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A Critique of R. D. Laing’s Social Philosophy (Part 1)


a Eritique 01

R.D.lAln6’S SO[IAL




No-one is an expert on the question as to what
madness is, nor on its significance. This is a baffling yet fundamental field not just in theory but in
relation to our very lives. Men like R D Laing have
attacked the inhumanity of the conventional “illnessentity” models of schizophrenia, which are based on
an unspecified variant of the identity-theory of the
person (there is, of course, all the difference in the
world between “of mind” and “of the person”). This
has in practice led to the idea of supplanting the
normal ‘mental’ hospital kind of treatment for
disturbed people, with the quite different prospect
of trying to meet such people as fellow human beings
and so confront their actual life-situation. Such an
idea does not commit one to not forcibly restraining
a man who is dangerously going to rum amok. I mention
this latter point just to prevent an unreal objection.

mean a systematic denial of the other person’s
reality or way of experiencing the world leading on
quite inevitably in most cases to the destruction or
near destruction of his autonomy. This concept is
crucial in the theory of schizophrenia for which
Laing, Cooper, Bateson and others are so noted. To
this theory we now proceed (3).

Let us refer to the person who is going to be
labelled schizophrenic as the victim. Inside his
family the victim is subject to a systematic, if not
conscious, attempt to completely destroy his autonomy.

Let us delay seeking the reasons for this, but for the
moment simply follow the process by way of example.

A typical sort of case is that in which injunctions,
covert or otherwise, are laid on the victims not to go
out and lead a noiinal· social life. If a girl, awful
warnings will be given of the complete wickedness of
the outside world with veiled suggestions that she
should not open up her parents to the terrible consequences for them if she acts against their injunctions.

Suppose such a girl capitulates, stays in, but quite
naturally is upset and hostile to her parents, perhaps
staying upstairs all the time. A typical response on
the part of the parents would be to say that she should
not be so anti-social. She should have more friends
etcetera – of course if she tries to act on this,
contradictory pressures are brought to bear; that is,
the first· injunction is repeated. If possible, she is
not allowed to comment on this. If she tries ·to she
is met with blank denial but often by the application
of the appropriate tone of voice or statement, she is
given to understand that it would be disastrous for
her parents if she really held to the correct view as
to what is going on. Thus she is placed in a position
where she can literally do nothing. The process we
have been describing is an instance of the famous
‘double-bind’. When repeated in any sort of context
where the victim might achieve some kind of autonomy,
the effect is crippling. Anyone who is subject to
this from the formative years onwards will quite
naturally find it extraordinarily difficult to know
what to do in even the most ordinary surroundings.

That Laing has been an incredibly valuable and
important influence, none can reasonably deny. However,
there is a prominent strain of absolutization of the
importance of certain experiences, especially of a
way-out kind, which militates against Laing’s social
views being acceptable as a progressive force. The
point, as always of course, is not to chuck the baby
out with the bath-water. I hope to avoid this in what
follows which is an attempt (1) to give a brief r~sum~
of Laing’s familial theory of schizophrenia, (2) to
connect this with the manner in which the family should
be seen as a microcosm of society, and (3) to show that
Laing’s romanticization of madness is essentially a
reactionary stance. Specifically, in relation to the
last part, whilst labelling and stigmatism play a
large and mystifying part in the plight of a schizophrenic, I do not regard madness as being merely a
label. I would also object, for many cases, to the
tendency to always isolate a victim inside the family
of a schizophrenic. This attitude can notoriously
lead to witch-hunting for “schizogenetic mothers” etc …

This may sometimes be understandable but often it is
heartless and counter-productive.

In a second part, I would like to examine Laing’s
methodology, especially in relation to Sartre. I would
have to use more books than have been relied upon here,
but those which have been used for the purposes of
this article are, I think, sufficient.

To get the full flavour of the double-bind, the
sense of helplessness it is bound to induce, the
following examples from The Self and Others are both
typical and vivid:

“A mother visits her son who has just been
recovering from a mental breakdown. As he goes
towards her

The title is almost certainly too ambitious. We
really need a project here, e.g. on the whole history
of the concept of alienation from Hegel to (at least)

(a) she opens her arms for him to embrace her,
(b) to embrace him.

(c) As he gets nearer she freezes and stiffens.

(d) He stops irresolutely.

(e) She says, ‘Don’t you want to kiss your
mummy?’ – and as he still stands
(f) she says, ‘But dear, you mustn’t be afraid of
your feelings. ‘” (4)

Attempted here is an exposition and criticism of
the social theory which Dr R D Laing has constructed
from his research in schizophrenia. (1) Naturally we
begin with a short account of his theory of schizophrenia (2). First a definition: by ‘invalidation’ we


We hope it emerges from this article why i t is
dangerous to talk of experts in this field.

Main books used are: The Self and Others and
The Politics of Experience by R D Laing; and
Sani ty, Madness and the Family by R D Laing and
A Esterson.



We cannot even give anything like a full account
of this theory.


The Self and Others, R D Laing, Penguin edition,

1969, p146.

“Father: But he wasn’t always like that, you know.

