August 11, 1995

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked,

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

I've used this title for a column before; it is one that I stole from a movie title. It's a subject that I periodically return to because it is one of the truest statements that I know. What's more, it is something that I would like to forget; so I put it out of my mind temporarily, until it intrudes on my peace of mind again -and again and again.

I would like to believe that somewhere in the world there is an enclave of sanity. The only problem is that I have been unable to find it, if it exists at all.

There is an old story about a man saying to his friend, "Sometimes I think that the whole world is mad, except for thee and me-and sometimes I have my doubts about thee." I would add that "sometimes I have my doubts about me." There have been times in my life when I have been wacky enough so that, if it had lasted for more than a short period of time, I might have been certifiably insane. Fortunately, those episodes didn't last for too long. They did, however, last long enough to be profoundly troubling. They occurred at times of severe emotional stress: adolescence (all of it), a war, divorce, death in the family or the loss of a job. I know that a person gets better at dealing with stressful situations with experience, but experience confers no permanent immunity.

So why should I expect more of the people who govern the world? Are they wiser than I am? Are they more experienced? Those who are wiser and more experienced don't make as many mistakes, but they still make some. The higher the office, the graver are the consequences of those mistakes for everyone.

I truly believe that every war that has ever been fought in the world was a mistake; that if reasonable people had dealt with the problems, that the war would have been unnecessary. You might ask, "How about the American Revolution?" That was a mistake too. If George III had been a reasonable man, things could have been worked out. The Canadians and Australians had no revolution, yet they are as free as we are. True, their fate might have been influenced by our revolution, but I still think that, in the long run, we would have been just as well off without it and fewer people would have been killed. In order to to prevent a war, it is necessary to deal with problems before they become critical; and that takes wisdom and experience -both rare traits.

Many people believe that democracy is the cure all for just about everything. My experience has been that democratically made decisions are usually far inferior to decisions made by a small group of intelligent and well informed people who are not overly power-hungry. Often, a decision made by one person is better than one made by even a small group. So what is the advantage of democracy?

The problem with decisions made by one person is that the decision is usually made with his own welfare in mind, while decisions democratically made will at least be concerned with the welfare of the other members of the group. The ideal would be decisions made by one person who has the welfare of the group in mind, after listening to the other members of the group.

While bad decisions are made both autocratically and democratically, the bad decisions made by one person are the ones that are remembered. It's easy to remember a Napoleon, a Hitler or Mussolini. People tend to forget that these people had a large amount of support: all of them were democratically elected. I doubt that there has been a single tyrant in the history of the world who didn't have a large measure of popular support.

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