As the corona calamity rolls on, many are struggling to cope with the measures introduced to ‘deal with the virus’ – the isolation, social distancing, and masks, as well as the loss of cultural and social activities. Worse than that, we’re being conditioned to see other people as contagious, and to inform on our neighbours if they break the rules.
These measures are dehumanising because they force people to behave in ways that are absurd and go against their natural instincts as a human being. If you do this for long enough you can destroy a person’s mind to such an extent that they become incapable of thinking for themselves.
And as we saw last time, when you destroy the individual you leave society wide open to fascism. Ultimately, it breaks down social bonds and destroys civilisation from the inside out.
RD Laing has a lot to say about this process in his books where he explores why people go mad and how society often pushes us over the edge. In The Divided Self and The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise he explains that psychosis is created by putting someone into an untenable position, or double-bind, and this destroys the integrity of their psyche until it fragments.
The current situation is putting everybody into this state, whether they realise it or not. Actually, the system has worked like this for a long time but now it’s more obvious. The veil has dropped and that makes it easier to see what’s going on – and that’s the good news.
The bad news is we still have to navigate the collapse of the collective psyche and for most of us, that means dealing with our own madness.
We’ll start with The Divided Self to explore the basics on how people become disconnected and estranged from reality, themselves and others. A healthy person feels themselves to be alive and fully embodied, they feel ontologically secure – secure in their being.
Sometimes this development can go wrong and a person grows up without that basic sense of security in themselves – they feel ontologically insecure. (More on that here: Chiron in Aries) The insecurity creates a split between the mind and the body. Many people have this kind of split and they live mostly in their heads, hardly aware of what their body feels until they’re in pain or get sick.
The more disconnected you are from your body, the more disconnected you become from reality, and this tends to reinforce itself and get worse over time unless something happens to reverse or heal the split. In extreme cases, a split like this can lead to psychosis or schizophrenia and the whole personality disintegrates.
The body is experienced as an object rather than the centre of your being and the self is split between a false self and an inner, true self. Laing describes the false self as a kind of ‘personality’, persona or mask that’s worn by the ontologically insecure person, while the true self is disembodied and hidden in order to keep it safe.
However, the false self of the schizoid person isn’t the same as the mask or persona of an apparently normal person. Normal people play roles and act parts but the mask doesn’t take over or become compulsive. You have some choice in how you behave and could drop the mask if you wanted to.
In a schizoid person the false self is related to conforming to the expectations of others, or what you believe those expectations are, and in defence of your true self. It develops in reaction to fear: fear of others, fear of reality, and fear of what will happen if you don’t comply.
“The observable behaviour that is the expression of the false self is often perfectly normal. We see a model child, an ideal husband, an industrious clerk. This façade, however, usually becomes more and more stereotyped, and in the stereotype bizarre characteristics develop.”
As an adaptation to a difficult circumstance, this may work for a while, but over time leads to depersonalisation and dissociation. When you relate to the world through a false self, everything you do becomes false. The true self has withdrawn to protect itself, leaving the body to act as a kind of automaton, or an actor on a stage.
Everything you do becomes unreal, futile and meaningless because you can’t directly participate in the world. The true self becomes disembodied in order transcend the world and become safe, but then finds itself in a vacuum where nothing can live.
“Love is precluded and dread takes its place. The final effect is an overall experience of everything having come to a stop. Nothing moves; nothing is alive; everything is dead, including the self.”
The self can then fragment into multiple selves and the person withdraws into a fantasy world totally divorced from reality.
“…what is called psychosis is sometimes simply the sudden removal of the veil of the false self, which had been serving to maintain an outer behavioural normality that may, long ago, have failed to be any reflection of the state of affairs of the secret self.”
As mentioned already, the breakdown of the self happens as a result of a double-bind where the person can’t win. Anything they do, makes the situation worse and there’s no escape. In The Politics of Experience Laing describes schizophrenia as the product of disturbed communication within families:
“…without exception the experience and behaviour that gets labelled schizophrenic is a special strategy that a person invents in order to live in an unliveable situation. In his life situation the person has come to feel he is in an untenable position. He cannot make a move, or make no move, without being beset by contradictory and paradoxical pressures and demands, pushes and pulls, both internally, from himself, and externally, from those around him. He is, as it were, in a position of checkmate.”
This also applies to so-called normal people living in the fast-unravelling capitalist system today. In fact, normal people have never been sane:
“What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being. The more one sees this, the more senseless it is to continue with generalised descriptions of supposedly specifically schizoid, schizophrenic, hysterical ‘mechanisms’.”
In other words, we’re all alienated to a certain degree. Alienation is a spectrum that ranges from ‘normal’ to extreme.
“The ‘normally’ alienated person, by reason of the fact that he acts 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.”
Laing doesn’t pull his punches in describing a normal person:
“The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man. … Without inner unity, with just enough sense of continuity to clutch at identity – the current idolatry. Torn, body, mind and spirit, by inner contradictions, pulled in different directions. Man cut off from his own mind, cut off equally from his own body – a half-crazed creature in a mad world.”