He’s always been a good boy.

the inability to achieve a stable sense of identity
with all the bizarre things that go with this, is
readily understandable on the double-bind hypothesis
(6). We have no space to go into the detailed examination of particular cases. Here the reader must be
referred to the works of those writers where their
attempt is carried out brilliantly. It is perfectly
natural that the parents (and sometimes other members
of the family too) should invalidate the victims.

Inside these families the victims time and time again
have projected onto them the frustrations and guilt
feelings of the other. Laing and Bateson bring this
all out very well. But we also find invalidations of
the victim in the wider social arena, and markedly
from the supposed experts in this field. At one
extreme mad behaviour is made to seem personally unintelligible (i.e: not an expression of the person’s
life-situation) by simply being seen as the result of
a brain disease. That is, the reality of the person
vanishes away. The vampirism of the family re-appears
in a clinical ambience.

Mother: That’s his illness, isn’t it, Doctor?

He was never ungrateful. He was always most
polite and well brought up. We’ve done our best
for him.

Patient: No, I’ve always been selfish and un-


I’ve no self-respect.

Father: But you have.

Patient: I could have if you respected me.

one respects me. Everyone laughs at me. I’m the
joke of the whole world. I’m the joker all right.

Father: But, son, I respect you, because I respect
a man who respects himself.” (5)

What is noticeable about much of the bizarre exchanges which go on inside these families is how
familiar sounding they are. The difference between
the ‘average’ family and these very disturbed ones is,
it seems, one of degree. Techniques like the doublebind are applied in countless different kinds of
contexts. Inside the type of families which Laing
etc. study they become the standard method of ‘communication’. Before moving on to a more or less formal
definition of·the double-bind, let us give an example
from Sanity, Madness and the Family of just how everyday the sort of invalidation we have been describing

Things do not have to go that far on the
theoretical plane, but does this matter so much when
in general there is a stubborn refusal to see schizophrenia, in Harry Stack Sullivan’ s phrase, “as a human
process”? . In general, schizophrenia is regarded as
something which we either ‘get someone out of’ by
electric shock treatment, drugs, etc, or keep someone
at cabbage level for the rest of their lives. The
idea that schizophrenia represents a total familial
situation is still, judging by practice, looked at
askance. One simple but vital example can be given
here. It is clear that in many cases, the schizophrenic has to, for at least some time, be at a physical
distance from his family unless he is to be snuffed
out altogether. The conventional approach however,
is to keep family unity up at all costs. It is widely
held that to disrupt family relationships is to
imperil the welfare of the disturbed person. But
often we are confronted with the bald alternative:

either sterility or, at much personal risk certainly,
a chance to be independent. Of course, there are
strong ideological reasons for the attit!lde.we are
discussing here and we shall go into these later on.

“Clair’s view was that she had had affection for
her parents as a child but had lost it for them
very early because she said they did not have any
real affection for her, and did not really want
her to have any, though they wanted to pretend
that they were an affectionate family. Until the
present investigation started, mother, father and
daughter had never discussed such ‘accusations’

together. Her parents both dismissed such
statements as her ‘illness’. Besides, as her
mother said, ‘We’ve never been a chatty family. “‘

(p .64)

The infringement of another’s liberty rising out
of a resolute refusal to see his reality (of life
situation) constitutes violence, as Cooper, following
Sartre, maintains. We can express what is happening
in terms of the distinction between praxis and process.

Certain events are the result of human intentions;
others have no human agent(s). The first type of event
is the outcome of what we shall call praxis; the
second is the outcome of process. It is clear that
schizophrenia is conventionally regarded as a process,
much like breaking one’s leg or some other kind of
accident or disease. The ‘illness’ model of schizophrenia illustrates this very well. It is better not
to be ill; therefore at all costs, we must destroy
these schizophrenic symptoms. This might be all
right, except that it is to all intents and purposes,
taken as an end in itself. Perhaps, however, these
‘symptoms’ might not be so malignant. They may
represent a key to understanding a life-situation from
which a person must and can only be saved by changing
it. To simply remove the ‘symptoms’ and think one has
‘cured’ the person is a tragic mistake. The person
has become an object to which things happen (process);
the praxis at work, i.e. his reality, is lost sight of.

This constitutes alienation.

The use of pat formulas to deny and to minimize
a situation involving great distress to another person
isAscarcely limited to contexts such as the above. It
constitutes, in fact, one of the most widely spread
methods for keeping another person’s reality at· a

Now we shall give the definition of the doublebind. It will be easier to understand having given
examples. The form ation here is from S H Weakland
in his paper ‘The double-bind: hypothesis of schizoprehnia and three-party interaction’.

“The general characteristics of this (double-bind)
situation are the following:

When the individual is involved in an intense
relationship; that is, a relationship in which he
feels it is vitally important that he discriminate
accurately what sort of message is being communicated so that he may respond appropriately.



And, the individual is caught in a situation in
which the other person in the relationship is
expressing two orders of message and one of these
denies the other.

For both Laing and Cooper, schizophrenia has to
be looked at from the broad social spectrum of an
alienated society. At this point then, we turn to
their social theory. ·To understand it, however, a few

And, the individual is unable to comment on the
messages being expressed to correct his discrimination of what order of message to respond to, i.e.

he cannot make a metacommunication statement.”


Laing, Bateson and Cooper show how, armed with
the concepts we have described, sense can be made of
the chaotic behaviour of the schizophrenic. In general

Ibid, ppI62-3.


