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2011年8月14日 星期日

Man the Sick Animal (X)

(Cont'd)

The final topic Fromm covers in his examination of the mechanisms of escape from freedom is what he calls "automaton conformity". Apart from renouncing his own individual integrity and destroying others, a person may also withdraw from the world and sometimes so completely that it ceases to exist for him and he may live in an internal world of his fantasy (e.g in some forms of schizophrenia). In this condition, he has inflated his own psychological world to such an extent that the world outside has become extremely small by comparison. (FOF 159). However, this form of individual escape is unimportant as far as society as a whole is concerned. What is more significant is the way an individual ceases to to be himself by adopting entirely "the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns." (FOF 159) He becomes what everybody else is and what he is expected to be, rather like a lizard camouflaging himself by changing the color of his skin so that it blends in perfectly with the physical environment and he becomes indistinguishable from it. The only difference is that it in this case, he is doing it psychologically and socially. By doing so, he becomes an automaton, identical with millions of other automatons around him and does not feel alone or anxious. He has to pay a high price though: he loses his uniqueness as an individual.

We normally think that we are free to think, to feel and to act as we please and we believe our thoughts, our feelings and acts are those of our own. Yet for the majority of us, that is a dangerous illusion. It is dangerous because it blocks the removal of those very conditions which are responsible for our falling into that illusion in the first place. To Fromm, we must first ask ourselves the following questions: What is the self? What is the nature of those acts which give us the relevant illusion of their being our own acts? What is spontaneity? What is an original mental act? What has it got to do with freedom?

Fromm thinks except for some exceptional individuals, who are more justified in saying that what they think and feel and do originate from their own free will, it is entirely possible that for the majority, their minds have already been subtly and sometimes not so subtly influenced by all kinds of advertisement, indoctrination, socialization, acculturation etc to such an extent that what they "genuinely" believe to be their own thoughts, their own feelings and their own acts are little more than thoughts and feelings suggested to them by others e.g their parents, their teachers, their friends, their religious, political leaders and leaders of public opinion. To such an individual, who is not fully or even dimly aware that he is being so influenced overtly or subconsciously through advertisements, propaganda etc, their thoughts, feelings and actions may not be his  own, in the sense that they are the result of his conscious reflection with full information. They have been put into his mind from outside sources and they only "feel" to him, as if they were his own thought, his own feelings etc.. Fromm uses the example a person who has been "hypnotized" to illustrate his point. We have all been to a greater or lesser extent by "hypnotized" by others especially by those whom we trust or have no reason to distrust and more generally by society and to that extent, our "self" may to greater or smaller extent be just be the reflection of what society wants us to be. The example of a hypnotic experiment shows according to Fromm " in the most unmistakable manner that, although one may be convinced of the spontaneity of one's mental acts, they actually result from the influence of a person other than oneself under the conditions of a particular situation." (FOF 164) Such external social influences, though few of us are aware of them,  are so pervasive that they give us the "impression that these pseudo acts are the rule, while the genuine or indigenous mental acts are the exception." (FOF 164). We often merely parrot the opinions of our parents, our teachers, our friends, our opinion leaders and think that we have arrived at them though our own thinking. But often we are not even aware that we are doing that! The same applies to our political opinion especially in small towns, where if our family is conservative, liberal, radical it is more likely than not that we shall remain conservative, liberal, radical etc.

Fromm thinks that we cannot learn whether we are dealing with a rationalization merely by determining the logicality of a person's statement as such. We must also take into account the psychological motivations operating in a person. He says: "The decisive point is not what is thought but how it is thought." (FOF 168) This is how he distinguishes an original thought from a pseudo thought: " The thought that is the result of active thinking is always new and original; original, not necessarily in the sense that others have not thought it before, but always in the sense that the person who thinks, has used thinking as a tool to discover something new in the world outside or inside himself. Rationalizations are essentially lacking this quality of discovering and uncovering; they only confirm the emotional prejudice existing in oneself. Rationalization is not a tool for penetration of reality but a post-factum attempt to harmonize one's own wishes with existing reality". He must be the first cognitive dissonance theorist!

