Social contracts and sanity

Humans are social animals. To be social animals means being part of a cooperative crowd, relying on the group for safety, sustenance and providing back to the society in some meaningful way.

Our sense of identify is both tied up with defining ourselves comparatively with the crowd and individually as not the crowd. Adolescence sees this in it’s strongest form – the urge to not be defined as our parents, yet trying to find a group that we feel we belong to.

Part of this belonging to a group involves give and take. We give to the group and we take from the group. This is the reciprocation contract. If I give to you, then you will give back to me. There is the more altruistic contract which has become the pay it forward contract. When I give to you, you will give back to someone king of like me in a situation kind of like this one. The closeness of this “kind of” is quite variable and can more easily be seen as passing on good deeds. It is a rare individual who receives nothing but bad deeds and passes on nothing but good deeds.

We fall down miserably when we are removed from those who we feel we belong to. This can happen for a number of reasons: we realise we don’t belong to them, we move geographically or philosophically away from them, they don’t feel we belong to them and the group becomes dangerous, in someway, to our wellbeing.

Groups do more than hold us up when we fall down, they do more than provide the bits of sustenance that we  can not provide ourselves – they help us stay sane. Sanity, in this definition, is knowing how our own personal view of the world compares to the consensus of the group we most commonly interact with. A groups view of the world can significantly deviate from groups around them, and then the lack of “sanity” applies to the group, rather than the individual. 

Consider a member of some kind of subculture who believes any radical thought – lets say invisible fairies are running the world. Because the individual belongs to a group of people who believe the same thing, they are just all deluded. If an individual thinks this outside of a group, the person is called insane.

This suggests that a way of finding sanity is to find others who see the world you do.

Now the thought that invisible fairies are running the world seems pretty ridiculous to most people. Lets substitute the words “invisible fairies” to “supreme being” and it becomes less odd. Call that “supreme being” the devil and it goes to more odd. Call it “God” and it becomes less odd. The idea is the same, but the group you align to when you change the invisible something somehow changes the sanity level of the group. More insane if there are less numbers, more insane if there are more numbers.

Groups can be seen as islands in a sea of people. As you depart your views from the group you are most closely aligned with, you enter a “no mans land” between the groups, leaving islands and sailing on the sea. This is your most perilous time as you are quite lost without fixed points to steer yourself with. If you sail far enough away from the islands of groups such that you can no longer navigate by their beliefs, you can be lost in the sea of insanity, until you but up against a new island of people who see the world as you do.