The double-bind can be said to put one in a
position where there is nothing one can do.

Thus, where a person is subject to it constantly,
he can be said not to know what to be – i.e.

have absolutely no trust in his choices. He is
therefore sealed off from the world of genuine,
spontaneous action (i.e. is schizoid).

words are necessary on the subject of alienation. We
will especially attempt to connect this with two of
the most prominent features of the whole schizophrenia

can be denied. What was so striking about that
quotation was its familiar ring. The use of an
innocent sounding formula to make an unhealthy situation look normal is basically no different in intention
and effect from all the “snap out of it” and stiff
upper lip injunctions of everyday life, not to mention
some of the more unsavoury uses of proverbs and trite
sayings to deny pain. Why this mutual invalidation and
incomprehension, this starvation of man’s inner life
which is so much part of “normal” life? It would be
implausible to put it down in any superficial way to
a merely selfish desire not to be bothered. It takes
place in the most ‘intimate’ relations and assumes
quite grotesque though statistically normal forms.

The importance of the world of deep feelings is at such
a low ebb because such a world is simply irrelevant to
capitalist enterprise except as a potent source of
exploitation – in which case, of course, inner loneliness and misery becomes something to be maintained at
all costs. Inside all this drabness, a man feels a
deep and often uncontrollable exasperation at the idea
of recognising misery when his own has not been
recognised. Because everyone is involved in this
game, there is a fear of expressing feelings of deep
pain. This means an emotional solipsism in which all
too often a man starts to lie to himself about his own
needs and misery. This solidifies the prison walls
and reinforces the total situation, since whoever
denies his own pain, will inevitably deny it in others.

(a) the complete inability to perceive the
independence, and hence the reality of the
victim (absolutely no comprehension that he
might have an inner world of his own), and
(b) what makes (a) possible, the irrationally
authoritarian nature of the family.

The concept of alienation is, of course, an
concept. What we are said to be
alienated or removed from is our humanity. This seems
a paradoxical formulation until it is realised that
Marx has a definite idea of what human life ought to
be and is trying to show that how people are in fact
treated in capitalist, and other systems, amounts to
using them in a manner only appropriate to non-human
obj ects. More, specifically, human beings have a
distinctive need to make choices which emanate from
and therefore express their own individual needs and
wants. A man is what he does. If his choices are
made for him, then, considered as an autonomous
individual, his actions are taken away from him. The
destruction of independent identity through this
volitional robbery constitutes a violence all the
more ghastly for not being recognised as such.


Extreme? On the present context such a question
will inevitably be raised by many. The question is
itself a symptom of alienation. But let us examine
this ferocious denial of inner life from just one more
of its multiple angles. A typical example is the
following from Jules Henry, cited by Laing in The

Marx’s profound insight was to see that the work
situation of a man inside a capitalist system is an
alienated one and to further show how this disfigures
his whole existence. In fact, a position in which I
perform a task, often a meaningless and/or incomprehensible one, which (a) is dictated to me by an alien
and often hostile power, and (b) where the result of
the labour required is taken away from me, its agent,
is really the paradigm of alienation. Man’s basic
activity, what above all else should confer dignity on
him, his labour, serves to reduce him to an appendage
of a machine – simply another commodity, a mere
exchange-value. But it is not just that he is treated
in this way – he begins to evaluate himself correspondingly. This becomes more extreme when, as is commonly
the case, he basically accepts the system which is
distorting him. The consequences of this are obvious
from the nature of the values most suitable for the
perpetuation of the system.

Politics of Experience: (7)
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 suggested he “think”.

Much heaving up and down and waving of hands by
the other children, all frantic to correct him.

Boris pretty unhappy, probably mentally paralyzed.

The teacher~ quiet, patient, ignores the others
and concentrates with look and voice on Boris.

She says, “Is there a bigger number than two you
can divide into the two parts of the fraction?”
After a minute or two, she becomes more urgent,
but there is no response from Boris. She then
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.

Let us take an example of overwhelming importance.

Since it is the main interest of the capitalist to
sell his commodities, the status of possessions is
made to assume such proportions that, in fact, a man
is largely measured in terms of them. Here we have
that perverse transvaluation by which a man disappears
into what is external to him, his car, his suits, etc …

The other great measurer of human worth is, of course,
his job or rale, so that he is identified completely
with either his function or his possessions. In this
monstrous externalisation, man is drained away and
lost. The rape of subjectivi’ty has the most heartbreaking consequences and it is here that we can begin
to see both the societal underpinnings and the expres~
sion of a societal situation in schizophrenia.

Thus, Boris’ failure has made it possible for
Peggy to succeed; his depression is the price of
her exhileration; his misery the occasion for her
rejoicing. This is the standard condition of the
American elementary school, and is why so many of
us feel a contraction of the heart even if someone
we never knew succeeds merely at garnering plankton in the Thames: because so often somebody’s
success has been bought at the cost of our failure.

To a Zuni, Hopi, or nakot 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 noncompetitive redskins. Yet Peggy’s action seems natural
to us; and so it is. How else would you run our
world? And since all but the brightest children
have the constant experience that others succeed
at their expense they cannot but develop an
inherent tendency to hate – to hate the success
of others, to hate others who are successful, and
to be determined to prevent it. Along with this,
naturally, goes the hope that others will fail.

