I have been perusing The Politics of the Family lately. R. D. Laing was among a few authors to examine the structures we live in, and how those structures may support, or perhaps even bring about, mental illness. For the most part, his propositions and logical puzzles are sound, although he goes out on some limbs that require quite a number of assumptions to be satisfied in order to accept the proposition. Laing comes up with some really quite good quotes in this book of essays. Have a look at these:
Referring to families in which there is resistance to realizing the dysfunction they inure:
Between truth and lie are images and ideas we imagine and think are real, that paralyze our imaginations and our thinking in an effort to conserve them. (from Family Scenarios, pp. 77)
Referring to the ways we take on the (often dysfunctional) roles of ancestors in our families, he says:
There are usually great resistances against the process of mapping the past onto the future coming to light, in any circumstances. If anyone in a family begins to realize he is a shadow of a puppet, he will be wise to exercise the greatest precautions as to whom he imparts this information to.
It is not ‘normal’ to realize such things. There are a number of psychiatric names, and a variety of treatments, for such realizations. (from Family Scenarios, pp. 82)
Referring to the ways in which many of us seem to be in a form of “waking hypnosis,” he writes:
We are acting parts in a play that we have never read and never seen, whose plot we don’t know, whose existence we can glimpse, but whose beginning and end are beyond our present imagination and conception. (from Family Scenarios, pp. 87)
Referring to Freud’s concept of (sexual) repression, he writes:
One is expected to be capable of passion, once married, but not to have experienced too much passion (let alone acted upon it) too much before. If this is too difficult, one has to pretend first not to feel the passion one really feels, then, to pretend to passion one does not really feel, and to pretend that certain passionate upsurges of resentment, hatred, envy, are unreal, or don’t happen, or are something else. This requires false realizations, false de-realizations, and a cover-story (rationalization). After this almost complete holocaust of one’s experience on the alter of conformity, one is liable to feel somewhat empty, but one can try to fill one’s emptiness with money, consumer goods, … narcotics, stimulants, sedatives, … to depress one further so that one does not know how depressed one is and to help one to over-eat and over-sleep. And there are lines of defence beyond that, to electroshocks, to the (almost) final solution of simply removing sections of the offending body, especially the central nervous system. This last solution is necessary, however, only if the normal social lobotomy does not work, and chemical lobotomy has also failed. (from Operations, pp. 101)
He takes a swipe at growing up in Scotland with this one:
No one intended, when they told a little boy when and how to clean his teeth, and that his teeth would fall out if he was bad, together with Presbyterian Sunday School and all the rest of it, to produce forty-five years later the picture of a typical obsessive involutional depression. This syndrome is one of the specialties of Scotland. (from Rules and Metarules, pp. 109)
Referring to the social rules that prohibit thinking or mentioning taboo subjects, he writes:
I have thought about the problem of how not to think a thought one is not supposed to think. I cannot think of any way to do so except, in some peculiar way, to ‘think’ what one must not think in order to ensure that one does not think it. (from Rules and Metarules, pp. 115).
Laing, R. D. (1971). The politics of the family and other essays. New York: Pantheon Books.
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