Simon Parke: Flying over the cuckoo’s nest

23 May 2007

NO ONE thinks they are deluded. But, of course, other people are.

My daughter works in a psychiatric unit, and no one there is deluded. They cause distress to themselves and to others, but all are quite sane — ask them yourself, if you don’t believe me. People say similar things to my daughter on the bus. They also cause distress to themselves and to others, but none of them think themselves deluded.

We can broaden this out; for no one in Parliament thinks they are deluded, either. Each moral compass in each House is entirely accurate. This is also true of the various religions, and of those in shops, offices, or schools when Monday comes. For each, life is sorted and the great mysteries tamed.

How marvellous! No one is deluded. And all are glad they’re not mad.

Another person who is not deluded is Richard Dawkins. His book The God Delusion has sold stunningly well. I am, of course, deep-green envious of his sales, but not of his achievement. He tilts convincingly at the likes of Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden — but so what? “God” is such a thin slice of the delusional pie that such banter creates more heat than light.

Even if we were to settle the God debate, little would change in the world of human delusion. Delusions attach to God; they do not stem from God. The God Delusion skims only the surface of the madness endemic in us all.

Most of our delusions are not on show. They sit quietly within our hidden places, minding their own business, until we become stressed or have decisions to make.

In the United States, a number of people have been abducted by aliens. Typically, the abductees are taken from their bed at night, and find themselves in a UFO being inspected by small, humanoid creatures with thin faces and slanting eyes. They are forced to lie helpless while their bodies are probed by alien devices, before being returned, unharmed, to their beds. There are an estimated 3.7 million self-confessed abductees in the US.

We will not be cured of our delusions. Our will is weak, our insight stunted, our arrogance unreachable. But we might yet be liberated from them. The genius is to lose the fear of deluded behaviour. So I am deluded — tell me something I don’t know. From here creeps the knowledge that if a delusion was exposed tomorrow, nothing good would be lost. As Socrates said, there’s so much we have no need of.

So, until then, we will get up in the morning and imagine ourselves sane. For no one is deluded. And all are glad they’re not mad.

Simon Parke is the author of The Beautiful Life: Ten new commandments (Bloomsbury, 2007).

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