Capitalism has reduced value so that now it
resides in only hard tangible things, and in the rales
which produce them. An invidious, attractively easy
way of achieving a spurious feeling of strong identity
is thus opened up (no doubt part of its great appeal)
but unfortunately men are not tables and chairs.

Frustration of human needs can only lead to horror,
perhaps unrecognised as such, but horror all the same.

The overwhelming stress on the purely material,
tangible ‘realities’ is accompanied by either an
underplaying or an ignoring or even extreme hostility
to anything to do with highly charged personal
emotions. The more complex they are, the worse.

Earlier, when we were discussing the familial
theory of schizophrenia, I gave an example of one of
the ways in which the reality of a person’s inner world




a larger quote than in Laing, Culture

Against Man, pp295-7.

This hatred masquerades under the euphemistic
name of “envy”.

Looked at from Boris’ point of view, the nightmare
at the blackboard was, perhaps, a lesson in
controlling himself so that he would not fly
shrieking from the room under the enormous public
pressure. Such experiences imprint on the mind of
every man in our culture the Dream of Failure, so
that over and over again, night in night out, even
at the pinnacle of success, a man will dream not
of success, but of failure.

The external nightmare
is internalized for life. It is this dream that,
above all other things, provides the fierce human
energy required by technological drivenness.

was not so much that Boris was learning arithmetic,
but that he was learning the essential nightmare.

To be successful in our culture one must learn to
dream of failure.

From the point of view of the other children, of
course, they were learning to yap at the heels of a

And why not? Have they not dreamed the
dream of flight themselves? If the culture does
not teach us to fly from failure or to rush in,
hungry for success where others have failed, who
will try again where others have gone broke?

Nowadays, as misguided teachers try to soften the
blow of classroom failure, they inadvertently sap
the energies of success. The result will be a
nation of chickens unwilling to take a chance.

Is this sane? It is certainly normal. Here we
see the beginning of what is often a great loneliness,
an ordinary everyday attempt to make a little boy feel
like a martian. The total inability to realise Soris’

inner world is appalling. In general, our frenziedly
competitive ethics tortures all those who lack the
jungle-ability, the pliability and zest for selfabasement of the successful. But it is they, with
their purely external evaluations of a man, who have
taken over and inject their poisonous perspective on
us all. The inner life recedes; skeletons in clothes
start to walk the streets.

That which was at the core of the troubled families
of schizophrenics (the denial of the reality of the
other person’s needs and wants), shows schizophrenia
in a vi tal respect to be, when we look at its total
meaning, simply a microcosm of society. Further, the
kind of invalidation and denial so typical of these
families is rooted in the essential practice of our
society as a whole. And this is what one would expect.

No family, not even the most odd, arises in a void.

reification, and for alienation in general to be
possible at all, their manifestations must not be
obvious or clearly perceptible for what they are,
although, in a sense, they are just waiting for that
moment of sudden shocked notice when they are truly

The normal man, or the ideal of capitalist
society, is a distorted and crippled being, reflected
faithfully enough in some of Francis Bacon’s paintings.

But again, still a human being who finds it difficult
to live with the frustration of genuinely human needs.

It is much easier to translate this frustration into
cruelty and aggression than simply bA overcome by
futility or even eventually some kind of despair.

Inner deadness in its complete form is simply death.

It is no surprise then that in the more advanced
countries, which plume fhemselves -in their progressive
nature (so that really you either don’t have the right
to or else you deserve to be unhappy), we see
immediately, along with all the sense of futility,
the high suicide rate etc etc etc, a notable talent
for internal violence, racist, gangster or individual,
and the exportation on a large scale of brutality
overseas (Vietnam, Aden, The Dominican Republic,
Guatemala etc etc). But, coupled with this is a denial
of what is really being done – a bland assurance that
we are right and holy, that this is a great society
with maybe a few minor complaints, but then, that’s
life (again the schizogenetic family appears as a
microcosm of the whole of society as well as a result
of it). This is the violence reinforced and its
increase made irresistible, the distortions of mind
and heart become vice-like.

In relation to internal violence, the position
of the man labelled as insane is clear. Society, as it
is constituted, needs ‘abnormal’ or disfavoured
minorities in order to give, by way of alleged and
favourable contrast, some kind of justification for
its all too typical products. Of course, we must not
single out the schizophrenic here. The subject of
racism could very well be brought up in this context,
to mention just one other thing. It is notorious how
the victims of racism are made the scapegoat for all
the unavowed frustrations of a sick society. In this
respect it is very like the situation in relation to
the victim of a schizogenetic family (of course, there
are profound differences as well – the element of
symbiosis in these families, for instance). However,
let us stay with the disfavoured ‘insane’. To understand what is happening where we have to look into the
two key elements of stigmatism – labelling and
irrational authority.

