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The City of Thieves: A Digest and Perversion of R. D. Laing

What follows after the prelude is a digest of the work of R. D Laing, ‘The Politics Of Experience’.  Laing made valuable contributions to critical thinking in fearless appraisals of institutions that have become sacred cows.  The untouchableness of the medical institution approaches the untouchableness of the family, and precisely because of these untouchable status major problems arise within them and from people acting out roles of them.

Ronnie in a tree up Hamstead Heath

The healer, like kin, is wrought of an architype extending back into the mists of time.  These architypes arise spontaneously because as we consciously rove through a set of experiences certain behaviours intuitively act through us as fundamentally as music excites feelings in us.  These fundamental forms occurr but also they are recognised and honored, symbols and signifiers are created which act to remind us where the wellsprings are and the life that comes of such waters – home,sweet home….

Such symbols are not only reminders but also become talismans which ward off threats and fears looming out beyond the control of our enclaves.  They become worshiped and appear as fetishes, anchorpoints to which all is staked, all is measured and all is seen – by some.  They become brands and marks, denominaters of belonging in an ancient and safe space – a powerful space, a position in which one is embued with the force of the group.

All of humanity can be mediated through certain lenses; commonly it is expressed everything is political; and in another room we might hear everything is mathematical; yet another everything is physics, spiritual and so on.  Ways of seeing can be causes of themselves – sui generis by which all other things become measured.

A retired investigative reporter friend of mine recounted something in French; I was lost as I am a monoglot in the same terms as he is a true polyglot speaking five languages fluently and being able to get by and read in three others (Gaelic amongst them).  You are Deracine he said, ‘uprooted’.  He explained himself to me ‘I said The Doctor sees disease everywhere, the Police see crime everywhere and the Journalist sees conspiracy everywhere’….

I thought about it for some time.  We had been discussing how his doctor had upped his medication because the stories Will had been recounting were interpreted as delusions; they turned out to be bone fide investigative journalism stories which had broken and had bearing in the world.  The conversation had been happening because he was questioning my interpretations of the course of matters as the natural skeptic he was.

I had beeen arguing that traditionally in medicine there is a physicians enquiry into both signs and symptoms.  Signs are observable from the outside, and symptoms are reported by the person seeking outside expertise accounting for the value of the subjective experience.  This combination of informations gives data sets which help in differential diagnoses using mechanisms of falsification not dissimilar to simultaneous equations.

In psychiatry there are fundamental flaws institutionalised into the medical juncture.  Even with a perfect system with perfect information we are faced with the fact that it is being operated by imperfect human beings.  What we find in psychiatry is an area of medicine where on a number of counts the symptoms are systematically subject to discounting creating an asymmetry in the knowledge which acts to shape outcomes and life courses.

At the centre sits the gravity well of medicine as an architype acting as a coordinating principle for all the activities which transpire.  Two human beings involved as principal and agent oriented around health maintenance, attainment and restoration.  These functionalities prefigure the reified institutions we know in hospitals and professions; they sit in the primary nucleus of kinship relations – they are the quarks and muons, gluons and bosons of elementary sentient behaviour.

A lens through which all of humanity can be understood is that everyone originates from within a family structure, even if it is an absentee family. There are genetic and biological relations which cluster around the individual in construct lending the same semiotics that any other living animal has.  In this sense we are bound to relations that transcend the incidental and take us out into the universal; we are all in relation to brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, and so on….

The preciousness of these architypes and the power they have accrued has had the effect of making them immune to critique.  Everything of the human world is mediated through humans which are embodied symbols self inclined not to criticise.  Dare we criticise our selves ? The Fetishes we have built of ourselves ? Dare we criticise the Doctor who is to save us when we need it most ?  Dare we critique the source of our given stature amongst others ?


It seems with Laing a resounding ‘Yes!’.  After the death of the author I am left pondering what he has been telling me through the waves of inspiration I experience synaesthetically…


In 1989 on the 23rd of August Ronald David Laing suffered a fatal heart attack while playing tennis with his friend Robert Firestone in St. Tropez.  When this happened Firestone ran over and people gathered around.  I have found different accounts of what he said which were words that turned out to be his last…

One account gives that someone shouted “get a doctor,” to which Laing said: “Im A Fucking Doctor”; another account holds that he responded “No bloody doctors”.  On the website which claims to be his official website his last words when asked if he wanted a doctor were: “Doctor what fucking doctor?”

Whatever way we are to read the nuances, rewrite the tenses and genders, the nuances and punctuations, the knowledge of the knowledge of the authors he quotes; the sarcasms and vicissitudes, the humilities and warmths, I suspect that he would demand we make our own sense of it; to stare out into the abyss, and when the abyss stares back, ask it questions without fear for you too are capable in reason.

What follows is a perversion of his work which happened as I read and wrote it out.  Would it be a perversion of his work which he would like ?  I dont know.  Is it true to the meanings and intentions in his work ? I dont know.  You will have to compare it with his manuscript and make your own mind up.


The Politics of Experience

There is little conjunction of truth and social ‘reality’. In the society of men the truth resides now less in what things are than in what they are not. Our social realities are so ugly if seen in the light of exiled truth and beauty it is almost no longer possible to tell if it is not a lie.

No one can begin to think, feel or act now except from the starting point of his or her own alienation. We are all murderers and prostitutes – no matter to what culture, society, class or nation one belongs, no matter how normal, moral or mature one takes oneself to be. Humanity is estranged from its authentic possibilities.  Our alienation goes to the roots.

We are bemused and crazed creatures, strangers to our true selves, to one another, and to the spiritual and material world – mad, even…. Alienation is achieved only by outrageous violence perpetrated by human beings on human beings.

Even facts become fictions without adequate ways of seeing ‘the facts’. We do not need theories so much as the experience that is the source of the theory. We can see other people’s behaviour, but not their experience. The other person’s behaviour is an experience of mine.

My behaviour is an experience of the other.  Phenomenology is a philosophical doctrine proposed by Edmund Husserl based on the study of human experience in which considerations of objective reality are not taken into account.  The task of social phenomenology is to relate my experience of the other’s behaviour to the other’s experience of my behaviour. It’s study is the relation between experience and experience. It’s true field is interexperience.

I see you, and you see me I experience you, and you experience me. I see your behaviour, You see my behaviour.  Just as you cannot ‘see’ my experience of you My experience of you is not ‘inside’ me. It is simply you, as I experience you. ‘My experience of you’ is just another form of words for ‘you-as-I-experience-me’.

Only experience is evident. Psychology is the logos of experience. Psychology is the structure of the evidence. Psychology is the science of the sciences.  Richard Feynman reportedly explains science thus: ‘Science is a system we have developed to keep us from fooling ourselves’.



In this spirit is it not important to keep on developing such an attitude so we might avoid being fooled by our own psychology or pharmacological forays into psychiatry.  How can one study the experience of the other ? The experience of the other is not evident to me I experience you as experiencing.

I experience myself as experienced by you, and I experience you as experiencing yourself as experienced by me.  The study of the experience of others is based on inferences from my experience of you experiencing me… Social phenomenology is the science of my own and of others’ experience.


It is concerned with the relation between my experience of you and your experience of me.  I seek to make evident to others, through their experience of my behaviour, what I infer of your experience, through my experience of your behaviour.


Natural science is concerned only with the observer’s experience of things.  The nature of the relation between behaviour and experience is not an objective problem. There is not traditional logic to express it. The relation between experience and behaviour is the stone that builders reject at their peril.

Experience is not ‘subjective’ rather than ‘objective’, not ‘inner’ rather than ‘outer’, not process rather than praxis, not input rather than output, not psychic rather than somatic, not from introspection rather than extrospection.

