Random Acts of Madness.

"In the context of our present pervasive madness that we call normality, sanity, freedom, all our frames of reference are ambiguous and equivocal.
A man who prefers to be dead rather than Red is normal. A man who says he has lost his soul is mad. A man who says that men are machines may be a great scientist. A man who says he is a machine is 'depersonalized' in psychiatric jargon. A man who says that Negroes are an inferior race may be widely respected. A man who says his whiteness is a form of cancer is certifiable...
... our 'normal' 'adjusted' state is too often the abdication of ecstasy, the betrayal of our true potentialities... many of us are only too successful in acquiring a false self to adapt to false realities."
R. D. Laing, The Divided Self, Preface to the Pelican Edition.
On 16th March it was reported in the press that a man in Telford had committed suicide by jumping from the top of a multi-storey car park. Apparently a number of members of the public gathered at the foot of the car park in order to witness this tragic spectacle. In itself, one might venture, a somewhat ghoulish thing to do. But this was not enough for some, who actually urged the man, before he plunged to his death, to "get on with it". Others were reported to have said, "go on, jump", while some raised the level of tawdriness by shouting, "how far can you bounce?", and filming what happened on their mobile phones. Whether or not these people actually hastened the man's death is, I suppose, uncertain, but he did eventually, despite the efforts of specialist negotiators, take his own life.
One wonders about the state of mind you would have to be in to take such drastic action, but even more than that, one is left agog at the level of desensitised cruelty of the crowd that gathered to watch it all. If one can, then, speculate as to the condition of the man's mental health, one can also be left pondering the mind set of the supposedly sane onlookers.
Indeed, this got me thinking about R. D. Laing's comments which are quoted above, which seem to point to a sort of relativity of madness. For who is more harmful or threatening; a man who decides to kill himself, or a baying crowd which urges him to do it?
Such random acts of madness committed by those regarded as "sane" or "normal" only reinforce this notion. Indeed, one only has to turn on the TV and watch the news to find some truly bizarre behaviour. Recently it was reported that a Conservative politician had negotiated with the extreme right-wing English Defence League in order for them to march through his constituency. His idea had apparently been that he would ultimately stop the arranged march in order to garner votes for himself. The politician in question was of Asian descent and had a military background. In his defence he said that he had tried to employ military tactics to try to bring disparate elements of his community closer together. Just how you do that by doing what he actually did reflects, to me at least, a somewhat deranged view of how such issues should be tackled. And then there's all those members of UKIP, seemingly queueing up to make outrageously bigoted statements. Perhaps some of the sheen is at last wearing off that particular political party as they are revealed more and more for what they truly are, but this hasn't stopped a significant number of our populace from supporting them, an act of collective madness if ever there was one.
Perhaps it is as Laing says, that we are all too successful in acquiring false selves to adapt to false realities. This seems close to Marx's notion of false consciousness, as how could one otherwise explain our economic collapse of 2008 and the subsequent lack of any meaningful comeuppance for those who actually caused it, while the welfare state, the public sector and the NHS are all attacked and perilously close to being dismantled. All this coming under the banner of "austerity", which has been accompanied by a hefty amount of propaganda to mislead, misdirect and misrepresent. A "false reality" indeed.
So what of, as Laing calls them, our "true potentialities"? I believe, and I think what Laing may have been hinting at, is that far from taking us away from reality, mental ill health can sometimes, if we recover from it, bring us closer to it. It can lead us towards a truth far removed from that simply imposed by our own society. Mental illness can be, as well as a sometimes tortuous experience, a sort of journey through oneself whereby one becomes more compassionate, more humane, not less. As such it can be a counterpoint to our 'normal' 'adjusted' state, a reminder that many of us, with our false selves and false realities, are both repressed and oppressed. To all those with experience of mental illness, I can then heartily say that you should never think too badly of yourself. After all, when, as Laing puts it, normality, sanity and freedom become a "betrayal of our true potentialities", you could never be as mad as the world you inhabit.


