The Sane Society
Erich Fromm is a well-known humanistic psychologist who has published much on the role of freedom in the psychological development of man. Three of his books are quoted here: The Fear of Freedom, Man for himself and The Sane Society. Fromm doesn’t write about the position of animals, what he does write about are the differences and similarities between man and animal.
Fromm has great trust in the basic goodness of free man. We think that animals still suffer from the – economic – development of mankind, but that animals might also profit from human self-realization.
If man is not free, or lacking sound relations, then he can be destructive instead of creative. Vulnerability without strength leads to irritation under stress. In our current diseased society economical freedom leads to a selfishness unleashed, which is something we need to outgrow.
We will quote – non joining – parts of his book The Sane Society, sometimes with our own headings. The (1 column) quotes illustrate the nature of human development and the accompanying problems. We extend his recommendations (in the 2 adjacent columns) to the interaction with animals.
Chapter 3 The human situation, key to humanistic psychology.
When a person is born, and this goes for the human race as a whole as well as for the individual, he finds himself thrown out of a situation that was well-defined and specific, just as specific as the instincts, into a new situation, unspecific, unsure and open. Security exists here only compared to the past, and for the future only with respect to a certain death, which in fact is a return to the past, to the inorganic stage of lifeless matter. And thus the problem of human existence is wholly unique in nature as we know it. Man has fallen from nature, and at the same time remained inside it, part divine and part animal, part infinite and part finite. There is the necessity of ever finding new solutions to contradictions in his existence and to found ever higher forms of unity with nature, the source of which lies in all the psychic powers determining human behavior, the source of all his passions, experiences and fears.
There is only one passion that succeeds in fulfilling man’s need for bonding with the world and to give him a sense of human integrity and personality at the same time, namely love. Love is a bonding with something or someone outside the self, on the condition that personal independence and human integrity are preserved. It’s an experience of participation and community that first brings about the complete realization of inner strength and possibility. The true perception of love alleviates the need for false images. There’s no need to devaluate the image of the other or myself because the truth of actively participating and loving enables me to step beyond my individual separate existence, and at the same time to meet myself as the bearer of active forces that bring about the love act. What matters is not the object, but the specific quality of love. This love lies in the experiencing of human solidarity with our fellow man as well as in the erotic love between man and woman, in the love of a mother for a child, but also in one’s love for himself as a human being, and finally it is found in the mystical experience of unity. In the act of love I am one with the All, yet at the same time I am myself, a non-reproducible, separate, limited and mortal human being. Because precisely from this polarity between separateness and unity love is born and reborn.
Real care for animals is also about preventing dependency, to give the animal the opportunity to function independently and naturally.
In every step towards a new phase in life, whether he makes it himself or is forced into it, man becomes freer and more bound at the same time. Every phase offers possibilities and insecurities, that may turn out positively or negatively. In Fromm´s text there is an implicit explanation for the pointless violence in our society and for our indifferent attitude toward animals in industrial farming.
Man as creation, creator and destructor
Another aspect of the human situation, closely connected to solidarity, is the situation of man as a creation, together with the necessity of breaking out of precisely this condition of having been purely passively created. Man is thrown into this world without his knowledge, consent or wish, and is also taken out of it without his will or consent. In this sense he is no different from animals, plant-life or the inorganic. But precisely because he has been gifted with reason and imagination, he cannot resign himself to this passive role of being a creation, and he turns into a ´creator´, driven by a pressing need to transgress his passive creature-hood and the coincidence of his existence.
Man can create life, a wondrous position that he shares with all living beings, be it that he is the only one who is aware of his creation and of being a creator. This way, man – or rather woman – can create life by giving birth to a child and caring for this child until it is sufficiently mature to take care of itself. People, men as well as women, can create by sowing, making material things, producing art and ideas, and by making love to each other. In the act of creation, man steps beyond himself as a creature and rises above passivity and the coincidence of his existence into the realm of freedom and meaning. In this need to transcend can be found one of the roots not only of love, but of art, religion and material production.
Now this creation presupposes personal activity and care, and also the love for that which is created. So how could man solve the problem of transcending himself, if he is neither able to create, nor to love? There is another answer to this necessity for transcendence: if I cannot create life, then at least I can destroy it. Because even the destruction of life is a form of transcendence. Indeed, it is no less wondrous that man can destroy life than that he can create it. After all, life is the great, unfathomable wonder. In the destructive act man sets himself above life, and steps beyond himself as a creature. So man, as far as he is driven to transcend, is left with a choice to create or to destroy, to love or to hate. The enormous power of the desire to destroy which we have felt all through man’s history and which we witnessed during our own time, is rooted inside human nature as much as the drive to create. The saying that man is able to develop his primary capacity to love and reason, does not imply a naive faith in human goodness per se. The destructive is a secondary possibility, rooting just as much in the fashion of existence of man and with the same intensity and power as all other passions, which does not clash with what I said in Man for Himself about destructiveness as the ´result of an unlived life´.
