An excerpt from “The Art of Being” by Erich Fromm

Haven’t transcribed on here in a long time. Found my copy of Erich Fromm’s The Art of Being (1989) today and so feel like sharing a bit from it, beginning on page 84:

However, stressing the One in man must not in an undialectical fashion lead to the denial of the fact that man is also an individual; that, in fact, each person is a unique individual not identical with anyone ever to be born (perhaps with the exception of identical twins). Only paradoxical thinking, so much a part of Eastern logic, permits expression of the full reality: Man is a unique individual—man’s individuality is sham and unreal. Man is “this and that” and man is “neither this nor that.” The paradoxical fact is that the deeper I experience my own or another’s unique individuality, the clearer I see through myself and him the reality of universal man, freed from all individual qualities, “the Zen Buddhists’ man without rank and without title.”

These considerations lead to the problem of the value and dangers of individualism and, related to it, the psychological study of the individual. It is very apparent that, at present, individuality and individualism are highly esteemed and widely praised as values and as personal and cultural goals. But the value of individuality is very ambiguous. On the one hand, it contains the element of liberation from authoritarian structures that prevent the autonomous development of a person. If self-knowledge serves to become aware of one’s true self, and to develop it rather than to introject a “foreign” self, imposed by the authorities, it is of great human value. In fact, the positive aspect of self-knowledge and psychology are so widely emphasized that it is scarcely necessary to add more to this phrase.

But it is extremely necessary to say something about the negative side of the cult of individuality, and its to relation to psychology. One reason for this cult is obvious: The more individuality disappears in fact, the more it is exalted in words. Industry, television, habits of consumption pay homage to the individuality of the persons they manipulate: There is the name of the bank teller in his window and the initials on the handbag. In addition, the individuality of commodities is stressed: The alleged differences between cars, cigarettes, toothpaste, which are essentially the same (in the same price class), serve the purpose of creating the illusion of the individual man or woman freely choosing individual things. There is little awareness that the individuality is, at best, one of insignificant differences, for in all their essential features commodities and human beings have lost all individuality.

The apparent individuality is cherished as a precious possession. Even if people don’t own capital, they own their individuality. Although they are not individuals, they have much individuality, and they are eager and proud to cultivate it. Since this individuality is one of small differences, they give the small, trivial differences the aspect of important, meaningful features.

Contemporary psychology has promoted and satisfied this interest in “individuality.” People think about their “problems,” talk about all the little details of their childhood history, but often what they say is glorified gossip about themselves and others, using psychological terms and concepts instead of the less sophisticated and old-fashioned gossip.

Supporting this illusion of individuality through trivial differences, contemporary psychology has a still more important function; by teaching how people ought to react under the influence of different stimuli, psychologists become an important instrument for the manipulation of others and of oneself. Behaviorism has created a whole science that teaches the art of manipulation. Many business firms make it a condition for employment that their prospective employees submit to personality tests. Many books teach the individual how to behave, in order to impress people of the value of their own personality package or of the value of the commodity they sell. By being useful in all these respects, one branch of contemporary psychology has become an important part of modern society.

While this type of psychology is useful economically and as an illusion-producing ideology, it is harmful to human beings because it tends to increase their alienation. It is fraudulent when it pretends to be based on the ideas of “self-knowledge” as the humanistic tradition, up to Freud, had conceived it.

The opposite to adjustment psychology is radical, because it goes to the roots; it is critical, because it knows that conscious thought is mostly a fabric of illusions and falsehood. It is “salvific,” because it hopes that the true knowledge of oneself and others liberates man and its conducive to his well-being. For anyone interested in psychological exploration it is necessary to be intensely aware of the fact that these two kinds of psychology have little more in common than the name, and that they follow contrary goals.

Stopped on page 86.

A bit irritated that my blog’s theme has reset itself and insists on italicizing everything, showing no distinctions even where I apply font changes. Grrr..  Ah well. Ya’ll can read a print version to see where he placed emphasis. Sorry about that.

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