Chris Hedges’ book “Empire of Illusions: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle”

Having read a number of Chris Hedges’ books, including American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Losing Moses on the Freeway, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, his 2010 book titled Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle is another I’d like to offer up to others, though I wouldn’t recommend beginning with reading this one, this book being more of a summary and broad treatment of a collection of problems facing society. Hedges hits several major points, from our tantalization with Jerry Springer-esque forms of entertainment to the personal and societal destructiveness of hardcore pornography; from the dangers of corporatism and the realities and consequences we face today, as a nation and a people, politically, socially, and economically, to the power of love. This man does a great job of telling it like it is!

I’ll include some excerpts below, beginning on pages 14-15:

In The Republic, Plato imagines human beings chained for the duration of their lives in an underground cave, knowing nothing but darkness. Their gaze is confined to the cave wall, upon which shadows of the world above are thrown. They believe these flickering shadows are reality. If, Plato writes, one of these prisoners is freed and brought into the sunlight, he will suffer great pain. Blinded by the glare, he is unable to see anything and longs for the familiar darkness. But eventually his eyes adjust to the light. The illusion of the tiny shadows is obliterated. He confronts the immensity, chaos, and confusion of reality. The world is no longer drawn in simple silhouettes. But he is despised when he returns to the cave. He is unable to see in the dark as he used to. Those who never left the cave ridicule him and swear never to go into the light lest they be blinded as well.

Plato feared the power of entertainment, the power of the sense to overthrow the mind, the power of emotion to obliterate reason. No admirer of popular democracy, Plato said that the enlightened or elite had a duty to educate those bewitched by the shadows on the cave wall, a position that led Socrates to quip: “As for the man who tried to free them and lead them upward, if they could somehow lay their hands on him and kill him, they would do so.”

We are chained to the flickering shadows of celebrity culture, the spectacle of the arena and the airwaves, the lies of advertising, the endless personal dramas, many of them completely fictional, that have become the staples of news, celebrity gossip, New Age mysticism, and pop psychology.

On porn and profits, page 58:

There are some 13,000 porn films made every year in the United States, most in the San Fernando Valley in California. According to the Internet Filter Review, worldwide porn revenues, including in-room movies at hotels, sex clubs, and the ever-expanding e-sex world, topped $97 billion in 2006. That is more than the revenues of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix, and Earthlink combined. Annual sales in the United States are estimated at $10 billion or higher. There is no precise monitoring of the porn industry. And porn is very lucrative to some of the nation’s largest corporations. General Motors owns DIRECTV, which distributes more than 40 million streams of porn into American homes every month. AT&T Broadband and Comcast Cable are currently the biggest American companies accommodating porn users with the Hot Network, Adult Pay Per View, and similarly themed services. AT&T and GM rake in approximately 80 percent of all porn dollars spent by consumers.

[Bold emphasis mine.]

Broaching the topic of the fall of the United States of America on page 142:

The country I live in today uses the same civic, patriotic, and historical language to describe itself, the same symbols and iconography, the same national myths, but only the shell remains. The America we celebrate is an illusion. America, the country of my birth, the country that formed and shaped me, the country of my father, my father’s father, and his father’s father, stretching back to the generations of my family that were here for the country’s founding, is so diminished as to be unrecognizable. I do not know if this America will return, even as I pray and work and strive for its return.

The words consent of the governed have become an empty phrase. Our textbooks on political science and economics are obsolete. Our nation has been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations, and a narrow, selfish, political, and economic elite, a small privileged group that governs, and often steals, on behalf of moneyed interests. This elite, in the name of patriotism and democracy, in the name of all the values that were once part of the American system and defined the Protestant work ethic, has systematically destroyed our manufacturing sector, looted the treasury, corrupted our democracy, and trashed the financial system. During this plundering we remained passive, mesmerized by the enticing shadows on the wall, assured our tickets to success, prosperity, and happiness were waiting around the corner.

