June -20

A small treatise on

.R D Laing.



A One Party State

The UK has been a one-party State since 1979. The latest episode in the saga of the UK's decline is yet another elimination of an opposition: Michael Foot in 1983, John Smith in 1994 and the latest Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.

Whatever entity is now running the UK has total free rein to act as they like. However destructive, however detested, however openly crass or incompetent... they cannot now be stopped.

By deposing Corbyn last December the UK public have relinquished any chance of influence on UK politics for at least a decade... probably two decades, possibly more.

The official 'opposition' is now (like Blair) toady to that entity. If the Tory party could be thrown-out within the next 5-years (which with an 80-majority is virtually impossible), then they would be replaced by the same 'New Labour' as took over from John Major in 1997 and proceeded to follow - in return for support - the policies favoured by Rupert Murdoch.

About a third of Corbyn's 'Labour' MPs worked to get Boris elected... ie: those who were appointed and 'parachuted-in' by Blair... some were Jewish but probably all supported Israel. Several 'shadow' ministers now openly support Israel, which means Labour no longer supports the Palestinians in their struggle against brutal repression and imprisonment by Israel's Fascist military regime. (In April 2006 in his book 'Hold Everything Dear' John Berger wrote: "The national state of those who had suffered the worst genocide in history has become, militarily speaking, fascist.")

So is the entity purely Murdoch again (who after the Coulson issue is now keeping a low profile), or since JML (Jewish Labour Movement) worked so hard to destroy Corbyn, does it now include Israel - if it hasn't always? Can Boris and Starmer be obeying anything else?

Cummings (DC) is clearly Boris's 'Andy Coulson' (AC)... remember Cameron's 'advisor' (or rather, Murdoch stooge?)... so is doubtless answerable to the same. Coulson, though, was less secure than Cummings because Cameron led a coalition. This time Boris owes everything to the Murdoch mob whose far-right propaganda machine, together with the Jewish establishment, scared the intellectually compromised 'left' into rejecting Corbyn - their potential benefactor.

Which means that even if Boris loathes Cummings, he has no choice... Cummings is secure... more secure than Boris himself. Boris, Gove... what difference does it make? Cummings is a Murdoch/Israel appointment... and could probably even get away with murder - they'd find some way to get him off. (He could already be accused of manslaughter for compromising the lock-down and trashing the credibility of government advice over the virus issue.)

But the recent decline in public support for Boris and the Tories due to Cummings (and Boris supporting him) - won't remotely concern Murdoch/Israel. The whole outfit is as secure as an immovable rock - and will remain so, as I say, for at least the next decade with Starmer now in place (dancing to the same tune, if ineptly pretending not to).

I might add that despite the proclaimed assumption (esp with the hypocritical 'clapping' over the coronavirus) that the English public value their NHS, evidence tells otherwise - less than 1 in 4 were prepared to vote to keep it: ie, in last December's election more than 13-million voted for the party that was set to flog it off to US billionaires, while a mere 10-million voted for the party that inaugurated the NHS and promised to rescue it from the sharks.

OK.... I just like to establish what's probably happening behind the facade - what fits, what makes sense. Any alternative scenarios... I'd really like to know.

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R D Laing

(Grey text not written by me - PC)

A few months ago (shortly before the covid-19 lock-down) while browsing second-hand books in the Oxfam shop, I spotted John Clay’s 1996 biography of R D Laing. Wherever I dipped-in, I found the book gripping... it was 75p and good as new.

Having over many years collected books that look at least half-promising, I’d read parts of several of Laing's most popular works: ie, The Divided Self, Self and Others and especially The Politics of Experience AND The Bird of Paradise. I say ‘especially' because that latter tome contains observations that are perhaps among the most poignant and challenging you're ever likely to contemplate. That is, they question the nature of - the reality behind - human culture as we experience it, understand it and generally accept it... or, as Laing proposes, are conditioned to accept it... frequently to the detriment of our psychological health and much else besides.

