Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Excerpts from The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, on Love's Disintegration in Western Society:

If Love is a capacity of the mature, productive character, it follows that the capacity to love in an individual living in any given culture depends on the influence this culture has on the character of the average person. If we speak about love in contemporary Western culture, we mean to ask whether, we mean to ask whether the social structure of Western civilization and the spirit resulting from it are conducive to the development of love. To raise the question is to answer it in the negative. No objective observer of our Western life can doubt that love-brotherly love, motherly love and erotic love-is a relatively rare phenomenon, and that its place is taken by a number of forms of pseudo-love which are in reality so many forms of the disintegration of love.

(He goes on to describe capitalistic society and how it functions, from how it is based on the principal of political freedom and regulates the economic market, thusly determining social relations, and how useful things and human skills are turned into commodities, explain the managerial bureacracy, etc. And then he goes on to say this):

Another decisive feature resulting from this concentration of capital, and characteristic of modern capitalism, lies in the specific way of the organization of work.Vastly centralized enterprises with a radical division of labor lead to and organization of work where an individual loses his individuality, where he becomes an expendable cog in the machine. The human problem of modern capitalism can be formulated in this way:

Modern capitalism needs men who cooperate smoothly and in large numbers; who want to consume more and more; and whose tastes are standardized and can be easily influenced and anticipated. it needs men who feel free and independent, not subject to any authority or principle or conscience-yet willing to be commanded, to do what is expected of them, to fit into the social machine without friction; who can be guided without force, led without leaders, prompted without aim-exept the one to make good, to be on the move, to function, to go ahead.

What is the outcome? modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, expreriences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions. Human relations are essentially those of alientated automatons, each basiing his security on staying close to the herd, and not being different in thought, feeling or action. While everybody tries to be to be as close as possible to the rest, everybody remains utterly alone, pervaded by the deep sense of insecurity, anixety and guilt which always results when human separateness cannot be overcome.

Our civilization offers many palliatives which help people to be consciously unaware of this aloneness: first of all the strict routine of bureaucratized, mechanical work, which helps people to remain unaware of their most fundamental human desires, of the longing for transcendence and unity. Inasmuch as the routine alone does not succeed in this, man overcomes his unconscious despair by the routine of amusement, the passive consumption of sounds and sights offered by the amusement industry; furthermore by the satisfaction of buying ever new things, and soon exchanging them for others.

Modern man is actually close to the picture Huxley describes in his Brave New World; well fed, well clad, satisfied sexually, yet without self, without any except the most superficial contact with his fellow men, guided by slogans such as "When the individual feels, society reels"; or "never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today," or, as the crowning statement: "everybody is happy nowadays."

Man's happiness today consists in "having fun". Having fun lies in the satisfaction of consuming and taking in commodities, sights, food, drinks, cigarettes, people, lectures, books, movies - all are consumed, swallowed. The world is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones - and the eternally disappointed ones.

Our character is geared to exchange and to recieve, to barter and to consume; everything, spiritual as well as material objects, becomes an object of exchange and consumption.

end of excerpt


He then goes ont to explain that the above actions make us automatons incapable of love, how marriage, much like work, is described as being a "smoothly functioning team", and how this kind of treatment of such a relationship amounts to the "well oiled relationship between two persons who remain strangers all their lives, who never arrive at a central relationship, but who treat each other with courtesy and attempt to make each other feel better."

As much as I dislike Ibsen's plays, I see this exact situation unfolding in A Dolls House (written of course in the height of the victorian era). Ultimately, the above kind of social environment and the effect on the marriage of the two main characters results in the wife leaving the husband, because she comes to terms with the fact (even though the husband isn't willing to, that they don't really know each other and never have. They were only doing what was expected of them.

This, is a very sad observation indeed. But it should not come as a surprise in a society where people don't know what marriage means anymore and where marriages are dissolved almost as readily as they start. It is not so much the institution of marriage that has failed us, it is our attitudes about marriage that have failed, and also the poor quality of our relationships which is only further molded by our society and its values.

Consequently, the book excerpt was written in 1956 - a fact that I did not know until I finished reading. It was written at a time when to speak of Capitalism in such a way was wholly dangerous. Also, keep in mind that it was written 50 years ago, and that the passage could just as easily be describing our situations today.

To say that the human race improves itself and the conditions in which it lives with time is no more true than saying the moon is made of pickles.

Lately, Mike and I have encountered people who seem appalled at the thought of us not having cellphones or other "amenities" as if it is expected of us. We're in the "stone age", as it were. Perhaps I should make an apology to all those who feel the need to schedule their empty lives with excess activities on their hand held devices, and are too busy talking about nothing to put down their phone to pay an ounce of attention to the fact that they are both driving a car and smoking.

I am indeed very sorry that I am not sensitive to the fact that you love your technology so much that you are have no time for common courtesy or care for others because you must rush home to your flat screen TV to watch the latest episode of attention whores doing whatever infantile stunts will give them the attention they desire but aren't getting from any actual obtainable people like their significant others, friends or family. I apologize that I don't identify with my job, and continue to label myself with religious affiliations and political parties because I do not wish to behave as a jar of canned food. I was unaware that I am to be judged righteously by you because of how I dress and how much less money I make, and I'm sorry that i don't have any children to parade around like trophies as an example of the continuing success of my wonderful status.

And I am also sorry that I don't feel the need to buy a gigantic gas guzzling vehicle that is nothing more than a penis enlargement which you can't even park in most neighborhoods in the metropolitan area.

Please forgive me for having a good marriage and a solid sense of self, for realizing that life is bigger than profits and accumulation of material goods. I should be ashamed of my unabashed desire to not be led around by the nose by every media mogul, ad agency, and political faction. I should know better than to think for myself, to be aware of what I feel and why I feel that your world is so very full of the stinkiest kind of shit and you are more content than a dirty swine to roll in your own fecal matter as well as snack on it.

Please forgive me, modern society, I have sinned.

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