2013-07-14T21:19:25+01:00

Deeply rooted desire to be

Here are my notes from book To Have or To Be? by Erich Fromm:

  • p2 The grandeur of the Great Promise, the marvelous material and intellectual achievements of the industrial age, must be visualized in order to understand the trauma that realization of its failure is producing today.
  • p2 The dream of being independent masters of our lives ended when we began awakening to the fact that we have all become cogs in the bureaucratic machine, with our thoughts, feelings, and tastes manipulated by government and industry and the mass communications that they control.
  • p4 We are a society of notoriously unhappy people: lonely, anxious, depressed, destructive, dependent - people who are glad when we have killed the time we are trying so hard to save.
  • p5 To be an egoist refers not only to my behavior but to my character. It means: that I want everything for myself; that possessing, not sharing, gives me pleasure; that I must become greedy because if my aim is having, I am more the more I have; that I must feel antagonistic toward all others: my customers whom I want to deceive, my competitors whom I want to destroy, my workers whom I want to exploit. I can never be satisfied, because there is no end to my wishes; I must by envious of of those who have more and afraid of those who have less. But I have to repress all these feelings in order to represent my self (to others as well as to myself) as the similing, rational, sincere, kind human being everybody pretends to be.
  • p6 Through a number of steps eighteenth-century capitalism underwent a radical change: economic behavior became separate from ethics and human values. Indeed, the economic machine was supposed to be an autonomous entity, independent of human needs and human will. It was a system that ran by itself and according to its own laws. The suffering of the workers as well as the destruction of an ever increasing number of small enterprises for the sake of the growth of ever larger corporations was an economic necessity that one might regret, but that one had to accept as if it were the outcome of a natural law.
  • p16 By being I refer to the mode of existence in which one neither has anything nor craves to have something, but is joyous, employs one's faculties productively, is oned to the world.
  • p21 Living structures can be only if they become; they can exist only if they change. Change and growth are inherent qualities of the life process.
  • p23 I might only remark here that as far as leisure time is concerned, automobiles, television, travel, and sex are the main objects of present-day consumerism, and while we speak of them as leisure-time activities, we would be better to call them leisure-time passivities.
  • p23 Modern consumers may identify themselves by the formula: I am = what I have and what I consume.
  • p25 In fact, the having-type individuals feel rather disturbed by new thoughts or ideas about a subject, because the new puts into question the fixed sum of information they have. Indeed, to one for whom having is the main form of relatedness to the world, ideas that cannot easily be pinned down (or penned down) are frightening - like everything else that grows and changes, and thus is not controllable.
  • p28 Neither expects to change his own opinion, or that his opponent's opinion will change. Each is afraid of changing his own opinion, precisely because it is one of his possessions, and hence its loss would mean an impoverishment.
  • p31 Being-authority is grounded not only in the individual's competence to fulfill certain social functions, but equally so in the very essence of a personality that has achieved a high degree of growth and integration. Such persons radiate authority and do not have to give orders, threaten, bribe. They are highly developed individuals who demonstrate by what they are - and not mainly by what they do or say - what human beings can be.
  • p32 With the formation of societies based on a hierarchical order and much larger and more complex than those of the hunters and food gatherers, authority by competence yields to authority by social status. This does no mean that the existing authority is necessarily incompetent; it does mean that competence is not an essential element of authority.
  • p33 Our understanding of the quality of knowing in the being mode of existence can be enhanced by the insights of such thinkers as the Buddha, the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, Master Eckhard, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx. In their view, knowing begins with the awareness of the deceptiveness of our common sense perceptions, in the sense that our picture of physical reality does not correspond to what is "really real" and, mainly, in the sense that most people are half-awake, half-dreaming, and are unaware that most of what they hold to be true and self-evident is illusion produced by the suggestive influence of the social world in which they live. Knowing, then, begins with the shattering of illusions, with disillusionment. Knowing means to penetrate through the surface, in order to arrive at the roots, and hence the causes; knowing means to "see" reality in its nakedness. Knowing does not mean to be in possession of the truth; it means to penetrate the surface and to strive critically and actively in order to approach truth ever more closely.
