We are mad, not only individually but nationally.
We check homicide and isolate murderers;
but what of war and the much vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples?"

Seneca

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over
 and over again expecting different results.”

Albert Einstein

Madness and genius are not mutually exclusive.
Ralph Peters in The Devils of Mumbai

    What is insanity? What if we for some reason became totally convinced of a false assumption? What if that false assumption was a paranoid one such as one's business competitors are poisoning one's food. The logical response to such an assumption would be to buy canned food from the supermarket and eat it immediately, or to keep one's food where one can keep an eye on it. In addition the logical thing to do would be to give one's food to a crime lab in order to get help from the police. This would all be considered mad behavior by those who do not share one's assumption that one is being poisoned. What if the police found nothing yet we were totally convinced that we were being poisoned by our competitor. We might strike out at that competitor so that they would not be able to poison us anymore. Then we would be considered criminally insane. The topic of whether delusional people can be that way and have their reasoning intact is discussed further on the Theory of Delusion web page.

    Clifford Whittingham Beers, made this point in his book A Mind that Found Itself. He wrote:

Most sane people think that no insane person can reason logically. But this is not so. Upon unreasonable premises I made most reasonable deductions, and that at the time when my mind was in its most disturbed condition.

    Insane behavior can result from one paranoid false assumption. One can be totally logical about everything else and yet still be insane. The most dangerous form of insanity is that in which one can reason logically. A paranoid man who can make intelligent plans can do a lot more damage than a paranoid man who cannot. Many countries have paranoid assumptions about other countries, for example, some of the Islamic countries consider the United States to be the "Great Satan". Many terrorist movements can be considered paranoid movements with the ability to reason which makes them dangerous and insane. The ability to reason enabled terrorists to deliver a truck bomb to the World Trade Center and years later to hijack planes and fly them into the World Trade Center. The ability to reason enabled terrorists to manufacture poison gas and release it in Tokyo subways.

    In the fall of 2002 two snipers terrorized the D.C. area by shooting people from the trunk of their car. It turned out that they were engaged in Islamic Jihad. The defense team for one of the snipers, Lee Malvo argued that his Jihad rantings were a sign of insanity. This is true even though their approach to killing was very rationally thought out and even though they were fighting Jihad for Islam. That is because radical Islam may be a form of insanity.

    In the fall of 2005 four Al Qaeda suicide bombers struck Jordan two of whom were husband and wife. The husband and wife walked into a wedding procession and the husband blew himself up. King Abdullah II of Jordan said after the bombing (New York Post 11/13/05):

 "To walk into a hotel to see a wedding procession and to take your . . . spouse with you . . . and to blow yourself up [showed] these people are insane."

The planning though was quite clever. The husband who blew himself up was disguised as a wedding photographer.

    How do terrorist groups become convinced of insane assumptions? How do entire countries become convinced of such assumptions? In many countries there is a large majority having the same religious beliefs or ideology. Often religious groups or Utopian groups view the nonbeliever as evil. Some of the reasons for this are discussed in the Negative Aspects of Religion  page and the Problems with Utopian Thinking  page. The leaders of many countries have expansionist aims and justify their expansionist behavior with propaganda about how evil their intended victim is and so create paranoia and insanity within their country. A classic example of a country that went insane with a chilling ability to reason was Nazi Germany. Nazism was a form of Utopianism in which a superior Aryan race would rule the world. The Nazi leaders created paranoia toward the Jew and then built sophisticated concentration camps in which to enslave them and sophisticated gas chambers in which to kill them. The madness led them to kill 6 million Jews as well as millions of others in the camps and many millions more in the battlefield. An example of a modern insane country is North Korea. Norbert Vollertsen travelled to North Korea as part of a German medical team to offer medical assistance. What he saw led him to call North Korea a "depraved and mad corner of humanity."  (Why North Korea Deported Me, frontpagemag.com 6/15/05)

     There is another form of insanity that is often part of countries that are the target of expansionist countries. That is the insanity of believing that appeasement will reduce the threat that they face. A clear example of the madness of this policy is the U.S. appeasement policy toward North Korea. There are those who argue that Israel's current appeasement policies are mad, an excellent article about this was written by Elyakim Haetzni and is called The Psychiatric Ward. A brief television ad that appeared in May 2006, describing the madness of continued Israeli withdrawals can be viewed by clicking here.

    The madness of how the war against Jihadists is being fought was explained by Rabbi Aryeh Spero in an article in Human Events (To Win A War You Must Be Willing To Look Bad, posted 11/29/05)

Listening to the media, the talking heads, and many in Congress, one gets the sense that the most important element in our war against jihadist terrorism is not victory but who can show that he cares more than the other guy about the comfort and "rights" of terrorist detainees. In other words, who can boast that he is more "ethical" than the rest of us.

