Rational madness

“Madness is rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.” — Nietzsche


It is fairly easy to produce a coherent explanation of everything if we are willing to selectively ignore our experiences or disregard them as epiphenomenal — as caused by physical or societal processes.

If we try to do full justice to our most immediate experiences — and take seriously things like love, beauty, sacrality, relevance, intuition, offense, admiration, ambivalence, loneliness, jealousy, alienation, togetherness, shame, anxiety, perplexity — we find ourselves facing a harder problem.

And if we take seriously other persons’ accounts of their immediate experiences, and resist the compulsion to ignore or disregard what they experience, the quest for coherent explanation might even seem like a distraction from actually understanding what is going on around us.


Another Nietzsche quote: “The two principles of the new life. — First principle: life should be ordered on the basis of what is most certain and most demonstrable, not as hitherto on that of what is most remote, indefinite and no more than a cloud on the horizon. Second principle: the order of succession of what is closest and most immediate, less close and less immediate, certain and less certain, should be firmly established before one orders one’s life and gives it a definitive direction.”

When attempting to understand the world, far too many people rely too much on secondary accounts of distant events — and on what they, with their limited life experiences, can construe from these accounts. Much can go wrong with interpretations. Misinterpretive wrongness compounds when misinterpretations are subjected to theories untempered by praxis (that is, through iterative application, reflection and correction.)

And then, of course, there is the question of selection of accounts. Which are noticed as relevant, and taken seriously as something to accept or reject? Which accounts are never seen or sought or slip by as irrelevant noise? The selected accounts tend to be those that play nice with existing interpretive schemes and one’s own active theories.

And of course, each account is the result of a similar selection and construal process. Who are they paying attention to?

What this over-reliance on secondary accounts does to a public — a public which spends more time processing other people’s processing of other people’s processing — is alienating them from their own immediacy — and exchanging that personal immediacy for obsessive-compulsive theorizing on distant matters. This process produces tribal mass minds.

A person caught up in a mass mind will “think independently” — will rigorously ratiocinate using the interpretive schema and theories of a tribe — and reach the conclusions all reasonable people must.


My response to politics is based on my immediate experience of what ideologies do to those possessed by them.

Does an ideology’s interpretive schema and social theory justify coercion or violence to meet its goals? Does it seek and find exigencies that justify illiberal measures? If so, that ideology is potentially violent and illiberal. I do not have to calculate probable events to know this.

Does a popular ideology eclipse the possibility of genuine personal connection? Does it dismiss or explain away immediate experience? or does it reduce persons to categories with deducible properties? or does its judgment justify prioritizing its own judgment over my own? or does it obsessive-compulsively drive conversation back to distant matters? If so, I resent it for body-snatching people who might otherwise be friends.


“But what if I’m right? Then what?” “What if this conspiracy is real?” “What if your apparent agency is just an emergent property of unjust social dynamics?” “What if the devil is deluding you and preventing you from joining our church?” “What if?” —

Well… What if you are trying to talk me out of trusting my own immediate experience so you can seduce me to an intellectual circularity that will rob me of personal agency?

That rings true.

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