Perception, imagination, phantasy, reverie, dreams, memory, are simply different modalities of experience, none more ‘inner’ or ‘outer’ than any others. We seem to live in two worlds. As long as we remember that the ‘inner’ world is not some space ‘inside’ the body or the mind, this way of talking can serve our purpose.

The relation of experience to behaviour is not that of inner to outer. The stars as I perceive them are no more or less in my brain than the stars as I imagine them. I do not imagine them to be in my head, any more than I see them in my head.  Many people at one time believed that angels moved the stars. It now appears that they do not.

As a result of this, and like revelations, many people do not now believe in angels. Who could suppose that angels move the stars, or be so superstitious as to suppose that because one cannot see one’s soul at the end of a microscope it does not exist ?  Our task is to experience and to conceive the concrete; that is to say, reality in its fullness and wholeness.

We can begin to form concepts of the single person from the relations between two or more persons, from groups, from society at large, or from the material world and conceive of individuals as secondary.  Theory is the articulated vision of experience. Theoretically one needs a spiral of expanding and contracting schemata that enables us to move freely and without discontinuity from varying degrees of abstraction to greater or lesser degrees of concreteness. This begins and ends with the person.


Can human beings be persons today ? Can a person be their actual self with another man or woman ? We are concerned with the possibility of the human. Personal experience transforms a given field into a field of intention and action: only through action can our experience be transformed.


One will never find persons by studying as though they were only objects. A person is the me or you, he or she, whereby an object is experienced. Everyone must refer to their own experience. My experience and my action occur in a social field of reciprocal influence and interaction.

I experience myself by myself and others, as experienced by and acted upon by others, who refer to that person I call ‘me’ as ‘you’ or ‘her/him’, or grouped together as ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’ or ‘one of you’.  The natural scientific world is complicated by the presence of certain identifiable entities, re-identifiable reliably over periods of years, whose behaviour is either the manifestation or a concealment of a view of the world equivalent in ontological status to that of the scientist.

Ontology refers to a rigorous and exhaustive organization of some knowledge domain that is usually hierarchical and contains all the relevant entities and their relations. It is the science that treats of the principles of pure being and that part of metaphysics which treats of the nature and essence of things.

Observation of behaviour must be extended by inference to attributions about experience. Through this modality we may construct the experiential-behavioural system. Behaviour is a function of experience and both experience and behaviour are always in relation to someone or something other than self.

When two or more persons are in relation, the behaviour of each towards the other is mediated by the experience of each of the other. The experience of each is mediated by the behaviour of each. A person may treat another as though they were not a person, and they may act themselves as though they were not a person.

My experience of you is mediated through your behaviour. Behaviour is the direct consequence of impact, as of one billiard ball hitting another. We have forgotten most of our childhood, not only its contents but its flavour. We barely remember our dreams, and make little sense of them when we do.

As for our bodys, we often retain just sufficient proprioceptive sensations to co-ordinate our movements and to ensure the minimal requirements for biosocial survival to register fatigue, signals for food, sex, defecation, sleep…

Our capacity to think, except in the service of what we are dangerously deluded in supposing is our self interest, and in conformity with common sense, is pitifully limited. Our capacity to see, hear, touch, taste and smell is so shrouded in veils of mystification that an intensive discipline of un-learning is necessary for anyone before one can begin to experience the world afresh, with innocence, truth and love.

As domains of experience become more alien to us, we need greater and greater open mindedness even to conceive of their existence. Every night we enter zones of reality in which we forget our waking life as regularly as we forget our dreams when we awake.

Not all people know of phantasy as a modality of experience and the contrapuntal interweaving of the different experiential modes. Many believe that phantasy is the farthest that experience goes under ‘normal’ circumstances, beyond which are simply ‘pathological’ zones of hallucinations, phantasmagoric mirages, delusions.

This state of affairs represents an almost unbelievable devastation of our experience. This is itself a consequence of and further occasion for the divorce of our experience, from our experience. What we call ‘normal’ is as much a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience as anything else.

It is radically estranged. The ‘normally’ alienated person, by reason of the fact that they act more or less like everyone else, is taken to be ‘sane’. Other forms of alienation that are out of step with the prevailing state of alienation are those that are labelled by the ‘normal’ majority as ‘bad’ or ‘mad’.

Normal people have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal people in the past fifty years (statement from 1967). Our behaviour is a function of our experience. We act according to the way we see things. If our experience is destroyed, our behaviour will be destructive. If our experience is destroyed, we have lost our own selves.



How much human behaviour, whether the interactions between persons themselves or between groups and groups, is intelligible in terms of human experience ? We will find no intelligibility in behaviour if we see it as an essential phase in an essentially inhuman process.

We have had accounts of people as animals, people as machines, people as biochemical complexes with certain ways of their own, but there remains the greatest difficulty in achieving a human understanding of the human in human terms.

People at all times have been subject, as they believed or experienced, to forces from the stars, from the gods, or from forces that blow through society itself, appearing as the stars once did to determine fate.

People have always been weighted down not only by their sense of subordination to fate and chance, to ordained external necessities or contingencies but also by a sense that their very own thoughts and feelings are the outcome, the result, of processes which they undergo. A person can estrange themselves from themselves by mystifying themselves and others.

A person can also have what they do stolen from them by the agency of others. If we are stripped of our deeds, if our deeds are taken out of our hands like toys from the hands of children, we are bereft of our humanity. People can and do destroy the humanity of other people and a condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent.

We are not self-contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections. We are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other people; and we are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways. It is quite certain that unless we can regulate our behaviour more satisfactorily than at the collective present, then we are in danger of exterminating ourselves.

We are all too often not able even to think adequately about the behaviour that is at the annihilating edge. Equally, each child is a new being, a potential prophet, a new spark of light, precipitated into the outer darkness of the unknown, the unformed. Who are we to decide that it is hopeless for others ?

The ‘surface’ experience of self and other emerges from a less differentiated experiential matrix. Very early experiential schemata are unstable, and are surmounted; but never entirely. To a greater or lesser extent, the first ways in which the world has made sense to us continues to underpin our whole subsequent experience and actions.

Our first way of experiencing the world is largely what psychoanalysts have called phantasy. This modality has its own validity, its own rationality. Infantile phantasy may become a closed enclave, a dissociated undeveloped ‘unconscious’; but this need not be so. This eventually can manifest another form of alienation.

Phantasy as encountered in many people today is split off from what the person regards as their mature, sane, rational, adult experience. We do not then see phantasy in its true function but experience it merely as an intrusive sabotaging infantile nuisance. For most of our social life, we largely gloss over this underlying phantasy level of our relationships.

Phantasy is a particular way of relating to the world. It is part of, sometimes the essential part of, the meaning or sense implicit in action. As a relationship, we may be dissociated from it: as meaning we may not grasp it: as experience it may escape our notice in different ways. It is possible to speak of phantasy being ‘unconscious’ if the statement is given specific connotations.

We may be unaware of experience in this mode or refuse to admit that our behaviour implies an experiential relationship or a relational experience that gives it a meaning. However phantasy need not be thus split from us whether in terms of content or modality. Phantasy, as it is proffered here, is always experiential and meaningful; and, if the individual is not dissociated from it, relational in a valid way.

Two people sit talking. Petra is making a point to Pauline. She puts her point of view in different ways to Petra for some time, but Pauline does not understand. Petra is trying to get through to Pauline. She feels that Pauline is being needlessly closed to her. It becomes increasingly important to her to soften Pauline to her standpoint but Pauline seems hard, impervious and cold.

Petra feels she is beating her head against a brick wall. She feels tired, hopeless, progressively more empty as she sees she is failing. Finally she gives up. Pauline feels, on the other hand, that Petra is pressing too hard. She feels she has to fight her off. She doesn’t understand what Petra is saying but feels that she has to defend herself from an assault.

