‘Nuts’ is also not well-defined; it might be more precise to say that Mom lived in her own little fantasy world, which occasionally came into contact with the default consensus reality surrounding her. Things actually got much more difficult for me years later (meaning, in this case, about age 8 or 9), when she got “cured”, meaning she learned how to pretend to outside consensus with much greater skill. The underlying worldview hadn’t changed at all; she’d just learned to lie about it better.
So I grew up with the idea that the loving people who cared for me might not be well-attached to reality. This wasn’t a major concern, because Dad always was, and didn’t waver in that at all until he hit seventy years old and the Orthodox Jewish life-plan he’d been imprinted with ran out. So part of what I grew up with was that some people are nuts, and that’s okay, and we live with it. It is necessary to learn how to interact with their world-views, and in many major and important cases to love them, but loving them and wishing them all sorts of well *cannot* mean surrendering our own integrity to them – they don’t know what to do with integrity; it can imperil the web of justifications they’ve built to provide themselves with stability.
So I have detailed and vivid memories of pondering at age 3 and 4 “How do I tell if *I’m* crazy?” It happened to Mom, obviously, so if it started happening to *me*, how would I know? Figuring out evidence procedures for that was the core issue of my preschool and nursery school days. As you might surmise, school-teachers were not helpful in this regard. One of their little charges couldn’t possibly be thinking such thoughts, so if it sounded like he said something like that, it must have been something else, like calling a classmate crazy. Juvenile name-calling they understood very well; evidence procedures, not so much. (Yes, “evidence procedures” was a term I didn’t come upon ‘til much later in life; my words at the time were “how do they (or I) tell how they (or I) know?” But the writer of this is me-now, not me-then.)
So doubting my own sanity has been a constant background function for me for a very long time. Doubt is my closest friend, because with doubt I think to ask questions, and if I don’t ask questions I can’t learn. And so it was that much more terrifying when I reached the first proximal end of my abilities to learn, and discovered there are things I *can’t* learn – not right now with the tools and means I have available to me, at any rate. And all the living I will have to do while devising and constructing new tools and learning new ways to use both the new ones and what I already have (and bearing in mind that even at 3 I thought of things like “intelligence” as tools I can use, not fundamental attributes of my being) had to be done with this yawning void of ignorance *right in front of me*.
So I burned out on ‘fear’ by around age five or so. Sources of existential terror are everywhere, and anything that’s everywhere eventually becomes boring. Okay, you can kill me. So? Losing my mind would be *much* worse, and I can do *that* all by myself. I don’t need your help.
So in a sense, the reason insanity doesn’t matter is that there *is* no such thing as sanity. We can extend our grasps of the universe further and further, and there is no end. What matters is whether our grasp of what’s right nearby is accurate and precise enough for us to deal with the issues and challenges we have to deal with *now*.
The most major threat is power. If I impose my will on my universe *without* understanding it, I can create an island of imposed order that is incongruent with the reality underlying it. And the most immediate and major problem of power is that it interferes with perception. If I am *making* the world do something, it becomes extraordinarily difficult for me to figure out what it would be doing if I *wasn’t*. And the reverse of that is that if I *don’t* make it do something, I am denying my *own* agency. So ‘Action’ is always a finely precise balancing act, and cannot be otherwise.
And action is one of the three legs that my self balances upon – Kindness, awareness, action. “Awareness” used to be “Study”, in my Dad’s early schooling. But while learning is the key to it, we can also learn things that *haven’t* already been learned by somebody else. (The meaning of the word “study” has changed over time; lying down on the sidewalk and staring at a dandelion could still be called “studying it”, but that’s no longer how we think of the word.)
The next thing I was going to stir into the pot was sexuality, but this is a big enough chunk to start with. I’ll add that next time.