Sunday, May 21, 2006

Freedom and Pain

I hope I'm recovering from an injury I suffered a few weeks ago. At this time there is almost nothing I would like more than to escape from pain. I can hardly think, I can hardly sit still without wanting to stand up or lie down or roll around. Regardless of what position I find myself in I hurt. But it's not that big a deal, not that horrible thing that pain can be in real life when the pain is life of itself. I hurt, but I'll get over it or come to terms with it and go on with it and cope. There is pain far worse than anything I'm feeling now, and, trivial as it might seem, it's in the soul. I grit my teeth, bang my head, and moan. It's nothing compared to the life of pain most people on Earth are suffering today. Most people are dying. They are dying of fear and the agony of self-torment and from loss of meaning. Not only are they dying, they hope to kill as many others as they can while they go. They hope to kill you and your children. They want to kill everyone. My pain is rational. It had a beginning, a cause, a treatment, and perhaps someday an end. For the others, the end is the end of life.

We'll see below a couple of short extracts on Eric Fromm, Escape from Freedom. In part he writes about the psychic pain that is driving the world's greater population to madness, murder, and suicide. If we can recognise the root causes of fascist Islam's madness and the self-destruction of the Left dhimmi fascists who lead them off the cliff, we might find it within ourselves to act rationally and humanely to prevent the slaughter of the innocents that will come in the near future if we do nothing about the pain of others.

Fromm's theory is a rather unique blend of Freud and Marx. Freud, of course, emphasized the unconscious, biological drives, repression, and so on. In other words, Freud postulated that our characters were determined by biology. Marx, on the other hand, saw people as determined by their society, and most especially by their economic systems.

He added to this mix of two deterministic systems something quite foreign to them: The idea of freedom. He allows people to transcend the determinisms that Freud and Marx attribute to them. In fact, Fromm makes freedom the central characteristic of human nature!

There are, Fromm points out, examples where determinism alone operates. A good example of nearly pure biological determinism, ala Freud, is animals (at least simple ones). Animals don't worry about freedom -- their instincts take care of everything. Woodchucks, for example, don't need career counseling to decide what they are going to be when they grow up: They are going to be woodchucks!

A good example of socioeconomic determinism, ala Marx, is the traditional society of the Middle Ages. Just like woodchucks, few people in the Middle Ages needed career counseling: They had fate, the Great Chain of Being, to tell them what to do. Basically, if your father was a peasant, you'd be a peasant. If your father was a king, that's what you'd become. And if you were a woman, well, there was only one role for women.

Today, we might look at life in the Middle Ages, or life as an animal, and cringe. But the fact is that the lack of freedom represented by biological or social determinism is easy. Your life has structure, meaning, there are no doubts, no cause for soul-searching, you fit in and never suffered an identity crisis.

Historically speaking, this simple, if hard, life began to get shaken up with the Renaissance. In the Renaissance, people started to see humanity as the center of the universe, instead of God. In other words, we didn't just look to the church (and other traditional establishments) for the path we were to take. Then came the Reformation, which introduced the idea of each of us being individually responsible for our own soul's salvation. And then came democratic revolutions such as the American and the French revolutions. Now all of a sudden we were supposed to govern ourselves! And then came the industrial revolution, and instead of tilling the soil or making things with our hands, we had to sell our labor in exchange for money. All of a sudden, we became employees and consumers! Then came socialist revolutions such as the Russian and the Chinese, which introduced the idea of participatory economics. You were no longer responsible only for your own well-being, but for fellow workers as well!

So, over a mere 500 years, the idea of the individual, with individual thoughts, feelings, moral conscience, freedom, and responsibility, came into being. but with individuality came isolation, alienation, and bewilderment. Freedom is a difficult thing to have, and when we can we tend to flee from it.

Fromm describes three ways in which we escape from freedom:

1. Authoritarianism. We seek to avoid freedom by fusing ourselves with others, by becoming a part of an authoritarian system like the society of the Middle Ages. There are two ways to approach this. One is to submit to the power of others, becoming passive and compliant. The other is to become an authority yourself, a person who applies structure to others. Either way, you escape your separate identity.

Fromm referred to the extreme version of authoritarianism as masochism and sadism, and points our that both feel compelled to play their separate roles, so that even the sadist, with all his apparent power over the masochist, is not free to choose his actions. But milder versions of authoritarianism are everywhere. In many classes, for example, there is an implicit contract between students and professors: Students demand structure, and the professor sticks to his notes. It seems innocuous and even natural, but this way the students avoid taking any responsibility for their learning, and the professor can avoid taking on the real issues of his field.

