Saturday, January 09, 2010

Sometimes the Centre Cannot Hold 3

I have mentioned so many times in these posts that we humans have outrageously exaggerated our own importance. I base this view mostly on my lived experience. One of the great stories of the Bible is that of the Tower of Babel where a certain group (representatives of Everyman and Everywoman) decide to build a tower that will scale the heights of heaven and bring humankind into the court of the gods. (I remember, way back in 1976, having a wonderful Biblical scholar, Dr Michael Maher teach us the Bible. Thankfully he was an academic, and not a Bible thumper. He approached it with literary and good sound exegetical skills. The Bible remains for me a marvellous compendium of Ancient Near Eastern Literature, not an inspired script as I age and grow into an open and benign agnosticism.) Anyway, it was from Michael's lips that I first heart the word "hubris" to describe humankind's pride - the illusion, or perhaps more correctly, the delusion that he/she is the very pinnacle of creation. Thinking that we are top of the pile has led beyond delusions into wreaking havoc on the world and its wondrous environment - dear long-suffering Gaia - and, being well on the way to destroying others of our own species in the countless wars that have engulfed and still do this small planet. And this, all because we think, nay believe, that we are important, or too important at any rate. ( Now, I owe a lot of my views here, though heavily personalised and shaped by my intuitions and personal reasoning, to my reading two great contemporary British philosophers, viz, A.C. Grayling and John Gray, who are critics one of the other.) If I bring these thoughts to their logical conclusion, I truly believe that not alone is humankind racist against its very self, but also specist insofar as it exploits, ill-treats and destroys other species both animal and plant. Anyway, that is a topic for another debate, but at least the reader can see the drift of my thoughts.

Now back to the questions of psychiatry and good sound mental health. Humankind's obsession with power and control in all areas of its little life has long been its Achilles heal. In all areas - State, Church, Medicine, Education etc. - power rears its ugly head and one faction within any of these areas of human endeavour believes another totally misguided. And so today "truths" are open to debate and thankfully the singular The Truth has long been dismissed and put to bed. The trouble emerges when one faction believes that its truth is The Truth. Here base, and often unconscious, motivations rule - the instinct to control and wield power.

Returning to the words of the great Dr Ronald Laing, written as far back as 1964 one wonders how much has really changed:
Psychiatry could be, and some psychiatrists are, on the side of transcendence, of genuine freedom, and of true human growth. But psychiatry can so easily be a technique of brainwashing, of inducing beaviour that is adjusted, by (preferably) non-injurious torture. In the best places, where straitjackets are abolished, doors are unlocked, leucotomies largely foregone, these can be replaced by more subtle lobotomies and tranqillizers that place the bars of Bedlam and the locked doors inside the patient. Thus I would wish to emphasize that our normal adjusted state is too often the abdication of ecstasy, the betrayal of our true potentialities that many of us are only too successful in acquiring a false self to adapt to false realities.
Now a little about objectivity versus subjectivity or vice versa. I was lucky to have done a traditional Arts degree once upon a time, namely a B.A., and I was equally lucky to have studied Gaeilge and Mathematics as the two subjects of that degree. That led me to value both the arts (subjectivity) and science (in this case mathematical science - objectivity) as equals on the human stage of activity. There are those who value one of these above the other. I remember once discussing the nature of teaching way back in the late 70s of the last century - as to whether it was an art or a science. There were people who argued both sides of the debate with equal energy and conviction, and thankfully a third group, to which I belonged, who believed it was both. And then there are the Social Sciences - where do they fit it? Well, they are human sciences which try to describe humankind in its totality - taking into account many more subjective as well as objective factors. Then there are The Humanities which vere almost totally towards the more subjective frame of reference. Then, of course, there are the Natural Sciences which are almost 100% objective. But even this latter statement can be contended insofar as with the use of electron microscopes the observer influences the behaviour of the observed data. Perhaps subjectivity and objectivity are not really what they seem after all?

Then, add into that mix, the obsession of humankind with power and then you have a very unstable compound indeed. Laing uses a lovely French quotation on the front pages:
Je donne une oeuvre subjective ici, oeuvre cependant qui tend de toutes ses forces vers l'objectivité. E. Minkowski
What one loves here with Laing is his admitted subjectivity which is searching for an objectivity in the vein of Minkowski. And so, our man, Laing begins his wonderful little humane book, The Divided Self. (1960, 1964) with a thrust towards integration (The psychiatrist Anthony Storr uses this word "integration" as the polar opposite of "dis-integration" as the goal of good psychiatry and good psychotherapy.) Let me quote the opening paragraph in full and notice how it is practically fully in harmony with what May was saying in his equally classic little book Man's Search for Himself:
The term schizoid refers to an individual the totality of whose experience is split in two main ways: in the first place there is a rent in his relation with his world and, in the second, there is a disruption in his relation with himself. Such a person is not able to experience himself 'together with' others or 'at home' in the world, but on the contrary, he experiences himself in despairing aloneness and isolation; moreover, he does not experience himself as a complete person but rather as split in various ways, perhaps as a mind more or less tenuously linked to a body, as two or nore selves, and so on. The Divided Self, p. 17)
And so Laing launches into his existential exploration of the world of madness - a young 28 year old psychiatrist, wishing to reach out and to "heal" in that deeeply humane urge that is the heart of the medical profession. One is immediately caugh up in his deeply passionate and idealistic belief in the human project as well as in the medical project of healing. Personally, I am caught up in the almost universal and total sweep of the project, romantic existentialist that I am:
Existential phenomenology attempts to characterize the nature of a person's experience of the world and himself. It is not so much an attempt to desribe particular objects of his experioence as to set all particular experiences within the context of his whole being-in-his-world. The mad things said and done by the schizophrenic will remain essentially a closed book if one does not understand their existential context. (Ibid., p. 17)
What I love about Laing is that he opened up a whole world, the world of so-called madness, and made of it an open book which declared unto the world that most of us are madder than we admit and far less sane than we can possibly imagine.

1 comment:

~Red Tin Heart~ said...

Wonderful post..We do tend to think of ourselves more often than not. I hate it.
xoxo Nita