We can see also how the reified thinking typical
The trouble with society labelling a man in a
of a capitalist system is peculiarly present inside
certain way is that he’s apt to act in a manner
schizogenetic families. The translation of praxis into
appropriate to that label because of the seemingly
process in these families creates a situation in which
authoritative voice of society, whether this is
the possibility of having any awareness of the reality
delivered by a parent, school master, police officer,
doctor or judge. Simply by virtue of the fact that an
of another person is destroyed. Things which human
authority is there, is very powerful and is sanctioned
beings bring about are experienced as events or
in its act by longevity and success, there is a
situations brought about in a manner which is independtendency to regard its dictates as having the status
ent of what human beings do. We live in a society
where this kind of phenomena is an everyday feature of
of natural laws, of being as much part of the order of
things as trees and rocks. This reification is
life. Men create a world of products which then seems
to stand over against them, thwarting them and obeying
definitive of irrational authority. It is clear then
its own course independently of man’s endeavour. The
that labelling by such an authority tends to have the
artificial assumes the guise of a natural force. This
awesome ring of an injunction: “Thou shalt be that
situation is maqe possible by the position of relative,
because that is what thou art”. Society has to rely
but very real powerlessness, which the worker has in
on this essentialism in order to have its necessary
relation to the products he creates. So too with the
drop-outs and/or scapegoats. Labelling in these cases
victim in the family of a schizophrenic. The irrational
means “trapping”, “rigidifying”, “congealing”.

power in both the work situation and the family
A stigma is in intention essentially forever. It
mutually reinforce each other. If we treat as acciturns, or attempts to turn, a man into a stone, somedental the connection between the ease with which
thing that cannot change, something with an “internal
reification occurs in the family and how it does in
nature” that is cursed (cf. “The Destiny of Europe’s
society at large, we run the risk of violently severing
Gypsies” – Donald Kenrick and Graham Paxon ). The
the family from its environment and placing it in a
double-natured feature of the concept of normality
void. This has the attraction of encouraging complahelps here in relation to the stigmatization of the
cency about reification in the private world. Doubtprofoundly disturbed. It can be either a statistical
less this is one reason why the sort of discussion
undertaken here is usually labelled as “extreme”. At
13 or an evaluative concept. This ambiguity is utilized
to slip over from the notion of conformity to
the same time, however, it might be said that for.

generally established rules or accepted norms of
behaviour to the attribution of “normality” in a
favourable sense (how would Jesus rate here?). Thus
helped on by this hardly subtle but highly successful
semantic subterfuge, the “abnormal” person is
inevitably looked on with disfavour or hostility.

Unless “we” (8) can get him to view himself in the same
light, he becomes an actual or potential threat to
society as it is alleged to be by the manipulators in
the maze – besides making people feel uncomfortable.

At the same time, the vicious situation is apparent.

Being stigmatized, the “abnormal” man is rebuked for
being what he is said to be and at the same time
either feels assured by most things around him that he
can be nothing else, or, not surprisingly, tries but
finds it remarkably difficult to find any bearings to
give himself confidence in the forest. In effect,
society tries to congeal him forever in an impossible
position. Despair and its various consequences follow,
cure is needed for this and we’re off again (unless
the situation is such that the acceptability of the
accepted point of view is not accepted but proudly and
laughingly rejected).

appear … to be remarkably unconditioned by the system”.

“Normality” inside our society almost completely means
distortion of one’s heart and mind (e.g. witness the
stupidity and callousness of the attitude towards
internment in Ireland, where torture becomes “illtreatment” – and this is more or less accepted without
a qualm). From this perspective our definitions of
“sickness” (“mental”, that is) become equivocal. A
truncated positivism in the form of an alleged
“scientific” approach (what an insult to genuine
science!) leads many into the fashionable appalling
idea that a whole society cannot be sick since it is
only within a society that criteria of normality can be
constructed (lots of “language-game” arguments are
like this from the point of view of validity).

Haven’t they ever heard of societies radically changing
because of conflicts between different values or
between values and practice?’ How else’1 do they think
historical change possible? When we take examples of
this we raise issues about that society as a whole
rather than asking internal questions about what was,
in the main, accepted within that society (10). The
conventional psychiatrist would have made a good
priest in the middle ages and it would have been left
to others to view society as a totality in order to
change it. Naz i Germany, even the “1 aw and order”
crowd admit, was a sick society, yet again this
doesn’t stop the moral imbeci les from calling “extremist” those who want to cut off all ties with South
Africa (which, of course, can keep Rhodesia going,
sanctions against the latter notwithstanding). Leaving
moral enormity on one side, the various forms of
aversion therapy (11) etc are simply examples of
insults to the brain. Let us be consistent. To
support conventionally accepted ideas simply because
they’re there, commits one to trading with South
Africa, defrauding labourers and all those things
accepted through authoritiarian training such as
deliberate suppression of the news in the normally
available news media.

It might be added here that some of the absurder
attributions of “illness” stem from neglecting how
features (e.g. extreme guilt, anxiety, jealousy etc)
“symptomatic” of “illness” can really only be viewed
in the light of the evidence as springing from
attitudes in society as a whole. To suppose these
attitudes eternal is to be a traitor to one’s own
inte lligence; to incorporate into one’s “scientific”
judgement a conformist societal and/or political
position. An example is the tendency to describe
homosexuality as an illness. Suppose that the homosexual, as is often maintained, tends to be more prone
than the heterosexual to “pathological” guilt, jealousy
etc, what about it? One would hardly be surprised in
view of the unfavourable attitude of society towards
homosexuality. This is a good example of how orthodox
psychiatric views (Empson says somewhere that sadism
is the only thing worth calling a sexual deviation)
can become the most insidiously powerful of the
repressive forces within society.

