The subtitle to Jamie Wheal’s Recapture the Rapture is “Rethinking God, Sex and Death in a World That's Lost Its Mind.” To be sure, this “time between worlds” does indeed seem like a time out of its mind—a liminal, ecstatic epoch without a clear story, mooring, or direction. Even the old normal now seems “crazy” to many. Heedlessly getting and spending while the oceans boil and the skies fill with apocalyptic yellow haze from a burning continent now shows as absurd as the idea that engendered it: infinite growth based on finite resources. And if the classic definition of insanity is “trying the same old thing and expecting different results,” then we are living in a mad, mad, mad, mad world indeed, from Washington to Wall Street to wherever short-sighted, short-term thinking holds sway.
Unfortunately, those who know and feel particularly urgent about this state of affairs and wish to find successful remedies (such as the fine folks that make up our metamodern community of value-driven thinkers, activists, civilizational designers, etc.), we face our own challenges in confronting “a world that’s lost its mind.” Like Cassandra, there’s a particular mental burden of simply seeing oncoming systemic tragedy and being entirely unable to do anything about it as individuals. Many are dealing with a collective grief too big for words. Worse, the kinds of remedies we need—revolutionary insights, perspectives, worldviews, consciousness shifts, etc.—require their own date with chaos. To get beyond the current failing world system means heading out into uncharted waters, into the depths, uncertainties, and unknowns. It means delving into the murk to challenge dragons for their gold, and thereby bring back some “pearl of great price” to renew a failing world. This poses its own extremities on the mind, to be sure, and journeys of great consequence are precisely those that make no guarantee of return from the abyss.
Amidst all of this “abnormal psychology” around us, from so many different quarters and in so many different ways, it can be hard to know what to do, what to believe, who to trust. In the urgent search for “normal,” it is easy to simply stigmatize all forms of “divergence,” to disown the different, to abandon the aberrant. I write this piece partly to urge against just this kind of understandable but unhelpful reaction. As the above dynamics play out, we must expect to see only more collective grappling with vertigo and the breakdown of old sensemaking—indeed, even as the locus for the birth of new kinds of sensemaking! We should anticipate this, and seek ways to be supportive for all who are experiencing these seismic shifts internally. We are all charting a collective course at the bifurcation point between an insane past and an uncertain future; we should all be walking each other home through the darkness.
All of this can be quite tricky, though—for everyone involved. One of the chief reasons we seek “normal” so desperately is because it is there we know we are safe. That is the “home” we would walk to. Awash in confusion, between worlds, between normals, things can get, well, dangerous. The very revolutions that would renew the world have often led to guillotines and tyrannies. The very ecstatic states that lead to insight can also lead to psychosis and the perpetual terror of mental breakdown, to hurting others or one's self. If so, how do we chart our course? How do we help our friends? How do we know what chaos will save us and which will destroy us?
The answer, I believe (or one of them, at least), is articulated well in a recent film. Everything Everywhere All at Once was an unexpected cinematic sensation. Unexpected, because it was so bizarre, new, and weird (i.e., divergent). Sensation, because it spoke a clarity through it all that we so desperately need in these times of confusion. Confronted by a multiverse of infinite alternative worlds, the characters in it struggle with meaning in an entirely decentered, unmoored existence. The multiverse it shows us is nothing less than the chaos of possibility, where having an infinity of homes means one has no home to call home, where one revolutionary moment only follows another ad infinitum, with no enduring calm or place to stand. It is (to steal a subtitle from a different film) a “multiverse of madness” indeed.
In such a chaos, what sense can one possibly make?
Through the breakdown and conflict, one character professes a profound yet simple point: “The only thing I do know,” he says, “is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. Especially when we don’t know what’s going on.”
Nobody knows what’s going on, especially now. We’re all just walking each other home. But, in this, kindness itself should be our lodestar. That means being charitable to, not stigmatizing, those facing their own (and our collective) mental dragons. It means being kind to yourself, as we face these turbulent times together. It also means being OK with rejecting radical behavior that isn’t kind. Whatever new world is being born in the churning maelstrom of revolutionary insights, it must be a kind one. It must reject violence against others and self. It must not be threatening, demanding, or mean. The world will be renewed by water, not by fire. We must overcome dragons, not become them.
Please, be kind.
This, at least for now, is all I’d offer a world that’s lost its mind. It must, if we’re to be more mindful, thoughtful, considerate, sane. But as we delve into the underworld in search of treasure, and meet, like Odysseus, the infinitude of shades who’d have our ear and tell us how to chart our course, be re-minded of this injunction: PROBATE SPIRITUS, “test the spirits.” By their fruit you shall know them, and the fruit of the spirit is (among other virtues) kindness.
For all, then, dealing with this moment of mental dis-ease in its many forms, be well. Be safe. Be kind.
The revolutionary insight we need is how to do well by each other, especially when we don’t know what’s going on.
If we do that, we just might.