Without naming anyone — my Enemies List is currently sufficient — I have been thinking lately of what went wrong with several old friends. Sensible when young, always articulate, constant readers and investigators: how is it that they came to be insane? Or perhaps that is an overstatement, for in each case, the subject remains capable of organizing his quotidian affairs, and by the common standard of income and acquisitions, has flourished well enough. I think of one particular man of “noble causes,” who has betrayed every cause he ever took up, yet never once without a plausible explanation. To this day he might pass outwardly for normal. But mad, nevertheless, for placed under the slightest emotional stress, he begins to utter paranoid rubbish.
For years I’ve been observing mental decline, not only in myself. An obsession with politics is often the triggering factor. A man (women, of course, never go crazy) may swing from right to left, or left to right, on the great mental gallows. He may even do this without altering his voice; the tone may remain constant all the pendular way across; but still we spy the disconcerting movement. He walks from his commitments, and betrays all his friends.
Politics offers a terrible spiritual danger. To think politically, is an out-of-body experience. One is trying to imagine how the machinery of policy may engage with the machinery of life. It is a Cartesian operation; always short of the necessary information. Something similar may happen in an ecclesial stance. The man becomes detached from reality, by all this machinery in his head.
Career politicians seldom wobble quite so much, for they have little brain to loosen. The characters I’m thinking of are thinkers, intellectuals of some kind. Most know better than to run for public office; or if they do, the voters put them back in place. They are in product development; they tend anyway to sneer at the people in sales. A successful politician knows his market, instead. He knows what his constituents want to hear, and tells them. He remembers what side of the aisle he is sitting, and whom he owes for his seat. He is caught in a matrix of personal loyalties, with hell to pay when he skivs. His eye is fixed on the pay-off.
Whereas, your typical intellectual is coatless against the winds of fashion. He courts allies with a different kind of vanity. His party loyalties are ambiguous, and the cost of his betrayal is seldom very high. Friends become a fungible commodity, if all you require from them is Facebook Likes. He may actually improve his prospects by defecting. Depending where you live, there is a path of least resistance.
I think of an especially poignant example; then realize there’s another much the same; and then a couple more just like them. But examples should be given one at a time.
Long ago I suspected there was something wrong with Mr Poignant. He was “on my side,” but I could never trust him. And this because, he always thought ahead.
“He has more brains than he can handle,” I once uncharitably said of him. By which I meant: a full head, and a rather straw chest. I could detect no spiritual anchor, no tethering of faith beneath his clouds. His principles were mere thoughts: fluff passing over. He was touched by some proselytizing impulse; but the more it “evolved,” the more self-serving it appeared. Old friends, once betrayed, were gratuitously smeared; they began to wonder, had he gone nuts? Yet he remains smart, by the current fashion, and maintains his status as a minor celebrity.
The head comes loose, when the heart is not screwed in.