For instance, we who are outside of the asylum all agree that water seeks its level; that the sun gives light and heat; that fire consumes; that fog is damp; that six times six are thirty-six, that two from ten leaves eight; that eight and seven are fifteen. These are, perhaps, the only things we are agreed about; but, although they are so few, they are of inestimable value, because they make an infallible standard of sanity. Whosoever accepts them him we know to be substantially sane; sufficiently sane; in the working essentials, sane. Whoever disputes a single one of them him we know to be wholly insane, and qualified for the asylum.
Very well, the man who disputes none of them we concede to be entitled to go at large. But that is concession enough. We cannot go any further than that; for we know that in all matters of mere opinion that same man is insane--just as insane as we are; just as insane as Shakespeare was. We know exactly where to put our finger upon his insanity: it is where his opinion differs from ours.
That is a simple rule, and easy to remember. When I, a thoughtful and unblessed Presbyterian, examine the Koran, I know that beyond any question every Mohammedan is insane; not in all things, but in religious matters. When a thoughtful and unblessed Mohammedan examines the Westminster Catechism, he knows that beyond any question I am spiritually insane. I cannot prove to him that he is insane, because you never can prove anything to a lunatic--for that is a part of his insanity and the evidence of it. He cannot prove to me that I am insane, for my mind has the same defect that afflicts his. All Democrats are insane, but not one of them knows it; none but the Republicans and Mugwumps know it. All the Republicans are insane, but only the Democrats and Mugwumps can perceive it. The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane. When I look around me, I am often troubled to see how many people are mad. To mention only a few:
The Atheist, The Theosophists, The Infidel, The Swedenborgians, The Agnostic, The Shakers, The Baptist, The Millerites, The Methodist, The Mormons, The Christian Scientist, The Laurence Oliphant Harrisites, The Catholic, and the 115 Christian sects, the Presbyterian excepted, The Grand Lama's people, The Monarchists, The Imperialists, The 72 Mohammedan sects, The Democrats, The Republicans (but not the Mugwumps), The Buddhist, The Blavatsky-Buddhist, The Mind-Curists, The Faith-Curists, The Nationalist, The Mental Scientists, The Confucian, The Spiritualist, The Allopaths, The 2000 East Indian sects, The Homeopaths, The Electropaths, The Peculiar People, The----
But there's no end to the list; there are millions of them! And all insane; each in his own way; insane as to his pet fad or opinion, but otherwise sane and rational. This should move us to be charitable towards one another's lunacies. I recognize that in his special belief the Christian Scientist is insane, because he does not believe as I do; but I hail him as my mate and fellow, because I am as insane as he insane from his point of view, and his point of view is as authoritative as mine and worth as much. That is to say, worth a brass farthing. Upon a great religious or political question, the opinion of the dullest head in the world is worth the same as the opinion of the brightest head in the world--a brass farthing. How do we arrive at this? It is simple. The affirmative opinion of a stupid man is neutralized by the negative opinion of his stupid neighbor no decision is reached; the affirmative opinion of the intellectual giant Gladstone is neutralized by the negative opinion of the intellectual giant Newman--no decision is reached. Opinions that prove nothing are, of course, without value any but a dead person knows that much. This obliges us to admit the truth of the unpalatable proposition just mentioned above--that, in disputed matters political and religious, one man's opinion is worth no more than his peer's, and hence it followers that no man's opinion possesses any real value.