Charlie Sheen and Defining Crazy Down

The Sheen Pyramid of GreatnessEverybody is having great fun talking about Charlie Sheen, and man, I want a piece of that action.

The popular diagnosis is that Sheen is some kind of crazy, though the degree and particular variety of crazy are in some dispute.  But the assumption is that he’s at least addicted to something (or somethings), and potentially on top of that he’s outhouse-rat insane in a way that is beyond the ability of clinicians to measure, thereby forcing them to estimate using piles of outhouse rats.

I realize the Sheen case is a special one, because he seems especially crazy. But we’ve become a nation of amateur psychoanalysts, and anytime someone exhibits behavior that’s inconvenient or out of the ordinary, we can’t wait to medicalize it. From little boys who can’t pay attention in school all the way up to Sheen’s epic, Wagnerian loopiness, it all makes people tuck their chins sympathetically into their chests and say, “He needs professional help.”

What we often don’t consider is that the reason most people act the way they do is because it works for them. It gets them what they want; it takes them where they want to go. Now, where they want to go may be bungee jumping naked into a pile of cocaine and high explosives, but that’s what they want. And when you look at it in terms of what they want, their behavior often seems a lot more reasonable.

I don’t know Charlie Sheen personally (otherwise I would so totally have myself a Hot Shots crew jacket), but I think I can make an educated guess about what he wants: 1) to be famous 2) to do drugs 3) to have sex with many pretty ladies 4) not to take any crap from anybody.  And that’s about it.

Bearing those goals in mind, and seeing the success he’s had achieving them in his life so far, why should he behave any differently than he does? It’s kind of an insult to actual crazy people—who behave in ways that don’t get them anything they want—to lump them together with such a successful wacko.

I don’t know if Sheen is actually, clinically crazy; he may well be. I heard an actor who’s worked with Sheen (Michael Biehn, if you’re curious) say that he thought Sheen would be dead within a month, and he may well be that too. Right now, I wouldn’t bet against it. But his actions are a whole lot like someone with a whole bunch of money who wants to say, “Screw all y’all.  I’ma do whatever I want.” I don’t know if that alone qualifies someone as nuts. Don’t we all daydream about doing that all the time?

This is not a defense of anything Sheen’s been doing, although lately he has been flippin’ hilarious and I do defend that. I’m just saying that when people are wildly selfish and self-indulgent, it’s way too easy for us to dismiss them as crazy when really they’re just selfish and self-indulgent. It almost excuses their behavior. I’m not willing to let them off so easily.

So, what we have here is a guy who’s fully in control of his faculties who’s doing exactly what he wants until something convinces him that he’s not the most important person in the world, or he dies. So far, even near-death experiences haven’t been enough. The flame-out at the end of his run may be pretty spectacular, but that’s the path he chose.