He spends a lot of time deconstructing the language we use to describe our experience and how that influences our interpretation of reality. We conform to ideas about normality that have nothing to do with real human behaviour. It’s about creating good little cogs – people who’ll fit into a productive society – not necessarily happy humans or even sane humans.
“All those people who seek to control the behaviour of large numbers of other people work on the experiences of those other people. Once people can be induced to experience a situation in a similar way, they can be expected to behave in similar ways. Induce people all to want the same thing, hate the same things, feel the same threat, then their behaviour is already captive – you have acquired your consumers or your cannon-fodder.”
This conditioning has an effect on how you see yourself – it literally changes your perception of who you are. It destroys your sense of self as an individual.
“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.”
This is how the individual is blamed for the failure of the system – it’s your fault if you can’t handle what’s going on. You’re weak, or stupid, or mad. It’s not the system, it’s you. More on that here: Mental Health Awareness Week Wants to Know Why You’re Not Thriving.
The system achieves this by mystifying your experience to prevent you from seeing how it works. In other words, it gaslights you and creates cognitive dissonance.
“It is not enough to destroy one’s own and other people’s experience. One must overlay this devastation by a false consciousness inured…to its own falsity.”
What you end up with is something straight out of Orwell:
“Exploitation must not be seen as such. It must be seen as benevolence. Persecution preferably should not need to be invalidated as the figment of a paranoid imagination, it should be experienced as kindness.”
This process of socialisation involves internalising our violence and calling it morality and love. It’s all done for your own good – it’s for your safety!
“In order to rationalise our industrial-military complex, we have to destroy our capacity both to see clearly any more what is in front of, and imagine what is beyond, our noses. Long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste our own sanity. We begin with the children. It is imperative to catch them in time. Without the most thorough and rapid brainwashing their dirty minds would see through our dirty tricks. Children are not yet fools, but we shall turn them into imbeciles like ourselves, with high IQs if possible.”
Although a high IQ is no longer required for the vast majority, hence the colossal dumbing down of education over the last few decades. Not just education, the entire public discourse. Obviously, this has nothing to do with love:
“Love and violence, properly speaking, are polar opposites. Love lets the other be, but with affection and concern. Violence attempts to constrain the other’s freedom, to force him to act in the way we desire, but with ultimate lack of concern, with indifference to the other’s own existence of destiny. We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love.”
I’m not sure the masquerade works anymore. We’re all mad here.
“Only by the most outrageous violation of ourselves have we achieved our capacity to live in relative adjustment to a civilisation apparently driven to its own destruction. Perhaps to a limited extent we can undo what has been done to us, and what we have done to ourselves. … If we can stop destroying ourselves we may stop destroying others. We have to begin by admitting and even accepting our violence, rather than blindly destroying ourselves with it, and therewith we have to realise that we are as deeply afraid to live and to love as we are to die.”
So what do we do?
“It is quite certain that unless we can regulate our behaviour much more satisfactorily than at present, then we are going to exterminate ourselves. But as we experience the world, so we act, and this principle holds even when action conceals rather than discloses our experience.”
Some would have us regulate our behaviour by conforming to algorithms and mathematical models in order to preserve society and ‘save the planet’. But that would be a destructive act against humanity and life, with inevitable consequences. It should be obvious that when you experience the world through a screen, you’re missing most of what’s real and meaningful.
“We are not able even to think adequately about the behaviour that is at the annihilating edge. But what we think is less than what we know; what we know is less than what we love; what we love is so much less than what there is. And to that precise extent we are so much less that what we are.”
We’ve put ourselves into a double-bind that appears to have no resolution except destruction. The reality being pushed in the Great Reset is unreal: a reality built from lies and fraud, a reality of fantasy and flickering screens. When you spend all your time immersed in unreal or virtual realities it erodes your identity and sanity. We’re in danger of losing ourselves completely. But there is a way out.
“From the point of view of a man alienated from his source creation arises from despair and ends in failure. But such a man has not trodden the path to the end of time, the end of space, the end of darkness, and the end of light. He does not know that where it all ends, there it all begins.”
We may all be going mad but this process has a lot in common with the mystical experience of the transcendent breaking through ego consciousness and transforming it. A breakdown like this becomes a breakthrough if you can endure the existential death of the dark night of the soul. Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to become sane.
“We live in a secular world. To adapt to this world the child abdicates its ecstasy. Having lost our experience of the spirit, we are expected to have faith. But this faith comes to be a belief in a reality which is not evident. … From the alienated starting point of our pseudo-sanity, everything is equivocal. Our sanity is not ‘true’ sanity.”
And what is sanity?
“True sanity entails in one way or another the dissolution of the normal ego, that false self competently adjusted to our alienated social reality: the emergence of the ‘inner’ archetypal mediators of divine power, and through this death a rebirth, and the eventual re-establishment of a new kind of ego-functioning, the ego now being the servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer.”