The dissociation of each from her phantasy and the phantasy of the other describes the lack of relationship of each to theirself and each to the other. They are both more and less related to each other ‘in phantasy’ than each pretends to be to herself and the other.

Here, two roughly complementary phantasy experiences belie the calm manner in which two women talk to each other, comfortably ensconced in their armchairs. This example is a direct description rather than a metaphor of circumstance.

In sociology there seems to be no agent more effective than another person in bringing a world for oneself alive, or, by a glance, gesture or remark, shrivelling up the reality in which one is presiding. The physical environment unremittingly offers us possibilities of experience or curtails them.

The fundamental human significance of architecture stems from this aspect. Pericles stated, “the glory of Athens and the horror of so many features of the modern megalopolis is that the former enhances and the latter constricts man’s consciousness”. Here the focus is upon what we do to ourselves and each other.

Consider the interpersonal scheme of Jack and Jill in relation. Jack’s behaviour towards Jill is experienced by Jill in particular ways. How she experiences him affects considerably how she behaves towards him. How she behaves towards him considerably influences how he experiences her. His experience of her contributes to his way of behaving towards her in turn, and so on in an iterative process.

Each person may take two fundamentally distinguishable forms of action in this interpersonal system. Each may act on their own experience or upon the others experience. Personal action can either open out possibilities of enriched experience or it can shut off possibilities.


Personal action is either predominantly validating, confirming, encouraging, supportive, enhancing or it is invalidating, disconfirming, discouraging, undermining and constricting. It can be creative or destructive.


In a world where the normal condition is one of alienation, most personal action tends to be destructive both of one’s own experience and of that of the other. Under the heading of ‘defence mechanisms’, psychoanalytic wording describes a number of ways in which a person becomes alienated from themselves. For example repression, denial, splitting, projection and introjection.

These mechanisms are often described as ‘unconscious’ in that the person appears to be unaware that they are doing this to themselves. Even when a person develops sufficient insight to see that ‘splitting’ (for example) is going on, they usually experience this splitting as a mechanism, an impersonal process that has become automated which they can observe but cannot control.

There is thus some phenomenological validity in referring to such ‘defences’ by the term ‘mechanism’. They have this mechanical quality because the person as they experience themselves is dissociated from them. They appear, to themselves, and others to suffer from them. They occur as processes they undergo and as such they experience themselves as a subject with a particular psychopathology. This is so only from the perspective of their own alienated experience.

As they become dealienated, they are able first of all to become aware of the mechanisms. The second step is progressively realizing that these are things they do or have done to themselves. Process becomes converted back to praxis and the subject becomes an agent.

Ultimately it is possible to regain the ground that has been lost. These defence mechanisms are actions taken by the person on their own experience. Coalesced with this they have dissociated themselves from their own action. The end product of this twofold violence is a person who no longer experiences themselves fully as a person, but as part of a person invaded by destructive psychopathological ‘mechanisms’ in the face of which they are made a relatively helpless victim.

‘Defences’ are not only intrapersonal, but they are also transpersonal. I act not only on myself, I act upon you. You act not only on yourself, you act upon me. In each case, we act on experience.

If Jill succeeds in forgetting something, this is of little use if Jack continues to remind her of it. She must induce him not to do so. The most efficient way would be not just to make him keep quiet about it but to induce him to forget it also.

Jill may act upon Jack in many ways. She may make him feel guilty for keeping on ‘bringing it up’. She may invalidate his experience. This may be done more or less radically. She might indicate merely that it is unimportant or trivial, whereas it is important and significant to him.

She might shift the modality of his experience from memory to imagination; “It’s all in your imagination”. She might invalidate not only the significance, modality and content, but his very capacity to remember at all and make him feel guilty for doing so on top. This is not unusual.

People do such things to each other all the time. In order for such transpersonal invalidation to work it is helped along by the overlaying of a thick stratum of mystification. For instance by denying that this is what one is doing and further invalidating any perception that it is being done by ascriptions such as “How can you think such a thing?”, “You must be paranoid” and so forth.

Mystification, confusion and conflict; these three bedfellows go a long way to making subservient the individual to suggestion and manipulation. Without mystification there is learning; without confusion there is clarity; and without conflict there is progression.

These are three primary tools by which the unscrupulous undermine the confidence and spirit of those they are inflicting themselves upon.

There are many varieties of experience of lack or absence, and many subtle distinctions between the experience of negation and the negation of experience. All experience is both active and passive, the unity of the given and the construed.

The construction one places on what is given can be positive or negative: it may be what one desires or fears, or what one is prepared to accept or not. The element of negation is in every relationship and every experience of relationship.

‘Nothing’ as experience, arises as absence of someone or something. In essence – take anything and imagine its absence. Being and non-being is the central theme of all philosophy, East and West. These words are not harmless, innocent verbal arabesques. We are afraid to approach the fathomless and bottomless groundlessness of everything.

‘There’s nothing to be afraid of’ might stand as the ultimate reassurance and the ultimate terror. We experience the objects of our experience as ‘there’ in the outside world. The source of our experience seems to be outside ourselves.

In the creative experience, we experience the source of the created images, patterns, sounds, to be within ourselves but still beyond ourselves. Colours emanate from a source of pre-light; itself unlit. Sounds emanate from silence, patterns from formlessness. This preformed pre-light, this pre-sound, this pre-form is nothing, and yet it is the source of all created things.

We are separated from and related to one another physically. Persons as embodied beings relate to each other. We are separated and joined by our different perspectives, educations, backgrounds, organizations, groups loyalties, affiliations, ideologies, socio-economics, class interests, temperaments.

These things that unite us are by the same token social figments that come between us. If we could strip away all the exigencies and contingencies and reveal to each other our naked presence if you could take away everything, all the clothes, the disguises, the crutches, the grease paint, the common projects, the games that provide the pretexts for the occasions which masquerade as meetings – what would not separate us ?

If I draw a pattern on a piece of paper, here is an action I am taking on the ground of my experience of my situation. What do I experience myself as doing and what intention have I ? Am I trying to convey something to someone (communication) ? Am I rearranging the elements of some internal kaleidoscopic jigsaw (innovation) ?

Am I trying to discover the properties of the new Gastalten that emerge (discovery) ? Am I in a process of synthesis brought forth from my being (invention) ? Am I amazed that something is appearing that did not exist before ? That these lines did not exist on this paper until I put them there ?

Here we are approaching the experience of creation and of nothing. What is called a poem is compounded perhaps of communication, invention, fecundation, discovery, production, creation.

Through all the contention of intentions and motives, a miracle has occurred. There is something new under the sun; being has emerged from nonbeing; a spring has bubbled out of a rock. The no-thing out of which the creation emerges, at its purest, is not an empty space or an empty stretch of time or actuality.

At the point of nonbeing we are at the outer reaches of what language can state. I cannot say what cannot be said, but sounds can make us listen to silence. In using a word, a letter, a sound, one can put a sound to soundlessness, or name the unnameable. Languages can be used to convey what it cannot say – by its interstices, by its emptiness and lapses, by the lattice-work of words, syntax, sound and meanings.

It is a grave mistake to perceive the lines for the pattern, or the pattern for that which it is patterning. ‘The sky is blue’ suggests that there is a substantive ‘sky’ that is ‘blue’. This sequence of subject-verb-object, in which ‘is’ acts as the copula uniting sky and blue, is a nexus of sounds, and syntax, signs and symbols, in which we are fairly completely entangled and which separates us from it the same time as it refers us to that ineffable sky-blue-sky.

The sky is blue and blue is not sky; sky is not blue. But in saying ‘the sky is blue’ we say ‘the sky’ ‘is’. The sky exists and it sometimes, in some ways, is blue. ‘Is’ serves to unite everything and at the same time ‘is’ is not any of the things which it unites. None of the things that are united by ‘is’ can themselves qualify ‘is’.

