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This is Freedom Essay 48

 

R.D. Laing’s fearlessly honest descriptions
of the human condition

 

Written by Jeremy Griffith, 2017

 

In FREEDOM: The End Of The Human Condition it is finally explained that far from being the flawed, banishment-deserving, bad, even evil creatures we have for so long been portrayed as, humans are actually the heroes of the story of life on Earth, and so extraordinarily wonderful that we could be considered divine beings! (This breakthrough redeeming explanation of the human condition is also presented in Video/​F. Essay 3.)

And in fact, the human race has always believed that one day it would find this redeeming understanding of ourselves, but, the tragic reality was that until we found that relieving insight we had no choice but to block out and deny any condemning truth about ourselves; metaphorically, we had to hide in Plato’s cave of darkness. We couldn’t accept any implication that we were bad when we believed that one day we would explain that we weren’t bad.

Since searching for that relieving understanding unavoidably led to us becoming extremely upset angry, egocentric and alienated, it makes sense that we have had to employ a great deal of block-out or denial of just how upset we became; to keep with the analogy, we have had to hide very deep inside Plato’s cave of darkness. (See Video/​F. Essay 11 for analysis of Plato’s cave allegory.)

 

People stuck in a dark cave of denial

 

It follows then that it would be a bold person indeed who would venture outside the ‘cave’ and face the exposing and confronting light of truth and admit the full extent of how upset we humans really are, and how estranged from our original innocent instinctive soulful true selves we have become, but that is exactly what the great Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing did!

Laing is one of the most quoted thinkers in my books and essays about the human condition, and for good reason, because Laing admitted how profoundly estranged or alienated we humans have becomealmost completely blocked-off from the truth of the extent of our self-corruption and from the truth of the amazing and wonderful soulful real world that we lost access to when we had to start living deep inside Plato’s dark cave. (See F. Essay 21 for explanation of how we acquired our original instinctive moral soul.)

 

Image of Fang mask, Bhairav mask, Bacon painting, Munch painting

 

Incredibly revealing ceremonial tribal masks are included in F. Essay 43 to help illustrate just how upset and alienated humans have now become, while F. Essay 44 includes similarly revealing paintings by Francis Bacon and Edvard Munch. However, when it comes to written descriptions of our condition, only a rare few in human history have managed to be as honest as Laing.

 

Image of R.D. Laing

R.D. Laing

 

Ronald David (R.D.) Laing (19271989) was, as mentioned, a psychiatrist, and spent his entire life treating mental illness. Core to his approach was the belief that insanity could be understood, because it was, as he famously said, ‘a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world’. Laing was soon considered a maverick within his profession, at loggerheads with a medical orthodoxy that considered mental illness ‘un-understandable’, and was content to medicate patients and consign them to asylums.

 

Cover of R.D. Laing’s book ‘Self and Others’
Cover of R.D. Laing’s book ‘The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise’

 

In defiance of the orthodoxy, and indeed of the whole world of denial, Laing cultivated this honesty about our ‘insane world’, and while the resulting transparency of the falseness of the world around him eventually led him to a state of lonely despair, it did allow him to describe the human condition as clearly as anyone who has ever lived:

 

‘We are dead, but think we are alive. We are asleep, but think we are awake. We are dreaming, but take our dreams to be reality. We are the halt, lame, blind, deaf, the sick. But we are doubly unconscious. We are so ill that we no longer feel ill, as in many terminal illnesses. We are mad, but have no insight [into the fact of our madness](Self and Others, 1961, p.38 of 192). (see paragraph 123 of FREEDOM)

 