Inside this particular system, then, radical
inroads are made into everyone’s personality in an
attempt to destroy his humanity. Needless to say
holding to this doesn’t commit one to a pl~t-theory of
history. It happens as a result of definite social
relations. But this is already splendidly dealt with
in the first part· of The German Ideology. The only
weakness of that account, the underplaying of ideas,
was, as is well known, forCibly pointed out by F.ngels.

The violence which is perpetrated on schizophrenics
can be understood in the context of stigmatism.

Stigmatism attempts to strip a man to nothing by devaluing all he has and is. Hypocritically it also
needs the stigmatized there as something, else how
could the stigmatizer define himself? Therein lies
the cowardice, the unfreedom of he who, refusing to be
through himself, attempts to be through (and thereby for)
the other (9). I am great because he is nothing. He
is unreal (yet has to be real). He doesn’t exist (yet
has to). Since he has to exist, he will be literally
handled. This happens in racism, it happens when a
disturbed person is treated simply as a set of symptoms. In this case his own reality, the needs
emanating from his position, is ignored (hence no
alleviation, let alone radical change for the better
becomes possible unless the charlatanism is seen
through). The usual “cure”, if successful, would be
a shabby replastering into a “normal” (simply defined,
apparently in a completely negative way,i.e. one who
doesn’t hallucinate etc) , and institutionalized violence
is made respectable because institutionalized. Of
course, this violence serves the function of completing
the segregation of the “abnormals”, thereby solidifying
the ideals of normality held by a particular society.

A seemingly cast-iron, impossible situation is created.

It is this which gives point to Laing’s contention that
“the term ‘schizophrenia’ is applied to some people who


At this point, it is appropriate to bring up a
charge of extreme subjectivism against Laing and
Cooper. This centres round their romanticization of
psychosis. In The Divided Self, Laing bifurcates
humanity into the ontologically secure and the ontologically insecure in such a way as to wonder how they
can communicate with each other. This is a dangerous
reduplication on the social level of paranoid fears
of total exclusion on the part of the schizoid person
– as if he were not quite a human being (c.f. Osamu
Dazai – “No Longer Human”). Put in his extreme way,
i t is untrue, though no-one would deny that there is a
terrible basis for such extremism. From this point of
view we see the point behind the quotation used before:

The term schizophrenia is applied to some people
who appear … to be remarkably unconditioned by
the system.

Some people are unable to acquire the savage
competitive skills required to join the Monday Club.

But this covers many different types of people. What
is, after all, being said? Well, unfortunately amidst

It is unnecessary to go into the reified thinking
behind the ‘we’ syndrome since Laing had done it
in ‘Us and Them’, one of the few successful
essays in The Politics of Experience, and a
brilliant example of the influence of the later

Cf. Hegel: The section on ‘Lordship and Bondage’

(The Phenomenology of Spirit).


Cf. Carnap, ‘Semantics, Empiricism and Ontology’

(Meaning and Necessity).



All methods of negative enforcement of ideas as
opposed to rational, non-enforcing influence for
positive ends. Needless to say, this doesn’t
commit one to not stopping the baby putting his
head in the fire.

all the confusion of exciting phrases, something pretty
dreadful emerges. The schizophrenic becomes the new
saviour (another social reduplication of psychotic
fantasy) . At the same .time, a contradiction emerges
here with the typical Laingian assertion or insinuation
that the only difference between psychotics and the
sane is one of labelling. Nixon is sick – but he is
not paranoid. The black Americans, the Vietnamese,
the Cambodians are his enemies. Why doesn’t Laing
refuse to use the word “mad” at all? If he’s right
in his Labelling-Thesis (taken in his extreme version,
that is, since there is important truth in it), how
can “mad” be equivocal or anything else? The word is
simply drained of meaning. Yet Laing has written a
very brilliant book (The Divided Self) in which people
such as Julia (“The Ghost of the Weed Garden”) are
shown as experiencing the world in a qualitatively
different way from many. In general, a man who experiences the world in the all-pervading anxiety-ridden
way of the man who is described in The Divided Self,
the man who hears “voices”, the man who believes his
brains are being sizzled up by fantastic electric
gadgets, may be experiencing the world in a manner
appropriate to, indeed expressive of, his life-situation,
but he is experiencing it in a comparatively unusual way.

It is the duty of whoever is paid to help him to direct
himself or herself to what is being expressed via very
harrowing experiences. But “expressing X” ” “understanding X”. Some people do learn valuable things from
abnormal experiences; some even escape from the coils
of the system but many, probably most, are wrecked.

One may learn a lot from the study of psychosis which
casts a larger light but it is rather a leap from this
to seeing salvation in people who, on the whole, are
almost constantly beset by ontological insecurity so
that every moment is a struggle for life, or else are
in a state of near total incapacitation. But this is
not all. Some aspects of the schizoid character often
reveal not insight into, and therefore some kind of
freedom from, a diseased society, but rather in an
extreme form some of its worst symptoms. One thing
which Laing doesn’t examine but which is very characteristic of many schizoid people is their narcissism.

