>"Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule."

>This is a quote from Nietzche. It’s perhaps quite odd to come from someone that many people would have labelled mad himself. Indeed the very next thing he wrote was “the thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets succesfully through many a bad night”, which at the very least suggests mental illness, and also a different way of thinking.

But was Nietzche right? Is this why we frequently get so angry with decisions taken at the group level, but can accept the freedom of individuals to act as they will? Is there anything to what Nietzche said at all?

6 comments

  • >It's a good question and I'll think about it. In the meantime, I'm immediately drawn to the quote used to illustrate Nietszche's mental illness and madness.Note that I haven't put either these two terms in inverted commas – he certainly did go mad in his last year, pretty much to the point of not being able to function."The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets succesfully through many a bad night," doesn't strike me as mad, but actually quite rational. It is a 'great consolation' in that, despite a world that can be turbulent, often unpleasantly so, and, as the poets have all told us, we have the ability through calm, rational application of our own powers to end it all. We can, in a sense, cheat life and all of its slings and arrows. I'm not saying I've contemplated suicide (I haven't), but the recognition of ultimate control over our destiny, the metaphorical finger on the figurative trigger, can actually be quite comforting in life's barrage. More importantly, it's not mad – however bad it gets, so Neitszche seems to imply, I'm in control. That is a comfort.Does it 'represent a different way of thinking'? Maybe (as I said, I've certainly been there on the odd dark night of the soul – not actually contemplating ending it all, but taking comfort in the knowledge that, no matter what, I _could_), but even if it did, 'a different way of thinking' is genius, not necessarily madness. Or are the two the same thing? What is 'madness' anyway? If it is, as you imply, 'a different way of thinking', it is socially-defined as to how far a person deviates from the norm – in which case it's relative, much like 'good' and 'evil', and ought really to be overcome in order for humanity to progress – after all, once upon a time belief in heliocentricity was considered a form of madness. (Nietszche – the sane Nietzsche before his death – would certainly have agreed with that).On the other hand, we recognise much more than even since Neitszche's time (he died 120 years ago precisely) the understanding of the physical causes of mental illness has grown considerably, through Psychology (which Nietszche didn't quite get to properly see), neuro science and so on. Scheizophrenia, for example, is emphatically not relative or normatively-defined. Nor is Alzheimers, but then, is it politically correct to call Alzheimers or dementia madness? Are they forms of madness, regardless of what it is or isn't polite to say?So, perhaps a better question might be: what is madness?Not that I want to steal the thread – give me a day or two and I'll have a think about the original question. These are just thoughts; aimless little thoughts.

  • >God I'm good! That was exactly the response the comment about madness was designed to provoke i.e. about the concept's definition. Lol!The reason why I intended to lead the debate along this thread I might add, is because by these modern, scientific and psychological definitions group actions can't be described as madness, unless the individuals within the group are mad. Yet the statement by Nietzche clearly challenges this way of thinking.

  • >People are always using one of Nietzche's other quotes that irritates me. Mainly because teh people who use it don't know who the author was.The quote is "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger". And since the author committed suicide you have to say the proof is in the pudding.Secondly, polio doesn't kill you, nor does a host of other diseases, and they certainly don't leave you stronger. Nor do they make you mentally stronger, as too much stress (physical and mental) has it's own negative outcome.But I do like the theme of his quote about madness in groups, etc,.Possibly it is just founded in the idea that a group can theiretically make a decision that is best for all, yet which nobody is happy with. It's something that could have been in the Catch-22 novel.Also, crazy decisions taken by groups can be difficult to change because the power can be de-centralised resulting in slow and difficult changes.We also frequently get angry at decisions made by the group because they usually try to include us in the contract.Therefore i'm not really sure if decisions taken as groups are any more insane than decisions taken by individuals, but because of the above examples, it does leave us with more of an aggrieved feeling.Now to what is madness.This stikes me as a linguistic question as much as a scientific question. Similar to the difference between the mind and the brain.Madness is not so much an un-p.c. word as it is an outdated word. Kind of a catch all from earlier centuries to describe different personalities and mental illnesses.Metnal illnesses can be attibuted to physical deficiences in the brain, and personality may also be due to this. Therefore it's hard to attribute madness to disorders and personalities when those things are very much cause and effect.This leaves the definition of madness in my book to mean 'illogical'.

