|Like Oil On Water
This is not a discussion on the causes of the taint. I may write that one some time, but not right now. Rather, it is a discussion on factors determining the extent to which the taint affects individuals.
The first factor seems to be strength in the power. There aren't really enough examples in the book to provide conclusive evidence, but it seems to me that the strongest channelers are the ones least affected by the taint. The taint is often described in terms of an oil slick covering pure water, so to continue this analogy, the stronger a channeler is, the deeper into the water he reaches. The result is that the taint is 'diluted' by the greater amount of saidin.
Thus, men like Rand or Logain, both very strong in the Power, are less affected by the taint than weaker channelers. Such as many of the Asha’man, who are already going totally mad in a fraction of the time others have been channelling.
A second important factor is stress. As I see it, a channeler placed under a lot of stress has a much lower resistance to the taint than a more relaxed individual. I can think of several good examples here.
Rand. He’s been channelling for only a few years, yet the madness is already starting to affect him. During that time, he has been under a lot of pressure, and he hasn’t had much time to relax. Remember the saying ‘duty is heavier than a mountain?’ Rand’s carrying a pretty heavy mountain on his shoulders.
Logain. He seems to be of a similar strength to Rand, but has been channeling for a lot longer, especially if his story about the Red Ajah is true. However from what we've seen of him, he seems perfectly sane. During the ambush on Toveine’s group, he remains in complete control of the situation - even though combat seems to bring out the worst in people.
Chances are that Logain has lived a much more relaxed life than Rand is able to. In the years before he became a false Dragon, he presumably lived a reasonably normal life, apart from the effort of learning to control the Power. He didn’t have to fight Forsaken, conquer nations or cope with being in love with three women. While proclaiming himself the Dragon, the taint might have gained ground - except that he was saved, ironically enough, by the Aes Sedai who gentled him. In doing so, they cut him off from the taint, giving him the opportunity to recover. Now that he has been Healed, he still has all his years of experience, but none of the taint's effects. If there’s a ‘madness clock’ Logain’s has just been reset. I think we will see more evidence of this in later books.
My third example is Fedwin Morr. Like all of the Asha’man, he is under a lot of strain. In the Black Tower, Taim drives all of them hard, as ordered by Rand, making them learn as fast as they possibly can. A fair number have been killed or burned out during training. They’re channeling almost all the time, and those with Rand have been channeling with all their strength. They've had people trying to kill them. They’ve been forced to kill people. They’re hardly leading the most relaxed of lives, and it’s making them very vulnerable to madness.
The scene I'm concerned with, though, is in ‘A Cup Of Sleep’ where Dashiva and others attack Rand. Rand makes it very clear that he is putting Min’s life - which equates to Rand’s sanity - in Fedwin’s hands. The responsibility of this, added to the cumulative effects of the taint, is the proverbial last straw. At some point while Rand is gone, he simply cracks, and the taint takes him completely, annihilating most of his mind. All he really remembers is that he has to keep Min safe. As Min describes it, he starts pulling stones from the walls with the Power in order to build a tower to protect her - only a lot of effort convinces him to play with little wooden blocks instead.
Anyone with children or younger siblings of their own knows how destructive young children can be. Now imagine those children running around with almost unlimited power. They have to either be gentled, or die. Many more Asha’man are going to die before Tarmon Gai’don if Rand and Taim continue to push them so hard.
If Rand slows down the rate of training, he may not produce so many Asha’man in the same span of time, but more of them will survive. And those that do will be less vulnerable to the taint than the current batch. A weapon is no good if it shatters the first time it is used.
Hopefully, Rand will realise this and ease up on the Asha’man. If not - then I would say Breaking #2 is just around the corner.