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on 30 May 2017
Love the work of RD Laing
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on 25 October 2007
No book on first reading has ever hit me with the force of this one.

Some of the content I don't buy: the focus on madness as a positive journey and the de-emphasis on inborn factors that may lead to "schizophrenia".

But as an example of compelling writing, of a writer putting his heart into his work, I don't know of any rival to this book.

But there's a lot more than writing style here. This is one of the strongest challenges to us "normal" folk about the potential we may have tossed away in exchange for a fit in our troubled society.

This isn't a book that tells us what to do or that sells some old tradition. This is a book that tells us how it seems ... to someone uniquely qualified and extraordinarily concerned about our well-being.

Laing was a great gift to the world and this is his greatest book.
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on 19 May 2010
'The politics of experience' is a discussion about the differences that can exist between people because of differences in their conscious states.

Some people have never experienced passion, for example, and so may regard love as something purely physical. Others may have done so and matured emotionally having then sought and acquired an extensive vocabulary they share in common with everyone else which they use to communicate their experience.

Your maturity and knowledge act as a brake on how much you will understand, however, the book's content is not subjective.

Laing's view is that WE exist within our little culture - or as he puts it a straight jacket of conformity - and like anyone living and working within an abnormal system or environment are prone to errors. Laings view is that it's the systems we live in that are the problem, and not us. 96% of the time I expect he's right.
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on 18 April 2009
As a psychiatric-call-arms this book is abit of a dog's dinner. Apart from the very last chapter everything here is taken from direct transcripts of Laing's lectures throughout the early 60s. The style & approach changes quite rapidly then: The first 3 chapters are abit Irving Goffman with possibly a hint of heidegger thrown in, and its probably only until chapter 4 that Laing starts to write in his own voice and becomes profound by way of personal experience; as opposed to whatever he was reading the week before.

And do you know, for all the accusations of self-indulgent anti-conformism, Laing is just about the most lucid, compassionate, rational and pragmatic philosopher of psychiatry imaginable. Once he gets going.

His main thesis also benefits from being devastatingly simple: If you want to know the best way to treat someone who's 'gone mad' ask someone who's 'been mad'. If you want to get better, allow yourself to go through the process of being unwell. If, as a culture, you want to be able to deal with your own mental spaces, give it a context with which it can be explored.

Of course even in 2009 this is still largely unrealised stuff. Psychotherapy has perhaps become somewhat more 'client-orientated', non-judgemental. We dont accept the dogmatic extremism of behaviourism quite like we used to, and can now acknowledge our private spaces, to some limited extent, once more.

Although this is all pretty meagre 'progress' from where we started out. We still treat mentally ill patients much the same as well did before, still erroneously refer to them as being 'ill', and in mainstream academia physicalism looks set to bring the spectre of behaviourism back to life all over again.

It's all abit depressing, and other than Szasz you do wonder where the much needed voices of descent have gone. Perhaps it's because as Laing suggests: the interior life is just something we're fundmanetally uncomfortable with as a culture. How often for instance do you talk about your dreams with your friends? Even amongst close relatives refering to your internal dramas in a public setting can still be regarded as 'socially deviant'.

There's something about 'experience' that continues to bug us. Is it too unquantifiable to satisfy our occidental addiction for charts and statistics? Possibly. Although i expect you could point to any number of social/political causes for our failure to engage with ourselves. In mean time however, you cant do much worse than picking up this book and having a wee think for yourself.

The proto-Irvine Welsh ramble at the end is pretty good as well.
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on 6 April 2015
All that we know comes from our experience; nothing is objective because it has to be perceived subjectively. People are subjects, but objects. Society colludes to encourage us to deny fantasy and other inner experience and to toe the line. Normality is, thus, the denial and repression of much of reality; it results in countless deaths by war. Each new baby born is a potential saviour but most get socialised and repress their dreams, their hopes, and those which don't are categorized by society is 'insane', mad. Humans need to get in touch with their inner world; psychotherapy consists in removing the masks and props and in the enabling of selves to get in touch with selves. Society prefers to keep masks; domination, consolisation, calling the more spiritual people 'savages' is away of avoiding the truth inside/ ourselves. Saints may kiss lepers but it about time that the lepers kissed the saint. Psychotherapists study the individual but maybe it is about time they studied the family; maybe it is society that is 'bent'. Madness need not be breakdown; maybe it can be a break-through.

This book is a powerful argument for spiritual direction and the acceptance of those we regard as unusual without feeling threatened; indeed the need for us to accept that they ask us awkward questions which we need to face up to if we are to become what we truly are.
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on 9 May 2013
Although written in the era of the 3 minute warning and when child beating was a perk of a teaching career,this examination and analysis of the causes of mental disturbance still resonates, as its subjects are the timeless ones that mediate our inner experiences, particularly in relation to other people and the wider society we live in.Although the external landscape has changed since it was written the human condition remains exactly the same.
Much of the authors point of view is summed up by the theory of the Gadarene Swine,whereby an individual is considered to be off-course if they've strayed from a group,irrespective of the fact that the group maybe off course itself.The individual is then faced with the dilemma of attempting to adapt to a world gone mad,which is when the trouble starts,identity is repudiated by violence masquerading as love and enforced debt tactics are used to effect control and coerce the individual into a humanity destroyed by interdependence.
There are some great passages concerning social interactions relating to the formation of groups and the processes necessary for cohesion.The book closes with an evaluation of schizophrenia and psychotic episodes as healing processes and natural methods of adjustment necessary to the "self" ,to allow it to advance,in a society that places little value on inner experience.
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on 23 July 2013
All who care about their own and others mental wellbeing would benefit from reading this, especially those wanting to build a real change in our attitude to "mental illness".
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on 12 July 2016
I have bought this book three times now, it is a seminal works and ought to be made compulsory reading. R D Laing was a phenomenal mind; to the extent, that his works, are not, perhaps, for those who are looking for 'light-reading'. Requires an intelligent mind and a critical one at that. R D Laing deserves a place in history next to Nietzsche, Sartre, Plato.
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on 9 November 2011
A remarkable work. It confronts us with ourselves and dares us to do something about it. Still as remarkable a read as ever.
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on 17 March 2013
Although written in the era of the 3 minute warning and when child beating was a perk of a teaching career,this examination and analysis of the causes of mental disturbance still resonates, as its subjects are the timeless ones that mediate our inner experiences, particularly in relation to other people and the wider society we live in.Although the external landscape has changed since it was written the human condition remains exactly the same.
Much of the authors point of view is summed up by the theory of the Gadarene Swine,whereby an individual is considered to be off-course if they've strayed from a group,irrespective of the fact that the group maybe off course itself.The individual is then faced with the dilemma of attempting to adapt to a world gone mad,which is when the trouble starts,identity is repudiated by violence masquerading as love and enforced debt tactics are used to effect control and coerce the individual into a humanity destroyed by interdependence.
There are some great passages concerning social interactions relating to the formation of groups and the processes necessary for cohesion.The book closes with an evaluation of schizophrenia and psychotic episodes as healing processes and natural methods of adjustment necessary to the "self" ,to allow it to advance in a society that places little value on inner experience.
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