Skip to main content

4.6. Ship of Fools

In the Middle Ages, people with mental illness were sent off into the open sea in a sailing boat to search for their lost rationality. 

The ship of fools is a Bosch painting, the title of several songs, and the name of a few modern films. In The Republic, Plato describes a gang of foolish sailors who take possession of a ship, chain up the captain and throw people they don't like overboard. More interesting, perhaps, is Foucault's discussion of Narrenschiff, ship of fools, in Madness and Civilization, as the symbol of the (changing) status of madness.

Madness was fascinating because it was unknown, and the "madman" seemed to possess some kind of forbidden knowledge that related to the end of the world. Madness, like death, was a mystery, and in a religious era, that also became linked to the theme of apocalypse.

That's what Bird Box was about, right? That maybe "mad" people aren't actually mad, but are the only ones who saw the truth this entire time, and we are fools on a ship or blind people in a cave who chemically restrain them with haldol-benadryl-ativan, give them a diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and silence them. If we only saw what they've been seeing their entire lives, we'd instantly develop suicidal ideation, a lethal plan, and carry it out.

Foucault describes the classical period (couple centuries after the Middle Ages and a couple centuries before us) as being more tolerant towards madness than our modern times, and this seems fair. While we are all just one (really awful) trigger away from full-blown mental illness, our society marginalizes psych patients in locked facilities while cheerfully using them as plot devices (or to just scare people really bad) in popular entertainment. They're in ships that don't sail, in stories that aren't real.

The truth is, most of us folk without psych diagnoses are lost at sea quite a lot of the time, too. We cope, is all.

And denial's a beautiful thing.

Bosch's Ship of Fools

Comments

  1. Now this essay is quite a shift in perspective to my layman’s image of “madness”—that this theme is mysterious. I like your reiteration of the ship of fools, a fine re-imaging, re-setting of how we all are “one trigger away from full-blown mental illness.”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's actually a quote from the director of the RN program, that we're all one trigger away!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

3.2. ABO = blood type

In parts of Asia, people don't just consult the zodiac, star signs, and the eight numbers of one's birth (八字). There's an entire culture of personality decoding based on blood type. It all started in 1927 when Takeji Furukawa, a professor at Tokyo Women’s Teacher’s School, shared his research connecting personality traits with blood type. Since then, friends and romantic interests ask if one's A, B, AB, or O, and in Japan, people reportedly get discriminated against at school and work based on their blood type.


Correlation of personality with one's A, B, AB, or O blood has not been supported by many credible studies, but some people take this very seriously. If you know your blood type (and you really should), see if the traits below sound about right.

A: Contrary to the Western concept of a "type A personality," people with type A blood (and antigens) can take a long time doing something when they're not motivated, or finish the same task in a jiffy …

3.10. Crisis = time-limited, disruptive, challenge

Are you in a crisis? According to Erik Erikson, we all are. Erikson divides psychosocial development into eight stages. Each period comes with its own "crisis," which once resolved, yields an appropriate "virtue."

0-1.5 years: Baby learns to trust, or mistrust the world. The former yields hope; the latter does not. Seems like many of us are still working on this one.
1.5-3 years: Toddler's crisis (or rather, Toddler's parents' crisis) involves a battle between autonomy v. shame & doubt. Making it through this stage confirms the child's (free) will. No, _____, this does not mean you always get your way.
3-5 years: The Preschooler may struggle with initiative v. guilt, but "purpose" emerges as a way to make sense of it all (hence the Why? why? Whyyyyyyy? WHHHYYY?s). A little bit of guilt here and there is fine for the developing ego and superego.
5-12 years: The School-age Child feels anxious about industry v. inferiority, ideally striv…

TKD = taekwondo

We interrupt our regular programming of blood, guts and babies to talk about taekwondo, a traditional Korean martial arts form.

Tae = kick/strike with the foot.
The foot as a blade, as hammer, as hook, the blow that knocks someone out, a broom sweeping the enemy down, pushing an intruder to the ground.

Kwon = punch/strike with the hands.
The hands, fist or palm, can be knives, blocks for poles, a punch to the solar plexus, bladed support when one rolls or falls, or a friendly hand to help a competitor back up from the mat.

Do = the art, the way of life.
Like any relationship, one's journey in martial arts has ups and downs. There's a honeymoon period, initial excitement--passion or obsession, even. That may not last, but commitment does. There are milestones but also little bumps, minor or major injuries. Things get in the way of training, but some amazing people also support one along the way. Sometimes one learns to find fun in dressing in full storm-trooper sparring gear on a …