Chris Hedges includes substantiating literature on the topics discussed, listed in the bibliography, with a few titles and authors specifically mentioned on page 146:

There were some who saw it coming. The political philosophers Sheldon S. Wolin, John Ralston Saul, and Andrew Bacevich, writers such as Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, David Korten, and Naomi Klein, and activists such as Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, and Ralph Nader warned us about our march of folly. In the immediate years after the Second World War, a previous generation of social critics recognized the destructive potential of the rising corporate state. Books such as David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite, William H. White’s The Organization Man, Seymour Mellman’s The Permanent War Economy: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, and Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History have proved to be prophetic. This generation of writers remembered what had been lost. They saw the intrinsic values that were being dismantled. The culture they sought to protect has largely been obliterated. During the descent, our media and universities, extensions of corporate and mass culture, proved intellectually and morally useless. They did not thwart the decay. We failed to heed the wisdom of these critics, embracing instead the idea that all change was a form of progress.

In his book Democracy Incorporated, Wolin, who taught political philosophy at Berkeley and at Princeton, uses the phrase inverted totalitarianism to describe our system of power. Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, and the Constitution while manipulating internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens, but candidates must raise staggering amounts of corporate funds to compete. They are beholden to armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington or state capitals who author the legislation and get the legislators to pass it. Corporate media control nearly everything we read, watch, or hear. It imposes a bland uniformity of opinion. It diverts us with trivia and celebrity gossip. In classical totalitarianism regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. “Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes. “Economics dominates politics—and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.”

[Italicized emphasis his. Bold emphasis mine.]

Excerpts don’t do this book justice. I agree so much with this author. The man makes a great deal of sense, especially when I read this book in conjunction with other books like Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Chris Hedges’ American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Richard L. Rubenstein’s The Cunning of History: Mass Death and the American Future, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, as well as Ron Paul’s End the Fed (not that I personally share Ron Paul’s exuberance for returning to a gold standard).

Here is a review of Empire of Illusion in The Cleveland Leader. I don’t share the reviewer’s disappointment with the ending, lamenting that “Hedges didn’t conclude his work with some small glimmers of hope.” Au contraire. Mr. Hedges ended on the most hopeful message one can offer: that we learn to love one another and make the necessary sacrifices to pull through. Love is no small matter. It may be all we really have…all that will ever set things right.

Below is an interview of Chris Hedges on GRITtv (July 2009):

The Various Forms of Love — an excerpt from Ch. 3 of “The Sane Society”

Having left off on page 35 of Chapter 3 with Fromm’s question “What are these needs and passions stemming from the existence of man?“, let’s pick back up there in Erich Fromm’s book The Sane Society (1955):

A. Relatedness vs. Narcissim

Man is torn away from the primary union with nature, which characterizes animal existence. Having at the same time reason and imagination, he is aware of his aloneness and separateness; of his powerlessness and ignorance; of the accidentalness of his birth and of his death. He could not face this state of being for a second if he could not find new ties with his fellow man which replace the old ones, regulated by instincts. Even if all his physiological needs were satisfied, he would experience his state of aloneness and individuation as a prison from which he had to break out in order to retain his sanity. In fact, the insane person is the one who has completely failed to establish any kind of union, and is imprisoned, even if he is not behind barred windows. The necessity to unite with other living beings, to be related to them, is an imperative need on the fulfillment of which man’s sanity depends. This need is behind all phenomena, which constitute the whole gamut of intimate human relations, of all passions which are called love in the broadest sense of the world.

There are several ways in which this union can be sought and achieved. Man can attempt to become one with the world by submission to a person, to a group, to an institution, to God. In this way he transcends the separateness of his individual existence by becoming part of somebody or something bigger than himself, and experiences his identity in connection with the power to which he has submitted. Another possibility of overcoming separateness lies in the opposite direction: man can try to unite himself with the world by having power over it, by making others a part of himself, thus transcending his individual existence by domination. The common element in both submission and domination is the symbiotic nature of relatedness. Both persons involved have lost their integrity and freedom; they live on each other and from each other, satisfying their craving for closeness, yet suffering from the lack of inner strength and self-reliance which would require freedom and independence, and furthermore constantly threatened by the conscious or unconscious hostility which is bound to arise from the symbiotic relationship. The realization of the submissive (masochistic) or the domineering (sadistic) passion never leads to satisfaction. They have a self-propelling dynamism, and because no amount of submission, or domination (or possession, or fame), is enough to give a sense of identity and union, more and more of it is sought. The ultimate result of these passions is defeat. It cannot be otherwise; while these passions aim at the establishment of a sense of union, they destroy the sense of integrity. The person driven by any one of these passions actually becomes dependent on others; instead of developing his own individual being, he is dependent on those to whom he submits, or whom he dominates.

