The Camp Vamp: Katrina Fox

Commentary on GLBTIQ issues, social justice and some of life's quirks.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

We're all mad

What is the definition of 'madness'? When does 'eccentricity' turn into madness and who decides? These are the questions I pondered while walking to Coogee Beach recently, shortly after I interlocked my arm with my girlfriend's in a spontaneous moment and began to skip and sing 'We're Off to See the Wizard'. There was no hesitation on her part to join in immediately with this public display of gaiety. No surprise or embarrassment at her partner's sudden switch from dawdling along, deep in thought to a carefree impersonation of Judy and co on their way to Oz, just a natural and loving impulse to bond with me.

According to the online Brain Dictionary, we are certainly eccentric - displaying 'strange or unconventional behaviour'. But are we mad? Among its definitions, the Brain Dictionary gives the following for madness: 'Excited beyond self-control or the restraint of reason' and 'inflamed by violent or uncontrollable desire, passion, or appetite'. Hmmm…been there.

Maybe we're just lunatics. Lunacy is defined as 'insanity or madness - properly, the kind of insanity which is broken by intervals of reason, formerly supposed to be influenced by the changes of the moon'. PMS anyone? And 'a morbid suspension of good sense or judgment' - ahem…going back to an ex who treats you like dirt…it's not looking good for our mental health - or is it? There are certain clinical criteria to judge 'madness' based on statistical and social norms - among them extreme, unusual, exceptional, deviant, outstanding, odd behaviour (isn't that just a regular Saturday night out?).

But despite society's perception of madness and the stigma often attached to it, some experts believe it's good for us. British psychiatrist Anthony Storr says madness, though causing profound turmoil, can be "an enriching and renewing experience, deepening one's emotional existence". According to Storr, so-called 'mad' people can be unorthodox and pioneering. at the cutting edge of their particular interest or profession, as well as deeply spiritual, full of innate wisdom and compassion, bringing inspiration, hope and empowerment to others. The philosopher Hegel saw insanity as inherent in the soul's nature, having a psychological necessity and providing the soul with an experience that can't be gained in other ways.

Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing, known for his LSD therapy in the 1960s and his 'anti-psychiatry' approach to mental illness, rather sensibly believed madness to stem from a dysfunctional society rather than the individual, suggesting that people's madness is an attempt at sanity, or is sanity itself, in a world gone insane. Come to think of it, bombing and poisoning the earth, stripping it of its resources and committing mass murder of human and non-human beings all in the name of profit by governments and corporations makes my Saturday night behaviour sound positively pedestrian.

Gay men, however, are completely crackers though - it's official. Another definition of madness according to the Brain Dictionary is 'the name of a female fairy, especially the queen of the fairies, and hence, sometimes, any fairy.' Start waving those wands, boys.

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