I am currently reading “Escape from Freedom” by Erich Fromm. He published this book in 1941. Which means he wrote it in the years leading up to and the first horrific years of World War II. As you may have already guessed, Dr. Fromm was desperately trying to figure out how the most “civilized” place the planet had ever known (Europe) had lost its collective sanity and decided absolute destruction and the murder of tens of millions was the solution to all their problems. What made the situation even more maddening for him was the necessity of the “II” designation. This was the second time in fewer than fifty years his neighbors had chosen this “solution.”
His conclusions and arguments are compelling. I will be unpacking them more next week because they have a laser focused relevance to our circumstances today.
Fromm believed we modern humans have a habit of celebrating our negative freedoms as individuals and stopping short of their true purpose of existing: the freedom to become.
An example of this might be free speech. The Constitution of the United States outlines our right to freedom of expression and hampers the ability of the government or other authorities to infringe upon it. We celebrate and defend our right to think, read, write, and speak what we will. Fromm argued the vast majority of the population of free societies stop there. He wanted to encourage us to go past negative liberty of freedom from regulation and embrace the positive freedom of learning how to think rigorously and independently.
He believed our lack of initiative in this area makes us easy prey for advertisers and propagandists alike.
Henry Ford is quoted as saying:
Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.
I find it interesting a man who so prided himself on his ability to think was bamboozled so easily by the anti-Semite propaganda of his day, but, on this quote, I think Erich Fromm would have agreed with him.
Fromm was concerned, as many are today, our inability to think well combined with our vast scientific knowledge brings many to despair. This despair is induced by cynicism and lack of belief in any personal significance, or meaning. This again creates a susceptibility to advertisers and propagandists.
So what was his solution?
Surprisingly, Fromm offered the same treatment as Jung:
Acknowledge and face your fears of insignificance, separation from the whole of humanity and society, and lack of purpose and feelings of powerlessness. Once you have dealt with these insecurities you will be empowered to embrace your freedom to become.
Of course, being a psychoanalyst, Fromm, as well as Jung, wanted you to go through this process with an analyst to assist you. But, this is expensive and takes years, at best. Psychoanalysis is not an option for the average person in the United States of America. If Dr. Fromm’s solution is the correct one, and I have a hunch it is, the majority of us will have to go it alone. Which brings us right back to the heart of the problem, doesn’t it?
What do you think?
Do you agree with Erich Fromm? Does our lack of critical thinking skills make us susceptible to advertisers and propagandists to use as they will? Do you see signs of this in your community, church, government?
Do you see authoritarianism around the world or in your own country treating the masses as “prey” or a means to their own personal ends?
Tell me in the comments below.
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