‘Is’ is not this, that, of the next, or any thing. Yet ‘is’ is the condition of the possibility of all things. ‘Is’ is that nothing whereby all things are. The condition of the possibility of anything being at all, is that it is in relation to that which it is not.

The ground of the being of all beings is the relation between them. The relationship is the ‘is’, the being of all things, and the being of all things is itself no-thing. The human creates in transcending themself, in revealing themself. The question of what creates, wherefrom and whereto, the clay, the pot and the potter, are all not-me.

I am the witness, the medium, the occasion of a happening that the created thing makes evident. The human enables being to emerge from non-being. The experience of being the medium for a continual process of creation takes one past all depression or persecution or vain glory past even, chaos or emptiness, into the very mystery of that continual flip of non-being into being.

It can be the occasion of that great liberation when one makes the transition from being afraid of nothing to the realization that there is nothing to fear. Epicurus stated that the most prominent among the negative mental states is fear, above all the fear of unreal dangers, such as death.

Death, Epicurus insists, is nothing to us, since while we exist, our death is not, and when our death occurs, we do not exist; but if one is frightened by the empty name of death, the fear will persist since we must all eventually die. Death is traditionally symbolically related to change, evolution and revelation.

There is no surprise in finding similar anxieties surrounding these contemplations. It is easy to lose one’s way at any stage, and especially when one is nearest. Here can be great joy, but it is as easy to be mangled by the process as to swing with it. It requires an act of imagination from those who do not know from their own experience what torture this borderland between being and non-being can become.

One’s posture or stance in relation to the act or process can become decisive from the point of view of madness or sanity. There are people who feel called upon to generate even themselves out of nothing, since their underlying feeling is that they have not been adequately created or have been created only for destruction.


If there are no meanings, no values, no source of sustenance or help, then the person, as creator, must invest, conjure up meanings and values, sustenance and succour out of nothing.


The human is a magician. A person may produce something new – a poem, a pattern, a sculpture, a system of ideas. A person may think thoughts never before thought, produce sights never seen before. The fate that awaits the creator, after being ignored, neglected, despised, is, luckily or unluckily according to point of view, to be discovered by the non-creative.

In our ‘normal’ alienation from being, the person who has a perilous awareness of the nonbeing of what we take to be being (the pseudo wants, pseudo values, pseudo realities of the endemic delusions of what are taken to be life and death and so on) gives us in our present epoch the acts of creation that we despise and crave.

Words in poetry sounds in movement, rhythm in space, attempt to recapture personal meaning in personal time and space from out of the sights and sounds of a depersonalized, dehumanized world. They are bridgeheads into alien territory. They are acts of insurrection.

Their source is from the silence at the centre of each of us. Wherever and whenever such a whorl of patterned sound or space is established in the external world, the power that it contains generates new lines of forces whose effects are felt for centuries. The creative breath comes from a place of the person where they cannot descend.

This zone, we forget, we are all there, all the time. An activity has to be understood in terms of the experience from which it emerges. “These arabesques that mysteriously embody mathematical truths only glimpsed by a very few – how beautiful, how exquisite”.

Pasternak said “not to fall ultimately, as into a heresy, into unheard of simplicity”. We all live on the hope that authentic meeting between human beings can occur. Therapy for the psyche consists in the paring away of all that stands between us, the props, masks, roles, lies, defences, anxieties, projections and introjections.

All the carry-overs from the past, transference and counter-transference, count wittingly or unwittingly as currency in our relationships. It is through certain currencies that we often recreate and intensify the conditions of alienation that originally occasioned them.

Psychoanalysis as a concept has attempted to bring to light importations, carry-overs and compulsive repetitions. It has attempted to bring to focus an understanding of transference, of what has happened before, with what has never happened before, upon what is new.

Psychoanalysis has brought into view the use of interpretation to reveal the past-in-the present coalescences with desire to better understand, and to find words for non-transference elements in psychotherapy.

According to Laing, we may set out actively to disrupt old patterns of experience and behaviour, as well as this we may actively reinforce new ones. The recognition of behaviour, understanding experience as attached to behaviour and understanding that pattern as a heuristic device predetermines experience to an extent. All are useful contemplations.

Zen, with its emphasis on illumination achieved through the sudden and unexpected, is an ancient culture. Techniques of consciousness change and tutorage in the hands of one who has not unremitting concern and respect for themselves and others can be disastrous as well as easily manifesting a mysticized tyranny of didacticism.

Long should it be held in mind the question ‘What kind of person seeks out a position of power ?’. There are many practical varieties of psychotherapy, long and short, brief, intensive, experiential, directive and nondirective, those that utilize physical adjuvants, and those that use nothing but persons.

It is important to consider the critical function of theory. The need for a strong firm primary theory which can draw each practice and theory into relation. We need concepts which both indicate the interaction and inter-experience of two persons so to be able to understand the relation between each person’s own experience and their own behaviour within the context of their collective relationship.

In turn, we must be able to conceive of this relationship within relevant contextual social systems. A critical theory must be able to place all theories and practices within the scope of a vision of the ontological structure of being human. It would be misleading to delineate too sharply one school of thought from another.

Within the mainstream of orthodox psychoanalysis and even between the different theories of object-relationships [Fairbairn, Winnicott, Klein, Bion] there are differences of more than emphasis.

Similarly within the Existential school or tradition [Binswanger, Boss, Caruso, Frankl]. Every theoretical idiom could be found to play some part in the thinking of at least some members of any school.

There are extraordinary theoretical mixes of learning theory, ethology, system theory, communications analysis, information theory, transactional analysis, interpersonal relations, object relations, games theory, and so on.

The metapsychology of Freud, Rapaport, Hartman, Kris, has no constructs for any social system generated by more than one person at a time. Within its own framework it has no concept of social collectivities of experience shared or unshared between persons. This theory has no category of ‘you’, as there is in the work of Feuerback, Buber, Parsons.

It has no way of expressing the meeting of an ‘I’ with ‘an other’, and of the impact of one person on another. It has no concept of ‘me’ except as objectified as ‘the ego’. The ego is one part of a mental apparatus. Internal objects are other parts of this system. Another ego is part of a different system or structure.

How two mental apparatuses or psychic structures or systems, each with its own constellation of internal objects, can relate to each other remains relatively unexamined. Within the constructs the theory offers, it is possibly inconceivable. Projection and introjection do not in themselves suitably bridge the gap between persons.

The issues of conscious and unconscious as conceived by two reified (actualized) systems both split from the totality of the person, both composed of some sort of psychic stuff, and both intrapersonal. The relation between persons is central to social behaviour. Persons are related to one another through their experience and through their behaviour.

Theories can be seen in terms of the emphasis they put on experience or on behaviour, and in terms of their ability to articulate the relationship between experience and behaviour. The relevance of each person’s experience to their behaviour is particularly evident in respect of the unconscious.

Some theories are more concerned with the interactions or transactions between people, without too much reference to the experience of the agents. A theory that focuses on experience and neglects behaviour can become misleading, thus theories which focus on behaviour to the neglect of experience become unbalanced.

The idiom of games theory, has a repertoire of games, based on particular sets of learned interactions. People may enact to allow a variety of more or less stereotyped dramas to be enacted. The games have rules, some public, some secret.

In this phraseology, some people may play games that break rules of games that others play. Some play undeclared games, so rendering their moves ambiguous or downright unintelligible, except to the expert in such secret and unusual games. Some people may have to undergo the ceremonial of a psychiatric consultation.

Treatment would consist in pointing out the unsatisfactory nature of the games they may play and perhaps teaching new games. The maintenance of the game rather than the identity of the players is often more important. It is important to see the behaviour of one person in relation to the behaviour of the other.