‘Our alienation goes to the roots. The realization of this is the essential springboard for any serious reflection on any aspect of present inter-human life…​We are born into a world where alienation awaits us. We are potentially men, but are in an alienated state [p.12 of 156] …​the ordinary person is a shrivelled, desiccated fragment of what a person can be. As adults, we have forgotten most of our childhood, not only its contents but its flavour; as men of the world, we hardly know of the existence of the inner world [p.22] …​The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man [p.24] …​between us and It [our true selves or soul] there is a veil which is more like fifty feet of solid concrete. Deus absconditus [God has absconded]. Or [more precisely] we have absconded [from God/​the integrative ideals] [p.118] …​The outer divorced from any illumination from the inner is in a state of darkness. We are in an age of darkness. The state of outer darkness is a state of sini.e. alienation or estrangement from the inner light [p.116] …​We are all murderers and prostitutes…​We are bemused and crazed creatures, strangers to our true selves, to one another [pp.11-12](The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, 1967). (see par. 123 of FREEDOM)

 

Image of R.D. Laing holding head in hands

R.D. Laing, 1974

 

In describing just how complete our alienation had become, it is notable how closely Laing’s words echo those of the Biblical prophet Isaiah, who was Plato-like in his honesty about how much the human race has been living in darkness, saying, ‘justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes…​Truth is nowhere to be found’ (Isa. 59). Isaiah was equally forthright about the extent of our now horrendously upset condition when he wrote, ‘From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundnessonly wounds and welts and open sore…​Your country is desolate…​the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her’, and ‘the world languishes and withers…​The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws [become divisively rather than integratively behaved]…​In the streets…​all joy turns to gloom, all gaiety is banished from the earth’, and ‘This people’s heart has become calloused [alienated]; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes [hence the problem of the ‘deaf effect’ described in F. Essay 11] (Isa. 1, 24 & 6:10 footnote). (see pars 278, 182 & 681 of FREEDOM)

 

Sculpture of Plato

Plato
(from the original of the 4th century BC)

Michelangelo’s ‘Isiah’ from the Sistine Chapel

Isaiah
(by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, 1512)

 

Not content to merely chronicle the all-enveloping ‘age of darkness’ in which we dwelt, Laing was also remarkable in his realisation that what was needed was to find the source reason for the madness. Indeed, Laing realised that finding understanding of the human condition was the most urgent and important task facing humanity:

 

‘The requirement of the present, the failure of the past, is the same: to provide a thoroughly self-conscious and self-critical human account of man…​Our alienation goes to the roots. The realization of this is the essential springboard for any serious reflection on any aspect of present inter-human life [pp.11-12 of 156] …​We respect the voyager, the explorer, the climber, the space man. It makes far more sense to me as a valid projectindeed, as a desperately urgently required project for our timeto explore the inner space and time of consciousness. Perhaps this is one of the few things that still make sense in our historical context. We are so out of touch with this realm [so in denial of the issue of the human condition] that many people can now argue seriously that it does not exist. It is very small wonder that it is perilous indeed to explore such a lost realm [p.105](The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise). (see par. 649 of FREEDOM)

 

And it is this ‘thoroughly self-conscious and self-critical human account of man’ that has at last been found. And you will know this account is the true explanation of our condition because it is based on the ‘essential springboard’ of recognition that our ‘conscious’ mind is deeply psychologically troubledthat we are a psychotic and neurotic, immensely alienated species. (Laing’s phrase about our alienation being like ‘fifty feet of solid concrete’ is amongst the most used phrases in all of my writing).

 

Jeremy Griffith with his book FREEDOM in 2015

Jeremy Griffith with his book FREEDOM in 2015

 

But it needs to be emphasised here that while humans have been as torturously alienated as Laing observed, this is not the full story about humans. As has been stressed throughout these essays, and across all of my work, the greater truth is that humans have also been the most courageous, heroic, successful and meaningful creatures to ever exist on Earth. We are not the awful beings we appeared to be; rather, given the magnificence of our fully conscious mind, nature’s greatest invention, and all the injustice we humans have had to endure for some two million years, we fully deserve to be considered divine beings!

