A Reflection on Erich Fromm

First I want to apologize.  I have not been able to really pursue my writing, or reading for that matter.  Let’s just say I was just getting by, and doing my best to keep my head above the water.  Now, I feel better.  And I hope to feel this way for a while.

And that brings us to the author, thinker, and philosopher Erich Fromm.  I heard of this man from a text excerpt in some online forum.  I immediately looked his name up in my library’s database, and behold, there was one book I was willing to read.  On Being Human by Erich Fromm is the first book of its kind that I have read.  Before Fromm died, there laid multiple unpublished manuscripts.  This book is a collection of these, ranging from lectures, to speeches, to direct quotes from books.  It is very apparent when you read this book that Fromm is an extremely avid reader and writer.  Not only are his ideas are original to him, but it is amazing what texts he has read.  Ranging from John Locke to Marx to other authors, he really shows some great intelligence to be able to analyze and compare texts the way he does.  He also does a good job keeping his comparisons to a centralized theme that I’ll discuss in a second.  It is very easy to start analyzing different aspects of the text that doesn’t follow any direction with his writings.  Even though he quoted many works, it was his writing that brought out what a kind of person that he was.

The words that sum up this book are “societal analysis.”  He has interesting theories regarding explanation of certain phenomenon in our society.  All of them I could not follow, but they were indeed intriguing on many levels.

The first idea that he talked about had to do with individual development, which showed his Humanist background.  The whole idea started with the assumption that when an individual is born, they have infinite “possibilities” or pathways to develop.  Society actually inhibits certain possibilities from being expressed, allowing an individual to develop a certain way due to society’s influence.  The guidelines by which society represses certain pathways, is that society forces people to want what they need.  This perpetuates and promotes individuals for the current society.

The Humanist part that I am talking about, is the whole idea that it is man’s natural propensity to become ever closer to the essence of man.  The essence of man is not specifically defined, other than being what makes us human.  And it is this lifelong journey, of being more and more human, is what makes us human.  This was the humanist groundwork that he believed.  It became apparent as well that he believed societal factors were the dominant factors that influenced individual development rather than the “nuture” aspect of things.  He may or may not be accurate with that assumption, but it can be readily agreed upon that society and culture has a huge impact on the development of people.  It was the values that was being tailored to people in our society that really concerned him.  He expressed these concerns with words like idolatry, self-alienation, and atomization.  Idolatry in this context is man succumbing to things that are man-made.  Instead of man being concerned with being, they are concerned with being dominated by things that it created.  This continuous consumption and idealizing creates a feedback process that eventually creates people to alienate from one another.  This isolation, when extreme, turns to atomization, whereby people are isolated units idolizing things and consuming products and services.

This I believe is a theory that explains the vast amount of individualism in our culture.  Instead of people willingly having a philosophy where they put themselves first in regards to the whole, society is actually creating the people with the values that perpetuates itself.  How it goes about doing that, is isolating people with the products and services that the society creates, forcing people regard themselves only, for their self is removed from the community.  But it is these kind of people, that are necessary for the society to work.  It is these people, that push and work towards the central values and themes of the current society.  In turn, this promoted society will help influence the development of future generations, ensuing that the society continues.

It should be observed, that the central factor that leads people to atomization is idolatry and consumption.  Things control us simply by their importance, because consumption is such an integral part of our economy, which is the life blood of our society.  And it is this relationship, assuming if this is true, that shows that our economy is not only an integral part to our society, but an integral part to our development as an individual.  Because, the economy produces the products and services that force us into idolatry, self-alienation, and atomization.  These practices, takes away from what makes us human.  It diverts our attention from the journey to the essence of man.  It could very well be argued, according to this view on things, that our society diverts us from what makes us human.  Of course, what exactly makes us human is not known, just speculated upon.  But this idea is an interesting one to think about.  Could the very nature of our society’s value structure actually inhibit human growth?  If so, how?  What exactly is a perfectly developed human, continually developing his or her humanity?  How does this person differ from a person taken from our society?  I don’t think the answer to these questions will ever fully be answered, but they are still important ones to think about in my opinion, especially when considering this view on society.

All in all, he was a very interesting and provocative read.  I do hope one day I pick up another Erich Fromm book, but as of right now, I am eager to turn my attention to other things.

Again, I apologize for taking so long to write on this blog.  But I am feeling better, so I do plan to update more frequently.  Thanks.