Back in 1969 I read one of those books, that comes along only rarely, that has a profound and lasting impact on ones life. That book—The Sane Society—by Eric Fromm speaks to this issue with great persuasion.
After a recent inspection I was forced to revisit the book in order to better convey something that I noticed during that inspection. It was just a “little” thing, but it reminded me that there is proof all around us, in so many forms, that we are, as a culture, indeed quite insane.
The building was a 14 unit apartment building but there was in fact no unit number “13.” Where did Unit 13 go to? Was there some giant “black hole” or Twilight Zone occupying the space where Unit 13 should otherwise be?
When I got to door number 12, I photographed the door’s number. This is what I do to help me keep track of where I am in the inspection. I know that all pictures that follow will be related to unit 12—until I photo unit number 13’s door. The problem is that when I got to unit #13 it said “14” on the door. So the question is, does the fact that it is numbered 14 cancel out the absolutely incontrovertible fact that the unit is still the 13th unit regardless of what the number says? Does it mean that any bad luck associated with the number 13 is automatically canceled out? Surely, unconsciously, the mind of the tenant is still going to know that it is living in #13! If there had been a unit #13 and I had opened the door would I have fallen into some great abyss? If I were to spill the beans to the tenant of Unit #14 that they were in fact actually in Unit #13 would they suddenly start to have a string of bad luck?
Of course we don’t have to look very far into the history of human behavior on the planet for me to make my case. Whether it is the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Concentration Camps of World War II Germany, the Amistad, 12 Years a Slave, or our very own Andersonville, Georgia, there is more than ample proof of what I am saying.
On a day to day basis insanity rears its ugly head in the “Liars Court” of divorce, grown men and women beating helpless children, and celebrating and/or numbing ourselves with alcohol, religion or–as they say–sex, drugs and rock and roll. The wiring of our synapses is fragile and evolving–nowhere near a perfect or reliable mechanism to guide our behavior. Our moral compasses are often pulled off true North by any number of attractive distractions. Laziness and boredom are perhaps the most obvious symptoms of a society gone insane.
The power of human beings to get on board whatever train is carrying all their friends, family and nation can be witnessed everyday.
And of course EVERYONE assumes they are on the right train.
Here is what Eric Fromm had to say about this paradox:
It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of those ideas and feelings. Nothing is further from the truth. Consensual validation as such has no bearing whatsoever on reason or metal health. The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of metal pathology does not make these people sane.
He goes on to say:
If a person fails to attain freedom, spontaneity, a genuine expression of self, he may be considered to have a severe defect, provided we assume that freedom and spontaneity are the objective goals to be attained by every human being. If such a goal is not attained by the majority of members of any given society, we deal with the phenomenon of socially patterned defect. The individual shares it with many others; he is not aware if it as a defect, and his security is not threatened by the experience of being different, of being an outcast, as it were. What he many have lost in richness and in a genuine feeling of happiness, is made up by the security of fitting in with the rest of mankind—as he knows them. As a matter of fact, his very defect may have been raised to a virtue by his culture and thus may give him and enhanced feeling of achievement.
Is it any wonder that we can’t see the forest for the trees at times?
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email!