  • p35 Faith, in the having more, is the possession of an answer for which one has no rational proof. It consists of formulations created by other, which one accepts because one submits to those others - usually a bureaucracy. It carries the feeling of certainty because of the real (or only imagined) power of the bureaucracy. It is the entry ticket to join a large group of people. It relieves one of the hard task of thinking for oneself and making decisions. One becomes one of the beati possidentes, the happy owners of the right faith. Faith, in the having mode, gives certainty; it claims to pronounce ultimate, unshakable knowledge, which is believable because the power of those who promulgate and protect the faith seems unshakable. Indeed, who would not choose certainty, if all it requires is to surrender one's independence?
  • p37 What is social convenience, custom, mutual economic interest, shared interest in children, mutual dependency, or mutual hate or fear is consciously experienced as "love" - up to the moment when one or both partners recognize that they do not love each other, and that they never did.
  • p38 The marriage contract gives each partner the exclusive possession of the other's body, feelings, and care. Nobody has to be won over any more, because love has become something one has, a property. The two cease to make the effort to be lovable and to produce love, hence they become boring, and hence their beauty disappears. ... Now, instead of loving each other, they settle for owning together what they have: money, social standing, a home, children. Thus, in some cases, the marriage initiated on the basis of love becomes transformed into a friendly ownership, a corporation in which the two egotisms are pooled into one: that of the "family".
  • p40 One of the main themes of the Old Testament is: leave what you have; free yourself from all fetters; be!
  • p51 When he says that "a man ought to be empty of his own knowledge," he does not mean that one should forget what on knows, but rather one should forget that one knows.
  • p52 First of all, we should be free from our own things and our own actions. This does not mean that we should neither possess anything nor do anything; it means we should not be bound, tied, chained to what we own and what we have, not even to God.
  • p57 Our judgements are extremely biased because we live in a society that rests on private property, profit, and power as the pillars of its existence. To acquire, to won, and to make a profit are the sacret and unalienable rights of the individual in the industrial society.
  • p58 Perhaps the greatest enjoyment is not so much in owning material things but in owning living being.
  • p58 The circle is endless and vicious: the husband exploits the wife, she exploits the small children, and the adolescent males soon join the elder men in exploiting the women, and so on.
  • p59 Our ego is the most important object of our property feeling, for it comprises many things: our body, our name, our social status, our possessions (including our knowledge), the image we have of ourselves and the image we want others to have of us. Our ego is a mixture of real qualities, such as knowledge and skills, and of certain fictitious qualities that we build around a core of reality. But the essential point is not so much what the ego's content is, but that the ego is felt as a thing we each posses, and that this "thing" is the basis of our sense of identity.
  • p60 ...the change in social character that has occurred during the past century and a half, i.e., from the "hoarding" to the "marketing" character.
  • p62 Many of these same young people had not progressed from freedom from to freedom to; they simply rebelled without attempting to find a goal toward which to move, except that of freedom from restrictions and dependence.
  • p64 The growing person is forced to give up most of his or her autonomous, genuine desires and interests, and his of her own will, and to adopt a will and desires and feelings that are not autonomous but superimposed by the social patterns of thought and feeling. Society, and the family as its psychosocial agent, has to solve a difficult problem: How to break a person's will without his being aware of it? Yet by a complicated process of indoctrination, rewards, punishments, and fitting ideology, it solves this task by and large so well that most people believe they are following their own will and are unaware that their will itself is conditioned and manipulated.
  • p65 The effort made to suppress sex would be beyond our understanding if it were for the sake of sex as such. Not sex, however, but the breaking of human will is the reason for vilifying sex. A great number of the so-called primitive societies have no sex tabu whatever. Since they function without exploitation and domination, they do not have to break the individual's will.
  • p67 The craving for fame is not just secular vanity - it has a religious quality for those who do not believe in the traditional hereafter any more. Publicity paves the way to immortality, and the public relations agents become the new priests.
  • p67 If my self is constituted by what I have, then I am immortal if the things I have are indestructible.