Object-relations theory attempts to achieve a synthesis between the intra and inter-personal. Guntrip has argued this. It’s concepts of internal and external objects, of closed and open systems are part of this attempt yet it is still objects not persons that are in question. The brain itself is an object of experience.


We still require a phenomenology of experience including so-called unconscious experience of experience related to behaviour, of person related to person, without splitting, denial, depersonalisation and reification. All attempts to explain the whole by the fraction are partial.


A personal relationship is not only transactional, it is trans-experiential and herein is its specific human quality. Transaction alone without experience lacks specific personal connotations. There is a great danger of thinking about humans by means of analogy. The danger is that the analogy comes to be put forward as a homology.

Almost all theories about depersonalization, reification (actualization), splitting, denial, tend themselves to exhibit the symptoms they attempt to describe. We are left with transactions, but where is the individual ? We are left with the individual but where is the other ? We are left with patterns of behaviour but where is the experience ?


We are left with information and communication but where is the pathos and sympathy, the passion and compassion ?


R D Laing
R D Laing


Behaviour therapy is an example of such schizoid theory and practice which proposes to think and act purely in terms of the other, without reference to the self or the therapist or the patient; in terms of behaviour without experience, in terms of objects rather than persons.

It is cited therefore as a technique of non-meeting, of manipulation and control. Psychotherapy must remain an obstinate attempt of two people to recover the wholeness of being human through the relationship between them.

Any technique concerned with the other without the self, with behaviour to the exclusion of experience, with the relationship to the neglect of the persons in relation, with individuals to the exclusion of their relationship, and most of all, with an object-to-be-changed rather than a person-to-be-accepted (appreciated), simply perpetuates an ail it purports to resolve.

Any theory not founded on the nature of being human is a lie and a betrayal of the human. An inhuman theory will lead to inhuman consequences. Repeatedly, our concern is with two origins of experience in relation. Behaviour can conceal or disclose experience.

‘The Divided Self’ is a book devoted to describing some versions of the split between experience and behaviour. Both behaviour and experience are themselves often fragmented in a myriad different ways. Laing suggests that the reason for this confusion lies in the meaning of Heidegger’s phrase: the Dreadful has already happened.

The therapists too are in a world in which the inner is already split from the outer. The inner does not become outer, and the outer does not become the inner, just by the re-discovery of the ‘inner’ world. This is only the beginning.

As a generation of epoch, we are often so estranged from the inner world that there are many who argue that it does not exist; and even if it does exist, that it does not matter. That even if it has some significance, that it is not the hard stuff of science.

Let it be measured and counted, quantify the heart’s agony and ecstasy in a world in which, when the inner world is first discovered, we are liable to find ourselves felt bereft and derelict.

Without the inner, the outer loses its meaning and without the outer the inner loses its substance. Disturbed and disturbing patterns of communication might reflect the disarray of personal worlds of experience whose repression, denial, splitting, introjection, projection; whose general desecration and profanation our civilization can inculcate.

When our personal worlds are rediscovered and allowed to reconstitute themselves, we might discover a shambles. Bodies half dead; genitals dissociated from heart; heart severed from head; heads dissociated from genitals.

Without inner unity, we are left with just enough sense of continuity to clutch at identity, a current idolatry. Torn, body, mind and spirit, by inner-contradictions, pulled in different directions, the human is cut off from their own mind, cut off equally from their own body – a half-crazed creature in a mad world.

We are all implicated in this state of affairs of alienation. The therapeutic relationship is a re-search. A search constantly reasserted and reconstituted for what we have all lost, and which some can perhaps endure a little more easily than others, just as some people can stand a lack of oxygen better than others.

This re-search is validated by the shared experience of experience regained in and through the therapeutic relationship in the here and now. In the enterprise of psychotherapy there are regularities, even institutional structures pervading the sequence, rhythm and tempo of the therapeutic situation viewed as process.

These processes can and should be studied with scientific objectivity. The really decisive moments of therapy, as everyone who has ever experienced them knows, are unpredictable, unique, unforgettable, always unrepeatable and often indescribable.

Does this mean that psychotherapy must be esoteric ? We must continue to struggle through our confusion, to insist on being human. Existence is a flame which constantly melts and recasts our theories. Existential thinking offers no security, no home for the homeless.

It finds its validation when, across the gulf of our idioms and styles, our mistakes, errings and perversities, we find in the other’s communication an experience of relationship lost or established, destroyed or regained.

We hope to share the experience of a relationship, but often the only honest beginning, or even end, may be to share the experience of its absence. To perpetuate the negation of another’s experience, it is not just enough to destroy one’s own and other people’s experience, one must overlay this devastation by the exercising of a false consciousness.


Marcuse describes this as to own its own falsity. Exploitation is not declared and overt, but oft couched in a display which lets it be seen as benevolence. Persecution need not be invalidated as the figment of a paranoid imagination, but it may also be experienced as a show of kindness.


Rubins Vase appears like People
Rubins Vase appears like People


Marx made a point of describing mystification and showing its function in his age. Orwell also described mystification in his literary personifications. Drawing on Frantz Fanon’s works, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ and ‘Studies in a Dying Colonialism’, he exclaims ‘the colonists not only mystify the natives, but the natives have to mystify themselves for the powerful to remain so.

We in Europe and North America are the cultures which have perpetuated colonialism and to sustain our amazing images of ourselves as God’s gift to the vast majority of the starving human species, we have had to interiorize our violence upon ourselves and our children and to employ a rhetoric of morality to describe this process.

In order to rationalize our industrial-medical-military complex, our capacity to see clearly what is in front of us and to imagine what is beyond is too often destroyed, or made decrepit, or implied as defunct. In example, long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have to lay waste to our own sanity.

This erosion of social sanity might begin with the children. Without thorough indoctrination and rapid ‘brain-washing’ to achieve capitulation their young minds would see through these tricks. Children are not idiots, but we can turn them into imbeciles and idiots, with high I.Q’s if possible – as has happened with many of the masses of adults.

From the moment of birth, when the un-cast baby is met with the twenty first century parents, the baby is subject to forces of violence non descript in a broad category we call love. This is just as the mother and father have been and their parents and their parents before them.

Many of these forces are mainly concerned, consciously or unconsciously, with destroying many of the babies potentialities. This enterprise is on the whole successful. By the time the new human being is fifteen or so, we are, on the whole, often left with a being much like ourselves.

A half-crazed creature designed to be more or less adjusted to mad or incoherent cultural elements: this is the normality in our present age. Love and violence, properly speaking, are polar opposites. Love lets the other be, but with affection. Violence attempts to constrain the other’s freedom, to force them to act in the way we desire, but with ultimate lack of concern.

We often destroy our self’s by violence masquerading as love. 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, general desecration and profanation; our civilisation, our society, as much as on anything is based.

We live absent from our bodies and out of our minds. We can act on our experience of ourselves, others and the worlds, as well as take action on the world through behaviour itself. Devastation is largely the work of violence that has been perpetuated on each of us, and by each of us on our selfs.

The usual term that much of this violence masquerades under is love. We act on our experience at the behest of others, just as we learn how to behave in compliance to them. We are taught what to experience and what not to experience, just 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. They already make motions to move the ‘right’ way, make the ‘right’ noises, and knows by social instinct what they should feel and what they should not feel. Their movements are becoming stereometric types enabling the specialist anthropologist to identify through rhythm and style, their national, and even their regional characteristics.

Just as they are taught to move in specific ways out of the whole range of possible movements, so they are taught to experience specific experiences out the whole range of possible experience. Much social science attempts to deepen mystification. Much current social science deepens the mystification.

A person grinds stuff down a goose’s neck through a funnel. Is this a description of cruelty to an animal. They disclaim any motivation of cruelty. If we were to describe this scene ‘objectively’ we would only be denuding it of what is ontologically present in the situation.

