It is commonly understood that insanity is a maladaptive response for the insane individual. In other words, insanity is normatively a “bad” thing for any of us. But the truth might be the precise opposite for society generally.
What got me thinking about this was last year’s hurricane season. During Irma, I stumbled over the Twitter page of famed storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski. Like many others, I was looking for moment-to-moment info on the impact of the storm. I found no better source than Mr. Piotrowski.
Watching his videos, reported from as close to the eye of the hurricane as he could get, I had three thoughts: (1) what a blindingly useful human being this Jeff fellow is; (2) wow, Jeff seems bipolar, on a manic high; and (3) #1 follows from #2.
Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that point #2 is an apt observation. The interesting thought, then, is #3.
The idea here is that during times of social crisis, certain insane people go from being the most useless members of society to becoming the most useful.
This strange dynamic has been noted in the study of the psychopathic mindset. A famous example is Winston Churchill — useless in peacetime, but blindingly useful during wartime.
Of course, an underlying assumption here is that “social adaptation” is a coherent notion. That is, the thought is that humans don’t evolve simply as a random collection of singletons; instead, evolution includes considerations of the “tribe”.
So maybe during a time of social unraveling, there are more insane people being produced, and this is an adaptive response of the tribe.
What about suicidal depression? Considered in the context of social crisis, suicide might be recast as “resource hoarding” (i.e. less mouths to feed in times of food shortage).
Hey, as awful as that sounds, consider just how awful it sounds that a person with no sense of feelings whatsoever for his fellow human (i.e. a psychopath) can become, in certain periods of social crisis, the “savior” of his people.
Note to self: ponder the adaptive nature of the Trump presidency …