This is, of course, typical of many other kinds of
people too. The tendency to equate narcissism with a
withdrawing personality becomes rather odd when encountering many classical extrovert types. However, this
isn’t the place to go into the conceptual jungle of
words surrounding the notion of the self (nor, ei.ther,
the jungle which th~ use of words about people can
themselves create). The word “narcissism” is here
being used in the sense of an obviously developed
failure to interpret personal relations in a manner
independent of one’s own subjective feelings. The
failure to see the reality, that is the autonomy of
the other person is typical of a society based on
tangible, i.e. sellable, realities. Freedom cannot
be grabbed and always flies away. Again, this is all
very widespread but this does not lessen the fact that
a coveting of another’s feelings often follows on in a
peculiarly demanding way from both those given everything to make them ontologically secure and those
given nothing. As I said, “often”, but not always.

Many people called “schizoid” strongly keep themselves
apart from possessive relationships. The point is
that this is by no means always so. Then disastrous
equations such as ”my loving feelings” = “I love you”
are made with all their destructive consequences.

The destruction of’the power to trust is, of course,
tied in here.

Continual subjection to denial of the person’s
real feelings (invalidation) can assume such cosmic
proportions that real trust seems a dream, and with
that any genuine mutual relationship.

Hovering on
the edges of existence, fearing any pitch that would
fill them against the night, as though the concrete
would destroy them, it is as if ghosts walk forth who
are frightened of every human being they meet. It is
true that this narcissism is overcome in some cases
but it is very difficult for someone in the grip of it
to see his way out. Other undesirable things
characteristic of many schizoid and schizophrenic
people (tied in with narcissism) should be mentioned


such as the presence, in many cases, of psychopathically violent tendencies, sometimes of an acute homicidal nature. Some of Laing’s rather sentimental
hicubations appear horrifically absurd in relation,
say, to Ronnie Craig who is now diagnosed as a paranoid
schizophrenic (and there is no reason in advance why
this shouldn’t be a correct diagnosis). This is, of
course, not to say that many acutely disturbed people
are not charming and highly moral people. It’s just
that one becomes sickened by any “two-races” theory,
whereby, for the feminist for instance, women ‘Qua’

women are ontologically privileged; black men qua
black men, for the inverted racist, have somehow
uniquely got THE GIFT and schizophrenics etc for Laing,
Burroughs etc, somehow have a greater insight than
all the others. Let’s simply say, so as not to insult
anyone, that some schizophrenics are swines and some
are good people, some women are efc etc (at times
platitudes are necessary). I have insinuated that
Laing is insulting to disturbed people, just as the
feminist is to women, and so on and so forth. It’s
also the case that his position can, and does, easily
become callous. The gut-thing about schizophrenia is
dreadfUl, dreadful unhappiness. Encouragement to
wallowing in some vapid “special status” is like
encouraging a compulsive gambler in his solitary
romanticization of the betting shop when one has no
gambling problems oneself. I regard this kind of
weird, surrogate vampirism of another’s terrible
experience as being gravely immoral. Schizophrenics
are often, in many respects, not survivors but amongst
the worst casualties of society (again, not all of
them). Their often chronically asocial character is
hardly a sign of a transformer of society. Apart from
the irresponsibility involved in making him into a new
hero, the whole position here is extremely negative.

Society is not really to be saved. We are to reserve
and/or protect a few people who allegedly see through
the system but who, in terms of power, cannot alter
it. This is pure escapism, the apotheosis of an illthought-out esoteric elitism. All that is left is a
cry of pain. Passion is necessary but it is not just
futile, it is quite horrific to stop at intense
emotional reactions. Here despair can~nly be alleviated by retiring into various cushioned-off
si tuations or states of being. Overindulgence in the
subjective leads to excessive importance being placed
upon what are regarded as revelatory experiences,
mystical or ones produced by drugs. This is very
noticeable in The Politics of Experience. The world
of action is left intact and Laing ends up abreast of
all forms of permanent-moment addi’ction. Illumination
is to come from the subjective switch, not from
objective reality. Needless to say, this is not at all
to deny the importance of certain kinds of subjective
experience. Attad:. is reserved for an abstract
thesis which attributes excessive importance to them.

Such theses can obviously become callous. The problems
of India etc won’t be solved by a handful of privileged
Nirvana-seekers (which isn’t to deny, e.g. the bravery
of Buddhist monks in Vietnam; it is simply that political quietism and “all you need is love” seems a
feature of Sinhalese and Indian monks, and this in the
face of savage social repression. It’s better for
starving men to eat cows than to perpetuate mystical
athletics for their own sake).

To maintain a balanced (i.e. dialectical) view,
however, it is supremely important to refer again to
Laing’s moving emphasis on the tragic manner in which
vividly non-utilitarian (inner) experiences such as
those in dreams, ones emanating from visions etc, are
systematically devalued. Of course, this covers the
everyday denial of the importance of emotions not
obviously geared in the least troublesome way to
purely external tasks, or, at most, to the least
disturbing inner feelings. This leads, as in the
case of Laing, to the opposite extreme. It would be
unreal to deny the inevitability, and therefore large
element of value in this.

In conclusion, a few words about the family. The
familial studies of schizophrenia both here and in
America are obviously of very great importance. Inside

our kind of society people are taught to completely
obey their parents simply in virtue of biological
status, which by itself is no guarantee of wisdom.