  • p71 Having refers to things and things are fixed and describable. Being refers to experience, and human experience is in principle not describable. What is fully describable is our persona - the mask we each wear, the ego we present - for this persona is in itself a thing. In contrast, the living human being is not a dead image and cannot be described like a thing. In fact, the living human being cannot be described at all. Indeed, much can be said about me, about my character, about my total orientation to life. This insightful knowledge can go very far in understanding and describing my own or another's psychical structure. But the total me, my whole individuality, my suchness that is as unique as my fingerprints are, can never be fully understood, not even by empathy, for no two human beings are entirely alike. Only in the process of mutual alive relatedness can the other and I overcome the barrier of separateness, inasmuch as we both participate in the dance of life. Yet our full identification of each other can never be achieved. Even a single act of behavior cannot be fully described. One could write pages of description of the Mona Lisa's smile, and still the pictured smile would not have been caught in words - but not because her smile is so "mysterious." Everybody's smile is mysterious (unless it is the learned, synthetic smile of the marketplace). No one can fully describe the expression of interest, enthusiasm, biophilia, or of hate or narcissism that one may see in the eyes of another person, or the variety of facial expressions, of gaits, of postures, of intonations that exists among people.
  • p72 To be active means to give expression to one's faculties, talents, to the wealth of human gifts with which - though in varying degrees - every human being is endowed. It means to renew oneself, to grow, to flow out, to love, to transcend the prison of one's isolated ego, to be interested, to "list," to give.
  • p77 Optimal realization of one's species nature (in the case of people, human nature) is the goal of life; the closer we arrive at the model of human nature, the greater are our freedom and our well-being.
  • p80 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 truth.
  • p81 Indeed, a great deal of our energy is used to hide from ourselves what we know, and the degree of such repressed knowledge can hardly be overestimated.
  • p82 We human beings have an inherent and deeply rooted desire to be: to express our faculties, to be active, to be related to others, to escape the prison cell of selfishness.
  • p85 The human desire to experience union with others is rooted in the specific conditions of existence that characterize the human species and is one of the strongest motivations of human behavior.
  • p86 It is also the main cause of the need to adapt; human being are more afraid of being outcasts than even of dying.
  • p88 Not to move forward, to stay where we are, to regress, in other words to rely on what we have, is very tempting, for what we have, we know; we can hold onto it, feel secure in it. We fear, and consequently avoid, taking a step into unknown, the uncertain; for, indeed, while the step may not appear risky to us after we have taken it, before we take that step the new aspects beyond it appear very risky, and hence frightening. Only the old, the tried, is safe; or so it seems. Every new step contains the danger of failure, and that is one of the reasons people are so afraid of freedom.
  • p89 If I am what I have and what I have is lost, who am I? Nobody but a defeated, deflated, pathetic testimony to a wrong way of living.
  • p90 While having is based on some thing that is diminished by use, being grows by practice. (The "burning bush" that is not consumed is the biblical symbol for this paradox.) The power of reason, of love, of artistic and intellectual creation, all essential powers grow through the process of being expressed. What is spent is not lost, but on the contrary, what is kept is lost.
  • p92 In contrast to physiological needs, such as hunger, that have definite satiation points due to the physiology of the body, mental greed - and all greed is mental, even if it is satisfied via the body - has no satiation point, since its consummation does not fill the inner emptiness, boredom, loneliness, and depression it is meant to overcome.
  • p93 The idea of a classless society in a so-called socialist world filled with the spirit of greed is as illusory - and dangerous - as the idea of permanent peace among greedy nations.
  • p95 In this respect, modern society is in the same position the Hebrews were in three thousand years ago.
  • p97 Joy, then, is what we experience in the process of growing nearer to the goal of becoming ourself.
  • p97 ...the people must learn to fear authority, and no only in the person of the "law enforcement" officers because they carry weapons. This fear is not enough of a safeguard for the proper functioning of the state; the citizen must internalize this and transform obedience into a moral and religious category: sin. People respect the law not only because they are afraid but also because they fell guilty for their disobedience. This feeling of guild can be overcome by the forgiveness that only the authority itself can grant. The conditions for such forgiveness are: the sinner repents, is punished, and by accepting punishment submits again. The sequence: sin (disobedience) → feeling of guilt → new submission (punishment) → forgiveness, is a vicious circle, inasmuch as each act of disobedience leads to increased obedience.
  • p98 The state needed religion to have an ideology that fused disobedience and sin; the church needed believers whom the state had trained in the virtues of obedience. Both used the institution of the family, whose function it was to train child in obedience from the first moment it showed a will of its own. The self-will of the child had to be broken in order to prepare it for its proper functioning later as a citizen.
