THE BLOG
08/28/2012 03:05 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2012

Sarah Palin and Chris McCandless, Alaska Politician and Alaska Woodsman

Something is badly wrong with the psyche of a country in which Sarah Palin and Chris McCandless, one a product of Alaska and the other a victim of it, have become iconic figures for untold numbers of citizens.

This is not a rap on Palin or McCandless. The former, when not aflame with the venomous vindictiveness that seems the main by-product of her being snatched from the backwoods to perform as the "game-changer" for Sen. John McCain's failed bid at the presidency, is a nice woman. And McCandless was merely a lost and troubled young man who never hurt or bothered anyone.

There really wasn't much to McCandless, which seems to be his attraction now. People want to paint all sorts of meaning into his searching for something if, in fact, he was doing even that. He might well have been nothing but lost. It happens to people all the time. The wires in the mind cross and finding the path ahead becomes impossible. They are left to wander aimlessly through life and never amount to anything.

In life, McCandless never amounted to anything, and the McCandless the world came to know in death wasn't so much an individual as a character created for the John Krakauer book Into the Wild. From the time McCandless graduated Emory College in 1986, turned his back on his family, and wandered America until he turned up dead in 1992, a bus not far off the George Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, his life is a Krakauer construct of pieces chosen selectively here and there.

Is it an accurate construct? Obviously not. Krakauer has written about his own forays into the wilderness to search for the adventure that helps a lot of us define ourselves. Krakauer defines McCandless's behavior by assuming a parallel, and that's a stretch beyond the facts. Krakauer, like me and most young men who go adventuring, didn't divorce his family before setting off. McCandless's decision to sever his relationship with his well-to-do parents, not to mention his supposedly beloved sister, back in Fairfax, Va., is symptomatic not of world travelers, mountaineers or adventurers of any sort, but of someone with mental problems.

Schizophrenia versus megalomania

McCandless fits a pattern. About 1 in 100 people in this country suffer from schizophrenia, a disease that most commonly arrives in early adult life. It's an illness. You can read a lot more about it. Suffice to say, the so-called "paranoid type" among the schizophrenics can prove to be interesting people prone to delusions of persecution or grandeur, not to mention a language more about some sort of self-expression than communication, as in:

Two Years He Walks The Earth. No Phone, No Pool, No Pets, No Cigarettes. Ultimate Freedom. An Extremist. An Aesthetic Voyager Whose Home is The Road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou Shall Not Return, Cause 'The West is The Best' And Now After Two Rambling Years Comes the Final and Greatest Adventure. The Climactic Battle To Kill The False Being Within And Victoriously Conclude the Spiritual Revolution! Ten Days & Nights of Freight Trains and Hitching Bring Him to the Great White North No Longer to Be Poisoned By Civilization He Flees, and Walks Alone Upon the Land To Become Lost in the Wild.

That would be a jotting from "Alexander Supertramp," AKA McCandless. Supertramp was the name he claimed when he abandoned his own. It is interesting to note that the later-to-be-icon McCandless in this one note stole from singer Roger Miller's "King of the Road," "no phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes;" the rock group The Doors' "The End," "the west is the best"; and who knows who else to help build a word salad that can be read as suicide note -- "thou shall not return ... the final and greatest adventure ... to become lost in the wild" -- or attempt at self-help treatment, as in "the climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution."

Could McCandless's real quest have been this simple: He was going into the Alaska wilderness to either to get a grip on his life or not come back? As it turned out, he didn't come back. Palin did better, but then she wasn't and isn't crazy. ...

Read the whole story and other views from the Last Frontier only at Alaska Dispatch.