The only other times I've seen culture examined to such depth was Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky... and maybe Twain's 'The Mysterious Stranger' (see Twain), which parallels Laing's key perceptions. From Clay's biography, I see that Laing was an avid reader in his youth and devoured everything he could from the local library.

Furthermore, what Laing (and Twain) had observed, as in his other books, struck me as manifestly self-evident: eye-opening - and perhaps alarming to some - but undeniably true. Many people, I'm sure, would disagree: that 'reality' should appear that way is not only subjective, but disturbing and dangerously subversive. Yet, from my angle, the self-evidence is entirely objective - essentially scientific: based on clear impartial observation - as I'm sure any anthropologist would confirm. Some people, I well know, cannot 'see' (or even imagine) impartially; their conditioning is total. Hence the controversial reputation Laing’s work has acquired in claiming, for instance, that schizophrenia is the consequence of failing to adapt (or perhaps subconscious refusal to be conditioned). In my view the controversy is inappropriate; with regard to applying what Laing discovered, the 'dispute' serves only to deny many potential benefactors treatment that is at worst innocuous, but always benign.

I’ve yet to understand - now more than half a century after Laing's publications, which are both meticulous and groundbreaking - why they should remain controversial, any more than, say, Freud's or Jung's; or even Maxwell’s or Einstein’s when first revealed or proposed. Here's a paraphrased quote:

“In the late 1960s Laing gained a reputation for his radical objection to conventional psychiatry. His early book, ‘The Divided Self’ and ‘The Politics of Experience’ questioned the right of society to proclaim itself sane and others mad.

Protesting the ‘outrageous violence’ inflicted on patients by drastic therapies like electric shock, he generated controversy with his willingness to try psychedelic drugs, meditation and other unconventional techniques in search of a healing common ground between doctor and patient.”

Regarding "..the right of society to proclaim itself sane and others mad." there's the excerpt in my memoir containing perspectives my experiences exposed, but also this from The Politics of Experience p64:

The majority of my own generation did not or do not regard it as stark raving mad to feel it better to be dead than Red. None of us, I take it, has lost too many hours' sleep over the threat of imminent annihila­tion of the human race and our own responsibility for this state of affairs.

In the last fifty years, we human beings have slaughtered by our own hands coming on for one hundred million of our species. We all live under constant threat of our total annihilation. We seem to seek death and destruction as much as life and happiness. We are as driven to kill and be killed as we are to let live and live. Only by the most outrageous violation of ourselves have we achieved our capacity to live in relative adjustment to a civilization apparently driven to its own destruction. Perhaps to a limited extent we can undo what has been done to us, and what we have done to ourselves. Perhaps men and women were born to love one another, simply and genuinely, rather than to this travesty that we can call love. If we can stop destroying ourselves we may stop destroying others. We have to begin by admitting and even accepting our violence, rather than blindly destroying ourselves with it, and therewith we have to realize that we are as deeply afraid to live and to love as we are to die.

It's frequently the case that innovative and revolutionary ideas or observations evoke hostility, fear and opposition – particularly from those at the forefront of whatever is under the spotlight who’ll see any new approach as a challenge, at least to their integrity in failing to have spotted the innovative angle first.

Almost always when this happens, an existing hierarchy will feel threatened: their status, ego and even livelihood are in the balance. This means that established set-ups can be very defensive of their practices, even in the light of the most obvious evidence against them.

As with other 'scientists' (whose work can be proved by independently repeating an experiment or by rigorous mathematics), Laing's approach was also shown to work - yet there was a difference: As he explains in The Divided Self: unlike a normal clinician who examines a patient as a biological machine and focuses on the broken leg or whatever, the psychiatrist needs to treat the patient as a human being, not a machine.

In a revised Preface to The Divided Self Laing declares that he should have said less in the book about Them (the patient) and more about Us (the psychiatrist). That is, he is critical of how the profession fails to recognise the significance of the nature of the relationship between psychiatrist and patient and above all of the way the patient is 'treated' - ie, see this 2-minute youtube.

