Tag Archives: insanity

Shakespeare and Our Collective Madness

Shakespeare viewed the entire world as “out of its ever-loving gourd” mad.  Thus he would describe life itself as a “tale told by an idiot” as he was a keen observer of the human predicament and was bewildered by what he saw.  Therefore in Hamlet, he lamented, in so many words, “Why bother” in the first place, why “toil and sweat under a weary life” when one could take exit with a “bare bodkin” and escape to golden mansions and streets of gold.

But I think that Shakespeare recognized that he too was mad but took comfort in that he had in his heart “something else” than madness.  His plays and sonnets revealed the presence of “the pauser reason” which allowed him self-awareness enough to own his “madness” but to realize he was not totally mad as was so many people around him who lacked that self-awareness.

I’m curious what he would say today about Donald Trump.  I think he would have a field day as Trump is about as close to “nothing else but mad” as one can be and merit the label “functional.”  But the only thing that gives him this label are his handlers who often appear to be going mad in their desperate effort to make his daily insane behaviors and statements palatable to the press and public.

To illustrate our collective madness, I have read that our world has the resources to eliminate hunger.  If so, why don’t we?  It seems to me that failure to do so is totally irrational yet you can bet your sweet bippy it will not happen in mine and your lifetime.  This is because “reality” grinds relentlessly onward, mindlessly, heartlessly, mechanically like the “tale told by an idiot” toward some unknown end and “chooses” to be oblivious to egregious ills.  But I, like the Bard, do affirm that “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”


Embedded Thinking #3

Blog—embedded thinking#3


Abu Abdallah is in an Iraqi prison, awaiting execution for recruiting suicide bombers.  In the following Guardian interview he remains adamantly committed to his cause, firmly resolved that his actions were Allah’s will, and that even collateral damage in the attacks he orchestrated were Allah’s will.  Abdu perfectly illustrates the “embedded thinking” that I have been writing about the past week, “thinking” which has such an emotional (and unconscious) investment that the body of thought appears to be completely autonomous.  He is not thinking, he is being “thought.”  This is the “dis-embodied word” that, carried to an extreme, leads to pronounced evil.  Abu Abdullah is enslaved by ideology and this “enslavement” is so complete that human experiences like regret and remorse are not possible.  Those “bothersome” human qualities are laid aside for the accomplishment of Allah’s will.   (See full article in following link:  http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-mastermind-describes-suicide-bombers-2015-8

Certainty is usually not toxic like Abdullah’s.  Most human beings live daily with the comfort of certainty that their way of viewing the world does not merit any introspection and the doubt it would create.  Give everyone the “pauser reason” that some of us have and the world would collapse immediately.  But for some individuals, and groups of individuals, the need for certainty becomes pathological and the consequences are often severe.  This need stems from deep-seated fears, an unconscious uncertainty that can be assuaged only by investing inordinately in a vein of thought that provides the illusion of certainty.  This “illusion” might appear delusional to outside observers but to those who are deeply embedded in an “illusion” it is the right way of viewing the world; and, so often this assuredness is attributed to a Supreme Being.

Life is fragile.  We are merely dust of the earth, “quintessence of dust” to use Shakespeare’s term, that has miraculously managed to gain “consciousness” and find the power to create human culture.  But beneath this thin veneer of consciousness, that reptilian brain still percolates and sometimes it “breathes out threatenings and slaughterings” and overrules the “pauser” that our forebrain was designed for.  One poet had this in mind when he wrote, “Only a tissue thin curtain in the brain shuts out the coiled recumbent land lord.”  (Eugene L. Mayo)

Pathological certainty is like a cancer in that it cannot be contained and always needs to “convince” others even at the point of the sword.  For those embedded in their own ideological certainty need to swell their ranks for the end purpose of making the world “the way it should be.”  And inevitably this “way the world should be” will be “God’s will” or “Allah’s will” and the end will always justify the means.  And as long as there is anybody in the world who does not subscribe to these “noble” and “true” ideas, the fear-based ideologue will be threatened.  The fear-based ideologue seeks to obliterate difference or “otherness”.

