What is Sane Behavior? Is criminal behavior sane? Is the guy walking naked through traffic calling out to Jesus commanding that the world is going to end in fire and brimstone sane? What about the woman who chooses to sleep under an overpass rather than face a bad family situation? Is she sane?
By C J Oakes
What is sane? What is sanity? Oddly enough, the Psychological community spends far less time explaining sanity than it does insanity. In fact, a search for the definition of sanity provides multiple sources, few of which are shown in Psychological journals.
One definition offers the following three possibilities for sane:
Condition of being not lawfully adjudged as mentally deranged and not subject to mental disease or disorder which could impair an individual’s capacity to comprehend their own actions, or their conformity to laws. State of being sound of mind or having appropriate judgment skills.
So, is it necessary to have a good working definition of sane when discussing human (and criminal) behavior?
What is Sanity?
“Sanity is a state of equilibrium between needs and values; it is a state of mental and emotional balance.”
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.”
This is an oft-stated remark today and on the surface, it sounds logical. If it is true, then the converse must also be true. This would define sanity as “doing something different to get different results.’
I used this example to demonstrate something very important to the concept of sanity. Some readers will automatically say that the choice to rob a bank is insane, despite earlier agreeing that he cannot do the same thing and expect different results. Why the quick judgment of less-than-sane behavior for breaking the law by stealing?
Largely because most people believe that stealing is wrong, morally reprehensible. Thus, to violate their morality is to leave the realm of sanity. In other words, this example shows us that notions of sanity cannot exist outside the values we hold.
But whose values count when determining sanity?
We are again brought around to the law. Sanity is a legal term and as such, it is used to determine according to the law who may or may not stand trial. In most jurisdictions, the term is supposed to apply to people who are developmentally disabled. This is a large reason the United States Supreme Court placed a ban on executing anyone with an IQ so low they would be considered, to use the past, non-PC term, retarded.
In fact, values play no role in determining sanity. To a large extent, this makes sense because then the prosecuting authorities would find themselves swamped with arguments related to religion versus state. Indeed, because the idea of sanity plays so strongly to belief systems, the only safe way to apply the concept is through the use of intellectual capabilities. Until now, that is.
The Key to Sanity is Finding Emotional and Intellectual Balance
As will be discussed in future chapters, everyone has needs. All have felt that gnawing, that hunger, that drive to obtain something or someone. All know that feeling of craving attention, love, hope. All understand that if they are in danger, there is an urgency to become safe. Anyone who feels powerless will seek to gain more control over their life. A person who feels trapped in the wrong body will seek to reform his or her identity. Someone who has been unjustly treated will seek to right the wrong.
Yet, in every instance, a person will act according to their own values, their own beliefs and in so doing, they are acting sanely. In the case of many, the action to resolve these needs will reflect social norms, societal values. But as a society becomes less homogenous, what is considered sane lessens. The more homogenous a society, the more agreement regarding sane versus insane behavior; the less homogenous, the less sane others appear.
When considering criminal behavior, this is even more pronounced.
Because those who engage in criminal acts often associate with other criminals, crime is considered sane, normal. So, whereas non-criminal persons in society will view their actions as other than sane, the view of the hardened criminal is that society is not sane.
This illustrates the subjective nature of sanity.
So, although society as a whole faces the separation of church and state as a hindrance to defining sanity as it really is and the issue is largely subjective, does this mean that no common definition can be had?
For any nation which is not a theocracy, redefining sanity is just a matter of using the science of human behavior. Much is already known and understood. All that is needed is to bring the disparate schools of thought, the varied social disciplines, together to create one coherent, cohesive concept. In other words, a unified theory of human (and criminal) behavior.
That is the goal of this book.
But enough about sanity. Before moving into the needs that all possess which drive decisions, it would be valuable to further clarify sanity by taking a closer look at behavior which is clearly insane. In other words, what is insanity? What causes insanity? Better still, can an insane person recover from insanity?
If you have not yet read the previous sections of this book, return now to