There is only one passion which satisfies man’s need to unite himself with the world, and to acquire at the same time a sense of integrity and individuality, and this is love. Love is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self. It is an experience of sharing, of communion, which permits the full unfolding of one’s own inner activity.The experience of love does away with the necessity of illusions. There is no need to inflate the image of the other person, or of myself, since the reality of active sharing and loving permits me to transcend my individualized existence, and at the same time to experience myself as the bearer of the active powers which constitute the act of loving. What matters is the particular quality of loving, not the object. Love is in the experience of human solidarity with our fellow creatures, it is in the erotic love of man and woman, in the love of the mother for the child, and also in the love for union. In the act of loving, I am one with All, and yet I am myself, a unique, separate, limited, mortal human being. Indeed out of the very polarity between separateness and union, love is born and reborn.

Love is one aspect of what I have called the productive orientation: the active and creative relatedness of man to his fellow man, to himself and to nature. In the realm of thought, this productive orientation is expressed in the proper grasp of the world by reason. In the realm of action, the productive orientation is expressed in productive work, the prototype of which is art and craftsmanship. In the realm of feeling, the productive orientation is expressed in love, which is the experience of union with another person, with all men, and with nature, under the condition of retaining one’s sense of integrity and independence. In the experience of love the paradox happens that two people become one, and remain two at the same time. Love in this sense is never restricted to one person. If I can love only one person, and nobody else, if my love for person makes me more alienated and distant from my fellow man, I may be attached to this person in any number of ways, yet I do not love. If I can say, “I love you,” I say, “I love in you all of humanity, all that is alive; I love in you also myself.” Self-love, in this sense, is the opposite of selfishness. The latter is actually a greedy concern with oneself which springs from and compensates for the lack of genuine love for oneself. Love, paradoxically, makes me more independent because it makes me stronger and happier—yet it makes me one with the loved person to the extent that individuality seems to be extinguished  for the moment. In loving I experience “I am you,” you—the loved person, you—the stranger, you—everything alive. In the experience of love lies the only answer to being human, lies sanity.

Productive love always implies a syndrome of attitudes; that of care, responsibility, respect and knowledge. If I love, I care—that us, I am actively concerned with the other person’s growth and happiness; I am not a spectator. I am responsible, that is, I respond to his needs, to those he can express and more so to those he cannot or does not express. I respect him, that is (according to the original meaning of re-spicere) I look at him as he is, objectively and not distorted by my wishes and fears. I know him, I have penetrated through his surface to the core of his being and related myself to him from my core, from the center, as against the periphery, of my being.

Productive love when directed toward equals may be called brotherly love. In motherly love (Hebrew: rachamin, from rechem= womb) the relationship between the two persons involved is one of inequality; the child is helpless and dependent on the mother. In order to grow, it must become more and more independent, until he does not need mother any more. Thus the mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, and yet this very love must help the child to grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent. It is easy for any mother to love her child before this process of separation has begun—but it is the task in which most fail, to love the child and at the same time to let it go—and to want to let it go.

In erotic love (Gr. eros; Hebrew: ahawa, from the root “to glow”), another drive is involved: that for fusion and union with another person. While brotherly love refers to all men and motherly love to the child and all those who are in need of our help, erotic love is directed to one person, normally of the opposite sex, with whom fusion and oneness is desired. Erotic love begins with separateness, and ends in oneness. Motherly love begins with oneness, and leads to separateness. If the need for fusion were realized in motherly love, it would mean destruction of the child as an independent being, since the child needs to emerge from his mother, rather than to remain tied to her. If erotic love lacks brotherly love and is only motivated by the wish for fusion, it is sexual desire without love, or the perversion of love as we find it in the sadistic and masochistic forms of “love.”

[Italicized emphases his; bold emphasis mine.]

