I just found the text from one of my favourite essays on the internet today, thanks to the marvel of Google Books.
It’s written by the famous American author “Anonymous” (or was it Name Withheld?) and after publication in The Atlantic, was collected into “Essays and Essay-Writing”, published in 1917.
Even after more than 80 years, it is nothing short of delightful…You can read all of it at http://www.liberty4urbana.com/drupal-6.8/node/245… but here are some excerpts…
“Asylums for the Hopelessly Sane”
These are courageous, intelligent days, when the world is taking itself in hand and studying its own wants, with the effect of divining some needs which our fathers crassly ignored. Our psychological development enables us more and more to look below the obvious surface of the demands of our civilization. Among other things, we are beginning to feel the necessity of erecting a few asylums for the hopelessly sane. The progress, if not the actual safety, of the commonwealth requires them.
Fortunately, there would never have to be many such institutions in existence; for sanity in its advanced stages is not a disease widely prevalent among human communities, and incipient sanity can generally be checked. But the demand might support a supply of one to every state.
What are the symptoms of sanity, and what are the dangers inherent in its development? Some of us know only too well. We have tried to deal with sane people. But others, more fortunate, have never felt the chilly blanketing of the malign influence, its distortion of the generous values of life, and they have to have their eyes opened to the thwarting peril…
…Sane people are always drawing lines. That is one of the surest indications of their malady. As if the hard-and-fast lines of our human destiny were not already drawn close enough! As if, enlisted in a good cause, we had any business to set ourselves boundaries!
…But is sanity tolerant ? If it were, it would at least be harmless, and there would be no need for the Sane Asylums. Unfortunately, like all its other characteristics, tolerance graces it only up to a certain point. Beyond that, a decided negation takes possession of it and makes it a grim force in the world….
…Enthusiasm is too sensitive and spiritual an essence not to suffer from the shock and chill of encounter with prudence. It draws in its tentacles, contracts; and, when it recovers itself, finds itself a changed being in a hardening world. There is then nothing for it but to go slowly; for hard things require deliberate manipulation. Only things made molten by a fire of love and zeal flow swiftly into place.
One sees, then, how fatal the touch of sanity may be. It is not precisely contagious, for most of us — thank heaven ! — have no germs of it in us; but it is very arresting. It interrupts the momentum by which many a good cause, if left to itself, would have carried all before it. When the world at last makes up its mind to become and to do that which it promised nineteen hundred years ago, it will have to begin by locking all its strictly sane people out of the way.
But if sanity is so thwarting, does it follow, on the other hand, that madness is the disposition which best suits human life? Natural selection seems to have found it so. Everybody is mad when he is most spontaneously, most effectively himself. For then he is literally beside himself, carried out of, away from himself, lost to his own recognition in the mighty sweep of his cause. He does not stop to weigh and consider, to balance expediencies; he lets himself go, and, almost without knowing it, accomplishes great things…
…Madness is an attribute of youth, and sanity of maturity. That is the reason why a beneficent Providence has decreed that the span of human life shall be so comparatively short, and that nations and civilization shall be so frequently dissolved and dispersed. Only when people and countries are young, do they make vigorous history. When they take to turning on themselves and asking soberly, ‘Is this worth while? Are we not becoming ridiculous?’, they have to be safely annihilated. Then the world-progress, sorely interrupted and impeded, can gather itself together and go on again.This is all quite too bad. For youth’s inexperience is its serious handicap; and maturity’s wisdom might stand it in good stead, if it were not taken in such over-doses that it becomes a poison. If people and nations could only conserve their madness through the whole course of their experimenting lives, learning the rules of the game while still devoting their passionate attention to the goal, they might end by making some really great and brilliant achievements.
Perhaps, then, sanitariums would be better than asylums for our sane. Instead of waiting till they become hopeless and then committing them permanently, it might be well to note the first symptoms and take them in hand. For the groundwork of human nature is so vital and healthy that, if it is encouraged, it can almost always throw off incipient sanity. The methods of such sanitariums would be interesting to devise. Patients not too far advanced in their malady would have a good time. They would be constrained to devote themselves recklessly to whatever they held most dear (provided the causes were approved worthy) ; they would be made to take risks, commit imprudences. By some ingenious arrangement of the daily curriculum, they would be constantly given the choice between that which is spontaneous, vital, and that which is reasonable ; and, when they chose the latter, they would be hissed. A fine place, such a sanitarium! Stimulating, inspiring, invigorating. We should all of us want to go there, for very love of the standard, for very joy in the great contagion of enthusiasm. Sane and insane alike, we should look upon the experience as a sort of religious * retreat.’
Ah! it is a desperate business, this life, to which we are so obscurely, so inexplicably committed. Our only chance with it is to take it desperately. It is infinitely greater than we are, it knows what it is about, its cosmic intentions endure. We are wise when we let ourselves go with it; we are very silly when we weigh and reserve our allegiance.
So, then, the sane are the only insane ? That is possible.