She could not read. She could not write. She sometimes recognized on the faces of others joy and ambition and other emotions she could recall having had once, long ago. But her life was ruined, and she had no salvage plan.
—Shulamith Firestone, Airless Spaces
Radical insight can resemble the mind-set described by the clinical psychologist Louis Sass, in Madness and Modernism, when he wrote that the schizophrenic is “acutely aware of the inauthenticities and compromises of normal social existence.”
Medical researchers have long puzzled over schizophrenia’s late emergence (it was first diagnosed in 1911, in Switzerland) and its prevalence in the industrial world, where the illness is degenerative and permanent. (In “primitive” societies, when it exists at all, it is typically a passing malady.) In 2005, when Jean-Paul Selten and Elizabeth Cantor-Graae, experts on the epidemiology of schizophrenia, reviewed various risk factors—foremost among them migration, racism, and urban upbringing—they found that the factors all involved chronic isolation and loneliness, a condition that they called “social defeat.”
Though the French had a series of revolutions, these were never directed against strong governments. Under Louis XIV and XV, they accepted the most outrageous degrees of royal exploitation, waste, arrogance, intolerance, and immorality without a murmur. But when the throne fell into the hands of Louis XVI, a perfectly charming, impotent, humble, and well-meaning king whose greatest extravagance was his tender affection for flowers, they at last staged the revolution that still overwhelms posterity.
Peoples never revolt against tyrants. They only revolt against the weak.
—Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown Of Nations
When potatoes jumped from the “new” world to the “old,” some of the more far-seeing potentates of the latter saw that spuds could go far in feeding the European continent’s poor people. Who had, and for centuries, previously tried to staple-survive on such bitter fruit as chestnuts.
But, for reasons passeth contemporary understanding, the masses were, in the main, averse to these new-fangled, new-world potatoes. Believing, among other things, that they spread leprosy.
To try to get around this popular prejudice, Louis XVI, of France, dedicated one of his royal farms, at Les Sablons in Neuilly, to the planting of potatoes. And by day he ringed this farm with guards bristling with rifles, with fixed bayonets.
By night, however, this guard was mostly, intentionally, subtly withdrawn.
The common people, with their eyes always affixed on royal doings, soon sussed that if the king was growing and eating potatoes, and even guarding them, potatoes must be okay—even great!—for them too.
So they stole, by night, into the king’s fields, and there they stole potatoes. And then planted them for themselves.
Just as the king wished them to.
By the time Louis XVI went to the guillotine, potatoes had become so favored among the people, that the revolutionary commune ordered that the flowers of the royal gardens at the Tuileries be dug up, and replaced with potatoes.
It is said that Louis’ head, once roughly lopped, it was tossed there, into what was once his flower-bed, sown now with the now-favored potatoes, that Louis himself had brought, and against their resistance, to those who—Thanatos-blind on blood-righteousness—gave him the chop.