2. Destructiveness. Authoritarians respond to a painful existence by, in a sense, eliminating themselves: If there is no me, how can anything hurt me? But others respond to pain by striking out against the world: If I destroy the world, how can it hurt me? It is this escape from freedom that accounts for much of the indiscriminate nastiness of life -- brutality, vandalism, humiliation, vandalism, crime, terrorism....

Fromm adds that, if a person's desire to destroy is blocked by circumstances, he or she may redirect it inward. The most obvious kind of self-destructiveness is, of course, suicide. But we can also include many illnesses, drug addiction, alcoholism, even the joys of passive entertainment. He turns Freud's death instinct upside down: Self-destructiveness is frustrated destructiveness, not the other way around.

3. Automaton conformity. Authoritarians escape by hiding within an authoritarian hierarchy. But our society emphasizes equality! There is less hierarchy to hide in (though plenty remains for anyone who wants it, and some who don't). When we need to hide, we hide in our mass culture instead. When I get dressed in the morning, there are so many decisions! But I only need to look at what you are wearing, and my frustrations disappear. Or I can look at the television, which, like a horoscope, will tell me quickly and effectively what to do. If I look like, talk like, think like, feel like... everyone else in my society, then I disappear into the crowd, and I don't need to acknowledge my freedom or take responsibility. It is the horizontal counterpart to authoritarianism.

The person who uses automaton conformity is like a social chameleon: He takes on the coloring of his surroundings. Since he looks like a million other people, he no longer feels alone. He isn't alone, perhaps, but he's not himself either. The automaton conformist experiences a split between his genuine feelings and the colors he shows the world, very much along the lines of Horney's theory.

In fact, since humanity's "true nature" is freedom, any of these escapes from freedom alienates us from ourselves. Here's what Fromm had to say:

    Man is born as a freak of nature, being within nature and yet transcending it. He has to find principles of action and decision making which replace the principles of instincts. He has to have a frame of orientation which permits him to organize a consistent picture of the world as a condition for consistent actions. He has to fight not only against the dangers of dying, starving, and being hurt, but also against another anger which is specifically human: that of becoming insane. In other words, he has to protect himself not only against the danger of losing his life but also against the danger of losing his mind. (Fromm, 1968, p. 61)
I should add here that freedom is in fact a complex idea, and that Fromm is talking about "true" personal freedom, rather than just political freedom (often called liberty): Most of us, whether they are free or not, tend to like the idea of political freedom, because it means that we can do what we want. A good example is the sexual sadist (or masochist) who has a psychological problem that drives his behavior. He is not free in the personal sense, but he will welcome the politically free society that says that what consenting adults do among themselves is not the state's business! Another example involves most of us today: We may well fight for freedom (of the political sort), and yet when we have it, we tend to be conformist and often rather irresponsible. We have the vote, but we fail to use it! Fromm is very much for political freedom -- but he is especially eager that we make use of that freedom and take the responsibility that goes with it.

The conformist

But the most occurring mechanism to escape freedom is, being everywhere in vogue, conformism. Man dares not to stand alone. He dares not to have a strong divergent opinion. He lets his feelings be determined by the emotions he sees all around him. It is better to adapt to the world around you. Then your surroundings will accept you. You will no longer stand alone.

But with adapting himself to the outside world, man runs the risk to lose his own unique individuality. Sometimes the thinking, the willing or the feeling of an individual is much more pure than society thinks, wills or feels. An individual who lets his own conscience speak and dares to resist the pressure of a collective, that forces him to act wrongly, is much more valuable to society than an always conforming citizen. Through conscious acts and the independent and creative thinking of individuals cultures have been brought to a higher level. Therefore culture needs members with a highly developed and independent self.

Not only in social life can we see the tendency of humans to surrender themselves to the will and views of others. Also in personal life are humans so anxious and so isolated that they completely lose themselves in relationships of dependence that take away their freedom. They surrender themselves to the requirements, expectations and images of someone else, that limit their growth and freedom. They exchange their own self against the pseudo-self of a temporarily made up feeling of 'we'. In this strong dependence and this loss of freedom the self feels hatred rather than love for the partner. The deeply anchored craving for freedom is pushed aside in the daily routine of compromises. In this grumpy repression hatred finds an excellent breeding ground. Where there once was love, now hatred and frustration grows of not being a self anymore. And with hatred and frustration despair grows. One becomes tense and more afraid. Because of this tension and fear we become more afraid of our own isolation and aloneness. Thus once more we want to surrender to the mercy of someone else who needs to help us and deliver us from all painful thoughts and desperate feelings. On the search again for the Magic Helper.