 This is no way to win a war.

Instead of determining what best can achieve immediate victory, our preoccupation has been more about feeding detainees the Islamic food of their choice; safeguarding the Koran more than our own Bible; trying them not in military courts where they should be tried but in civil courts so they can have the best lawyers and chance at acquittal; providing them with all the Constitutional rights reserved for those born here who wish not to destroy our Constitution; and instituting anti-torture standards whose definition judges can expand so that effective interrogation will be impossible.

 Better for a million Americans to be incinerated, avant garde thinking goes, than use on known terrorists procedures that might elicit dates, time and place of imminent bombings of U.S. cities and citizens.

It is not that the country has gone moral, it has gone crazy.

     Albert Einstein said that

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”

    Do clinically rationally people do the same thing over and over again and expect different results? Ruth Matar wrote how this is happening in Israel (Letter From Ruth Matar, 11/22/06). She wrote:

Even after the dangerous fiasco of the Gaza disengagement, Ehud Olmert continues to boast that he was the one who convinced Ariel Sharon to disengage from Gush Katif (Gaza). Not only is he proud of this past "accomplishment", but he continues to promote the very ideas, which have proven so disastrous for Israel.

In his recent meeting with US President George W. Bush, he continued to promote his “Convergence Plan”, his “Realignment Plan” and his “Disengagement Plan”. Actually, these plans are all the same­their intent is to give away Jewish land, in his words, “to increase security”. Thus, Olmert wants to repeat his Gaza “disengagement success” in Judea and Samaria.

Let us take a critical look at the Gaza Disengagement Plan:

1. The suffering of the approximately 9,500 Jews forcibly expelled from their homes; for the majority, no jobs, no permanent homes, and no compensation from the government.

2. The security situation of the South has deteriorated drastically. The General Security Service (Shabak) announced on September 20 that in the year 2005, 159 rockets were fired at the Sderot region. This year, so far, 1004 Kassam rockets have been fired at Sderot and environs!

3. Many people have been maimed by the non-stop rain of rockets. Last Wednesday, Maor Peretz was seriously injured in a rocket attack; both of his legs were subsequently amputated below the knee. Fatima Slutzker, mother of two, was killed in the same attack. Yesterday, Yaakov Yaakobov, the father of two teenage sons, was killed, when a Kassam rocket hit the factory where he worked. (Sadly, he won't get to celebrate his son's Bar Mitzvah next month.)

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat wrote an excellent op-ed article entitled: “Saying I’m Sorry”, which was published in the Jerusalem Post of November 21, 2006.

In this article, Rabbi Riskin explains why it is so important to say “I’m sorry”:

“Because at the very least it tells me that the sinner understands he made such a mistake, and so there is at least a possibility that he will not repeat it again."

Unfortunately, there’s seems to be little chance that Olmert will admit his mistakes, much less say he is sorry. On the contrary, he blindly and stubbornly forges ahead, making the same mistakes all over again. IF THAT DOESN'T FIT ALBERT EINSTEIN'S DEFINITION OF INSANITY, I DON'T KNOW WHAT DOES!

Ironically there is a lot of madness in the therapy world, "Recovered Memory" being one example.  A book about crazy therapies was written by Margaret Singer, a clinical psychologist and her coauthor Janji Lalich and appropriately titled Crazy Therapies.

    There are many examples of social madness.  During the Salem Witch Trials the legal system went mad.  The following is an excerpt of crossexamination of a woman accused of witchcraft at one of the Salem Witch Trials.  

 

What evil spirit have you familiarity with?
None.
Have you made no contract with the devil?
No.
Why do you hurt these children?
I do not hurt them. I scorn it.
Who do you imploy then to do it?
I imploy no body.
What creature do you imploy then?
No creature. I am falsely accused.

The above text and picture is from the Town of Salem Memorial web site

   The madness of persecution of witches still exists today in Africa where mobs attack witchcraft suspects (Demons attack Kiboga Pupils New Vision 7/7/04).  

    The current false memory crisis in which people are locked up based on accusations of satanic abuse recovered in therapy is another manifestation of this madness in the United States and Europe (see Day of Contrition, Protesting Modern Witchhunts and  My Experience with False Memories).  Another manifestation is when children are pressured by police and therapist interrogators into making false accusations that have resulted in multiple life prison terms for innocent people.  A list of cases in which this happened can be found on the Alleged Witchhunt Cases web site.

    In the Salem Witch trials and in the Kern County sex-ring case, trials stopped when accusations of abuse were made against the prosecutors themselves.  Yet as of this writing (10/1999) falsely accused people are still locked  up in Kern County.

