2011年8月10日 星期三

Man the Sick Animal (V)

(Cont'd )

We have seen how the Renaissance and the Reformation brought in two new kinds of freedom to the European man: the freedom of worship and the freedom of speech and how such new freedom has led to a new kind of enslavement. It was not an enslavement from without, imposed on man by either the Church or the State but an enslavement from within, imposed by man on himself, in the way he conceived of his relationship with God. Fromm points out in his chapter on "Aspects of Freedom for Modern Man" (FOF 89-116) that in modern Europe, the old or traditional forms of authority and restraint upon man's freedom had been eliminated but few realized that although man has rid himself of the old enemies of freedom, new enemies of a different nature have arisen: internal factors blocking the full flowering of human freedom: the modern individual has lost the capacity to have faith in anything not provable by the methods of the natural sciences and in addition, man's thought are eroded by such anonymous authorities as "public opinion" and so-called "common sense". The modern man has lost the courage to be different. It was an irony as Fromm says, that "we are fascinated by the growth of freedom from powers outside ourselves and are blinded to the fact of inner restraints, compulsions, fears, which tend to undermine the meaning of the victories freedom has won against its traditional enemies." (FOF 91) We forget that although the liberties won must be defended with the utmost vigor, "the problem of freedom is not only a quantitative one, but a qualitative one": that not only do we have to preserve and increase the traditional freedom, "we have to gain a new kind of freedom which enables us to realize our own individual self and to have faith in this self and in life" (FOF 91)

Fromm thinks that what Protestantism had started to do in freeing man spiritually, capitalism continued to do mentally, socially and politically. In this new development, economic freedom was the basis and the middle class its champion. The individual was no longer bound to the land nor by a fixed social system, based on tradition and with a relatively small margin for personal advancement but was "allowed and expected to succeed in personal economic gains as far as his diligence, intelligence and courage, thrift or luck would lead him" (FOF 92). He learned to rely upon himself, to make responsible decisions, to give up both soothing and terrifying superstitions; differences of caste and religion, which once had been the natural boundaries blocking the unification of the human race, disappeared and men learned to recognize each other as human beings and men had become equal and each one was supposed to be able to act according to his own interest and at the same time the common welfare of the nation. In short, capitalism contributed tremendous to the increase of man's positive freedom, to the growth of an active, critical and responsible self. In the same way that the Catholic faced God as an integral part of a church and  Protestantism made the individual face God alone, the economic man had to face his competitors and the impersonal forces of the market all alone. So "the individualistic relationship to God was the psychological preparation for the individualistic character of man's secular activities." (FOF 94).

It is often assumed that in the modern world, man has become the centre and purpose of all activity, that what he does, he does for himself and that the principle of self-interest and egotism are all powerful motivation of human activity. Whilst it is true that in the last four centuries, man has done much for himself, yet to Fromm, much of what seemed to the modern man to be his purpose was not his, if we mean by 'him' not 'the worker', 'the manufacturer' but "the concrete human being with all his emotional, intellectual and sensuous potentialities." On the contrary, it led to "a self-negation and asceticism which is the direct continuation of the Protestant spirit." (FOF 94). Whereas in the Medieval system, capital was the servant of man, in the capitalist system, it became his master. Whereas economic activities were a means to an end, the end being life itself or as understood by the Catholic Church, the spiritual elevation of man under which all external activities are necessary and have significance only in so far as they further the aims of life such that economic activity and the wish for gain for its own sake appeared irrational to the medieval thinker, under the capitalist system, economic success, material gains become ends in themselves and man is fated to amass capital, not for purposes of his own happiness or salvation, but as an end in itself and man became a cog in the vast economic machine, to serve a purpose always outside himself,  just like the Protestant's insistence that all his activities must serve not man's purposes, but only to glorify a God who represented neither justice nor love. Such an attitude has made man a servant to the very machine he built and has given him a feeling of personal insignificance and powerlessness. For the worker, who has no capital to accumulate, the situation was not much different: being employed meant that they were equally subject to the law of supply and demand, on its economic cycle of prosperity or depression, on the effects of technical improvement in the hands of their employer, who appeared to the exploited worker to be the representative of a superior power to which he had to submit. But since the end of the 19th century, there were trade union movements through whose activity the worker's lot was slightly improved. But in general, the society as a whole has been imbued by the spirit of asceticism and submission to extra-personal ends because that was the spirit of the the dominant social class, who has the power to control the educational systems, schools, church, press, theatre and all the media. Besides the dominant class has so much prestige that the lower classes are more than ready to accept and imitate their values and to identify themselves with their bosses' values.

If however, we were to look at the way many modern day men think, we may doubt what Fromm says about their willingness to work for some supra-personal aim. Aren't they motivated, as said by Machiavelli, by the strongest motive power of human behavior viz egotism and the pursuit of self-interest? Is his desire for personal advantage not stronger than all moral considerations? Is the ideology of unselfishness merely a cover up for the underlying egotism? Only partly so, according to Fromm. What is the full answer then?