It was precisely the 'respect', the 'courtesy', the way you 'treat' the patient, as he describes in the youtube, that formed the foundation of Laing's breakthrough. Often, such patients, with the development of characteristicly quirky behaviours, would have likely experienced very little courtesy from anyone, still less from someone with Laing's skills: prepared to spend hours just 'being' with the patient, totally there, in silence or - as appropriate - to really listen... without distraction, without judgement, criticism, or dishing-out 'wise' advice, etc., etc. (Perhaps Laing was as surprised as anyone that this worked, or worked as well as it did... though I doubt it, because to some of us it looks pretty obvious.)

But crucially, it was this kind of early experience that led Laing to challenge the traditional prevailing view that the psychiatrist should regard the patient in the same existential and phenomenological way as a clinician.

Here’s a link to an 8-min youtube describing one experiment that demonstrates the success of Laing’s approach, but which ultimately fails - NOT because of Laing’s method of allowing his patients to recover from their trauma naturally, but because once cured they are plunged straight back into the precise circumstances that were the source of, or was exacerbating, their original trauma. ie, a dysfunctional family: youtube

And here's a couple of responses from that youtube:

Revolutionary psychiatrist RD Laing demonstrates how normal family interactions are selfish and malevolent agendas masquerading as kindness and love, and how such atmospheres produces so called mental illnesses and neuroses. I find it highly distressing that mental health professionals today are unaware of RD Laing and his work.

Yes, I remember it well. One of the best and most informative documentaries ever produced. Always worth a second, third fourth (and so on) watch. This should be compulsory viewing in any educational setting, including religious instruction, natural philosophy and the arts. I have over four decades in developmental, educational and now existential psychology in which Laing's work sits perfectly well. His like are far too rare in the history of academia...

There are several more youtubes and other records about or by Laing, for instance:

On Life and Laing: with Bob Foss youtube

R.D.Laing's Glasgow (1978) Internet archive

'Interview' with son Adrian BBC Radio-4

R D Laing - Part 1. The essence: youtube

.....and Part 2 (< 8 mins): youtube

Did you used to be RD Laing youtube

To recognise truth, or conform youtube

(Demonstation 1985 youtube)


Fear of no common interests youtube

ie, from that last video:

"If I could turn you, if I could drive you out of your wretched mind,  if I can tell you I would let you know."

"These words were written by Dr R D Laing, one of the foremost psychiatrists of our time. Born in Glasgow Scotland in 1927 Laing was drawn at an early age to the misery and suffering he saw around him. Until his death in 1989, he devoted his life to the study of the human condition, redefining our concepts of madness, offering revolutionary humanistic solutions to the problems of mental illness. For Laing modern society imposes prison walls of conformity on the individual, inhibiting potential and devastating the personality. So called Madness may be the result of a person's inability to suppress his normal instincts to conform to an abnormal Society. In exploring what drives people to madness Laing was a master at portraying the incompatible contradictions that can enmesh people in a web of lies and confusions; for him the key to understanding was always personal experience."

Another (monochrome) video shows Laing reading/contemplating these lines by Auden:

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.


Amazon has some insightful reviews of the books too. For instance on The Politics of Experience:


I read this book 40 years ago. I have read it again now, realizing how much of my own thinking all through my life has been affected and influenced by this book. My politics, my morality, my understanding of social realities, in fact, of the structure of reality itself, keeps the mark of these extraordinarily radical and intelligent pages. read it.



I have bought this book three times now, it is a seminal works and ought to be made compulsory reading. R D Laing was a phenomenal mind; to the extent, that his works, are not, perhaps, for those who are looking for 'light-reading'. Requires an intelligent mind and a critical one at that. R D Laing deserves a place in history next to Nietzsche, Sartre, Plato.


And from the official website: https://www.rdlaingofficial.com/

To this day the life and works of R. D. Laing influence writers, poets, musicians, philosophers, psychologists, therapists, film makers and those involved with the day-to-day challenges of coping and dealing with mental distress.

R.D. Laing was a controversial figure to the Establishment and a hero to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s which viewed R. D. Laing as a pioneering humanitarian whose works displayed an authentic existential understanding of psychosis.