It is not always easy to find out whether what we think is our own thought is truly our own thought. Perhaps only when we analyze our dreams, when we observe our "accidental" slips of tongue and do deep reflections in silence will the truth emerge. Whatever the proper techniques for uncovering the truth of whether we are truly free may be, Fromm thinks that all too often, we are merely "adopting" the expectations of others in a way that makes them "appear" to us that they are our own thoughts, our own feelings and our own wishes. We thereby replace our original self ( the originator of mental activities) by a pseudo self ( only "an agent who actually represents the role a person is supposed to play but who does so under the name of the self. ")(FOF 177). Actually, it is more complicated than that. We may play many roles and be subjectively convinced that we "are" our true "self" in each of the roles we play, when in reality our original self has been smothered and suffocated and repressed and completely replaced by our pseudo or social self. Our true self may only re-appear and re-emerge in our dreams or while we are drunk! Sometimes, our true self may be the very best things we possess but which we have repressed because of the our fear of being ridiculed or attacked for having such feelings. (FOF 177)

The result of the repression and substitution of our true self in favour of our pseudo self may leave an individual in "an intense state of insecurity. He is obsessed by doubt, since, being essentially a reflex of other people's expectation of him, he has in a measure lost his identity." To deal with such an unbearable insecurity, we may be compelled to conform, to seek our identity through the continuous approval and recognition by others. The logic is simple: "Since he does not know who he is, at least the other others will know--if he acts according to their expectations; if they know, he will know too, if he only takes their word for it." (FOF 178) . This according to Fromm is why the lower middle classes of Germany found it so easy to adopt Nazism as their national faith and ideology: "the automatization of the individual in modern society has increased the helplessness and insecurity of the average individual. Thus he is ready to submit to new authorities which offer him security and relief from doubt in the form of authoritarianism."

I think Fromm's analysis of the psychology of the lower middle classes of Europe may also apply rather more generally to the status of the lower middle classes everywhere and perhaps to the psychology of other social classes as well. Although each of us may claim that we want nothing more than our freedom, Fromm's analysis makes us wonder whether we truly want what we say we want.  Is there not something in the psychology of each of us that long to be a slave to some authority, whether that authority be a supreme God, some guru, some great teacher or some leader, just to be free of the unbearable doubts and the intolerable insecurity that a truly free man must face for himself, alone against the entire social world and the universe, a universe open to his exploration and possible mastery but also fraught with an awesome uncertainty and a dark threatening power. It is not an easy path to take. What Fromm writes reminds me of what a great spiritual writer has said: "For centuries , we have been spoon-fed by our teachers, by our authorities, by our books, our saints....We are second hand people. We have lived on what we have been told, either guided by our inclinations, our tendencies, or compelled to accept by circumstances and environment. We are the result of all kinds of influences and there is nothing new in us, nothing that we have discovered for ourselves; nothing original, pristine, clear....We have been told that all paths lead to truth--you have your path as a Hindu and someone else has his path as a Christian and another as a Muslim and they all meet at the same door--which is, when you look at it, so obviously absurd. Truth has no path, that is the beauty of truth, it is living. A dead thing has a path to it because it is static, but when you see that truth is something living, moving, which has no resting place, which is in no temple, mosque or church, which no religion, no teacher, no philosopher, nobody can lead you to--then you will also see that this living thing is what you actually are--your anger, your brutality, your violence, your despair, the agony and sorrow you live in. In the understanding of all this is the truth, and you can understand it only if you know how to look at those things in your life. And you cannot look through an ideology, through a screen of words, through hopes and fears. ...you cannot depend on anybody. There is no guide, no teacher, no authority. There is only you--your relationship with others and with the world--there is nothing else....nobody else are responsible for the world and for yourself, for what you think, what you feel, how you act, all self-pity goes." That spiritual writer is called J Krishnamurti. The quotation is taken from Freedom From the Known (1969, 1988 8 & 18). We are born alone. We shall go alone. We must find out and think things out for ourselves, also alone. But we are not as hopeless as we may otherwise think. We may, if we bother to read, find some assistance from what others have thought about, talked about or have written about. But ultimately, we must make up our own mind, after due reflection. Nobody else can do that for us. Our destiny is in our own hands. Shall we meet our challenge? Do we really have a choice?