Higher Sanity (8.25.11)
First of all, it is not an either/or question. That is, there are clearly degrees of sanity, and therefore, degrees of insanity. Apparently--except at the extremes--all of is are more or less sane and insane at the same time, or sane about some things and less sane about others. This implies that there are degrees of reality, as opposed to the more stark dichotomy of reality/unreality.
Sanity cannot be reduced to merely being rational, for a rationalism pushed to the extremes becomes patently irrational. Rather, reason must always be in the service of something else--something called intelligence, and intelligence is beyond reason. In other words, no rational operation accounts for intelligence itself or is able to judge why and how some people are so much more intelligent than others. Only intelligence can discern and judge intelligence.
And what is intelligence? If intelligence is to be a useful or meaningful construct, it can only mean one thing: the mind's conformation to reality. For no matter how high someone's IQ, if their intellect isn't conformed to reality, how intelligent are they really?
But what is reality? Animals are beautifully conformed to reality, but does that mean that they are sane? No, because they are conformed only to the lowest degree of reality, the outer shell or "epidermis" of the cosmos, the material world.
Unlike animals, human beings are consciously aware of the paradox of inhabiting two worlds, an external world of objects and quantitites, and a subjective world of thought, imagination, values, feeling and will. Thus, if sanity is conformation to reality, what does this mean as it pertains to the subjective world?
We are currently in the midst of a triangulated war for the future of civilization between Islam, Western European Socialism, and American style liberty, free markets and individualism. Only one of them is sane, or at least more sane than the others, i.e., more adequately conformed to both external reality (the way the world works) and internal reality (the way humans are). However, it would be a mistake to view this struggle in terms of three competing ideologies on a horizontal plane. Rather, like most important historical events, this war is taking place in vertical historical space.
In this regard, you may view the United States and its spiritual allies as reflecting a transcendent position above, the Western Europeans occupying a fully immanent one on the two dimensional plane in between, and the Islamists down below, in a transcendently evil and infra-human space. Importantly, this infra-human domain is not to be confused with the animal realm, for there is no animal that would or could sacrifice its own life for a transcendently evil cause, as do Islamists.
Most of the real wholesale evil in history is caused by groups inhabiting this lower vertical area. Moreover, just as there are messiahs and avatars who can purportedly "come down" to the earth plane and embody the upper transcendent, there are avatars of evil who embody and give voice to the lower vertical: bin Laden, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, et al. The awesome power of these men is trans-human (or infrahuman, to be exact), and cannot be explained by recourse to any mere human psychology.
If there is a purely animal-human realm lacking in transcendence, then it is actually the immanent-horizontal space occupied by Western Europe and the international left. Although they think of America as "selfish" because of our low taxes and smaller government, it is actually the other way around. While socialism may superficially appear to be more humane, Mark Steyn points out that "nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: Once a fellow is enjoying the fruits of government health care and all the rest, he couldn't give a hoot about the broader social interest; he's got his, and if it's going to bankrupt the state a generation hence, well, as long as they can keep the checks coming till he's dead, it's fine by him." In this sense, social democracy is eventually "explicitly anti-social" (NR, 11-7-05).
There is a further corrosion of the soul that takes place with European style socialism, in that, because it elevates material desires to the highest, it cynically cuts the heart out of any transcendent view of the world, anything beyond one's immediate animal needs. As Steyn explains, it perversely elevates secondary priorities such as mandated six week vacations over primary ones such as family and national defense. And political change eventually becomes almost impossible, because the great majority have become dependent on government, which causes a sort of "adherence" to horizontal. You cannot rouse the ideals of a nation that has lost its ideals. Any politician who threatens the entitlement system cannot get elected in Western Europe. The situation is analogous to an addict who has given over his power to the pusher.
By attempting to create the perfect society on earth through government coercion, it actually diminishes our humanity, since it relieves human beings of having to exert the continual moral effort to make the world a better place, as this is only possible by maintaining contact with the realm of transcendent moral ideals. In other words, European socialism is actually a flight from morality, thereby making people less humane, not more. It is a bogus kind of freedom, because it merely frees one from the vertical while condemning one to the horizontal. As the new Pope has written, "I am convinced that the destruction of transcendence is the actual amputation of human beings from which all other sicknesses flow. Robbed of their real greatness they can only find escape in illusory hopes.... The loss of transcendence evokes the flight to utopia."
As Valentin Tomberg summarizes it, the human being is always faced with the choice between two basic attitudes or outlooks: that of existential being or that of essential Being. According to the choice he makes, he is either "orphaned" in the purely material, deterministic and horizontal realm with no reality higher than the individual self, or his individual being is grounded in the more essential, trans-subjective Being which is his true home. The European existentialist lives shackled in the Egyptian "house of bondage," in manacles forged by the deterministic/materialistic outlook, whereby one is situated in in a fully material reality in which the past fully determines the present and the present determines the future. That is, no vertical causes can arise in the closed chain of cause and effect, so that one is truly imprisoned as it pertains to the moral/spiritual realm.
From the existential outlook follows a host of disastrous ideas, such as class determines consciousness, poverty causes crime, free will is an illusion, private property is theft, hierarchy is evil, the vertical dimension is a hoax or "dopiate" for the masses to keep them oppressed, and worst of all, the idea that a coercive state is needed to enforce equality (vs. the American belief in a Creator who endows us with spiritual freedom which it is government's primary job to protect). The freedom of mere animal passion forges the fetters that bind Western Europe to the horizontal wasteland.
So, back to our original question: what is sanity? Sanity is not reason, but intelligence. And intelligence is conformity to the real--both internal and external--which is truth.
Intelligence is the perception of a reality, and a fortiori the perception of the Real as such. It is ipso facto discernment between the Real and the unreal--or the less real....
It is only too evident that mental effort does not automatically give rise to the perception of the real; the most capable mind may be the vehicle of the grossest error. The paradoxical phenomenon of even a “brilliant” intelligence being the vehicle of error is explained first of all by the possibility of a mental operation that is exclusively “horizontal,” hence lacking all awareness of “vertical” relationships.... --Frithjof Schuon