I would argue that a large part of the insanity of modern society is an absurdity which has always been with us: humanity's refusal to grow up intellectually and surrender the "magic" of its faith-based thinking. Faith-based thinking makes morality fixed and objective and reality circumstantial and subjective. Yet scientific thinking is just the opposite: reality (e.g., suffering observed in the world) is fixed and objective, while the morality that proceeds from refusing to deny reality is a circumstantial and subjective response to experiencing what absolutely is.

There is of course no guarantee that a reality-based moral response will be compassionate. The history of scientific "progress" is too full of cold-bloodedly cruel uses of knowledge to support such a statement. However, I do hold that the cognitive predisposition to consider the real-world consequences of a wider range of of available responses, from bodhichitta to armed resistance, does more than increase the random chance of choosing compassion. Namely, it establishes a real-life connection between sentient beings that is necessary for any compassionate response to occur at all. Those who respond with practical moral relativism to real sufferring (or who are forced by their circumstances to act as if they have done so, all the while clinging to absolute moral standards and fearing for their situational souls) are subjected to greater emotional stress than those who experience no such cognitive dissonance. We who are the most intelligent are often the most likely to go insane because our social nonconformity diminishes our access to supportive relationships. If we put ourselves in others' shoes, it becomes obvious that nobody likes to be reminded that his or her faith-based thinking is so terribly out of touch with an honest appraisal of affairs in the real world. The moral awakening to one's own callousness and complacency is inescapably painful: just ask the Buddha within. We are the messengers bearing bad news, a sort of anti-gospel for intellectual and moral cowards. Nonetheless, such an anti-gospel can be very good news indeed for us and for other ordinary, flawed human beings who no longer need expect to be punished for admitting our faults, nor to despair of ever being able to experience unconditional love right where we are.

Those of us who are maladjusted to faith-based social environments because intellectual integrity demands that we reject the folie en masse of unquestioning belief - either in human progress or in a divine plan for human salvation - tend to look insane when the exact opposite is more likely to be true. However, the idea that genius is necessarily correlated with madness may reflect a confirmation bias on the part of the mainstream professional classes, who observe and document co-occurrences of these conditions in themselves far better than in the illiterate poor, especially minorities. I have always wondered why the psychology and self-help books I read in my twenties and thirties seemed never to mention minority clients as case examples. Are minority individuals really more emotionally stable and down to earth than us "crazy crackers" - or is there a more sinister explanation for their absence from the annals of mental health? Perhaps the majority of them could not afford the services of a wealthy, renowned therapist with the leisure to write popular books. It would seem that writing about minority clients necessarily entails addressing issues of social injustice, such as the impact of economic discrimination upon minority poverty, which in turn creates significant life stresses that contribute to both mental and physical illness among minorities.

A related theme is my self-descriptive phrase: "the thinking poor" for the new class of exploited, underpaid knowledge workers like graduate academic assistants, public schoolteachers, library workers, bookstore clerks, and other information professionals, whose left-leaning views make our participation in a competitive Western capitalistic workforce particularly distasteful - not out of laziness, but from a genuine desire to good rather than harm. I have a poem, "Account Balance," that expresses how it feels to be in this position. To the thinking poor, the work of nurturing family and community often seems a more ethical use of our lives than increasing the profits of corporations that distribute products and services that are useless and trivial at best, environmentally and spiritually destructive at worst. Recently, I watched a DVD, The Corporation, that strengthened my commitment to that belief.

Malcontent geniuses of the middle and upper class, who can't happily accept positions of economic privilege in our smugly self-deluded society, are often accused of generating consipiracy theories out of paranoia: essentially, of being to some degree insane. By contrast, we tend to forget about the theory of genius when we consider mental illness among the illiterate poor, who are stigmatized as criminal, immoral, or retarded instead of patronized as being "too smart for their own good." While thinkers like Noam Chomsky, Sylvia Plath, and Kate Millet are called strident or paranoid but nonetheless recognized as brilliant, the treatment of choice for nameless and/or homeless people seems to be killing or incarceration rather than temporary institutionalization or verbal ridicule, and for their responses to the same basic observations of reality. It is often economic necessity that creates the difference between the harmless abstract ravings of intellectuals and the disorderly behavior that poses an actual threat and observable challenge to a morally repugnant capitalist system. Just how repugnant that system can be has become outrageously evident to me from viewing recent documentaries like The Corporation, Manufacturing Consent, and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices.

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