Monday, May 27, 2013

Two Disappointing Views

Escape from FreedomEscape from Freedom
by Erich Fromm

“If the meaning of life has become doubtful, if one's relations to others and to oneself do not offer security, then fame is one means to silence one's doubts. It has a function to be compared with that of the Egyptian pyramids or the Christian faith in immortality: it elevates one's individual life from its limitations and instability to the plane of indestructability; if one's name is known to one's contemporaries and if one can hope that it will last for centuries, then one's life has meaning and significance by this very reflection of it in the judgments of others.”  ― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

Fromm's book explores over a few short chapters humanity's shifting relationship with freedom, with particular regard to the personal consequences of its absence. Its special emphasis is the psychosocial conditions that facilitated the rise of Nazism. Fromm distinguishes between 'freedom from' (negative freedom) and 'freedom to' (positive freedom). The former refers to emancipation from restrictions such as social conventions placed on individuals by other people or institutions. This is the kind of freedom typified by the Existentialism of Sartre, and has often been fought for historically, but according to Fromm, on its own it can be a destructive force unless accompanied by a creative element, 'freedom to' the use of freedom to employ spontaneously the total integrated personality in creative acts. This, he argues, necessarily implies a connectedness with others that goes beyond the superficial bonds of conventional social intercourse: " the spontaneous realization of the self, man unites himself anew with the world..."
Freedom, argues Fromm, became an important issue in the 20th century, being seen as something to be fought for and defended. As 'freedom from- is not an experience we enjoy in itself, Fromm suggests that many people, rather than utilising it successfully, attempt to minimise its negative effects by developing thoughts and behaviours that provide some form of security. Fromm suggests that Fascism may arise anywhere a people devolve their thinking on authorities rather than doing it themselves: "The right to express our thoughts ... means something only if we are able to have thoughts of our own". In this he echoes Alexis de Tocqueville, who in his 1840 book Democracy in America stated "It is vain to summon a people who have been rendered so dependent on the central power to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity."

To Have or to Be? The Nature of the PsycheTo Have or to Be? 
The Nature of the Psyche
by Erich Fromm

“Our conscious motivations, ideas, and beliefs are a blend of false information, biases, irrational passions, rationalizations, prejudices, in which morsels of truth swim around and give the reassurance albeit false, that the whole mixture is real and true. The thinking processes attempt to organize this whole cesspool of illusions according to the laws of plausibility. This level of consciousness is supposed to reflect reality; it is the map we use for organizing our life.”  ― Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be? The Nature of the Psyche

Fromm states that people in our society have become obsessed with acquiring property, keeping it and increasing it. People become property to be owned and used. He rejects the ideas of the enlightenment and those thinkers who believe people can live freely and trade with one another maintaining a respect for each other through sharing mutual values. His views about people seem to stem from a static view of power rather than a dynamic view of the possibilities for individuals who choose to live a flourishing life. He claims that humans have a deeply rooted desire to express themselves, yet he does not explain the apparent contradiction between this view and the social structure that forces people to have rather than to be. Joy is experienced through productive behavior which, for Fromm often ends in sadness. It was disappointing to read a book that was contradictory on so many levels.

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