  • >Good answer. I agree, also with how people often mis-quote Nietzche. It brings a moment from Simpsons to mind. Homer has a heart attack, and when the doctor comes in to visit him in his hospital bed Homer says "but whatever doesn't kill me only makes me stronger right?" And Doctor Hibbits laughs "actually no, it's left you as weak as a kitten", and so saying starts to tickle Homer and there's nothing Homer can do to stop him.However the phrase isn't without all logic. I haven't read all of Nietzsche's work but I found an interesting comment on another forum about it: "if you think about the rest of Nietzsche's philosophy he would argue that not being able to overcome a debilitating condition would be proof enough that one did not have the strength or will to survive and had already surrendered themselves to death even though they might still be breathing. The fact that Nietzsche succumbed to mental illness just goes to show that there are no exceptions in the struggle against weakness." What do you think of this?

  • Rex
    Nietzche sentences show apparently as a paradox. It is easy to see or say that a destructive solution is a mad behavior. We see that all the times. We are very aware when we are not involved in it. But when we get ourselves involved in those reckless behaviors against something as a group, parties, nations or epochs, we find quite good reasons for our mad behavior, until someone stops us, and show us that we abused of selfishness, brutality and power instead of looking for solutions of intelligence and coherence with our purposes towards the objects of our actions. That is why we can not see madness when we act as mad in a mad collective action. One has to be an outsider to perceive the madness of collectives.
    Probably Nietzche has been a victim of a collective mad witch hunting, a fraud, a treason or harrassment-like plot, and once set to be excluded, he as an outsider and outcast could perceive the sea of madness that stood before him causing him to suffer and to dispair by people that looked to the ignorant as sane, and themselves considered themselves as sane and right in their actions.
    Being hurted, in serious suffering and under strong psychological pain, the suicide thoughts worked as the window to escape into the consolation that would relieve him from pain into freedom from his enemies.
    I do not know nothing of N, but oneself that is subjected to injustice, betrayal or the like into a situation of great psychological pain during a long time is liable to lose ability to support him/herself, get sick, ingest brain toxics, get brain damaged and become really sick-insane or go to comit suicide as a pain reliever. That is what may have happened to him. That what happens to people who get lost-love-like sickness as a consequence of fraud, intrigues and plots upon something they loved or cherish very dearly .

  • Hi Reis,
    Sorry about the delayed answer to this post. It’s been crazily hectic over the last few months, so unfortunately the blog’s gone on the backburner a little. But I should be able to post more often now, and hopefully update the site as well.
    It’s a very interesting answer. Do we have to be outsiders to perceive what is mad? I suppose I would agree with you. Going back to what Ross said about the definition of madness; if we temporarily ignore the more psychological definitions, the Oxford dictionary defines it as either extremely foolish behaviour, or a state of wild or chaotic activity. Foolishness tends to be measured against goals i.e. it would be foolish to do something if it hindered your ability to reach your goals. If we’re insiders we don’t tend to question the set goals. In fact we may not even see them, because we’re so focussed on the details that we don’t see the wood for the trees. And chaos is a lack of order; something that plagues almost every business in existence. Ask any Lean consultant and they will tell you that on average less than a quarter of firms’ operational tasks actually add value for their customers, and out of the remaining 3/4 a great deal is simply disordered waste. Really reformist, visionary leaders who transform companies tend to be young, and new to the industry i.e. they’re outsiders. So why are these outsiders the ones doing the reforming? Because as you say; they’re the ones who see the madness.
    In this sense of course it becomes even harder to see madness reflected in ourselves, because we never are outsiders to ourselves. This is why it is so important to reflect, and to build strong enough friendships that people can help us when we start acting mad…

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