  • p100 Being deprived of the original harmony with nature, characteristic of the animal whose life is determined by build-in instincts, being endowed with reason and self-awareness, we cannot help experiencing our utter separateness from every other human being. In Catholic theology this state of existence, complete separateness and estrangement from each other, not bridged by love, is the definition of "Hell."
  • p104 The whole concept of past, present, and future, i.e., of time, enters into our lives due to our bodily existence: the limited duration of our life, the constant demand of our body to be taken care of, the nature of the physical world that we have to use in order to sustain ourselves.
  • p105 Only in our free hours do we seem to have a certain choice. Yet we usually organize our leasure as we organize out work. Or we rebel against tyrant time by being absolutely lazy. By not doing anything except disobeying time's demands, we have illusion that we are free, when we are, in fact, only paroled from our time-prison.
  • p110 To clarify, "religion" as I use it here does not refer to a system that has necessarily yo do with a concept of God or with idols or even to a system perceived as religion, but to any group-shared system of thought and action that offers the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion. Indeed, in this broad sense of the word no culture of the past or present, and it seems no culture in the future, can be considered as not having religion. This definition of "religion" does not tell us anything about its specific content. People may worship animals, trees, idols or gold or stone, an invisible god, a saintly person, or a diabolic leader; they may worship their ancestors, their nation, their class or party, money or success. Their religion may be conductive to the development of destructiveness or of love, of domination or of solidarity; it may further their power of reason or paralyze it. They may be aware of their system as being a religious one, different from those of the secular realm, or they may think that they have no religion, and interpret their devotion to certain allegedly secular aims, such as power, money, or success, as nothing but their concern for the practical and the expedient. The question is not one of religion or not? but of which kind of religion? - whether it is one that furthers human development, the unfolding of specifically human powers, or one that paralyzes human growth.
  • p112 Lacking the capacity to act by the command of instincts while possessing the capacity for self-awareness, reason, and imagination - new qualities that go beyond the capacity for instrumental thinking of even the cleverest primates - the human species needed a frame of orientation and an object of devotion in order to survive.
  • p113 But map is not enough as a guide for action; we also need a goal that tells us where to go. Animals have no such problems. Their instinct provide them with a map as well as with goals. But lacking instinctive determination and having brain that permits us to think of many directions in which we can go, we need an object of total devotion, a focal proclaimed - values. We need such an object of devotion in order to integrate our energies in one direction, to transcend our isolated existence, with all its doubts and insecurities, and to answer our need to a meaning to life.
  • p116 European - North American history, in spite of the conversion to the church, is a history of conquest, pride, greed; our highest values are: to be stronger than others, to be victorious, to conquer others and exploit them. These values coincide with our ideal of "manliness": only the one who can fight and conquer is a man; anyone who is not strong in the use of force is weak, i.e., "unmanly."
  • p120 I have called this phenomenon the marketing character because it is based on experiencing oneself as a commodity, and one's value not as "use value" but as "exchange value." The living being becomes a commodity on the "personality market." The principle of evaluation is the same on both the personality and the commodity markets: oont he one, personalities are offered for sale; on the other commodities. Value in both cases is their exchange value. for which "use value" is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. Although the proportion of skill and human qualities on the one hand and personality on the other hand as prerequisites for success varies, the "personality factor" always plays a decisive role. Success depends largely on how well persons sell themselves on the market, how well they get their personalities across, how nice a "package" they are; whether they are "cheerful," "sound," "aggressive," "reliable," "ambitious"; furthermore, what their family backgrounds are, what clubs they belong to, and whether they know the "right" people. The type of personality required depends to some degree on the special field in which a person may choose to work. A stockbroker, a salesperson, a secretary, a railroad executive, a college professor, or a hotel manager must each offer a different kind of personality that regardless of their differences, must fulfill one condition: to be in demand. ... But since success depends largely on how one sells one's personality, one experiences oneself as commodity or, rather, simultaneously as the seller and the commodity to be sold. A person is not concerned with his or her life and happiness, but with becoming salable. The aim of the marketing character is complete adaptation, so as to be desirable under all conditions of the personality market. The marketing character personalities do not even have egos (as people in the nineteenth century did) to hold onto, that belong to them, that do not change. For they constantly change their egos, according to the principle: "I am as you desire me."
  • p129 The aim of socialism was to give the whole population the same pleasure of consumption as capitalism gave only to a minority. Socialism and communism were build on the bourgeois concept of materialism.
