“Sometimes family weirdos just get a bad rap.

— Mirabel, Disney’s Encanto (2021)

“But between the impossible and the trivial, there may be a way that is both feasible and significant…” writes R.D.Laing, the daring explorer of human mind in his collection of thought provoking essays, The Politics of the Family, as he navigates through the ways in which individual experiences are tailored to fit into a family’s politics.

Laing comments on how we lead double lives sanctioned by society. For instance, society approves a marriage ceremony or parenthood while it is blithely indifferent to whether the people involved are feeling it. However, this isn’t a problem so long as the people involved are silent about it. But the moment someone shows discomfort, they ought to be addressed adequately.

His meditation on institutionalization is not just limited to mental illnesses. rather it stretches out to the domains of our day to day lives. Laing uses the schizophrenic thought insertion to illustrate how defense mechanisms orchestrate within families to dictate narratives of existence. As we grow up we learn to differentiate dichotomies, or as Laing puts it, we learn about distinctions, based on the existing rules in the family. So, for instance nothing is good or bad unless we think so, according to the rules of the family. As we think of, for and by the family, our experience is shaped accordingly and that institutionalize our existence. In other words, we see the world as our family wills.

Laing explores how this is accomplished. He begins from his ignorance about his own family so as to reflect on how little we all know about our families, our roots. He demonstrates how this ignorance about our past enables us to repeat the past. It is in this void of ignorance that the family project their attributions. We are induced to experience those attributions. When they repeatedly tell us “you are a good/nasty kid”, we have little choice to be anything else.

According to Laing, every family is an intergenerational play, where players have their entrances, and their exits and as each player leaves, the family compensates with a new one- a grandson who is very much like his grandfather, a daughter who takes after her mother and so on, our own customized versions of eternal recurrences

Families make up the society and the society, in turn shapes the family. What binds this complex web of relations characterized by defensive projections and introjections, all culminating onto the infant in the family, the symptom bearer. Thus, echoing Bronfenbrenner, it takes a village to raise a child. We have all been in the position of that child, who was instrumentally shaped through a series of operations to find our place in the distinction that defines us against them. Laing concludes:

It (Us vs Them) seems to be a comparatively simple knot, but it is tied very very tight- round the throat, as it were, of the whole human species. But don’t believe me because I say so, look in the mirror and see for yourself.

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