What mirth, do you imagine, is to be extracted from their panegyrics who are suspected of bestowing praise out of mere flattery? - The tyrant Hiero laments

Who grants ideas value: the individual, or society? While the isolated philosopher may find his or her own ideas enchanting, perhaps only the best arguments can win over enough mindshare to achieve societal implementation. In a Hegelian or Kantian universalist worldview - Individual rationality is additive. If one head is good, then many minds must be better. Further, the societal idea filter provides some grounding in reality. Conformity assuages the individual’s fear of the madness of his ideas.

And yet - in defense of the individual, the emergent behavior of societies provides definitive counter-examples to this universalist, utilitarian notion of additive rationality. If one head can go insane, somehow, collective insanity is greater than the sum of its parts.

The emergent madness of society sets in once the collective decides for the individual, and recognition of ideas become forced. As Hiero laments, ultimately, praise is pleasureless when the alternative is tyrantical retaliation. Therefore, the degree to which a society can measure the value of ideas is the degree to which each member is free, both theoretically and practically, to choose and enact an alternative to those ideas.

Whether or not emergent madness of society is entirely avoidable depends on the limits of human nature. However, if the collective derangement is rooted in the collective’s tyranny of thought, the most obvious antidote is to restore individuals’ confidence and ability to express their thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams in a unique way:

The individual may embark on exploration, to boldy go, and build anew. Perhaps this journey leads to a descent into madness from the terrors of the unknown, but perhaps it also entails the joys of invention, novelty, passion. In one extreme case, take the early American explorers’ brave project to build an entirely new society after exiting the Mayflower for the first time:

Seriously consider this poor people’s present condition, the more to be raised up to admiration of God’s goodness towards them in their preservation: for being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectation, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns to repair unto to seek for succour…


Which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weather-beaten face, and the whole country full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew; if they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.

Ultimately, breaking out means uncomfortable choices, and the responsibility to handle their consequences. The reward is to prove the value of one’s own ideas.