Psychoanalyst R. D. Laing on Normality:
“From the moment of birth, when the Stone Age baby confronts the twentieth century mother, the baby is subjected to those forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father, and their parents, and their parents before them, have been. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its potentialities, and on the whole this enterprise is successful. By the time the new human being is fifteen or so, we are left with a being like ourselves, a half-crazed creature more or less adjusted to a mad world. This is normality in our present age……
The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man.
Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal.
Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years.”‘
“The Politics of Experience” (New York: Ballantine, 1967), pp. 58, 28.
Laing is making an extreme statement, I realize. But there are insights in what he writes, as well, for instance, when he says that habits are imposed on us early in life to make us conform to certain ways of thinking and acting – habits which alienate us from our conscience and from our authentic self.
That’s close to the teaching of “mechanical man” in Gurdjieff’s writing.
The Hindu teaching about “vasanas” or sense impressions (that we cultivate) seems close too. The vasanas.drive us (through cause and effect) into mechanical action. The emphasis here is less on external conditioning as on our own unconscious role in creating mechanical patterns.
In Christianity, the closest teaching is the one in the Gospel about casting off the “old man” and putting on the new. The “old ma”n conforms to the outward appearance of things; he’s driven by the “old Adam”. I take this to mean biological urge (one form of habit and enslavement), but surely it must also include conventions formed by society and by state, although we have to distinguish between these types as well.
Couldn’t that be why one of the teachings of the Gospel – a controversial teaching – is that the love of God comes before love of parents and family? And that it can bring a sword between family members?
If we set aside the theology for a moment, isn’t that close to Laing’s comments about our need to escape our family conditioning, a conditioning imposed on us often in the name of love?
All these traditions are very dissimilar and we can’t gloss over the differences, but the underlying phenomena are not that far apart, either. Laing’s conclusions can be indiscriminate, but the questioning of childhood conditioning seems very useful.
Those are my thoughts, anyway, coming from my interest in how and why people become deluded or propagandized.