By Sid Prise
Key Themes: schizophrenia, empowerment, civilisation, society
This work analyzes the insanity of world civilisation, pointing out how delusions such as racism, sexism, homophobia, regionalism, ableism, speciesism, and the slavery to the beauty standard all stem from a “schizophrenic dissociation” of the individual from others and from the self. The madness of “sane” society is paralleled by the author’s own diagnosable madness, which he uses to illustrate the dynamics of the dissociation, and then suggests possible treatments for society’s illness. Part analysis, part history, part personal narrative, An Ethics of Sanity offers insight from the madness of one individual, driven mad by a mad society.
About the Author
Sid Prise is a writer and activist born in 1972 in Chicago. Sid was diagnosed with Undifferentiated Schizophrenia in 1997, following a prolonged mental and emotional crisis culminating in hearing voices, which he deals with to this day. He has been writing seriously since 1994, and published his first novel, True Faith, in 2003. More of his writings are published online at www.smallaxebooks.com. He resides with his partner, Kathy, and their friends in a collective house in Chicago.
I am a madman. For the longest time, years and years, this has been an impediment to me, a source of inadequacy and unhappiness. I was persuaded by doctors, family, friends, the TV, and much of the rest of my surroundings, to view my madness in purely negative terms, and to view myself as “suffering” from “chemical imbalances,” which could be “corrected” with medications, therapy, and other treatments designed to arrest my symptoms and return me to normality. My recovery has been partial, my symptoms have waxed and waned in intensity; but throughout, until very recently, I viewed these torments as things simply to be avoided, hoping one fine day to be “cured” of them. Many madmen and madwomen can sympathize, I’m sure, with this self-appraisal; and indeed, there certainly is validity in wanting to be free of hallucinations, paranoia, mania and depression, all of which I’ve dealt with over my years. There is indeed much that is negative about my condition.
But very recently, after many attempts to think through and feel through and, most importantly, to write through these experiences of madness, I’ve come to quite another take on it all. Each person, mad or sane, is unique; their particular “snowflake” of personality and perspective is never quite repeated. It would be a shame to lose that snowflake, or miss the opportunity to view its beauty, to learn from its vision. I, like everyone else, have a vision, a message to share. And integral to my experience, something inseparable from the rest, is my madness. I have begun now to appreciate it for what it is.
The vision I’ve been blessed (and cursed) with is very dramatic, tortuous, and at times ecstatic. I’ve written more than one account of its dimensions, and the specifics of it are at times as baffling to me as they are to those who do not deal with them so intimately. My subconscious has imbibed much from my culture over my thirty-six years, as has my more immediate conscious mind. This total picture, both from above and below, spawned the adversaries I face daily as my hallucinatory voices. They appear to me as four “characters,” four personalities with names, voices, and attitudes which differ from one another; but they are united in their opposition to me, representing themselves as an elite, inner circle who run the world, and attempt to run my mind. It is not enough for me to condemn them, nor even to fight them; I must, if I am to become a whole person, resolve to understand them. This means understanding, deeply, the ethics they represent, and discovering alternative ethics by which I can live in opposition to their tyranny. How I’ve lived with them, and have come to a measure of happiness in their shadow, parallels the fight each of us must make to maintain ourselves in the face of the oppressive society that they simply mirror.
The central idea, the discovery hard-won in the course of struggling to heal myself, concerns the schizophrenic split between my mind and my body, the paranoia which pushes me into isolation, abstraction within my mind that distances me from the world of my senses and leads me to question the validity of my emotions. When I am isolated, I am prey to all manner of hellish thoughts, delusions, and become vulnerable to the voices’ tyranny. When I succeed in breaking out of this isolation, and become involved in community, I find this hell less intense, to the point where I am almost completely free. This schizophrenic condition is not, I feel, peculiar to me, but is the very source of the madness which afflicts our civilization. More and more, the institutions of our civilization – from the mass media to the architecture of our urban and suburban living spaces to the paranoid policies of our governments (anti-crime, anti-terrorist, anti-immigrant, etc.) – are trying to instill a fear of our neighbours, a competition with our workmates, and a cynicism about humanity which poisons any dream of a better world. Isolation is the source of paranoia, both personally and socially, and it is also its result. The vicious dialectic of isolation and paranoia feeds the clinging to privilege, the forfeiting of freedom for safety, and the perpetuation of a society based on fear and distrust. The only way out of isolation – within our homes, within our “niches,” within ourselves – is to reach out beyond the apparent safety of our isolated existences to a larger community.