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The Mirror of your Mind

You cannot determine what is right-side-up or upside-down by following the crowd, nor even your political party or your tribe. It is certainly no sign of sanity to fit seamlessly into a sick society.

At the other extreme, you must hold fast to what is real and take care not to lose yourself to your individual illusions.

As unsettling as it may sound, I do believe that we should not take our sanity for granted. How easy it is to be swept up in collective insanity! How tempting it can also be to retreat into our own illusions! We perceive things through the mirror of our minds. We have no direct access, by way of our senses, to objective (much less ultimate) reality. That realization really should serve to restrain us in our zeal to prove we're right beyond doubt.

It's not enough to be clinically sound of mind. If you're diagnosed as "normal" that won't save you from acting insanely. Perfectly sane, you may experience the insanity that often afflicts couples, when each affirms what the other denies, until death do they dispute! That is bad enough, but remains a private affair. The particular form of individual insanity that concerns me most is the one that blends into and reinforces collective insanity. It is the form that causes us to think others are insane if they differ from the norm or the dominant belief...whatever that belief may be! This is the insanity that causes people to follow a group to its own destruction.

'It is certainly no sign of sanity to fit seamlessly into a sick society."

The question is this: when an important decision arises, with what clarity and clairvoyance are we able to make that decision? Say it is for you to decide whether or not to plunge the world into war, how will you reason it?

When I look back at human history, I never cease to be appalled by the insanity of war and never cease to be amazed at how such insanity was not seen as such when it manifested itself. Whether we look at the wars of religion in Europe or the world wars, all of them with their own inventory of horrors, there was always at the root some fear of "the other". There was always some belief that the other group or people constituted some existential threat.

Up to a certain point, the defensive behaviors may appear moral and rational. Each group defends its cause, perceived as just. That is indeed where we are, once again, when we stand up to defend the people of Ukraine, somehow hoping the outcome will be different from previous wars. If humanity could limit its wars to those of pure reason, or perhaps said otherwise, to situations in which killing is an unavoidable condition of being alive, well that would already seem like progress. Is that not indeed a futuristic fantasy (or possibility?), where artificial intelligence governs the world to ensure that everything is done rationally, according to some optimal global outcome?

I have wondered about those critical moments in history when the key players slipped into delirium, inexorably drawing millions of people into a war whose consequences could only be disastrous. What seems to occur at such moments is a communication glitch, a tragic quid pro quo, an error of interpretation. Such errors are all the more likely to occur when each adversary has constructed rigid beliefs about the other. Tensions reach their height, the glitch occurs--that single faux pas--and all hell breaks loose. If any remain alive beneath the ruins to tell the story, they will have a hard time of it. In retrospect, it will be nothing other than insanity.

To those who now stand on a battlefield, may they fight unflinchingly, but free of all hate.

To the rest of us, do we not have something to do about the state of perpetual war in the world? I do not believe that our most effective role is the appointment of leaders who decide our fate based on their own foibles. For sure we would all be far better off with competent, clairvoyant leaders, and a media that works as a tribune rather than a propaganda machine. But that situation is as it is, and we have no immediate control over it. Many years of complacency have brought our modern democracies to this point. What we can do is stop our own private propaganda machine.

Then what? Call me insane if you will, but we must establish peace in our own personal and sovereign kingdom before there can be any hope for peace beyond. As within, so without. Inversely, should we be fortunate to die a non-violent death during "peacetime", all the peace in the world will seem irrelevant if our own heart remains at war.

Play of mirrors inside the Philharmonie de Paris


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