10 January 2011

Mad, bad or evil?

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.

‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat. ‘We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

Lewis Carroll’s stories about life through the looking glass are wonderfully nonsensical, and also a wonderful exploration of truth, and sense. And he used the word ‘mad’ very casually. I’m rather sad that ‘mad’ is a bit frowned on these days. Like the word ‘evil’. The fact that both are so unspecific is a problem for psychiatrists, but that’s a whole lot of their charm if you ask me.

Was the fantasist teenager Tim K, who went on the rampage this week killing 15, evil, or was he mad (at least at the time he did what he did)? I’d go for mad. Saddam Hussein? I’d go for evil. Is Robert Mugabe mad, or is he evil? He’s deluded, power-hungry, unscrupulous and paranoid – actually he’s probably both mad and evil. But you see my point. There are no excuses possible in ‘mad’ and ‘evil’. No causes for the conditions. No parents or anyone else to blame.

We can draw a profile of people like Tim K, but we cannot know what makes them tick. We do know, however, that events suggest that even now there are time-bomb people tick-tocking their way towards the moment it all blows up. The fewer guns they have access to, the fewer lives will be lost. The less damage madness can do, the less evil it seems. Madness can even seem quite gentle, quite benign.

And though evil is hard to deal with, madness has much to recommend it. ‘You’re only given a little spark of madness,’ said comedian Robin Williams. ‘You mustn’t lose it!’

I’m saying goodbye today for a few weeks, as I’ve been mad enough to sign up for a course of study that is taking me out of the office for a while (and way out of my comfort zone). At least, everyone around me tells me it’s mad to put yourself through that. Personally, I think of it as an anti-ageing strategy.

See you in a few weeks.
(Heather Parker, Health24, March 2009)


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