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On Eccentricity and Madness

British Psychologist David Weeks has been studying eccentric people. The encouraging news is that some people who were thought to be mentally ill may actually be eccentric. It is a well known fact that some people have been locked up in mental health facilities because they did not conform, because they kept pace with a different drummer to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau. This fact alone shouldn’t make these people ‘crazy’, but some people find all sorts of excuses for frowning on their neighbors.

The following is from the wikipedia page on eccentrics.


Psychologist Dr. David Weeks mentions people with a mental illness “suffer” from their behavior while healthy eccentrics are quite happy. He even states eccentrics are less prone to mental illness than everyone else. This may be related in the same way that introverts (introversion) suffer more from their mental illness than do extroverts (extroversion), who tend to make those around them suffer instead by their actions or deeds (outward expression of their illness rather than inward).

According to studies, there are fourteen distinctive characteristics that differentiate a healthy eccentric person from a regular person or someone who has a mental illness (although some may not always apply). The first five are in most people regarded as eccentric:

• Nonconforming attitude
• Creative
• Intense curiosity
• Idealistic
• Happy obsession with a hobby or hobbies
• Known very early in his or her childhood they were different from others
• Highly intelligent
• Opinionated and outspoken
• Noncompetitive
• Unusual living or eating habits
• Not interested in the opinions or company of others
• Mischievous sense of humor
• Single
• Usually the eldest or an only child


To this list Dr. Weeks has added a fifteenth characteristic that eccentric people are found to have. He says they also tend to be bad spellers.

Before one grows giddy with jubilant celebrating over the fact that one has found oneself to be merely odd rather than completely bonkers, I have found a couple of criticisms that can be made of this view.

If you look at the initial paragraph in this section on these characteristics you may find the thinking a wee bit fuzzy. People with mental illness, we read, suffer more from their behavior than do people who are healthy but eccentric. Then we are reading about sick introverts suffering, and sick extroverts making other people suffer, as a part of their respective mental illnesses. Alright, nothing was said about making other people suffer being a symptom of any mental illness. Without this little slip, sadists are healthy, masochists unhealthy. The claim is then made that introverts tend to have more severe mental health problems than extroverts, and so I guess the implication here is that it is healthier to make other people suffer than it is to suffer oneself. I imagine that people living under oppressive totalitarian regimes would find the thought itself offensive, and then there is the much touted ‘golden rule’. Could it find itself any more tarnished than it is in this discourse where good is rewarded with bad?

A second criticism of Dr. Weeks findings on eccentrics is that unhappiness in this view is equated with mental illness. People in the USA are supposedly guaranteed the right to pursue happiness by virtue of their Declaration of Independence, but there is no guarantee in this Declaration that any person will actually catch this happiness. Simply put, people who are unhappy are not sick, they are unhappy. People may also find themselves in negative unwanted situations, and if their unhappiness compels them to change their situation, this change would not have taken place if they had pretended their unhappiness was actually happiness. Adding mental illness to the afflictions that beset the impoverished is not going to improve their social station either. When a racial component is added to impoverishment, as one looks at external causes for unhappiness, this sort of perspective may actually represent an almost unconscious current of racist thought pervading the social sciences.

Is the greed that would sell the entire world for personal profit more healthy than the philanthrophy that would leave a pennyless preacher begging for alms? I leave this little snippet with you as I have other matters of import that I need to get around to addressing, and an eternity is more time than I’ve got to waste on any subject.