Injunctions from whatever source should only be
considered reasonable if they are means to some
rational end and this is something not at all determined by mere authority. The family as constituted at
the moment then, is the prototype of all’later kinds
of irrational authority (Let’s not forget that Goebbels
was a firm believer in family authority). We are
being trained to be nice, decent collies who will obey
someone simply because he whistles and his name is
“teacher”, “boss” etc – the confusion between “someone
being called ‘x'” and “being ‘x'” sets in and we
accept as an element of nature something magically
brought into being by man himself and that in a way no
less weird than any of Humpty-Dumpty’s word-into-thing
extravaganzas. Thus the influence of the present
family set-up goes far beyond making the disturbed
type of situation in the families of schizophrenics
possible. It is right at the root of the reification
made possible by an authoritiarian society. Authoritarian, that is, in as much as and so far as it is an
economic structure in which the producers of wealth do
not participate as controllers of that wealth. But it
is clear, having said that, that we must therefore
primarily argue the other way round. That is, the
present family set-up is only made possible given the
present societal set-up. This involves taking up a
political position fundamentally opposed to the
capitalist “status quo”. Not to do so is to drop the

family into a social void and thus create for the
family a fashionable individualism which is so abundantly met with in relation to theories about the
particular person, e.g. disturbed families from the
most deprived parts of the working-class cannot be
fully understood save in terms of ideas of respect
defined in relation to their chronically exploited
status. This example shows that one ,,;ould have to go
into the appallingly truncated role of the woman in
a sexually non-egalitarian wage-structure (and the
role of prostitution); the role of violence; the role
of army recruitment, the role of gambling and drinking
and so many other things. One “ou]d have to tie all
this together with the desperate desire of someone
from this background to be something, and the ways in
which this identity search can end in what Blake would
call “chaoti c non-identity” (i. e. s chi zophrenia), and
often “success” where “success” means pretty dreadful
adaptations to bourgeois society (suc~ as joining the
paratroppers to torture people in Ireland, Aden and
Vietnam; prostitution, etc). But all this clearly
demands, as said above, a revolutionary stance which
is not just not evident in Laing, but ultimately, by
an emphasis on sheerly personal insight, he in fact
does succeed in dropping the family back at the
theoretical level into the no-horizons trap which the
present society has so cruelly locked it up in. Classdivision shows up the cosmic callousness of pantheistic
mysticism. The state is not the veil of Maya. The
Laingian stance is ultimately a safe revolt which can
only reinforce the power of the pimps and Blimps.

TBAGal.a PHILOSOP.Y – TO wao.,
Roger WaterhoDse
courses tend to be quite highly specialized in
subject terms, the vast majority of these
students are not taking specialist philosophy
degrees – philosophy is merely a part of their

Many of the people who count themselves radical
philosophers either are, or aspire to be, professionals.

They would agree that professional philosophers should
recognize that they are agents in a particular sociohistorical context, and would accuse the orthodox
acacemicians of obscuring this, mystifying their
students, and effectively shoring up the bankrupt
capitalist system. At this point they usually turn
their attention to doctrine, and either launch into a
critique of prevailing orthodoxies, or expound the
alternatives. These are important exercises, and I
do not in any way wish to deride them; but I do want
to draw the attention of radical philosophers in another
direction, because the theoretical discussion within
philosophy can provide only part of the answer to the
question, ‘What should the professional philosopher


I rehearse these well-known facts because there
is a tendency to overestimate the importance of, say,
getting a Hegel and Marx option added to an M.A.

philosophy programme – as far as the consciousness of
the masses is concerned we may as well forget it!

do? ‘

Second, some general features in the context of
higher education within which we work. Like most other
advanced capitalist countries we have (for very good
economic reasons) been moving away from a higher
education system which produced a few graduates for
the heights of power, a larger number of engineers and
middle managers to keep the wheels of industry turning,
and a small army of workers in schools to turn out
factory fodder to appropriate specifications. This
process, which has been transforming both the structure
and the nature of higher education, has been recognised
at least since 1944. Its progress is staked out in a
long series of Government reports which have usually
been more effective in summing up the stage reached
than in influencing the future direction of the process.

Lest we forget that philosophy too is involved, it
might be interesting to compare the number of people
who make their living by it today, with the number in,
say, 1946.

What he does do a lot of the time, and will
continue to do, is teach. But the question, ‘What
should the philosopher teach?’ admits of no simple
answer even when the internal theoretical considerations are sorted out, because it is unanswerable in
vacuo – we must first decide, To whom? This is the
question that I want put, and put in its proper context
– namely, the present and future work situation of the
professional philosopher.

First, a few facts which tend to be forgotten when
identifiable groups of professionals get together:

The largest group of students taking ‘philosophy’

as part of their course are found in Colleges and
Institutes of Education. What passes for philosophy on many of these courses may well be
derided by university academics – but it should
not be ignored.


The second largest group are students in
universities. Although in general university

The third, and at present much smaller group, are
students in Polytechnics and Colleges of
Technology. Hardly any of these are specialists
in philosophy, and few take the subject as a
major part of their course.


As with any long-term process, it has become a
way of life. We are used to expansion, because most
of us have always lived with it. We notice the

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