Leaving off on page 39. That’s enough transcribing for this afternoon.

Understanding Exponential Growth

Tonight I’m sharing a presentation by Albert Bartlett, retired Physics professor at University of Colorado-Boulder, titled “Arithmetic, Population, and Energy” on how exponential growth works, breaking it down in a clear and straight-forward manner and explaining how this relates to the resources we depend on (recorded in the 1990s):

A quote mentioned in the video above taken from Bill Moyers’ interview of Isaac Asimov back in 1988 (the full transcript available here) stated this:

MOYERS: What happens to the idea of the dignity of the human species if this population growth continues at its present rate?

ASIMOV: It will be completely destroyed. I like to use what I call my bathroom metaphor: If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then both have freedom of the bathroom. You can go to the bathroom anytime you want to and stay as long as you want to for whatever you need. And everyone believes in the freedom of the bathroom; it should be right there in the Constitution.

But if you have twenty people in the apartment and two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up times for each person, you have to bang at the door: “Aren’t you through yet?” and so on. In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies. The more people there are, the less one individual matters.

Well-put.

The Birth of Humanity, an ongoing process — Ch. 3 excerpt from the book “The Sane Society”

Carrying on this evening transcribing where I left off in Chapter 3 (page 31) in Erich Fromm’s book The Sane Society (1955):

The animal is content if its physiological needs—its hunger, its thirst and its sexual needs—are satisfied. Inasmuch as man is also animal, these needs are likewise imperative and must be satisfied. But inasmuch as man is human, the satisfaction of these instinctual needs is not sufficient to make him happy; they are not even sufficient to make him sane. The archimedic point of the specifically human dynamism lies in this uniqueness of the human situation; the understanding of man’s psyche must be based on the analysis of man’s needs stemming from the conditions of his existence.

The problem, then, which the human race as well as each individual has to solve is that of being born. Physical birth, if we think of the individual, is by no means as decisive and singular an act as it appears to be. It is, indeed, an important change from intrauterine into extrauterine life; but in many respects the infant after birth is not different from the infant before birth; it cannot perceive things outside, cannot feed itself; it is completely dependent on the mother, and would perish without her help. Actually, the process of birth continues. The child begins to recognize outside objects, to react affectively, to grasp things and to coordinate his movements, to walk. But birth continues. The child learns to speak, it learns to know the use and function of things, it learns to relate itself to others, to avoid punishment and gain praise and liking. Slowly, the growing person learns to love, to develop reason, to look at the world objectively. He begins to develop his powers; to acquire a sense of identity, to overcome the seduction of his senses for the sake of an integrated life. Birth, then, in the conventional meaning of the word, is only the beginning of birth in the broader sense. The whole life of the individual is nothing but the process of giving birth to himself; indeed, we should be fully born, when we die—although it is the tragic fate of most individuals to die before they are born.

From all we know about the evolution of the human race, the birth of man is to be understood in the same sense as the birth of the individual. When man had transcended a certain threshold of minimum instinctive adaptation, he ceased to be an animal; but he was as helpless and unequipped for human existence as the individual infant is at birth. The birth of man began with the first members of the species homo sapiens, and human history is nothing but the whole process of this birth. It has taken man hundreds of thousands of years to take the first steps into human life; he went through a narcissistic phase of magic omnipotent orientation, through totemism, nature worship, until he arrived at the beginnings of the formation of conscience, objectivity, brotherly love. In the last four thousand years of his history, he has developed visions of the fully born and fully awakened man, visions expressed in not too different ways by the great teachers of man in Egypt, China, India, Palestine, Greece and Mexico.

The fact that man’s birth is primarily a negative act, that of being thrown out of the original oneness with nature, that he cannot return to where came from, implies that the process of birth is by no means an easy one. Each step into his new human existence is frightening. It always means to give up a secure state, which was relatively known, for one which is new, which one has not yet mastered. Undoubtedly, if the infant could think at the moment of the severance of the umbilical cord, he would experience the fear of dying. A loving fate protects us from this first panic. But at any new step, at any new stage of our birth, we are afraid again. We are never free from two conflicting tendencies: one to emerge from the womb, from the animal form of existence into a more human existence, from bondage to freedom; another, to return to the womb, to nature, to certainty and security. In the history of the individual, and of the race, the progressive tendency has proven to be stronger, yet the phenomena of mental illness and the regression of the human race to positions apparently relinquished generations ago, show the intense struggle which accompanies each new act of birth.