 

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Watch Jeremy Griffith present the breakthrough redeeming explanation of the human condition in Video/​F. Essay 3, or read chapter 1 of FREEDOM. You can also read more about the extent of our denial in chapter 2. The irreverent honesty of R.D. Laing is also mentioned in the previous F. Essay 47: Humour and swearing explained.

 

Discussion or comment on this essay is welcomedsee below.

 

 

 

These essays were created in 2017-2019 by Jeremy Griffith, Damon Isherwood, Fiona
Cullen-Ward, Brony FitzGerald & Lee Jones of the Sydney WTM Centre. All filming and
editing of the videos was carried out by Sydney WTM members James Press & Tess Watson
during 2017-2019. Other members of the Sydney WTM Centre are responsible for the
distribution and marketing of the videos/​essays, and for providing subscriber support.

 

LEAVE A COMMENT





Please note, we encourage constructive discussion about this information and so reserve the right to moderate or decline posts that we feel are not relevant or inappropriate. In particular, with the subject of the human condition being so confronting, malice can easily occur, and where comments are deemed to be motivated not by objectivity but by malice, they will be declined. It has to be appreciated that the possibility of malice toward this subject matter is very real, and we have a responsibility to manage that as best we can.

  • Tommy on May 16, 2017 at 10:01 am

    You can’t help but wish that RD Laing was still alive to see this understanding of the human condition, this ‘thoroughly self-conscious and self-critical human account of man’ arrive. That the ‘desperately urgently required project for our time — to explore the inner space and time of consciousness’ has been fulfilled. Humanity owes RD Laing a lot and we won’t let him down.

  • RJ on May 16, 2017 at 11:11 am

    RD Laing blows my mind. From someone who lived very deeply within ‘the cave’ of denial I agree wholeheartedly with the description that he is indeed a very brave human! It is beyond my mind’s ability to fathom that he was able to write so profoundly, defiantly and honestly about our human condition without the reconciling understanding of ourselves, but thank goodness he and his remarkable writing did exist. I’m not sure if the WTM considers Laing a prophet, but his remarkable words remind me of a section in para 822 of Freedom, “Denial-free thinkers or prophets such as Nietzsche have historically not been appreciated in their own lifetime, but their honesty has always led the way to a better world for humans. In fact, their honesty is the purest form of love the human race has ever known.”

  • Susy on May 16, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Without this information I know I would not have coped with or allowed myself to appreciate RD Laing’s absolutely ‘fearlessly honest descriptions’ at all. I might have found them ‘interesting’ or a ‘good help to those that need it’, but in no way would I have applied them to myself. Coming from this resigned ‘cave’ dwelling life, his descriptions of ‘we are dead, but think we are alive, we are asleep, but think we are awake, we are dreaming, but take our dreams to be reality…we are so ill that we no longer feel ill’ describe me perfectly! However with this incredible understanding of the human condition — the biological defence of ourselves/ our upset that explains why we are good and not bad afterall — I find Laing’s writing very grounding and inspiring. Because this information finally allows you to ‘love your dark side’ or ‘own your own shadow’ as is quoted in Freedom I really do and can totally LOVE my journey on Earth as corrupting as it’s been. I am as alienated as Laing describes, I am “the halt, lame, blind, deaf, the sick”, living with “fifty feet of solid concrete” from my true self/ soul , an “ordinary person… shrivelled, desiccated fragment of what a person can be” and I can be enormously loving and owning of that. What else could I be but massively upset/ lame/ blind/ deaf/ sick/ shrivelled etc but I also know I’m good/ heroic and part of the most glorious story ever told!! Through this understanding of ourselves we can finally mature as an individual and as a species, fulfill our potential as Laing so hoped and strove for, reconcile our soul and mind, and move on to a completely liberated and amazing future!!

  • Robert Urlich on August 4, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Peer reviews are often the essential tool that supports the noble art of navel gazing.
    Of course the professionals know best.
    The best cure for insanity is most likely a grossly enlarged sense of the ridiculous.
    Scots wha’ hae… and all that stuff.