Many people think that selfishness is identical with self-love like Luther, Calvin, Kant and Freud etc. To them, to love only others is a virtue and to love only oneself is a sin as if love of others and love of oneself are mutually exclusive. To Fromm, however, "love is not primarily 'caused' by a specific object, " but is "a lingering quality in a person which is only actualized by by certain 'object'. Hatred is a passionate wish for destruction; love is a passionate affirmation of an 'object'; it is not an 'affect' but an active striving and inner relatedness, the aim of which is happiness, growth and freedom of its object. It is a readiness which in principle, can turn to any person or object including ourselves". Therefore, 'exclusive love is a contradiction in itself."! (FOF 98) Although, often, a certain person may become the "object" of our love, the love for a particular "object" is only "the actualization and concentration of lingering love with regard to that person; it is not, as the idea of romantic love would have it, that there is only the one person in the world whom one can love, that it is the greatest chance of one's life to find that person, and that love for him results in a withdrawal from all others." To Fromm, "The kind of love which can only be experienced with regard to one person demonstrates by this very fact that it is not love but a sado-masochistic attachment"! What is the correct understanding of love? "The basic affirmation contained in love is directed towards the beloved as an incarnation of essentially human qualities. Love for one person implies love of man as such. Love for man as such is not, as it is frequently supposed to be, an abstraction coming 'after' the love for a specific person or an enlargement of the experience with a specific 'object'; it is its premise, although, genetically, it is acquired in the contact with concrete individuals." (FOF 99). If Fromm is right, then is not the kind of "love" many lovers feel for one another really "sick"? This really bear some deep reflection!

From Fromm's understanding of love then, "Selfishness is not identical with self-love but with its very opposite". To him, "Selfishness is a kind of greediness. Like all greediness, it contains an insatiability, as a consequence of which there is never any real satisfaction. Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction."  He could almost be a Chinese, who advises us that "if a man's heart or mind is not content, he could easily swallow even an elephant". The Catholic Church also understands this. Greed or Avarice is one of the seven capital sins.  Fromm shares with us his psychological observation: "while the selfish person is always anxiously concerned with himself, he is never satisfied, is always restless, always driven by the fear of not getting enough, of missing something, of being deprived of something. He is filled with burning envy of anyone who might have more. If we observe him still closer, especially the unconscious dynamics, we find that this type of person is basically not fond of himself, but deeply dislikes himself." (FOF 100) To him, selfishness is thus rooted in the lack of affirmation and love for the real self, ie. the whole concrete human being with all his potentialities.

Why does Fromm say that a the selfish or greedy person is not basically fond of himself? He explains: "Selfishness is rooted in this very lack of fondness for oneself. The person who is not fond of himself, who does not approve of himself, is in constant anxiety concerning his own self. He has not the security which can exist only on the basis of genuine fondness and affirmation. He must be concerned about himself, greedy to get everything for himself, since basically, he lacks security and satisfaction". The selfish person is a bit like the narcissistic person, "who is not so much concerned with getting things for himself as with admiring himself". What does he mean? "While on the surface, it seems that these persons are very much in love with themselves, they actually are not fond of themselves, and their narcissism--like selfishness--is an overcompensation for the basic lack of self-love." Thus to Fromm, the selfish person does not genuinely love himself or does not love himself sufficiently to feel happy about himself as such and hence must ceaselessly grab and possess things to stuff this inner emotional void with possessions. The selfish person is therefore a sick person who does not love himself! Fromm does not entirely agree with Freud's analysis of the narcissistic personality. "Freud has pointed out that the narcissistic person has withdrawn his love from others and turned it towards his own person. Although the first part of this statement is true, the second is a fallacy. He loves neither others nor himself."! 

To return to his analysis of the analysis of the modern personality under capitalism, Fromm says that the "self" in the interest of which the modern man acts is merely his "social" self, "a self which is essentially constituted by the role the individual is supposed to play and which in reality is merely the subjective disguise for the objective social function of man in society." This is his insight: "Modern selfishness is the greed that is rooted in the frustration of the real self and whose object is the social self. While modern man seems to be characterized by utmost assertion of the self, actually his self has been weakened and reduced to a segment of the total self--intellect and will power--to the exclusion of all other parts of the total personality".(FOF 101) The modern man "seems driven by self-interest, but in reality, his total self with all its concrete potentialities has become an instrument for the purposes of the very machine his hands have built. He keeps up the illusion of being the centre of the world, and yet he is pervaded by an intense sense of insignificance and powerlessness which his ancestors once consciously felt towards God." (FOF 101-102) The relations of the modern man with his neighbors is one of indifference, reduced essentially to the relationship between means and ends based on purely economic exchanges of goods, services and money. It is an alienated relationship involving only part of his total personality. Even worse, the modern man has become alienated even from his own true or real self! "Man does not only sell commodities, he sells himself and feels himself to be a commodity. The manual laborer sells his physical energy; the businessman the physician, the clerical employee, sell their "personality...As with any other commodity, it is the market which decides the value of these human qualities, yes, even their very existence. If there is no use for the qualities a person offers, he has none; just as an unsaleable commodity is valueless though it might have its use value. Thus, the self-confidence, the "feeling of the self', is merely an indication of what others think of the person. It is not he who is convinced of his value  regardless of popularity and his success on the market. If he is sought after, he is somebody; if he is not popular, he is nobody. This dependence of self-esteem on the success of the 'personality' is the reason why for the modern man, popularity has this tremendous importance. On it depends not only whether or not one goes ahead in practical matters, but also whether one can keep up one's self-esteem or whether one falls into the abyss of inferiority feelings." (FOF 103)  The only props to his self-esteem is his property: his house, his car, his clothes and his social prestige, partly supported by the amount of property he has under his name and partly the direct result of success in the fields of competition and for those with little property and social prestige, his family may become a source of individual prestige. In his home, he could feel that he is "somebody": he might be a nobody in his social relations but he may be king at home. For still others, it may be national pride. Even if he is nobody personally, he will be proud to belong to a group which he can feel is superior to other comparable group.

(To be cont'd)