We've written on this theme over 300 times in the course of this blog. The question arises daily in one form or another: are we to live lives of free-minded people or are we to become farm animals again?

Freedom is a frightening and dangerous thing for most people. The Left hates Human freedom as much as does Islam. It is not even a matter of Left and Right anymore, if ever it were, it is a matter of freedom of mind and a reaction against freedom. Those who suffer from freedom wish to extinguish it from the Human experience. As freedom grows and engulfs further shores the reactionaries of the feudal and prior ages become more inflamed in their fears and hatreds, even unto collective suicide, as we witness daily in the Muslim world and see plainly in the Left hatred of Modernity and their support of fascist Islam and anything else that will destroy the individual's freedom to be alone and the sole owner of the person's life as his own property.

I deal with my pain as one man with pain. How do we deal with a world's pain when they will not, perhaps cannot deal with it themselves? Will they, in a fit of madness and rage and anguish, demand that we kill them? And if we do kill the world's primitives who cannot cope with the pain of freedom, what pain will that cause us?


eyesallaround said...

Hi Dag,

Before I got too lost, I picked this out:

"Then came the Reformation, which introduced the idea of each of us being individually responsible for our own soul's salvation."

This statement is absolutely not true. Luther and Calvin both believed the exact opposite, in reaction against the teaching in Rome. They believed we are saved by God's grace, and not by anything we do. Paul said it succintly in Eph 2:8,9:

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."

I'm sorry to hear you're still not feeling well. I screwed up my finger and have to go to doctor, so I'm not making the rounds as much as the past, but I like to stop by and see what you're up to from time to time:>)

t-ham said...


My condolences. After having had 2 spinal jobs I have a renewed appreciation for Modernity and the cascade of genius that allowed the technology and procedures to exist that sent me, post-op, successfully back to the world of the construction industry.

Beats the hell out of laying on a dirt floor somewhere while someone waves chicken bones over me.

"Better living through modern medicine."

Also, re;

"Freedom is a difficult thing to have, and when we can we tend to flee from it"

A keeper. It would make a great subtitle to your site.

Re Blue Scarves, At the moment I've reverted to engaging individuals as I come across them, the patented 15 minute spiel, reading lists, etc. The meeting idea isn't working for a number of reasons, not that things can't develop in the future, but for now I have returned to what worked for me in the past. We persevere. We're funny that way.

Ronald Barbour said...

Get well soon, Dag!

Another excellent article that I'll link to from my Blog.

dag said...

I shouldn't make too much of the pain I'm suffering at the moment. I look at it as a metaphor more than anything. Yes, it hurts badly but that is nothing compared to the loss of life one suffers in the hatred of truth.

I'm not a religious guy, not a T.S. Eliot fan, but I do love much the following question:

"Where is the Life we have lost in living?"

I would happily cut off my leg if I could find some authority for the moral rather than drag my miserable life through time with only my self for guide to aporia. Trust me, my leg doesn't hurt nearly as badly as that does. But one pain I refuse is the narcotic of false faith.

Where is the Life we have lost in living? I do not know, but I'm alive and I intend to find it. It's like mountain climbing: it's scary, dangerous, and painful. Once one reaches the summit there's only more terror in descent. I love it. If I can climb so high as to see the Life, then it is the price of pain and who cares? And if I fall, and if we all fall, then we will be great in our attempt and others will follow us and know our path and find a better one.

eyesallaround said...

Dag, You're too funny! " But one pain I refuse is the narcotic of false faith." Tell me of one person on the planet who desires false faith? Even the mussies don't WANT to believe a lie. LOL!

I think there are those who are not allowed to search, and those who are not interested in searching... and that's about it.

You're not climbing any mountains that other people haven't climbed in the past. There's nothing new under the sun. And you are not wiser than Soloman, or a greater genius than Newton, Pascal, Augustine or Aquinas. I'm certain of that, although I do admire your mind.

dag said...

You might see me waving at you because I stand on Newton's shoulders.

No, I'm not refering to faioth itself as false, but to my own "bad faith" if I were to choose faith for the sake of comfort. I'm not deeply familiar with Augustine or I'd quote some of his writng on this topic where he shines, as usual. I'm somewhat more familiar with Heidegger and Sartre, from whom I picked up the idea in the first place.

Will write later if you like.

Good point aoubt Calvin and Luther. I cringe when I think of the factual errors I must have in this blog.