    What were the false assumptions in the false accusation cases.  Assumptions that if someone is accused, that person must be guilty.  These assumptions were held no matter how wild the accusations.  If the children making the accusations claimed they were molested in flying saucers, the jurors rationalized, well they're kids, of course they will fantasize, but they assumed that the accusations they children were making were not fantasy.

    Another example of madness is the furor over 'Frankenfood'.   Frankenfood refers to food in which pest resistant or other genes have been incorporated.  Incorporating such genes actually makes the foods safer since fewer pesticides have to be sprayed on them.  Nevertheless there is a fierce backlash in Europe and farmers are having difficulty selling genetically improved crops.  The false assumption here is that inserting a gene creates monster plants that are somehow bad for you.

   A good source of other examples of  general insanity is the Skeptics Dictionary.

    People who are otherwise considered sane embrace the false assumptions leading to the mad social behaviors that I have described.  Their madness is not that different from the madness of the mentally ill.  The "sane" people who are part of social madness cling to false assumptions the way the mentally ill do. 

 How do individuals become convinced of false assumptions that lead to mental illness? I think this can happen without any genetic predisposition for craziness. I know a man who was picked on as a child and who did not have a supportive family to come home to. Other children were very mean to him and would jeer at him. Eventually as a boy he started believing that when children were talking they were talking about him and looking at him they were saying nasty things about him to each other. A lot of the time he was right. When he went to college fewer people were probably not doing this as they had matured. However he still interpreted people’s talking to each other in this way. Occasionally even among college students there was nastiness to him and that must led him to ask why? Why were these people hostile to him? What did they know about him? After graduate school he perceived this kind of behavior among people who he had never met in places he hadn’t been before.

One could argue that it doesn’t make sense that adults who didn’t know him were making negative comments about him and therefore he was crazy and something was biologically wrong with him but I don’t think that explanation is necessary to explain his perceptions. We all attach certain probabilities to certain explanations for things that we see. Imagine if two people you don’t know are looking in your direction and talking and laughing. You might think that the most probable explanation for this is simply two people having a good time and chatting about something that makes them laugh that has nothing to do with you. Now imagine that many times in the past when people were looking at you and laughing they were about to mock you and jeer at you and maybe hit you. Now the probability of the laughing you see now being innocent is lower. Past experience has taught you that the probability of this laughing being hostile is much higher. The man who drew the conclusion that these people were being hostile was merely making a reasonable inference based on past experience.

The problem was why were they being hostile? These were people who he had never met before. He kept perceiving that people were being hostile. He even heard them saying things that sounded like hostile words. Here again he may have not been sure what they were saying or what the context was but in the past when people said such things they were being hostile. Therefore it was probably that they were doing so now. Also some may have been hostile. I once went on a walk with this man and three blacks passed us and spit. They were showing whitey who was boss. He may have encountered other similar experiences when I wasn't around.

In order to explain this hostility that he kept perceiving he concluded that these people had to know something negative about him. They had to recognize him in some way even if he didn’t recognize them. They had to have seen a picture or a movie of him doing something reprehensible. He had acted in an embarassing way once in front of a mirror while a student. He knew of stories of fraternities secretly filming people doing embarassing things. What if he had been filmed that day.? That would explain all this mysterious hostile behavior. As time went on he heard people talk about a movie in what he thought was a hostile way. Aha, that was the movie about him.

What we see here is how slightly incorrect assumptions can become a very incorrect assumption. Once one has this false assumption one can deduce a lot of faulty conclusions based on it with perfect logic and generate more false assumptions. If there was such widespread hostility toward him it was possible that people were out to get him. Perhaps when he felt bad it was because somebody put something in his food. He did feel very bad after drinking water one day.

This person who believed all this was totally capable of good logic. He was a computer programmer which requires logic and he managed to debug a lot of programs.
 

    The mentally ill however, may have physiological imbalances that create or reinforce their madness.  There are chemical imbalances in the brain that can cause paranoid emotions which can make paranoid thoughts very plausible. One starts interpreting events as evidence to support one's paranoid suspicions.   Eventually these plausible thoughts become convictions.  Paranoia can create self reinforcing cycles toward madness.  Also people who are exposed to hostile behavior from others can develop paranoia (see Karl Ericson's story).

    People are susceptible to making cognitive errors which makes it possible for madness to develop.  A checklist of cognitive distortions that lead to depression can be found in the Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns M.D..   Some of these are listed in the cognitive distortion page of this web site.  A cognitive distortion to add to this list that is integral to the paranoia of ideological and religious groups is the belief that "Those who do not share my beliefs are evil".

 

 

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