  • judy66 on August 10, 2017 at 9:08 am

    I have come back to this email after reading the essay 47 on swearing and humour that included the wonderful picture of R.D. Laing looking, as the email says, completely irreverent. You must have a look at it. Maybe the WTM should put the picture in this essay??

  • John TEMBO on January 16, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    each when am reading it is sounding ,giving knowledge and very interesting book

  • Richard G on January 26, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    I enjoyed reading this email, thank you.
    Laing was brilliant if not confronting with his account of our collective insanity. but refreshing nonetheless.
    i like the key to it all as you outline above, which i know is at the core of Jeremy’s account of the human condition: we ARE a complete mess as Laing accurately points out, but there’s more to it. there is a dignifying truth to the human situation: “humans have also been the most courageous, heroic, successful and meaningful creatures to ever exist on Earth”. There is hope in healing the mentally f’d-up human race.
    Thank you again for this series

  • melody on February 9, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    Fantastic article and a reference use of a man who laid bare his own vulnerability.
    I have been of late studying hormones and thyroid and the effects of how they affect us mood wise both physically and mentally and how very important our pituitary gland and thyroid is to us to function normally.
    The millions who have suffered from depression and tipping the scales into bipolar and such mental illnesses.
    Perhaps our actions then from so long ago began due to our physical imbalances as well and were very much part of our human condition?
    Surely then that we would be ecstatic to know what we now know about our early self and finding it once more but then too that many may still suffer due to this hormone imbalance in most of us right now?
    Would knowing our roots and how we have suffered a human condition really remove what is taking place in our bodies due to environmental issues?

  • Justin Chapman on June 11, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    I love this truth. But, I have spoken to several very intelligent people & and have been brushed off ( denial). I can’t see the entire human race ever agreeing on any one concept. But we have to try. I need help though. Where to start??

    • Susan on June 13, 2018 at 10:17 am

      Thank you Justin for your support in the work of the WTM. Yes, as Jeremy explains, the whole arena of the human condition is a very muddied pool and the majority of people are of course going to be sceptical (which is healthy) and then there is the challenging issue of the ‘deaf effect’ so there is naturally a lot of resistance. We humans have lived in deep psychological fear of the issue of the human condition so it makes sense that when the issue is finally addressed and explained that our minds will initially struggle to take in or ‘hear’ what’s being presented. The important opening video to our Freedom Essay series, Video/F. Essay 1: ‘Your block to the most wonderful of all gifts’, quickly describes and explains how to overcome the deaf effect difficulty of accessing this fabulous world-saving and life-transforming understanding of the human condition. The deaf effect is further elaborated on in Video/F. Essay 11 ‘The difficulty of reading FREEDOM that Plato foresaw’. Video/F. Essay 12 may also be very helpful as it is a wonderful ‘deaf effect’ eroding presentation and also of interest may be the beginning of the WTM’s interactive Deaf Effect Course which can be found in Video/F. Essay 13. We have done our best to make these explanations freely available and as accessible as possible on our website, so in our experience it is best to simply direct interested people to http://www.humancondition.com where they can follow the logic for themselves or share short posts and videos from our facebook page to spark their interest. The Freedom Essays are easier to access, they are basically the contents of ‘FREEDOM’ broken up into topics and can be accessed by joining our mailing list at the top of our homepage. And then there is our FAQ section which are shorter presentations again. I hope this is of some assistance to you Justin.

  • Renato Carvalho on June 23, 2018 at 11:40 pm

    I feel totally identified with Laing. I live a very similar situation of aloneness and the trouble lies on the difficulty to find people who are in the same level of understanding and consciousness and really wants to get together, to join all the resources available (inner and outer) and create a strong and powerful energy field in order to generate a critical mass of higher consciousness, proving the hundred monkeys theory to be right.

    Here in Brazil it’s almost impossible. The majority of people, even the so called “spiritualist”, are only concerned with their own survival, locked in the old fashioned family style, where love and care are restricted to their components.

