RD Laing’s error
Updated: Apr 19
I like the Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing, but the quote above shows why he was mistaken overall. In this case, Laing is himself guilty of what he condemns in others; elsewhere in this book, The Politics of Experience (1967), he speaks about how man’s life is characterised by splitting, introjection, repression, projection, and other defence mechanisms—he says that everyone is, in effect, insane.
However, if you say such a thing the first thing you should say is “I am insane”—otherwise you will suffer from the delusion that you understand the game and stand outside it when you are in fact within it, there is no difference between the game and you. That’s why I say: I am insane—because I am. So far as I know, Laing never said that—and he never said that because he took himself very seriously, he wanted to be like Freud or Sartre in his mid-30s (i.e. a big name continental intellectual quoted by The New York Review of Books and compulsory reading for intellectuals in Hampstead and Greenwich Village).
Laing was so ambitious that he worked himself like only a Scottish Puritan could, like a white nigger—he worked so hard on coding the data for a study on schizophrenia in families that his own family fell apart (irony—talk about being unconscious). It’s the typical thing with psychologists, they can say things like “everyone is insane” or “nobody experiences anything”—and yet they themselves are asleep.
It was partly down to the fact Laing never fully got religion—he got it a bit later on in his career, but he was otherwise very much a Nietzsche man, very in with the Jews. He was also political for a while—on the left, though he eventually repudiated it. In The Politics of Experience he is still in full political mode so he talks about opposition to the Vietnam War and in the quote above he brings up feminist themes. Now, if you think like that and if you’re ambitious you really won’t experience much—in fact, you really are pretty insane yourself.
Interestingly, Laing, late in life, threw a bottle of wine through the window of a Rajneesh centre in London—and was subsequently arrested for it, being found sat on the curb outside. Rajneesh was a Nietzschean Hindu who practiced the Kundalini awakening mixed with Zen (and a broadly scientific approach to life, a Nietzschean experiment with life)—he was more holistic than Laing and fell foul of the Federal government when he started to make his own biological weapons (not covered by the 2nd Amendment), he sought independence for his own compound (mostly made up of high-IQ psychology graduates, the fruits of gestalt therapy).
Rajneesh famously said he was “not a politician or a diplomat” and yet Laing, being ambitious, never fully stopped being a politician (academic researcher, leftist activist) or a diplomat—and so he resented Rajneesh because he was a true guru with an authentic following, whereas Laing was really just an intellectual (still in his mind, he had not come to his senses).
In the above quote, we can see the problem with Laing. What he has done is to repress and project. What he has repressed is the fact that competition is necessary for life. Now, it may or may not be a good idea to coerce twelve-year-olds to have baking competitions—perhaps children should only have elementary education and everything after twelve should be non-compulsory. However, given the leftist context, I think Laing is really against competition as such—and that isn’t real; he has repressed reality, and then he has demonised people who do compete.
You shouldn’t cheat to win a baking competition, even if you’re forced into it. You shouldn’t cheat because the only person you cheat if you cheat is yourself—you deny yourself authentic victory, or, alternatively, you deny yourself authentic defeat (and so never learn and never experience anything real—either positive or negative). Further, Laing makes a pseudo-Machiavellian point about having “better friends” who wouldn’t rat you out when you cheat. A real Machiavellian would say that since betrayal is inherent to man it is better not to cheat and end up reliant on people who might (and undoubtedly will) betray you—it’s better to be honest, if only because it’s more prudent.
So Laing is just wrong here—it’s because he’s being political, he’s in his New Left phase where the family itself is a “repressive institution”; and what he has done is repressed reality. In the final analysis, we are all compelled into a “baking competition”; we were all born when we didn’t ask to be and to survive we must compete—and so I think it’s acceptable to say, “This is bullshit and completely unfair.” I also agree, to be born is “bullshit and completely unfair” (just because your dad wanted to have sex with your mum—unbelievable selfishness; he had his fun and inflicted this, this life on me!). Yes—it’s terrible, but there it is.
If you don’t accept that—and to accept it might mean that you say you resent it—then it will dominate you in a subconscious way. Laing doesn’t accept it—so he is dominated by it, refuses the competition (by contrast, Rajneesh bought somewhere in the region of fifty Rolls-Royces—he didn’t have a problem with competition, Laing was still tied into the old Scots Puritan morality game; such bullshit).
For Laing, it came down to his mother—his mother was schizo, but she was also really conservative and religious in a genuine way, a witchy way. Laing was brought up in modest circumstances, in a council flat, but his family line was solidly middle class—the problem was that his father self-sabotaged, he never sat the exams to become a higher type of electrical engineer. Laing himself copied his father unconsciously, messed up his own medical school exams the first time round—and so far as I know he never realised this about himself, despite all his psychoanalysis, genuine capacity for relatedness, and intellectual ability; he never realised he unconsciously copied his father’s desire to fail.
There was a streak of self-sabotage in Laing (self-pity) that turned into leftist politics—it was because the mother dominated the father, slept in the same room as Laing and relegated her husband to a cubby hole. His parents had this idea, again totally schizo, that “they never had sex” (how was RD Laing born, then?)—really, it was more like they only had sex a few times, but you can see how the father was dominated and impotent. Laing identified with him and so turned leftist.
Yet his mother always voted Conservative, and just like Margaret Thatcher was basically a bit of a witch. She used to burn all their rubbish—a schizophrenic act for the scientific Laing but actually very prudent because anyone who knows about magic knows that your leavings, especially your food remains, can be used for sympathetic magic (it’s why it’s important that men break bread together, so you have his remains and he has yours—mutually assured magical destruction).
Laing’s mother also did things like refuse to go through an area because there were “bad vibes” there, and would take huge detours to avoid it—again, I find this entirely sensible (telepathic). Laing’s problem, in part, was that he identified with his hen-pecked dad, who really needed to “beat the bitch” and restore order to the family. Hence Laing became, like his father, very inclined towards materialism (Nietzsche > yoga; at first, anyway).
Laing, despite his success, was cuckolded by his German wife when he was on a Buddhistic retreat in Sri Lanka and his son said “it nearly broke him” but Laing forgave her and carried on—and that is a testament to his identification with his hen-pecked father (he studied schizophrenia to try to understand his mother—how she could dominate him and his father).
Laing had a tendency to depression and depression is unexpressed anger, reluctance to compete and to be in the competition—and so if his wife cheated he just took it, he didn’t chuck her out (his sympathy for feminism in the above article is part of the complex). Laing was ambitious but because he rejected competition he would only “cheat on baking the cake”—i.e. game the system in a “justified” petulant sulk, not engage in authentic competition (and that ultimately left him depressed still). So Laing repressed aspects of reality represented by his mother, such as competition and warfare—he repressed the bitch hag, magic and blood.
Laing’s quote from The Politics of Experience is completely correct: “What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being.” The problem is that he himself fell victim to the very forces he described.