bazza said…
It is ironic the Laing himself is pretty much marginalised now. He is a real hero to me for the brave things he said.
What you have described is absolutely outrageous of course and illustrates how little mental illness is understood, even now.
I lost a close friend two years ago who took his own life. All I heard people say say was "How could he do that with a beautiful wife and two lovely daughters". They never seem to grasp that if he had not had a serious mental issue he would not have acted irrationally. It seems there is still a long way to go.
Listening to Colin Blunstone's 'Say You Don't Mind'.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Hi bazza,
It's good to hear from you.
As you say, it is ironic that Laing is pretty much marginalised now. It seems that many feel he went too far and discredited himself by somehow "romanticising" what it is to have a mental illness. But as one who has experienced such things, and much like you, I admire the brave things he said.
As for your friend, bazza, one can only extend one's sincerest condolences. I suppose it is still hard for people to understand that depression and such are indeed illnesses which can have very serious effects. I had a conversation recently in which the person I was speaking to seemed to hold the belief that if you're wealthy you couldn't possibly suffer from a mental illness, as all your material needs would be met. How could you, then, fail to be happy? I tried to explain that things don't exactly work that way, but I fear my protestations may have fallen on deaf ears. Mental illness, then, must remain one of the most misunderstood and taboo subjects.
Thanks bazza. I'll be over to your fabulous blog soon!
Best Wishes,
Dixie@dcrelief said…

This is both, an excellent post, and most well written. I agree that Laing describes well what society has moved into.

The new, what I call a "Fad," of positive thinking only, and political and social correctness seems to backfire, as people actually become less tolerant and unlikely to seek understanding of so many issues; not just those of the mental health arena.

I read about the man at the car park and was horrified. Strangely, as I began reading the article, I had the urge to run to him and plead for his life; ask him to reconsider. I was totally blown away by the crowd's reaction and behavior toward him. (How could they do that? I understood their choice less than his choice.)

I've been reading, "Love Yourself - like your life depends on it," by Kamal Ravikant. An interesting read and approach to self awareness and hope. I've a friend who has been severely depressed for months and I try to keep up with this person, as much as allowed. When the wall is up, you know, someone does not want your help... but it's not their fault that they put up the wall. I know you understand what I'm trying to say here.

Thank you for posting this. I'm so glad I got to read it!! You
ve provided some insight I needed. Enjoy your week!

Most sincerely.
David said…
Hi Dixie,
Apologies for the delay in replying and thank you for your comment and continued interest in my humble, little blog.
I'm glad that I was able to give some insight that you needed, but sorry to hear that you have a friend who is depressed. It can be difficult trying to help people with mental illness, because as you say, it can sometimes appear that they don't want your help. However, I tend to think that just letting people know that you're there for them can be a great help. Most of all, I believe that with time most things can heal, so even if it seems your help is not needed now, there may come a time when "the wall", as you put it, comes down a little and your input will be more readily accepted.
Hope all's well with you, Dixie.
From your blogging pal,
Dixie@dcrelief said…
Hi David.

I would have returned sooner, but decided to participate in the A-Z Challenge. It's a lot of fun, but consumes time visiting so many blogs.

Update on my friend. He accepted a job doing a furniture makeover for an individual client. (My friend is a carpenter.) He's definitely happier, utilizing creativity and skill.

You know I'm an artist, but may not know I've done many paint jobs restoring or changing furniture. I was quite surprised when he hired me to do the gold paint trim around the three table edges and legs. It has been fun too. Ironically his wall has dropped some; more than I expected. It's great seeing the light reappear in his eyes! Thank you, David.

So by day I'm doing my blogs and in the afternoons, I get to have fun being creative in paints! And with a bit of money in the savings, I'm a happy camper.

Just wanted you to know that appreciate your input, and genuine concern. Looking forward to your next post!!

Most sincerely,


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