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CHAPTER XII
DEGENERATIONS TOWARDS LUNACY AND CRIME

"We feel as our ancestors thought, and think as our descendants will feel."J. Jacobs.

In former Chapters I pointed out the manner in which idleness and superstition fasten on successive revelations; how they in each age make a concrete system of opinion out of what was, in its origin, merely the garment worn by the Pulsation-doctrine in the mind of some Seer. But besides such degraded remains of what once were truths as are retained in the conscious memory of men and believed in as doctrines or moral codes, our very nervous systems have their own unconscious memory, and preserve idolatries and superstitions which have died out of the conscious memory. These are constantly tending to revert into consciousness. A good social system provides for periodic and harmless fits of atavism. Those are wise who, in holidays, throw off the social trammels of their own age and revert to an older mode of existence. If we live too constantly in the one thin stratum of convention which we call "present custom," we grow weary; the energy relaxes in spite of us; and then at last we fall involuntarily into some stratum of the past.

Books on Lunacy attribute mental disease to physical causes, which produce weakness of brain-tissue. It is quite true that, given an abnormal strain, the stronger tissues resist it most successfully. But why should we put continuous' strain upon ourselves, such continuity of strain being contrary to Nature? It is the nature of man to stand on his feet, not crawling; and to exert his mind to live in the present, not yielding to mere instinct. But it is also his nature both to return periodically to the physical position of the earth-worms, and to revert occasionally to the mental position of the savage. We do not wait to lie down till we have fallen from fatigue; we accustom ourselves and our children to relax and revert at regular intervals. Only the exceptionally weak take such indulgences as lying down during the day; but mentally and morally we act as if only the exceptionally weak need He down at all!

Could I give to each reader the fearful experience which is gained by occasionally residing, for even a week or two, in a mad-house, I need not plead in words; but as that is impossible, I must go on with my appeal to reason and conscience.

Perhaps nothing in the conduct of our life is so irrational as our attitude towards the whole subject of insanity. Because the tendency to yield to certain sensations in a spasmodic and irregular way is a proof of mental weakness, it is inferred that those sensations should be discouraged and trampled out by every device in our power; and that, when they occur, they should not be heeded. The consequence is, that when they occur they are often not confessed till too late; and the secret remains an extra burden on the over-taxed mind. It would be as rational to suppose that, because tumbling about in the street is a proof of ill-health, therefore we should neither go to bed at proper times, nor acknowledge ourselves weary, nor thank God for the gift of repose. Those very nervous sensations, the yielding to which in an irregular manner constitutes insanity, are in reality the alphabet of a system of telegraphy by which the past is striving to hold converse with us; they are the solicitations of some lost knowledge urging us to re-admit it to the mind of the race that was once its earthly Temple. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," says Truth ; if the visitor is ignored, his importunities may drive us mad indeed; the best way to quiet them is to admit him quietly, and hear what he has to say. Education should assist us to do this. Many teachers, however, aim at trampling out our power to do it. In so far as they are successful, they only retard progress. Nature, however, always provides a certain minority of neurotic sensitives, in whom latent ancestral instinct is too strong to be driven out; it reverts in spite of all the attempts of teachers to suppress it, and drives the subject mad. "The majority call the minority mad," said one wise man; but it would be far truer to say that the majority drive the minority mad by attempting to suppress truth.

Many unexplained freaks of reversion become intelligible when we remember that any sight or sound which was associated in the ancestry with certain emotions tends to revive those emotions in sensitive descendants. To this fact we give the name of "instinct." The cat who has never before seen a dog, and the dog who has never before seen a cat, get what in a man we should call "a fit of homicidal mania" at sight of each other; an irrational desire to kill each other; because their ancestors had reasons, founded on knowledge and experience, for desiring each other's death. The young beetle who sees for the first time the petal-veining which is to be his honey-guide, no doubt feels throughout his frame the thrill of prophecy of a joy as yet unknown. He follows the guidance which he cannot understand, till he finds the explanation in a new world of delight. "For beast and bird have seen and heard that which man knoweth not;" because man considers his own instincts fit for nothing better than to be brutally trampled underfoot. Therefore, where a beetle becomes harmlessly drunk with joy, a man goes mad of suffering.

A dog and cat can be made devoted friends; not, however, by ignoring ancestral instinct, but by studying and guiding it.

Another fruitful source of insanity is the irreverence of teachers for the process of Algebraization. Most children have more or less of that luminous transparency which enables the individual to perceive Laws of Thought reflected in the workings of his own soul. As was pointed out in a former Chapter, he who has thus perceived a Law of Thought may be (and often is) absolutely sure that he has seen a general Truth. Teachers, forgetting to discriminate between Laws of Thought and Laws of Things, assert that the individual is no standard for the community; and that no Law of Nature can be generalized from a single instance. Many intelligent young people are thus made ashamed of the divinest gift within them, the power of spontaneous perception of thought-laws; and destroy the faculty by not using it. In some, however, the tendency to Algebraization is too strong to be repressed. The lad or girl, being told that "common sense and logic oppose themselves to the practice of generalizing from a single instance," draws the conclusion that his teachers are the opponents of what he feels to be the most sacred portion of his mental life; therefore he sets up a course of life openly defiant of "common sense" as embodied in the advice of those around him. For some years he is only "eccentric" and perhaps "unmanageable"; but the strain is often too great for the brain to bear; he has never been taught to distinguish Laws of Thought from Laws of Things; he carries the practice of generalizing from one instance over into the domain of things; he reasons from analogy, or jumps to conclusions from mere association of ideas; and falls into a hopeless tangle of delusions;—victim to the wilful irreverence of his teachers, and his own fidelity to the great truths which they are trampling underfoot.

The key-note of the Science of Lunacy is struck in certain organizations which a physician once described to me as "the physical temperament of insanity with a brain impossible to overset." To Abraham, for instance, came weird impulses of reversion to savage customs and a nomad life. In a weak man without faith these would have developed into savagery and homicidal mania. A resolute personal will would have trampled them out, and by doing so injured both intellectual and moral development. But Abraham knew them for what they were—revelations of the Unity Who is guiding Humanity. He followed them in cautious reverence; and was led by them, not towards uselessness or crime, but into higher truth. No action becomes absolutely sinful except in so far as it is the result of lack of faith in the Unity. Abraham discovered that sympathetic comprehension of the savagery of the past leads, up the spiral of ascent, towards comprehension of the future destinies of Man. He did not kill his son; he made of him the Founder of a Race.[1]

In the next Chapter, I shall point out how use may be made of nervous disorder (where it unfortunately exists) for the development of Art. But a great deal of insanity and crime might be prevented if the custom prevailed of periodically casting off the conventions of civilization, and reverently reverting to the piety of our savage fore-fathers, who sought religious Truth direct from Nature, and found it without scholastic and literary appliances. Till we do this, we shall surely find madness an inevitable feature of civilization.

Now a mad individual can be locked up and forgotten. Occasionally, however, an impulse of atavism seizes on a whole mass of people; too many to be either locked up or ignored. Such a mass, ignorant of ancestral history, and, therefore, not knowing to what their own sensations point, start some weird fantastic movement, related to some portion of ancestral history much as a dream is related to the past experience of the dreamer. Such movements are produced by some stratum of the ancestral past forcing itself into the consciousness of an irreverent and forgetful posterity. A nation lives long in the land which is careful to study its past; partly because such a Nation reverences the spontaneous Revelations of heredity; and does not allow priests and school-masters to trample out its instincts; and, there-fore, does not go mad of atavism repressed till it becomes phrensy.

  1. See Appendix.