Scottish existential psychiatrist who argued that insanity could be a creative and adaptive response to the world [and] developed the theory that mental illness was an escape mechanism that allowed individuals to free themselves from intolerable circumstances.

There's no doubt Laing was a remarkable intellect, perhaps a genius; but either way his ideas and perceptions - esp as set-out in Politics of Experience - reveal aspects of our lives, as I say, that very few people seem to accept, less still are aware of... such is the extent, the depth, the thoroughness of our conditioning. Regarding this, by certain fluke experiences (described in my Memoir), I became aware as a teenager of what Laing describes - among other things. Maybe Laing's early experiences contained similar threads, and with his sharp mind triggered a recognition of the significance of this and other observations he describes? No doubt reading Freud (who I'd scarcely heard of before I was ~30) and others would have honed such observations. A quote from Darwin:

"It is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, whilst the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason."  - Charles Darwin

Despite my own unwitting recognition of these angles on the human 'predicament', Laing's books have formed quite an eye-opener - if only in the systematic analysis and articulation of key phenomena, especially as clarified, for instance, in the below excerpts. (These issues must form a central theme in any study of anthropology, and maybe the history of economics too... ie, see also my article quoting Fromm)

I'm reminded how in 1984 experimenting with an early computer (BBC model 'B') I stumbled on 'windows' (described here). Since my interests were elsewhere (idling?) - and my IQ is quite a bit less than that of Bill Gates - I failed to twig the potential of what I'd seen. I'm reminded too of how, twenty years earlier as a 14 year-old, I gained an intimate understanding of existentialism more than a decade before first hearing the word and being amazed and delighted at finding it to be a popular and major philosophy that I could study. I'd assumed my perception to be unique to me - or a view of existence that was taboo (since the prevailing mind-set seemed quite the opposite). So once again, I'd failed to look further than my nose.

There's also the time that I imagine many people experienced: when they 'invented' the internet... for me this is described here (and here).

Likewise - above all - witnessing conditions and actions authorities and associated adults created or participated in that to me were not only inexplicable but counterproductive, even hostile.... in other words: my recognition that nearly every aspect of the society I lived in was twisted, apparently irrational and geared to serve some 'mysterious' hierarchical status-quo.... either that or most people were just mad... an observation that Laing must have interpreted as I did, but saw was something to pursue and investigate for its psychological and cultural (more than political) significance.

I say 'mysterious' because I merely accepted it - grudgingly, true, but I made no attempt to understand its source, its purpose, its cause; although the phenomenon was clear enough, it was many years before I bothered to examine what was behind it: as with 'windows', existentialism and doubtless many other observations, I failed to follow this 'political' aberration to its logical conclusion.

Which leaves me astonished now to think I was almost 30 before I peered beyond my own comfortable techno-bubble to recognise how corrupt cultures were anywhere in the world and how decrepit western society in particular was for the majority of 'enslaved' people as in the following excerpts from Laing's Politics of Experience. See also: here... I could add links to many more examples.

The first key excerpt below follows the one in my 'memoir' (from p49) and requires considered focus if you find it hard to swallow.

Reflecting, though, on Laing's quote from Sartre (my italics) the significance of the phenomenon Laing is analysing should become palpably clear.



From Politics of Experience p50-53

From the moment of birth, when the stone-age baby confronts the twentieth-century mother, the baby is subjected to these forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father have been, and their parents and their parents before them. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its potentialities. This enterprise is on the whole successful. By the time the new human being is fifteen or so, we are left with a human being like ourselves. A half-crazed creature, more or less adjusted to a mad world. This is normality in our present age.

Love and violence, properly speaking, are polar opposites. Love lets the other be, but with affection and concern. Violence attempts to constrain the other's freedom, to force him to act in the way we desire, but with ultimate lack of concern, with indifference to the other's own existence of destiny.

We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love.