Every description presupposes our ontological premises as to the nature of the human, 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…

To describe the animal positively in those terms is to debase one’s self by debasing being itself. This kind of positive description is not ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’. In the case of geese-as-raw-material-for-pate, one can only give a negative description if the description is to remain underpinned by a valid ontology [the science that treats of the principles of pure being; that part of metaphysics which treats of the nature and essence of things].

The description moves in the light of what this activity is a brutalization of, a debasement of, a desecration of namely, the nature of human beings and of animals. The description, according to postulate, 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.

Political ideologies are riddled with value judgements, unrecognized that they have no ontological validity. Some pedants teach youth that some questions of value are unanswerable or untestable, or unverifiable, or not really questions at all, or that what we require are meta questions. Meanwhile war and mutilation goes on.

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. A successful masking of what is and what is not is achieved, by a serialized treatment of the world of the observer by turning the truly given into capta (captured; captive) which are taken as given.


By the denuding of the world of being and relegating the spirit of being to a shadowland of subjective ‘values’ is the successful abstraction of the holistic real-terms of truth. The theoretical and descriptive idiom of much research in social science adopts a stance of apparent ‘objective’ neutrality.


This phraseology can be deeply deceptive. The choice of syntax and vocabulary are political acts that define and circumscribe the manner in which ‘facts’ are to be experienced. Indeed, in a sense they go further and often even linguistically create the facts that are studied. The ‘data’ of research are not so much given, as taken out of a constantly elusive matrix of happenings.

Perhaps we should speak of capta rather than data. 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.

Events as ‘things’ do not experience. Personal events are experiential. Natural scientism turns persons into things by an abstract synthetic process of reification. To attempt to reify an abstraction is to attempt to actualize a summary of a phenomenon.

Reification is representing a human being as a physical thing deprived of personal qualities or individuality. Results derived in this way must be quantified and de-reified before they can be assimilated into the realm of human discourse. 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 rich whole human beings, then this is once more a mystification and a potential route to violence. In much contemporary writing on the individual and the family there is the assumption that there is some not-too unhappy confluence and pre-established harmony between nature and nurture.

The line of tack it takes is that there may be some adjustments to be made on both sides, but all things work together for good to those who want only security and identity. Gone is any sense of possible tragedy, of passion. Gone is any language of joy, delight, passion, sex, violence.

The language is of a boardroom. No more primal scenes, but parental coalitions. There is no gritty talk of sexual intercourse or even ‘primal scene’. The economic metaphor is employed and promoted. Psychosexual language is heavily salted with stereotyping and lends that the feminine mother ‘invests’ in the child and that the masculine father and husbands role is set as satisfier, as the provision of economic support, status and protection in that order.

Language is culturally revealing in that it holds within it the norms which people are forced into. There is frequent reference to security and 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 deemed 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, the social group, the culture 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 show.

Contemporary life requires adaptability along with the ability to utilize intellect as well as requiring an emotional equilibrium which permits a person to be malleable; an ability to adjust 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.

When we consider society rather than the individual, each society has a vital interest in the indoctrination of the children who form its new recruits and substrate. The family’s function can be to repress Eros; to induce a false consciousness of security; to deny death by avoiding life; to cut off transcendence; to create two-dimensional persons; to promote unquestioned respect, conformity, obedience; to con children out of play; to induce a fear of failure; to promote a respect for work at all costs; to promote a respect for ‘respectability’.

People do not become what by nature they are meant to be but what society makes them. Generous feelings are 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.

The world is still inhabited by the savage bearing arbitrary analytical systems to self-perpetuate their beliefs and habits. They will take a new born and under guise of ancestry instruct and inculcate thoughts and memories into the child.

A severe training will forcefully ‘reason’ behaviours into the persona, a kind of rote which will remind the child that they are manifestations of a behavioural heritage. This barbarism of taking children and sewing them up in dead peoples skins stifles childhood in such a way that the preoccupation is to reproduce the rote gestures and perpetuate the same problems of self fulfilling prophesy in further generations later.

No wonder that after that some people might speak of themselves with the greatest precautions, half under their breath, often in the third person, for this miserable creature is their own parent, grandparent and ancestors. Wherever there are humans, this may be found. They are called parents.

Long before our birth, even before we are conceived, our parents have decided who we will be, consciously or unconsciously, for good or for bad. In some points of view science is neutral and all this is a matter of value judgements. Lidz calls schizophrenia a failure of human adaptation.


In context, this is a value judgement. Is this an objective fact ? Laing rephrases this. Schizophrenia is a successful attempt not to adapt to pseudo social realities. Is this then an objective fact ? Schizophrenia is a failure of ego functioning.


Is this a neutralist definition ? Is schizophrenia a manifestation of a person being consistent amongst an incongruent society ? What, or who is the ‘ego’ ? In order to get back to what the ego is, to what actual reality it most nearly relates to, we have to desegregate it, depersonalize it, de-extrapolate, de-abstract, de-objectify, de-reify it.

We get back to you and me, to our particular idioms or styles of relating to each other in social context. The ego is an instrument of adaptation, so we arrive back to all the questions this apparent neutralism is begging.

Schizophrenia is a successful avoidance of ego-type adaptation ? Schizophrenia is a label affixed by some people to others in situations where an interpersonal disjunction of a particular kind is occurring. This is the nearest one can get to something like an ‘objective’ statement – so called.

The family is the usual instrument for what is called socialization, that is, getting each new recruit to the human race to behave and experience in substantially the same way as those who have already got here. We all in some way manifest the products of prophesy, who have learned to die in the spirit and be reborn in the flesh.

We have our birthrite sold for a mess of pottage. Jules Henry, an American professor of anthropology and sociology, made an appraisal of the American School System: An observer entered their fifth grade classroom for an observation period. The teacher says, “which one of you nice, polite children would like to take the observers coat and hang it up ?”

From the waving hands, it would seem that all would like to claim the role. The teacher chooses one child who takes the observer’s coat. The teacher conducted the arithmetic lessons mostly by asking, ‘Who would like to tell the answer to the next problem ?’. This question was followed by the usual large, agitated forest of hands, with much apparent competition to answer.

What strikes us here is the precision with which the teacher was able to mobilize the potentialities of the children for the proper social behaviour, and the speed with which they responded. The large number of waving hands proves that most of the children have already become absurd; but they have no choice. Suppose they sat there frozen or unreactive ?

A skilled teacher sets up many situations in such a way that a negative attitude can be construed only as treason. The function of questions like ‘Which one of you nice, polite children would like to take the observers coat and hang it up ?’ is to blind the children into absurdity – to compel them to acknowledge that absurdity is existence; to acknowledge that it is better to exist absurd than not to exist at all.

Again, the next question is not put, ‘Who has the answer to the next problem ?’ but ‘Who would like to tell it ?’. What at one time in culture was phrased as a challenge in skill in arithmetic, becomes an invitation to group participation. The essential issue is that nothing is brought to fruit but what is made to be by the alchemy of the system.

In a society where competition for basic cultural goods is a pivot of action, people cannot be taught to love one another. It thus becomes necessary for the school to teach children how to hate and without appearing to do so as our culture cannot tolerate the idea that babes should hate each other. How does the school accomplish this ambiguity ?

Jules Henry gives an example: Boris had trouble reducing 12/16 to the lowest terms and could only get as far as 6/8. The teacher asked him quietly if that was as far as he could reduce it. She suggests he ‘think’. Much heaving up and down and waving of hands by the other children, all frantic to correct him.

Boris was pretty unhappy and probably mentally paralyzed. The teacher, quiet, patient, ignores the others and concentrates with look and voice on Boris. After a minute or two she turns to the class and says, ‘Well, who can tell Boris what the number is ?’. A forest of hands appears and the teacher calls Peggy. Peggy says that four may be divided into the numerator and the denominator.

