“The difference between madness and genius is the ability to communicate your madness to others.” Quote by Chris Mosely, 1994.
I came up with this quote in 1994, and my business partner at that time thought it was really good and posted it on a quote website which has long since vanished back into the digital nothingness from which it came – as did he it seems, but that’s an entirely different story better left for another blog. The quote has popped up now and again and I felt it was about time that I explained it a little more. So exactly what do I mean by this statement?
Have you ever watched the history channel where they ask the question “Hitler Madman or Evil Genius?” I’ve always wanted to explore this further and find a simple way to distinguish once and for all between madness and genius. It’s really not as easy as you might think. How can we tell if someone is just plain old fashioned mad, or an unrecognized genius? Who’s qualified to make such judgments? Is it even possible? My quote simply states that genius is the ability to communicate ‘Madness’ to others – all forms of traditional madness. In a way this defines a new form of Madness, as opposed to the traditional everyday madness we all know and understand. It’s like an infection, you’re infecting others with your madness, and the more people you infect, the more genius like qualities you assume. You infect them through communication.
So, my quote basically says that if a person’s Madness is not communicated effectively/successfully to society at large, it’s likely that society will consider them mad, in the traditional sense. Madness in the traditional sense is relative; it depends on what the majority of people consider to be normal behavior – “it’s the tyranny of the masses”, quote by Alexis de Tocqueville. There’s no absolute frame of reference in which you can call someone normal and another person mad. This makes for an interesting set of conclusions for me. I live in a world in which many great ideas are crushed into dust because they are not effectively communicated and assimilated by the influential controlling mob.
To me Madness/Genius is a set of radical ideas or concepts associated with an individual. The ideas have to be a departure from what is the currently considered view of reality. In this, the danger lies. These new ideas upset the status quo, they bring down countries, they redistribute wealth and resources, they remove scarcity or create new scarcity, they make people behave in strange and unpredictable ways, they change people’s status and how they even view themselves, and they can cause great harm… and so we generally don’t like to accept them easily. They seemingly come with a high level of risk and disruption.
Let’s say you have a radical thought, a life-altering concept and you have the confidence and conviction to start telling people about it. At this point you could potentially be thought of as a madman or a genius – in the traditional sense. The jury is still out on you. You have to communicate your madness/genius to others. People have to understand what you are saying; they have to be convinced that your concept is plausible in some way. Maybe even logical. This doesn’t mean your concept is actually correct; the so-called ‘truth’ would rely on some absolute framework of right-and-wrong, which doesn’t exist as far as I’m aware.
We’re not talking about the truth here (or the actual nature of reality itself) but rather the human emotional experience of understanding (agreeing with something). It’s that moment when a person finally throws there hands up into the air, almost in surrender and proclaims they finally understand something. I believe that the brain in utter exhaustion, having looked at the problem from as many different angles as is practically possible (or having been forced to do so), eventually releases chemicals, which give you a feeling of ‘understanding’. That’s it for me. It allows the human animal to make models, useful abstractions that can be applied to make predictions, useful predictions used to stay alive or prosper. Once you have this chemical response, it becomes very hard to change that person’s view from that time onwards.
In the end how effectively you communicate your concepts and create these chemical reactions in other people’s brains will dictate whether or not you are considered mad in the traditional sense. Develop the ability to communicate your radical ideas and concepts effectively and you’re well on your way to becoming a genius. Come up with radical life altering ideas, but communicate them poorly and you’re likely to be tortured, put in prison or killed!
The interesting thing about communication is that it comes in many different forms. It can be both verbal and non-verbal. It can be body language, what you wear, how you walk, whom you associate with, the tribe and symbols you are linked to. It can be delivered by people other than you in return for some form of consideration, or via different forms of coercion. Consider what a doctor or a judge or a policeman communicates when they wear their respective uniforms and how this influences society. Communication can be violent, non-violent, seductive, frightening, joyous, funny, sad and painful. It can create any emotional state you like if done effectively. It can involve both mental and physical aspects.
History and human experience is littered with examples of how to communicate successfully and effectively. You can do it through beautiful words, demonstrations and works of art or literature. You can do it with compassion and love lifting humanity up and improving everyone’s experience of life. Unfortunately you can also do it by employing violence, oppression and hate. You can drive humanity to the depths of suffering and despair. In a relativistic universe, whose judgments are we to follow. Humanity as a whole didn’t arrive into existence with a pre-defined set of objectives. There’s no pre-built measure of success for the human race as a whole, we’ve had to create it for ourselves. In this way we are not capable of judging what lifts us up, and what drags us down and herein lies another major problem for us all.
A Historic example that comes to mind is The Spanish Inquisition. The “Insane” were tortured and burnt alive. The inquisitors were thought to have the keys to all knowledge, a deep and fundamental understanding of reality itself. They were the absolute arbitrators of right and wrong; truth and falsehood. From a modern perspective we can clearly see who’s mad in the traditional sense, but the more important point here is, can we see how we are doing exactly the same thing today. When we refer to the ‘modern perspective’ what we are actually referring to is the collective agreement of the majority of people alive today (or the people we care about – people with power and influence – people who are respected and thought knowledgeable). Nothing has fundamentally changed with regards to the way the human animal works since the days of the inquisition. What has evolved is our collective model of the universe, it’s maybe more practical, predictable and ‘useful’. Notice I’m deliberately not saying, more correct – not any closer to the” truth” necessarily. No closer to meeting the human races collective objective – whatever that ends up being.
The debate continues. So, go forth and share the madness in an enlightened, positive and uplifting way (or don’t it’s your choice), but tread carefully. Your madness may end up changing humanity forever. History is littered with the corpses of people we consider geniuses today, but in their own time were considered insane madmen. They were tortured, vilified, ostracized and any other ‘ized’,’ied’ or ‘ured’ you could imagine. Others became legends, immortalized in human history; the stuff of legend.
One of the most famous people put to death for their radical ideas (or simply because they annoyed too many people) is the Greek philosopher Socrates. I have a consent reminder of Socrates on my desk at work in the form of a small marble bust. It’s staring at me right now as I write this, peering through at me from the digital nothingness; it feels as if he’s smiling at me through the cold stone somehow imbuing the in-organic white stone with his life force.
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