The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible
Chapter 5: Insanity
I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.
—Edgar Allan Poe
Contrary to the doctrine of the cynic, the Story of Interbeing is (as we shall see) not actually less rational or evidence-based than the Story of Separation. We like to think that we base our beliefs on evidence, but far more often we arrange the evidence to fit our beliefs, distorting or excluding what won’t fit, seeking out evidence that will, surrounding ourselves with others who share them. When these beliefs immerse us as part of a Story of the People, and when financial self-interest and social acceptance are tied to them, it is all the more difficult to accept anything radically different.
That is why to live in the new story can be at times arduous and lonely. In particular, the money system is not aligned with the Story of Interbeing, enforcing instead competition, scarcity, alienation from nature, dissolution of community, and the endless, nonreciprocal exploitation of the planet. If your life’s work does not contribute to the conversion of nature into products and relationships into services, you may often find that there isn’t much money to be made doing it. There are exceptions—glitches in the system, as well as the halting attempts by benevolent people and organizations to use some of their money in the spirit of the gift—but by and large, money as it is today is not aligned with the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
By the same token, neither are our systems of social status, education, or the dominant narratives presented in the media. Immersed in what some call “consensus reality,” one’s very sanity comes into question for believing the principles of interbeing. We are permitted to entertain them as a kind of spiritual philosophy, but when we start making choices from them, when we start living them even ten percent, people begin to question our sanity. We may even question our own. Alongside the self-doubt comes a profound feeling of alienation. Just this morning I heard ten seconds of a news segment on immigration reform. An image sprang to mind of a vast apparatus of fences, checkpoints, ID cards, paperwork, interviews, borders, security zones, and official “status,” and I thought, “Wait a minute—isn’t it obvious that Earth belongs to everyone and to no one, and that there should be no borders? Isn’t it hypocritical to make life unlivable somewhere through economic and political policies, and then to prevent people from leaving that place?” The two sides of the debate don’t even mention that viewpoint, so far outside the bounds of respectable thought it lies. The same is true of practically every issue of public controversy. Isn’t it insane to think that I am right and everyone else is wrong?
In a way, it is insane—insofar as sanity is a socially constructed category that serves the maintenance of dominant narratives and power structures. If so, it is time to be insane together! It is time to violate consensus reality.
Human beings are social animals, and it is unrealistic and perilous to carry an alternative story on one’s own. Let us pause for a moment of humility here. A number of years ago I came to be acquainted with a man whom I’ll call Frank. Frank was highly intellectual, with more than a cursory knowledge of several scientific fields, but his life’s work, on which he spent eight or ten hours a day, was to cut out words from product packaging and magazines. From these clues he teased out a vast, all-encompassing conspiracy theory. He believed that by rearranging the words with scissors and glue, he could disrupt the conspiracy and change reality on behalf of all beings.
He brought the most fascinating connections to light. A cereal box might have “General Mills” on the front. “Mills” contains “mil,” short for “military,” and look, the text on the back of the box has sentences of nineteen and thirteen words respectively. That comes to 1913, the year the Federal Reserve was established. Aha! The pattern begins to emerge. This example barely hints at the labyrinthine complexity of Frank’s theories, which tie together packaging, logos, numerology, and more.
Everybody thought Frank was deranged, but I seriously considered, “How am I different from him?” It seems like a trivial question, but I found it fruitful. Both of us uphold an explanation for the workings of the world that seriously violates consensus reality. Both of us are rearranging words drawn from an existing linguistic and conceptual substrate, hoping thereby to alter reality. Both of us are seen by many as deviant, and therefore must persevere indefinitely without much financial support or social affirmation (at the time, I was as broke and unknown as he was).
Sometimes I titillate my brain with the thought that maybe this guy Frank really is right; that he is the greatest and bravest genius in history, working on a magical symbolic level to save the world. Maybe, if only I took the time to delve into his work, I would see it too.
Don’t you sometimes wish that your friends and relatives would just take the time to read so-and-so’s book, watch such-and-such a documentary, open their minds, and stop dismissing your worldview out of hand? If only they’d look into it, then they’d get it!
I haven’t kept in touch with Frank, but I have little doubt that he continues his obscure labors to this day. Most of us don’t have that kind of hardihood. We are social animals and need at least a little bit of affirmation. We cannot stay in a deviant story by ourselves; in the face of a whole society that pulls us into the Story of Separation, we need allies. This book is meant to be such an ally. I hope that it will awaken or reinforce your understanding that you are not crazy after all, and that if anything it is the world that has gone insane.
You might say I am preaching to the choir. Yes. But as a member of the choir myself, I am grateful for the wonderful preachers whose words have kept me here, kept me believing. Without them I would have quit long ago and found a job greasing the wheels of the world-devouring Machine. That is also why conferences, retreats, and communities for alternative culture are so important. We hold each other in new beliefs. “Yes, I see it too. You are not crazy.” We, the choir, gather, and we learn to sing together.
As things fall apart and the old story releases its thralls into the space between stories, the beautiful music of our choir will beckon, and they will come join us in song. We have been doing important work, first in loneliness, then in small, marginal groups. The time is upon us for the new Story of the People to leave the incubator. When things fall apart, the hopelessly radical becomes common sense.