classify somebody as insane, it does show what that person is capable of, and where their so called “spark of insanity” lies.  In Sethe’s case, it was all in her past.  While the event itself is a horrible one, showing the grief she must have suffered in addition to bringing the life of a child to an end, what is interesting to note is how is goes against basic human impulses, leaving a small chance that her problems may lie (though not likely) within her genes.  Seldom does anyone, slave or free man of the time, have such an awful experience that they can turn away from humanity.

No Joke

A disease that I have commonly referred to when blogging is schizophrenia, and indeed, when most people think of insanity, the symptoms of this awful disease come to mind.  What makes this disease most interesting, though, is the several factors that can attribute to its onset.

Generally, diseases have one distinct cause (a faulty gene, a virus/bacteria, substance abuse, etc.).  Schizophrenia, however, can be caused by many factors, including depression, social disorders, and the precursors mentioned above.  The disease itself is a terrible experience, one that can leave the victim nearly incapable of cognitive processes.

Generally, schizophrenia takes time to reach full effect in a patient.  It will begin with hallucinations (and/or hearing voices), along with disorganized and rambling thoughts/speech.  At the point of diagnosis, the patient has usually become completely antisocial, isolating themselves.  In rare conditions, the subject will begin to bend into bizarre (and sometime painful) postures, a symptom commonly associated with possession.

There was one trait that separated schizophrenia with other disorders, however, and that is a supposed lack of self control.  Schizophrenia patients will often believe that their thoughts are being created by an external force, usually the voices or images they are sensing.  These ideas of “people in your head” are a common stereotypical symptom of a vague diagnosis of insanity.  Due to its severity and mind-altering nature, schizophrenia has become sort of a “poster child” for the insane.

Many people have experienced this disease.  Famed mathematician John Nash had delusions of government agents attempting to take his life.  While a genius, his disorder is believed to be of a genetic origin.  Another example is the now deceased musician Syd Barrett (founder of Pink Floyd), who had onset delusions from constant LSD abuse, leading to his eventual descent into schizophrenia.  Insanity can be many things, but for some reason, this one pops into our heads first. 

Insanity? How Hysterically Absurd!

If you read my last post, then you know how hard it is to put a specific definition on the word “insanity.”  If you did not read my last post, then I cannot help but wonder why you skipped to my second.  That’s like watching The Godfather Pt. II before the first one.  It may seem like a timesaver, but then all of a sudden you are left wondering “Who is the Vito Corleone fellow, and what does he have to do with the story?”  But I digress…

Insanity is an interesting word to say the least.  If one were to narrow down the possible uses of it, they would find two big ones. 

The original and primary use of the word is as a medical diagnosis.  In this sense, the word is a general term for psychotic or social conditions of the mind.  “Insane” would, in essence be a broad term, such as “Mental Disorder” or “Physical Condition.”  Synonyms for specific uses of this type of insanity would be neurosis, phobia, psychosis, dementia, etc.

Now more than ever, insanity has become the subject of many a hyperbole.  When someone does something even remotely different, people have a tendency to call them “insane.”  For example –

“You think the Chicago (insert Chicago sports franchise) will win the (insert name of sports tournament)?  You are insane!”

Here synonyms for insanity would include absurdity, craziness, delusion and, in most cases, sheer stupidity.  If you need me to tell you what the antonym of INsanity is, then stop reading right now.  However, since it is required…

IN- is a prefix indicating the opposite or lack of something.  Sanity, meaning “sane” or with common sense and without delusion, would mean the opposite with IN- attached, forming our favorite word, insanity.  Antonyms include wellness, balance, and, of course, sanity.

Insanity

If one were to open up a dictionary, it can be safely assumed that under “insanity” you will find “the state of being insane.”  Unfortunately, dictionaries only define root words because their respective writers are lazy bums.  Some, for your sake, let us start off with the definition of “insane.”  To be insane is to be considered “mad, extravagant, outrageous, or insane (yes, they used the word in the definition).”  So, to sum things up, the definition of insanity is “the state of being mad, extravagant, outrageous, or insane.”  If you looked up the definition for any of these words, I am equally sure that the word insane would be used in their as well.  Oddly enough, this cannot be blamed solely on the laziness of dictionary authors.

This word first came into use around 1580, being derived from the term insane, first coming into use in 1550.  These words were derived from the Latin phrases “Insanitatem” and “Insanus,” respectively.  Apparently, when people started acting, well, insane,m everybody thought “What the Hell do we call the nut jobs?” to which someone of slightly higher intelligence retorted “Apparently the Romans had a word for it, let us change the last few letters and use said phrase!”  This, of course, brings us back to the issue of insanity’s apparent (and yes, I have used this word three times in two sentences) lack of a definition.

Insanity – as well as sanity, for that matter – by it’s very nature is almost impossible to give a solid definition to.  There was once a definition, commonly quoted as insanity as “repeating the same act over and over again whilst expecting different results.”  For example, if somebody were to clasp there hands and ask a magic sky being to solve all of their problems everyday, even though they never saw results, they would be completely insane, as well as an idiot.  This definition, however, did not account for any outside factors that can make someone who constantly repeats an act completely sane.  In older times, insanity commonly referred to those who, by birth or through environment, lost all common sense.  Examples would be in Othello, where the titular character can be said to have gone insane after murdering his wife for reasons based purely on speculation.

Today, however, insanity has become more of a general terms for suffering a mental condition along the lines of schizophrenia, the multiple identity complex, or attending the Church of Scientology.  An example of this definition would be more like Alex from A Clockwork Orange, who has no regret or pity in committing deeds such as battery or rape for pure sportsmanship.  He would be insane because he has always lacked key features of human emotion and cognitive thought.  While not in a dictionary, this definition is definitely what most will assume you mean when speaking of “insanity.”