Saturday, October 9, 2010

For those who go barefoot...

In considering the actions of the mind, it should never be forgotten, that its affections pass into each other like the tints of the rainbow: though we can easily distinguish them when they have assumed a decided colour, yet we can never determine where each hue begins…. Madness is almost undefinable. Right reason and insanity are merely the extreme terms of a series of mental action, which need not be very long. Sir Francis Palgrave, 1823
Keeping that point in mind--and refining it as Melville did when he scribbled at the back of his Shakespeare volume, "Madness is undefinable"--I want to say two words about accepting or refusing social conventions in relation to the topic of schizophrenia.

In an essay I mentioned the other day (here's an excerpt) written by Philip K. Dick, titled, "Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes," Dick begins by distinguishing between the social mind and the private mind (this is a loose summary--I'm using my terminology; not his). The private mind is able to exist for a time in childhood unconstrained by the demands of the social mind. I even get the impression PKD was updating or re-presenting the Edenic phase in his description of the private mind in its unpressured phase.

But then: usually around adolescence, the private mind begins feeling the pressure from social realities: Dick mentions the case of daydreaming about asking a pretty girl out--she may hardly know you exist, but you've spent hours and hours imagining every possible outcome of your asking her out. During the imagining phase, you're still in "private mind," but when you finally work up the courage and ask--and when she says, "No," then the private mind is forced to a reckoning.

The schizophrenic, says Dick, refuses--even at that moment--to take the presence of the social mind seriously. He more and more retreats, then, from the social world, hoping to avoid further confrontations with its hurtful realities. Eventually, of course, he loses. Reality is undeniable. And Dick says that it's this loss, rather than the supposed-floating-off-into-another-dimension, that forms the basis of schizophrenia. Dick's schizophrenic is simply one who has realized, through a courageous battle that ends with his own defeat, that the world happens to him.

The archetypal figure Dick describes may be imagined from his outline as someone who refuses to accept the pressures to conform--refuses all forms of discipline, refuses dress shirts, hair-cuts, sports, etc--until society finally refuses to put up with his refusals, and either jails or commits him (hence the diagnosis). That's where Dick turns to the "Book of Changes" (or I Ching) to show how a schizophrenic can cope with that "it happens" understanding of reality.

That's where I leave off from PKD's interesting essay, to wonder for myself: is accepting some of the pressures to conform, accepting some of the mores and dictates of civil society, a requirement for continued sanity? Or is it possible to stay sane even while refusing to incorporate the behaviors society is encouraging?

Asked again: is it useful to the Self to accept some of these constrains and disciplines, even recognizing them to be arbitrary? Does it, maybe, help us mature to another level of psychological development, or get closer to enlightenment, or something?--or is the presence of that notion indicative of a crushed spirit, or a zombie-like complicity in one's own destruction?

In finally accepting that I have to tuck my shirt in Monday-Friday, even though I hated it at the outset, have I lost an important part of my identity? Or should we be ready to make these kinds of compromises precisely because they're so superficial and ultimately meaningless?--and if the latter, how far should we be willing to bend?--to break, blow, burn... and be made new?


  1. of course! this is why no one working 9-5, wearing a tie, and parting their hair conservatively ever gets diagnosed as schizophrenic! they just end up in a clock tower.

  2. You make wild generalizing so difficult.

  3. sorry. i'm always the wet blanket in brainstorming sessions.

  4. Re: 'compromising' one's identity: your question is hard to answer without a concept of identity on the table--and I'm not sure it's on there yet. You speak of strict boundaries you don't define, and then ask what constitutes encroachment.

    For instance, if you meant 'rational identity' of the autonomous/kantian sort, then borders seem not to be strict (nor can this be what the child STARTS with, and subsequently compromises.) Rationality (I'd argue) is an inter-personal practice through and through (reasons are GIVEN, and given to each other--we justify our views and actions to each other--and this is what makes us reason-able; there is, so to speak, no private Reason). This is why, when it goes well, the possessive drops out of reasons-talk ('ONE should believe ____, or 'ONE should do ____') Reasons, as common currency of trade, exist for us as dollars do--in common. I cannot possible have MY dollar by 'making' my own entirely. That's not how currency--rational or financial--works. So to imagine a sort of rational self, originally discrete and sovereign, making decisions for reasons, requires alot more argument. At any rate, a clarification of 'identity' of any kind would be helpful.

    I am sympathetic to the general worry though. See this entry (and the last paragraph in comments) to see if we are not tracking, in different ways, the same concern.