Another aspect of the Sado-masochistic tendencies in man Fromm analyzes for us is not just its its relationship with power, authority and freedom but how it is related to destruction. The desire for destruction, according to Fromm, stems from exactly the same source as love: it is an escape from the sense of isolation and individual powerlessness in the outside world. There are two ways of eliminating our loneliness and isolation from other people. We may join and enter into a union with other people. If we are already joined to an emotionally significant other in some way, we may choose remove the source of pain arising from such a relationship by destroying him. As Fromm says, " Destructiveness is different since it aims not at active or passive symbiosis but at elimination of its object" (FOF 154). If I succeed in removing it completely, I may remain isolated and alone but at least I cannot be crushed by the overwhelming power of the objects outside of myself. The destruction of the world is the last, almost desperate attempt to save myself from being crushed by it. "Whilst sadism aims at incorporation of the object; destructiveness at its removal. Sadism tends to strengthen the atomized individual by the domination over others;, destructiveness by the absence of any threat from the outside." (FOF 154)
We may observe signs of violence and destructiveness in social relationship everywhere we turn our eyes to around us, whether the relevant violence and destructiveness is directed at us or by ourselves towards other people. Very often, destructiveness is "rationalized" as "love, duty, conscience, patriotism" etc. But here we must be careful. A certain amount of violence, aggression and destructiveness is a "natural and necessary concomitant of one's affirmation of life" (FOF 155) e.g. when we use reactive violence against those who attack our body or our psychological integrity or upon important core values with which we are identified. In addition, we may reluctantly have to use violence against plants and animals by killing them to enable ourselves to physically survive. But Fromm is not concerned with this kind of "reactive" or "rational" violence and destructiveness. He talks about " a constantly lingering tendency within a person which so to speak waits only for an opportunity to be expressed. If there is no objective "reason" for the expression of destructiveness, we say the person is "mentally or emotionally sick" despite the person's "rationalization". In practice, however, "the destructive impulses are rationalized in such a way that at least a few other people or a whole social group may share in the rationalization and thus make it appear to "realistic" to the members of such a group. Even so, neither the object of the destructiveness nor the "rationalizations" given are of primary importance. What is primary here, is that the "destructive impulses are a passion within a person"which will always succeed in finding some object or other. If for some reasons, no suitable objects for such inherent violence or destructiveness can be found, the individual's destructive tendencies may be turned against himself as the object. If this happens in a marked degree, physical illness may result and the person may even commit suicide. (FOF 155). Do we not often find people suddenly becoming "sick" during periods of high emotional stress when owing to the pressure of work, exams etc., the spontaneous expression and satisfaction of their normal sensuous, emotional and non-work related intellectual urges are blocked?
Fromm finds that the extreme isolation and sense of powerlessness faced by the individual in a modern society may also become the source of two other forms of destructiveness: "anxiety and the thwarting of life" (FOF 156). Any threat against vital (material and emotional) interests creates anxiety to which a person will normally react with violence. But the threat can be circumscribed in a particular situation by particular persons. If so, the destructiveness is directed against those persons. But if a person feels generally that he is being constantly threatened by the world outside, this feeling may itself become a source for the development of his destructive tendencies.
In the condition that Fromm calls "the thwarting of life", the isolated and powerless individual is internally blocked from fully realizing his sensuous, emotional and intellectual potentialities because he lacks the kind of inner security and spontaneity which are the conditions for their realization, especially when their spontaneous satisfaction is frowned upon by cultural or religious taboos of the Middle Ages. According to Fromm, although the external religious taboos have virtually vanished, the inner blockage in the form of people's "conscience" remain strong despite the conscious approval of sensuous pleasure. (FOF 156).
Freud has already analyzed this type of situation. In his later writings, Freud has discovered two basic tendencies in man: a drive towards life which he identifies more or less with the sexual libido (eros) and a death instinct (thanatos) whose aim is the very destruction of life which he assumes can be combined with sexual energy and then directed either against external objects or against oneself as object. He thinks that the death instinct is rooted in inherent human biology as an organism and is therefore a necessary and unalterable part of human life.
Fromm thinks that "the amount of destructiveness to be found in individuals is proportionate to the amount to which expansiveness of life is curtailed" (FOF 158) and is not constant or unalterable as thought by Freud. Here he does not mean the frustration of this or that instinctive desire of the individual but to the thwarting of the whole of life, the blockage of spontaneity of the growth and expression of man's sensuous, emotional, and intellectual capacities. This is the way he explains it: "Life has an inner dynamism of its own; it tends to grow, to be expressed, to be lived...if this tendency is thwarted the energy directed towards life undergoes a process of decomposition and changes into the energies directed towards destruction....the more the drive towards life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive towards destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of the unlived life " (FOF 158). Fromm says that those individual and social conditions that make for suppression of life produce the passion for destruction that forms the reservoir from which the particular hostile tendencies --either against others or against oneself--are nourished. If we find so much aggression, negativity, and hostility in the people's reaction against all and every type of government policies now in Hong Kong, could that not in part be due to the fact that present social and economic conditions are such that they do not really allow much room for the spontaneous development of people's sensuous, emotional and intellectual potentials? Whatever the truth may be, Fromm finds that as far as Nazism is concerned, the conditions of life of the lower middle classes in Germany at the time of the rise of Nazism, conditions which suppressed their natural individual expansiveness and kept them isolated more than those social classes above and below them, may have contributed not insignificantly to their finding destructive expression of their unmet needs in such an aggressive and intolerant political movement as Nazism.
(To be cont'd)