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I like the Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing—I like him in the way I like Nietzsche, whom he also admired; that is to say, I think he has many valuable insights but globally he is wrong. Laing was among the many, many celebrity psychologists that have flourished since at least Freud—he had TV series and best-selling books about the travails of life. The problem I have with Laing, as with many people who preach about how to “get your life together”, is that he was a mess: he drank too much, he had ten children by different women, and one of his children was committed to a psychiatric hospital (something that was hushed up to protect his career). Given that Laing’s favourite point was that “families drive people mad” this was ironic. As one of his sons said in an interview, “He solved other people's problems—but not his own.”


Laing wasn’t narcissistic (for a change); but he was very ambitious and driven, like the Calvinist Scot he was at heart; he had a life plan and he stuck to it (be published before 30; beat Freud). He rocketed from Glasgow Corporation tenement (council flat) to financial success and stardom. But did it really have anything to do with helping people in the end?


Laing lacked integrity. If your own daughter goes mad, perhaps you should take a break from trying to fix other people—especially since your original family of five is quite hard up. But no—he never stopped. You see a parallel with Jordan Peterson, another celebrity psychologist who told everyone to get their shit together and preached order and then promptly had a complete breakdown. If these people had some integrity and self-awareness, they would think, “Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about? Maybe I don’t know how to cope after all? Maybe I need to rethink what I say?” But they never do, they just plow on with their careers. It’s the blind leading the blind.

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