Boris’s failure made it possible for Peggy to succeed; his misery is the occasion for her rejoicing. This is a standard condition of the contemporary elementary school. To a Zuni, Hopi or Dakota Indian, Peggy’s performance would seem cruel beyond belief, for competition, the wringing of success from somebody’s failure, is a form of torture foreign to those non-competitive cultures.

Looked at from Boris’s point of view, the nightmare at the blackboard was, perhaps, a lesson in controlling himself so he would not fly shrieking from the room under enormous public pressure. Such experiences force every person reared in our culture, over and over again, night in, night out, even at the pinnacle of success, to dream not of success, but of failure.

In school the external nightmare is internalized for life. Boris was not learning arithmetic only; he was learning the essential nightmare also. To be successful in our culture one must learn to dream of failure.

It is Jules Henry’s contention that education in practice has never been an instrument to free the mind and the spirit of humans, but to bind them. We think we want creative children, but what do we want them to create ?

If all through school the young were provoked to question, the sanctity of organized religion, the foundations of patriotism, the profit motive, the two party system, monogamy, Patriarchalism/Matriarchalism, the law’s and so on, there would be such creativity that society would be brought into new territories.

Children do not give up their innate imagination, curiosity, dreaminess easily. Laing says you have to love to get them to do that. Love is the path used through permissiveness to discipline, and through discipline – only too often – to betrayal of self.

What schools must do is induce children to want to think the way the schools want them to think. ‘What we see’, in the American kindergarten and early schooling process, says Henry, ‘is the pathetic surrender of babies’.

In a London class, average age ten, the girls were given a competition. They had to bake cakes and the boys were to judge them. One girl won. Then her ‘friend’ let out that she had bought her cake instead of baking it herself. She was disgraced in front of the whole class.

The school is here inducting children into sex linked roles of a very specific kind. In simple terms the girls were taught that their status depends on the taste they could produce in the boys’ mouths. If one is coerced into such game playing by adults, the best a child can do is to play the system.

This, Mr Laing suggests is an impetus for the girl to pick her friends more carefully. What Henry describes in schools is a strategy frequently observed in families by Laing and colleagues: The double action of destroying ourselves with one hand and calling this love with the other is a sleight of hand to take note of.

Human beings seem to have an almost unlimited capacity to deceive themselves and to deceive themselves into taking their own lies for truth. By such mystification we achieve and sustain our adjustment, adaptation and socialization. The result of such adjustment to our society is, having been tricked. and having tricked ourselves out of our independent minds.

It is the relinquishment of our own personal world of experience, and out of that unique meaning with which potentially we may endow the external world with our observations. Simultaneously we have been conned into the illusion that we are separate ‘skin-encapsulated egos’.

Having at one and the same time lost our selves, and developed the illusion that we are autonomous egos, we are expected to comply by inner consent with external constraints. We do not live in a world of unambiguous identities and definitions, needs and fears, hopes, and disillusions.

The social realities of our time are ingrained with ghosts, spectres of murdered gods and our humanity returned to haunt and impose on us. The Blacks, the Jews, the Muslims, the Communists, the Poor, the Rich, the Men, the Women; Them. Only in terms of you and I do we dress differently. A part of the texture of the fabric of society is shared hallucinations which we label reality.

Our collusive madness is what we denominate sanity as equally as we nominate insanity. Let no one suppose this madness exists only somewhere in the night or day sky where our birds of death hover in the stratosphere. It exists in the interstices of our most intimate and personal moments.

At least some have managed to object to what the process has made of us. Inevitably, at some point, we see the other as the reflection of the occasion of our own self division. Where each person is not being themselves to themselves or to the other; just as the other is not being themselves to themselves or to ‘us’….

… in trying to be ‘the other’ for ‘the other’, neither recognizes themselves in the other, nor the other in themselves. In this double absence people are haunted by the ghost of their own murdered self.

It is no wonder this modern people are addicted to other persons, and the more addicted, the less satisfied, the more lonely. Love becomes a further alienation, a further act of violence. Need is a need to be needed, longing is a longing to be longed for. People act to install themselves in what is taken to be the other persons heart.

Marcel Proust wrote: How have we the courage to wish to live, how can we make a movement to preserve ourselves from death, in a world where love is provoked by a lie and consists solely in the need of having our sufferings appeased by whatever being has made us suffer ? The violence we perpetrate and have done to us, the recriminations, reconciliations, the ecstasies and the agonies of a love affair, are based on the socially conditioned illusion that two actual persons are accidentally in relationship.

Under the circumstances, this is a dangerous state of hallucination and delusion, a mish mash of phantasy, exploding and imploding, of broken hearts, reparation and revenge. This is not to preclude the occasions when most lost lovers may discover each other, the moments when recognition does occur, when hell can turn to heaven and come down to earth, when crazy distraction can become joy and celebration.

It befits ‘Babes in the Wood’ to be kinder to each other, to show some sympathy and compassion with any pathos and passion which can be found. When violence masquerades as love, once the fissure into self and ego occurs all might fall to an infernal dance of false dualities; of duality imposed on a richer spectrum.

By adoption of these terms of dualism, everything comprising a greater complexity is bastardized and vivisected into categorical statements. In turn, on some level the blunt instrument is turned on our own selfs.

If Being is split down the middle, separating out this and that; if the ‘good’ is separated from the ‘bad’ in denial of the interrelationship of the self, what happens is the dissociated impulse from which evils can arise.

It is through the dissociated impulse that an evil impetus can return to permeate and possess the good turning it to the image and intent of itself.



We must be very careful of our selective blindness. In the history of the madness of crowds an example, by no means unique, but however temporally fresh can be found in acts of some of those of the German nation during the second world war.

In the frenzy fuelled by Adolf Hitler and others, those of the Nazi party were taught to rear children to regard it as their duty to exterminate Jews, adore their leader, to kill and die for the ‘Fatherland’.

The motto “kirche, kuche, kinder” translates to ”church, kitchen, children” and was said during the Nazi period to be the proper interests of a German woman. It was a lure of dissociation fully utilized.

Another example example of travesty which masked terror and tragedy can be seen in the British creation of concentration camps during the Second Anglo-Boer War during 1900–1902 in South Africa.  The camps had been set up by the British Army as refugee camps for civilian families who had been forced to abandon their homes for whatever reason related to the war.

The civilian populations were turned to instruments of war under the orders of Lord Kitchener as the burgher concentration camps started to intern women and children along with general civilians in indiscriminate strategies of mass depopulation:

“British plans for fighting the guerrillas ultimately involved the removal not just of Boer sympathizers but of all civilians, including Hands-uppers (Boers who had gone over to the British side), the families of Boer soldiers, and people of color, whom Britons and Boers alike wanted to keep out of the fighting”

[Fetter, B., & Kessler, S. (1996). Scars from a Childhood Disease: Measles in the Concentration Camps during the Boer War. Social Science History, 20(4), 593-611]


These camps became notorious for reports of disastrously high death rates. Such histories and realities about our capacity to dehumanise evoke cognitive dissonance which causes some to avert their awareness.

[Pakenham, T. (1979), The Boer War, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson]


The majority of R. D. Laing’s generation, he cites, did not or do not regard it as raving mad to ‘feel it better to be dead than Red’. He goes on to suggest that nobody has lost too many hours’ sleep over the threat of imminent annihilation of the human race and the responsibility of the individual for this state of affairs.

In the years since 1920, we human beings have slaughtered by our own hands and capitulation (direct or indirect), going on for one hundred million of our species let alone other species such as are indexed in the holocene extinction event. We all live under threat of our total annihilation.

We sometimes seem to seek death and destruction as much as life and happiness, at least, that is, on surface impressions. There is drive to kill and be killed just as live and let 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.

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 some of the travesties that we can call love. If we stop destroying ourselves we may stop destroying others.