I am a specialist, God help me, in events in inner space and time, in experiences called thoughts, images, reveries, memories, dreams, visions, hallucinations, dreams of memories, memories of dreams, memories of visions, dreams of hallucinations, refractions of refractions of refractions of that original Alpha and Omega of exper­ience and reality, that Reality on whose repression, denial, splitting, projection, falsification, and general desecration and profanation our civilization as much as on anything is based.

We live equally out of our bodies, and out of our minds.

Concerned as I am with this inner world, observing day in and day out its devastation, I ask why this has happened?

One component of an answer suggested in Chapter 1, is that we can act our experience of ourselves, others and the world, as well as take action on the world through behaviour itself. Specifically this devastation is largely the work of violence that has been perpetrated on each of us, and by each of us on ourselves. The usual name that much of this violence goes under is love.

We act on our experience at the behest of the others, just as we learn how to behave in compliance to them. We are taught what to experience and what not to experience, as we are taught what movements to make and what sounds to emit. A child of two is already a moral mover and moral talker and moral experiencer. He already moves the 'right' way, makes the 'right' noises, and knows what he should feel and what he should not feel. His movements have become stereometric types, enabling the specialist anthropologist to identify, through his rhythm and style, his national, even his regional, characteristics. As he is taught to move in specific ways, out of the whole range of possible movements, so he is taught to experience, out of the whole range of possible experience.

Much current social science deepens the mystification. Violence cannot be seen through the sights of positivism.

A woman grinds stuff down a goose's neck through a funnel. Is this a description of cruelty to an animal? She disclaims any motivation or intention of cruelty. If we were to describe this scene 'objectively' we would only be denuding it of what is 'objectively' or, better, ontologically present in the situation. Every description pre­supposes our ontological premises as to the nature (being) of man, of animals, and of the relationship between them.

If an animal is debased to a manufactured piece of produce, a sort of biochemical complex - so that its flesh and organs are simply material that has a certain texture in the mouth (soft, tender, tough), a taste, perhaps a smell - then to describe the animal positively in those terms is to debase oneself by debasing being itself. A positive description is not ‘neutral’ or ‘objective'. In the case of geese-as-raw-material-for-pâté, one can only give a negative description if the description is to remain underpinned by a valid ontology. That is to say, the description moves in the light of what this activity is a brutalization of, a debasement of, a desecration of: namely the true nature of human beings and of animals. The description must be in the light of the fact that the human beings have become so self-brutalized, banalized, stultified, that they are unaware of their own debasement. This is not to superimpose on to the 'neutral' description certain value-judgements that have lost all criterion of ‘objective' validity, that is to say, any validity that anyone feels needs to be taken really seriously. On 'subjective’ matters, anything goes. Political ideologies, on the other hand, are riddled with value-judgements, unrecognized as such, that have no ontological validity. Pedants teach youth that such questions of value are unanswerable, or untestable, or unverifiable, or not really questions at all, or that what we require are meta-questions. Meanwhile Vietnam goes on.[see Pinter]

Under the sign of alienation every single aspect of the human reality is subject to falsification, and a positive description can only perpetuate the alienation which it cannot itself describe, and succeeds only in further deepening it, because it disguises and masks it the more.

Natural scientific investigations are conducted on objects, or things, or the patterns of relations between things, or on systems of 'events'. Persons are distinguished from things in that persons experience the world, whereas things behave in the world. Thing-events do not experience. Personal events are experiential. Natural scientism is the error of turning persons into things by a process of reification that is not itself part of the true natural scientific method. Results derived in this way have to be dequantified and dereified before they can be reassimilated into the realm of human discourse.

The error fundamentally is the failure to realize that there is an ontological discontinuity between human beings and it-beings.

Human beings relate to each other not simply externally, like two billiard balls, but by the relations of the two worlds of experience that come into play when two people meet.

If human beings are not studied as human beings, then this once more is violence and mystification.



from Politics of Experience p54-56:

The mother 'invests' in her child. What is most revealing is the husband's function. The provision of economic support, status, and protection, in that order.

There is frequently reference to security, the esteem of  others. What one is supposed to want, to live for, is 'gaining pleasure from the esteem and affection of others'*. If not, one is a psychopath.