  • GoldenRuler on June 12, 2019 at 10:18 pm

    So wonderful to understand the work of folks who dedicated their lives to the understanding of our, “source”. Psychology, Psychiatry… and the crustal clear description of the Human Condition by one of those masters, R.D. Lang. It is this quest for “the source of our madness” that finds us on the other side of all of it (the madness and the mess that we have created on this planet), and simply, then standing in a whole new world knowing that we “fully deserve to be considered divine beings”, after all! And in that standing and understanding, we simply rise into our natural roles as “the heroes of the story of life on Earth”!

  • MARIA LUIZA DE SOUSA GOMES PEDRO GOMES PEDRO on July 5, 2019 at 6:30 am

    fiquei curiosa e sinto que entendo o essencial —–DEUS não nos abadonou -afastou-se de nós….dá que pensar
    gostaria de ler todas as sugestões , mas não me serei capaz, mas a minha mente vai ficar muito mais ocupada ,do que já estava com o nosso mistério da vida e morte —como nos integramos nele depois do corpo ficar sem alma e o nosso espírito? e A RELAÇÃO DE DEUS CONNOSCO ? E COM OS OUTROS QUE JÁ PARTIRAM?, VOLTAMOS CÁ?
    (VOLTAMOS)…..EU SEI .ETC, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  • dante kun on July 11, 2019 at 2:20 am

    I think RD Laing would have some seriously useful insights on the current opiate epidemic.

  • Larry Sherk on October 28, 2019 at 3:40 am

    This material is precisely what we need to create a transformational society from all the messes we have created. I call your attention to the candidacy of Tulsi Gabbard, who in her own deeply personal way, says the same things.

    • RJ on October 28, 2019 at 10:07 am

      Completely agree Larry that this information IS precisely what we need to create a transformational society! Good on you for saying it! I don’t know a lot about Tulsi Gabbard’s views but from what I do know I don’t think it’s very aligned with what the WTM is talking about at all. For a start Tulsi is a practicing Hindu, and what the WTM is about is biological understanding and knowledge, in fact it brings an end to faith, dogma and any mystical or new age stuff, and reconciles it all. Finally we stand on the solid ground of real and compassionate understanding and I’ve really seen that it’s only that that will bring about all the change we have always wanted and dreamed of, it’s just really, really wonderful!

  • Linda Carroll on December 16, 2019 at 9:02 pm

    Thank you.

  • Hameed on February 12, 2020 at 8:21 pm

    Excellent essay to be read and re-read, to remember, to inculcate in self and grasp fully and act it daily. These are the type of essays that one has to think about everyday to fully understand human condition. Most of the insights contained in this essay, according to Jeremy from the writings of RD Laing, a very thoughtful writer.
    The understanding of the human condition and acting that will no doubt eventually transform the world.
    Well done Jeremy and the team, keep on churning out these essays in pieces not more than ten pages at a time.
    I enjoy reading the essays at a sitting each time.

  • Daniel on June 20, 2020 at 5:32 am

    Please forgive me for sharing my story and why I take an interest in what you have written at length about. People tend to not believe or give credence to what I talk about (which is what you talk about). at one period of time starting at 15 years old until 36 years old I had a progression of spiritual experiences that led me to a condition of consciousness that allowed me to see people beyond what others see. My device of mind that I used was called translation. People would comment to me that I was the only person in their whole life that could see them truly for who they were. Truly something was different in my experience at that time that gave me insights into an inner dimension. I would wake up in the morning and I would know the day ahead of me and the issues that people would bring to me within the first hour of my day. I was always turning things around for people so that what was unseen was seen. It was always liberating. Why would they lie? one reason simply was they didn’t want to hurt another person. They forgave people for their foibles and gave them the benefit of the doubt because of situations that would ensnare them. I walked in this light for close to 10 years and then sickness and old age overcame me and I lost this vigor to face life, similar to the Laing story you talk about.