Laing suggests that 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 as we are to die.

Generally, only when something has become problematic do we start to ask questions. Disagreement to some extent shakes us of our slumbers and sometimes gives the opportunity to see our point of view through contrast with another person who does not share it. But we resist confrontations, there is a tendency to break off communication with those who hold different dogmas or opinions and declare heresy.

Xenophobic repulsion to that which does not epitomize our own bears witness to our innate capacity to be intolerant of different fundamental structures of experience. We also share a need for communal meaning regards human existence and a want to give and understand with others a common sense to the world around us.

There is a natural desire to maintain a consensus. Once fundamental structures of experience are shared they often become experienced as objective entities. Reified projections of our industry, co-operation and own freedom are then often introjected.

Sociological examination of projected-introjected reifications tends to yield studies which take on the appearance of things rather than deal with the ontology. Communitive concepts, acts and projects are shared as objective manifestation of individual capitulation.

Reified projections through our involvement then become introjected. We are abstracted and invested in the abstract. We then, through this process, experience communal things contributed by many individuals, as external to anyone.

Rather than things being things as labelled – a country, government, police, things get perceived through the word rather than it’s actuality – the people acts, and events which are indicated by these ‘nouns’.

We abstract and externalize through abstractions things which include our selfs in their make up. Projected-introjected reifications have taken on the appearance of things. They are not things ontologically, but they are pseudo things. Durkheim emphasized that collective representations come to be explained on things, external to anyone.

They take on the force and character of partial autonomous realities with their own way of life as the corporation outsources. The corporation as a legal entity has been formed from these projected-introjected reifications to such an extent that their legal status has been attributed human rights but without the responsibilities of the human being.

In the same way a social norm can come to impose an oppressive obligation on everyone although few people feel it to be their own. We can be caught in frenetic alien passivities. We can find ourselves threatened by oppression that will be reciprocal, which no one wishes, which everyone dislikes, which may happen to us because no one feels they know how to stop it.

The possibility of stopping doing so lay in understanding the structure of this alienation of ourselves from our experience, our experience from our deeds, our deeds from human authorship. Everyone is carrying out orders. Where do they come from. Always elsewhere.

How simple is it to be able to step away from fatalistic or automated thinking and behaviour. How simple it is to observe our experience and our self’s. A strange loop arises when, by moving up or down through a hierarchical system, one finds oneself back where one started. Strange loops may involve self-reference and paradox.

The concept of a strange loop was proposed and extensively discussed by Douglas Hofstadter. A tangled hierarchy is a hierarchical system in which a strange loop appears. A strange loop as not a physical circuit but an abstract loop in which, in the series of stages that constitute the cycling-around, there is a shift from one level of abstraction (or structure) to another, which feels like an upwards movement in a hierarchy. Yet somehow the successive “upward” shifts turn out to give rise to a closed cycle always moving down to move up.

Despite one’s sense of departing ever further from one’s origin, one winds up, to one’s shock, exactly where one had started out. In short, a strange loop is a paradoxical level-crossing feedback loop. Hofstadter points to Bach’s Canon per Tonos, M. C. Escher’s drawings Waterfall, Drawing Hands, Ascending and Descending, and the liar paradox as examples that illustrate the idea of strange loops, an idea fully expressed in the proof of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.



Strange loops are the hypnotic double binds we find ourselves caught up in and driven mad by.


It is possible to conceive of a mechanical heuristic which creates a cycle through which a strange loop is comprised of the individual and ‘the individual abstracted in the masses’; where a positive feedback system perpetuates actions other than those chosen by the individual or the collective of individuals ?

Within such a cycle we might find ourselves obeying and defending reified entities or beings (for the sake of solid example, corporation) in so far as we continue to invent and perpetuate them. Laing asks what ontological status these group beings have.

Could they be perceived as of as analogous to ‘sociological weather systems’ ? The human scene is one capable of mirages and of pseudo-realities because everyone believes everyone else believes them.

The economist Robert Aumann coined the term “common knowledge”. A piece of information is common knowledge among a group of people if all parties know it, know that the others know it and know that the others know it. Common knowledge is crucial to understanding the complexity of the stock market and the importance of transparency.

It is more than “mutual knowledge” which requires only that the parties know the particular bit of information, not that they be aware of others’ knowledge. Common knowledge is essential to seeing how “subterranean information processing” often underlies sudden bubbles or crashes in the markets – changes which seem to be precipitated by nothing at all and ergo are almost impossible to foresee.

Common knowledge is relevant to market sell offs and accounting scandals. Common knowledge is that which “everybody knows”, usually with reference to the community in which the term is used. The assertion that something is “common knowledge” is sometimes associated with the fallacy argumentum ad populum (Latin: “appeal to the people”); also known as argumentum ad numerum (“appeal to the number”), and consensus gentium (“agreement of the clans”).

The fallacy essentially warns against assuming that just because everyone believes something is true does not make it so. Misinformation is easily introduced into rumours by intermediate messengers.

It forms the dynamics of a number of social phenomena, including communal reinforcement and the bandwagon effect, as well as the spread of various religious and anti-religious beliefs.


The Chinese proverb “three men make a tiger” refers to the idea that if an unfounded idea or urban legend is mentioned and repeated by many individuals, the premise will be erroneously accepted as the truth; it will gain a life of its own.



How can we get to first principles and know ourselves ? The capacity for thought and the motive to think is a good start. We act in terms of our own experience. We also act in terms of what we think others experience and how they think we experience.

In a certain line of thought this can be iterated out ad infinitum. Language has been thus far only partially developed in adequately expressing this state of affairs. Psycholinguistics is that branch which deals with the study of psychological and neurobiological aspects of the language.

Psycholinguistics refers to the interaction between the language we use and experience which we psychology manifest. The words we use influence the outcomes of our behaviour and the way we apprehend the world by way of effecting what we perceive, how we feel about what we perceive and how the other perceives the expression of what we perceive.

Two people may vocally agree, see eye to eye and share a common point of view. On a second level they may or may not think they agree or disagree but they may be positively or negatively mistaken through converging or diverging linguistic values.

In vocal rhetoric we are concerned with agreement or disagreement, on the psycholinguistic level we are concerned with understanding or misunderstanding. Retrospectively we are concerned with – what do I think, you think, I think; what is my perception of what you think of what I have expressed in the vocal rhetoric.

A result of such reduction might be: two partners vocally disagree; they both misunderstand each other as linguistic values they hold have diverged; they both realize their mutual misunderstanding in the vocal rhetoric…

On a different level they may both actually agree but have disagreed when in retrospective rhetoric they have taken opinion from values gained from divergent language adopted in the vocal rhetoric.

On a Psycholinguistic Level it makes a difference to people’s tack, as whether they believe they are in agreement with what most people think.  The language can suggest they do or do not agree whilst having become intelligibly lost in confusion of analysis.

On a Retrospective Rhetorical Level it makes a difference to people’s tack as to whether they think that most people regard others as like themselves.  It is possible to conceive that one perceives what everyone else thinks and believe that one is in a minority. It is possible to conceive that one perceives what few people think and to suppose that one is in the majority.

It is possible to conceive that ‘they’ feel one is like ‘them’ when one is not and that ‘they’ do not feel one is like ‘them’.  It is too convenient to short circuit our understanding with a statement such as ‘I believe this, but they believe that – so I am sorry there is nothing I can do.’

The propensity for the shorthand communicative device of vocal rhetoric to propose complex and dynamic things in absolute terms proposes dualistic terms as vocal interaction as its predominate nature performs as a sequential phenomena.


Only a single thing or orator may contribute to a conversation at any one time. This results in the vocal rhetoric often getting caught in its own deconstructive slipstream which gives rise to dualistic short sighted fatalistic outcomes.


This author is not here, Alex Dunedin

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