  • p133 If one takes the world as it is, it is impossible to endow it with meaning in which the aim and goals of Man and of Mankind make sense.
  • p134 Economy as a content of life is a deadly illness, because infinite growth does not fit into a finite world. That economy should not be the content of life has been told to mankind by all its great teachers; that it cannot be is evident today. If one wants to describe the deadly illness in more detail, one can say that it is similar to an addiction, like alcoholism or drug addition. It does not matter too much whether it seeks its satisfaction only in a crude materialistic way. Poison is poison, even if wrapped in silver paper. ... If spiritual culture, the culture of the inner Man, is neglected, then selfishness remains the dominating power in Man and a system of selfishness, like capitalism, fits this orientation better than a system of love for one's fellow being. --E. F. Schumacher
  • p137 ...liberate human being from those socioeconomic and political conditions that make people inhuman - prisoners of things, machines, and their own greed.
  • p142 One cannot construct submarines by reading Jules Verne; one cannot construct a human society by reading the prophets.
  • p150 And most people are unaware of how deadening the bureaucratic spirit is and how it pervades all spheres of life, even where it seems not to by obvious, as in physician-patient and husband-wife relationships. The bureaucratic method can be defined as one that (a) administers human being as if they were things and (b) administers things in quantitative rather than qualitative terms, in order to make quantification and control easier and cheaper. The bureaucratic method is governed by statistical data: the bureaucrats base their decisions on fixed rules arrived at from statistical data, rather than on response to the living being who stand before them; they decide issues according to what is statistically most likely to be the case, at the risk of hurting the 5 or 10 percent of those who do not fit into pattern. Bureaucrats fear personal responsibility and seek refuge behind their rules; their security and pride lie in their loyalty to rules, not in their loyalty to the laws of the human heart.
  • p151 But this sadistic streak is only secondary to the primary elements in bureaucrats: their lack of human response and their worship of rules.
  • p151 Once the living human being is reduced to a number, the true bureaucrats can commit acts of utter cruelty, not because they are driven by cruelty of a magnitude commensurate to their deeds, but because they feel no human bond to their subject. While less vile than sadists, the bureaucrats are more dangerous, because in them there is not even a conflict between conscience and duty: their conscience is doing their duty; human being as objects of empathy and compassion do not exist for them.
  • p151 I have no doubt that thorough studies will show that the damage caused by drug addiction is only a fraction of the damage done by our methods of brainwashing, from subliminal suggestions to such semihypnotic devices as constant repetition or the deflection of rational thought by the appeal to sexual lust.
  • p154 They shall receive not more than is basically required to sustain themselves - but neither shall they receive less. This right expresses a new concept for today, though a very old norm, demanded by Christianity and practiced in many "primitive" tribes, that human being have an unconditional right to live, regardless of whether they do their "duty to society." It is a right we guarantee to our pets, but not our fellow beings.
  • p155 The idea will appear unfeasible or dangerous to those who believe that "people are basically lazy by nature." This cliché has no basis in fact, however; it is simply a slogan that serves as a rationalization for the resistance against surrendering the sense of power over those who are helpless.
  • p155 The war between the sexes is as old as the war between the classes, but its forms are more complicated, since men have needed women not only as working beasts but also mothers, lovers, solace-givers. The forms of the war between the sexes are often overt and brutal, more often hidden. Women yielded to superior force, but fought back with their own weapons, their chief one being ridicule of men.
  • p158 In fact, the newspapers, the magazines, television, and radio produce a commodity: news, from the raw material of events. Onle news is salable, and the news media determine which events are news, which not.
  • p161 So far in world history a life of empty pleasure was possible for only a small elite, and they remained essentially sane because they knew they had power and that they had to think and to act in order not to lose their power. Today, the empty life of consumption is that of the whole middle class, which economically and politically has no power and little personal responsibility. The major part of the Western world knows the benefits of the consumer type of happiness, and growing number of those who benefit from it are finding it wanting. They are beginning to discover that having much does not create well-being: traditional ethical teaching has been put to the test - and is being confirmed be experience.
  • p161 Greed and envy are so strong not because of their inherent intensity but because of the difficulty in resisting the public pressure to be a wolf with the wolves. Change the social climate, the values that are either approved or disapproved, and the change from selfishness to altruism will lose most of its difficulty.

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