I don’t remember who recommended i watched this 1958 interview with Erich Fromm:
Here are a few quotes from the interview that i found powerful and especially agree with:
- About his own words (quoted in the beginning by the interviewer) that, “if the United States goes on in the direction it is taking, it is in serious danger of destroying itself,” * and in response to the question of what is happening to “man” in relation to his work:
“[I]n our enthusiasm to dominate nature and to produce more material good – goods – we have transformed means into ends. (…) Production and consumption (…) have ceased to be means and have become ends. (…) [The American man’s] work is to a large extent, meaningless, because he is not related to it. (…) He is increasingly part of a (…) social machinery, governed by a big bureaucracy.”
- I love Fromm’s definitions of equality, happiness, and democracy — particularly how he contrasts them with how these terms are typically understood:
“[Equality:] that no man must mean – must be – the means for the purposes of another man; but each individual is an end in itself. Today, we talk a lot about equality, but I think what most people mean by it is sameness – that everybody is the same – and they are afraid if they are not the same, they are not equal.”
“Happiness should be something which results from the creative, genuine, intense relatedness – awareness, responsiveness, to everything in life – to man, to nature. Happiness does not exclude sadness – if a person responds to life, he’s sometimes happy and sometimes sad. What matters is he responds.”
“I would say democracy once meant an organizational society and a state, in which the individual citizen is – feels – responsible, and acts responsibly, and participates in decision-making. I think what democracy means today, in reality, is to a large extent, manipulated consent – not forced consent, manipulated consent – and manipulated more and more with the help of Madison Avenue.”
- I was also fascinated by Fromm’s understanding of socialism:
“I am a socialist. (…) [H]owever, I have to add that what I understand by socialism is exactly the opposite of what many people, or most people, today mean by socialism. I understand by socialism a society in which the aim of production is not profit, but the use. In which the individual citizen participates responsibly in his work, and in the whole social organization, and in which he is not a means who is employed by capital. (…) [A]ctually, the ownership of industry by the state – that is not socialism. (…) I see socialism in the direction, of management, of enterprise, by all who work in the enterprise. I would consider a socialism a mixture of the minimum of centralization necessary for a modern industrial state, and a maximum of decentralization. (…) [S]ocialism is exactly the opposite of a bureaucratically-managed culture. We talk a great deal about [the Soviets] today, and I’m afraid that in twenty years, we and [the Soviets] will be more similar than different. Because, what is common to both societies is the development into a managed mass society, with big bureaucracy, managing people. The [Soviets] do it by force. We do it by persuasion.”
If you have the time and interest, i recommend you listen to the whole interview. I’m not thoroughly familiar with Fromm’s work — judging by this interview and his book The Sane Society, i’d say he was an observant, resourceful, and sincere guy with a good heart and great hopes for humanity — and if he was ever (or turned out to be) naïve in his conclusions and thinking about them, i believe this last quote explains where it must have come from:
“[W]e are terribly imaginative, as far as technique in science is concerned. As far as changes in social arrangements are concerned, we lack utterly in imagination.”
At the risk of coming across as naïve myself, i’ll add that we might just be scared and paralyzed. Maybe we are indeed capable of dreaming of different social arrangements, but we then dismiss them as utopian, intractable, politically unfeasible, or simply not our responsibility — often while being cynical of those who do choose to take any responsibility.
Growing up has been overwhelmingly disappointing.
* All quotes were taken from the transcripts by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas-Austin. I’d already spent a whole hour transcribing the interview when it occurred to me that they might be just an Internet search away! If you ever need to quote from audio or video, i hope you won’t make that same mistake 😉
Featured photo: “FOLDING LIKE A CRYSTAL” (Maiors’ke, Zakharivka district, Odes’ka Region, Ukraine, Summer ’19)
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