Mental illness is a reference problem.  This clinical bromide grasps the pathology of this “embedded thinking” which at a certain point of “embeddedness” becomes incapable of realizing that there are other ways of viewing the world.  One who feels certain that his tin foil hat will keep intrusive thoughts from outer space away is not insane in a community of like-minded souls.  And one who believes that President Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim socialist is not “nuts” in a group that firmly believes this to be true.

Shakespeare’s View on Madness

One of my readers responded to a recent post about collective insanity with the observation that “we are all crazy but some are crazier than others.” And Shakespeare certainly felt this was so, describing life as a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

I have studied and taught history and practiced as a mental health counselor. These experiences have given me an opportunity to utilize my Enneagram 6 “observer” skills and I often pine, “Why do they do what they are doing? Why don’t they see they are making such poor choices and simply ‘stop it’”! But fortunately I have always been self-reflective and turn the same focus on my own self and see that I too am my own worst enemy and, when practicing as a therapist, should have taken the advice of Jesus who told us, “Physician, health thyself.” But I knew that I couldn’t and that I, like my clients, was doing what W. H. Auden said we would do, spend our life, “Waging the war that we are.”

I, like you and the rest of our brothers and sisters, are driven by forces that we can never truly understand and we are often merely “the toy of some great pain.” This subterranean energy that pulsates through our lives at its deepest level contains a dimension of sheer insanity. But, most of us are lucky and are able to sublimate this madness into mere neurosis and muddle through our lives and keep this “idiotic tale” under way. We seem to follow the mantra, “The show must go on!”

I have come to realize that Shakespeare understood madness so well because he had a “tad” of it himself. “You spot it, you got it!” Hamlet noted, “What’s mad but to be nothing else but mad.” Shakespeare knew that to be truly mad there was only madness without the “pauser reason” which could check thoughts and impulses that are beyond the pale. He knew all of us are mad but some of us have that gift of that “pauser reason”, that neo-cortical capacity to self-monitor and give consideration to other people. Without it we are “nothing else but mad.” And to be “nothing else but mad” is really very comfortable; for those ensconced in that self-imposed prison are cut off from concern for external reference. Criticizing them is, to borrow an expression from my dear mother, “like pouring water off a duck’s back.”

Make the World Go Away

Make the world go away

And get it off my shoulders

Say the things you used to say

And make the world go away.


These words from Eddy Arnold, an old country-western great, really speak to me from time to time. Everyone feels from time to time that they wish to “check out,” perhaps using the old line from Star Trek, “Beam me up Scotty. There is no intelligent life down here.” The need to escape is part of being human and requires us to find appropriate ways of making the escape. For, there are many “escapes” that are costly or devastating in the long-run such as addiction, or fanatical beliefs…of any sort… or insanity, or even at an extreme suicide. These are all merely ways of saying, “I hurt too much! Stop it! Give me an escape! I can’t take this anymore.”

Shakespeare had insight regarding the escape into insanity and btw, all of these “escapes” carried to an extreme become insanity. For example, Hamlet pined re his desire to, “Flee to a nutshell and there be the king of infinite spaces.” This brilliant image of retreating to a private world is an astute description of insanity, which is always a retreat to a private reference system where one is freed….at least in his mind…from the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” There, the assault of reality might continue, but the individual ensconced in his private prison will be oblivious to the “assault.” “Free at last! Free at last! Praise God, I’m free at last,” he might say. But this “freedom” is an ugly escape from reality, for actually it is the antithesis of freedom as one is then in the bondage of his own whims and fancies. Paul Tillich called it “an empty world of self-relatedness.”

And all escapes have some risk for if they become too much a preference over reality, they can devolve into insanity. Religion is such a classic example of how a valid “escape” can become a prison. And a glass of wine or shot of bourbon can become such a delightful escape, or release, that addiction sets in and one disappears into the bottle. (And I admit, I have some experience with this “disappearance.”)

Arnold’s lovely tune also offered a marvelous escape…of the adaptive variety…as it was a love song and he was pining for the solace of relationship when his lover would again, “Say the things you used to say, and make the world go away.”