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RD Laing in the cafe

Young working-class father at the communal table in the cafe this morning: <<sees me approach, to younger son>> “You have to have your own identity, you just copy everything your brother does.” Laingian metacommunication: <<You don’t know who you are. Your brother knows who he is, you just copy him. I know who you are—you are a person who doesn’t know who he is and just copies other people. That’s who you are>>.

So the child in question will probably consciously find an identity that is not the same as his brother’s interests and very consciously say that’s who I am even if he feels no genuine identity with it. After all, he was told that he just copies his brother and that is “wrong”, apparently (although I don’t see why it is “wrong” in itself—do you?). However, he will never really feel settled because the identity will have been picked in order to escape the designation <<you have no identity>>. It is likely he will always feel empty, but his identity will be rigorously policed because to have your own identity is good—so if your brother likes a thing, then you must not like it (even if you do like it) or do the opposite; he’ll “go dead” behind his totally false identity.

It’s not a great start for a kid and it recalls the Philip Larkin line, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had and add some extra, just for you.” In this case, I think the father lacked an identity and didn’t know “who he was”. He made the remark because he saw me coming and I’m a skinhead in a bomber jacket with ankle boots who follows the doctrine of awakening; it’s an identity. I don’t actually have much social identity—the ephemera of metacommunication above is what the doctrine of awakening removes—I just have a commitment to see; and, paradoxically, that means I have a strong identity (unattached attachment). It unsettled the father and he projected it onto the younger son—he didn’t have an identity himself.

Secondarily, there was a class angle because there was some question about “a toy” from Argos (Argos is a budget catalogue store, perhaps Walmart level in America). There was some other game in the family about “can we afford this toy for you too?” and who was going to get that toy; and the interchange may have been that the father didn’t want to buy two expensive toys (£££) and so decided to achieve that goal by saying “you need different interests to your brother”, so also projecting his guilt that he can’t afford the same toy or equivalent for both children into the younger child—so that when he establishes his false identity he’ll also feel virtuous and parsimonious for doing so, though also guilty (father’s guilt) about it and somehow like he doesn’t have “first prize”.

Individual humans are mostly this way; they’re just bundles of reactions to situations such as this one imprinted on them by their parents, schools, and even the media. I often see people and, on reflection, that person is not speaking to me they’re talking to their mother or their father; and I think, “I’m not your mother.” It doesn’t matter what the subject matter at hand really is. They’re caught in the same pattern over and over and over again. If you study people you can break down these “numbers” (you know, like a theatrical “number”), and if you meditate and so on you can isolate and break down your own “numbers” too.

To pick on RD Laing himself: he didn’t notice this “number” he had but I did. When he was seventeen or so his father was up for promotion and, although it was certain, he had a mental breakdown for three months; similarly, when he had a chance to sit for a qualification to reach a higher grade he refused to go to the exams. Laing similarly managed to place 25th in his scholarship exams for medical school (boys he had beaten all year came higher) and then flunked all his final medical exams to become a doctor (unusual to fail them all). Obviously, Laing unconsciously copied his father’s “number” where he came close to success and was perfectly capable of achieving said success then messed it up—bucked at the final hurdle. Laing reenacted his father’s tendency to refuse to take the place that was his; and he didn’t see this himself and actually continued to almost make it for his whole career.


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