The essential point in my plea is nevertheless that destructiveness is just the alternative of creativity. Creation and destruction, love and hate, are not two independently existing instincts. Both answer the same need of self-transcendence, and the need to destroy must necessarily arise in man as soon as the need to create is blocked and cannot be satisfied. The difference, however, is that the satisfaction of the need to create leads to happiness, and destruction leads to suffering.
According to Fromm, humanity is at a crossroads. One path leads to the road to freedom, but is coupled with fear. The other path leads to a repetition of history.
Man faces the same choices as humankind, every time the society or he himself is freed further.
The individual has to answer the same question every time: “am I happy with this freedom or does it scare me? Do I choose for myself or do I let others – man or animal – participate in my new achievement?”
As long as the individualization process has not reached the stage where the individual rises above these primary bonds, the ´I´ is still ´we´, and he is certain of himself as long and as far as the group is functioning. The development of modern society led to the dissolution of these primary bonds. Modern man is essentially alone, he must be able to stand on his own two feet and be able to handle anything independently. A true sense of self can only be reached by developing the non-reproducible and specific entity that ´he´ is for as much as he can truly say ´I am me´. This achievement is only possible if he realizes his potential in such a way that he can connect to the world without being undone by it, meaning that he attains a creative mentality.
The estranged man on the other hand tries to solve the issue another way, namely by conforming to his surroundings. He only feels secure and safe if he resembles his fellow man as much as possible. His highest purpose is to achieve approval of others, and his greatest fear is having to live without it. Being different, or belonging to a minority, is a danger that threatens his feeling of security. The consequence is a search for limitless conformism. The feeling of guilt with regard to sin that controlled people’s lives some generations back, has now been replaced by a feeling of discomfort and insecurity with respect to being different.
In summarizing chapter 9 Fromm describes the human situation.
Some people (politicians, industrials) may abuse other people’s freedom by enticing them to work hard in order to earn a lot of money for buying things (objects, trips) so they can enjoy this freedom.
According to Fromm we are living in a “manager society” leading to …
From free man he becomes an automaton, treating himself and other – animals as well – as things and keeping others from these achievements. One characteristic of an automaton is that he can function separately from other people, but also that he is insensitive. The difference between him and a man is that an automaton cannot hate.
We have to go from separate disjointed individuals to a society that is once again involved.
… automatons, willingly following without violence, can be led without leaders, and can make machines that operate as people, in their turn creating people acting as automatons. In short, they are people whose reason pines away while their sense increases, and thus create the dangerous situation that man is equipped with the greatest material power possible but without the wisdom to use it. This alienation and automation leads to increasing mental unhealthiness. Life has no meaning, there is no real happiness, no faith, no reality. Everyone is ‘happy’, but no-one really feels, has reason and loves. In the nineteenth century the problem was that ‘God was dead’, in the twentieth century man is dead. In the nineteenth century inhumanity meant cruelty, in the twentieth it meant schizoid self-alienation. Slavery was the danger in the past, but the danger in the future is that man turns into an automaton. And it is all too true that automatons do not revolt. But in view of human nature these automatons cannot live and be healthy. They will turn into ‘golems’ and destroy the world and themselves because they can no longer stand the boredom of life without meaning.
War and automation are our great perils. Our only remaining alternative is to radically leave the wrong path and set foot on the road to human self-realization. The first condition for this is to remove the threat of war that grips us all, and that paralyses faith and initiative. We must take responsibility for all people’s lives and internationally develop that which all great countries have established internally up to now, namely a part of prosperity for everyone and a better distribution of the economical sources of prosperity. This should finally lead to the formation of an international economical cooperation, of global government and to full disarmament. We must maintain the industrial method, but decentralize labor and state so that they gain human proportions, and allow a certain minimum of centralization required by industrialization.
What we need in the field of economy is participation of all who work in a company to obtain their real and responsible cooperation.
Thus far Fromm´s book.
Fromm ends his book with the following condition to man. “He will have to be adventurous and bold, rich in imagination, capable of suffering and happiness, but his abilities will no longer serve death but life.”
Like Fromm, we think that progressing self-realization is the only way to escape the drawbacks of freedom. Self-realization goes hand in hand with the development of creativity and unselfish love and leads to people supporting each other in order to remain independent.