Such statements are in a sense true. They describe the frightened, cowed, abject creature that we are admonished to be, if we are to be normal - offering each other mutual protection from our own violence. The family as a 'protection racket'.

Behind this language lurks the terror that is behind all this mutual back-scratching, this esteem-, status-, support-, protection-, security-giving and getting. Through its bland urbanity the cracks still show.

In our world we are 'victims burning at the stake, signalling through the flames', but to Lidz et al things go blandly on. 'Contemporary life requires adaptability.' We require also to 'utilize intellect' and we require 'an emotional equilibrium that permits a person to be mal­leable, to adjust himself to others without fear of loss of identity with change. It requires a basic trust in others, and a confidence in the integrity of the self.'*

Sometimes there is a glimpse of more honesty. For instance, when we 'consider society rather than the in­dividual, each society has a vital interest in the indoctrina­tion of the infants who form its new recruits'.*

*T. Lidz, The Family and Human Adaptation (London: Hogarth Press, 1964)

What these authors say may be written ironically, but there is no evidence that it is.

Adaptation to what ? To society ? To a world gone mad ?

The Family's function is to repress Eros: to induce a false consciousness of security: to deny death by avoiding life: to cut off transcendence: to believe in God, not to experience the Void: to create, in short, one-dimensional man: to promote respect, conformity, obedience: to con children out of play: to induce a fear of failure: to pro­mote a respect for work: to promote a respect for 're­spectability’.

Let me present here two alternative views of the family and human adaptation:

Men do not become what by nature they are meant to be, but what society makes them.... generous feelings... are, as it were, shrunk up, seared, violently wrenched, and amputated to fit us for our intercourse with the world, something in the manner that beggars maim and mutilate their children to make them fit for their future situation in life.**

**E. Colby, (ed.) The Life of Thomas Hokroft, continued by William Hazlitt (London: Constable & Co., 1925) Volume II.


[from J. P. Sartre, Foreword to The Traitor by Andi£ Gorz (London: Calder, 1960)]:

In fact, the world still seems to be inhabited by savages stupid enough to see reincarnated ancestors in their newborn children. Weapons and jewelry belonging to the dead man are waved under the infant's nose; if he makes a movement, there is a great shout - Grandfather has come back to life. This 'old man' will suckle, dirty his straw and bear the ancestral name; survivors of his ancient generation will enjoy seeing their com­rade of hunts and battles wave his tiny limbs and bawl; as soon as he can speak they will inculcate recollections of the deceased. A severe training will 'restore' his former character, they will remind him that 'he' was wrathful, cruel or magnani­mous, and he will be convinced of it despite all experience to the contrary. What barbarism! Take a living child, sew him up in a dead man's skin, and he will stifle in such senile child­hood with no occupation save to reproduce the avuncular gestures, with no hope save to poison future childhoods after his own death. No wonder, after that, if he speaks of himself with the greatest precautions, half under his breath, often in the third person; this miserable creature is well aware that he is his own grandfather.

These backward aborigines can be found in the Fiji Islands, in Tahiti, in New Guinea, in Vienna, in Paris, in Rome, in New York - wherever there are men. They are called parents. Long before our birth, even before we are conceived, our parents have decided who we will be.



from Politics of Experience p80-81:

All those people who seek to control the behaviour of large numbers of other people work on the experiences of those other people. Once people can be induced to ex­perience a situation in a similar way, they can be expected to behave in similar ways. Induce people all to want the same thing, hate the same things, feel the same threat, then their behaviour is already captive - you have acquired your consumers or your cannon-fodder. Induce a com­mon perception of Negroes as subhuman, or the Whites as vicious and effete, and behaviour can be concerted accordingly.

The group becomes a machine - and it is forgotten that it is a man-made machine in which the machine is the very men who make it. It is quite unlike a machine made by men, which can have an existence of its own. The group is men themselves arranging themselves in patterns, strata, assuming and assigning different powers, functions, roles, rights, obligations and so on.




Even so, Laing's most seminal and brilliant work must be his first: The Divided Self.

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