Man’s Needs—as They Stem from the Conditions of His Existence

Man’s life is determined by the inescapable alternative between regression and progression, between return to animal existence and arrive at human existence. Any attempt to return is painful, it inevitably leads to suffering and mental sickness, to death either physiologically or mentally (insanity). Every step forward is frightening and painful too, until a certain point has been reached where fear and doubt have only minor proportions. Aside from the physiologically nourished cravings (hunger, thirst, sex), all essential human cravings are determined by this polarity. Man has to solve a problem, he can never rest in the given situation of a passive adaptation to nature. Even the most complete satisfaction of all his instinctive needs does not solve his human problem; his most intensive passions and needs are not those rooted in his body, but those rooted in the very peculiarity of his existence.

There lies also the key to humanistic psychoanalysis. Freud, searching for the basic force which motivates human passions and desires, believed he had found it in the libido. But powerful as the sexual drive and all its derivations are, they are by no means the most powerful forces within man and their frustration is not the cause of mental disturbance. The most powerful forces motivating man’s behavior stem from the condition of his existence, the “human situation.”

Man cannot live statically because his inner contradictions drive him to seek for an equilibrium, for a new harmony instead of the lost animal harmony with nature. After he has satisfied his animal needs, he is driven by his human needs. While his body tells him what to eat and what to avoid—his conscience ought to tell him which needs to cultivate and satisfy, and which needs to let wither and starve out. But hunger and appetite are functions of the body with which man is born—conscience, while potentially present, requires the guidance of men and principles which develop only during the growth of culture.

All passions and strivings of man are attempts to find an answer to his existence or, as we may also say, they are an attempt to avoid insanity. (It may also be said in passing that the real problem of mental life is not why some people become insane, but rather why why most avoid insanity.) Both the mentally healthy and the neurotic are driven by the need to find an answer, the only difference being that one answer corresponds more to the total needs of man, and hence is more conducive to the unfolding of his powers and to his happiness than the other. All cultures provide for a patterned system in which certain solutions are predominant, hence certain strivings and satisfactions. Whether we deal with primitive religions, with theistic or non-theistic religions, they are all attempts to give an answer to man’s existential problem. The finest, as well as the most barbaric cultures have the same function—the difference is only whether the answer given is better or worse. The deviate from the cultural pattern is just as much in search of an answer as his more well-adjusted brother. His answer may be better or worse than the one given by his culture—it is always another answer to the same fundamental question raised by human existence. In this sense all cultures are religious and every neurosis is a private form of religion, provided we mean by religion an attempt to answer the problems of human existence. Indeed, the tremendous energy in the forces producing mental illness, as well as those those behind art and religion, could never be understood as an outcome of frustrated or sublimated physiological needs; they are attempts to solve the problem of being born human. All men are idealists and cannot help being idealists, provided we mean by idealism the striving for the satisfaction of needs which are specifically human and transcend the physiological needs of the organism. The difference is only that one idealism is a good and adequate solution, the other a bad and destructive one. The decision as to what is good and bad has to be made on the basis of our knowledge of man’s nature and the laws which govern its growth.

What are these needs and passions stemming from the existence of man?

[Italicized emphasis his.]

Stopping on page 35, to be continued another day…

A glimpse into police misconduct

Switching gears this evening from transcribing, which I will return to periodically, I’d like instead tonight to focus on a few examples of misconduct by authority figures, in this instance, the police.

In a new lawsuit, Angel Dobbs and her niece Ashley Dobbs, of Irving Texas, say they were searched inside their underwear by female Texas Trooper, Kelley Helleson, after a routine traffic stop in Dallas in July.

The trooper who pulled them over, David Farrell, says on tape he saw them throw a cigarette butt out the window and smelled marijuana when he pulled them over. No drugs were found and they were released with a warning. The [relatives] say the trooper who performed the search used the same pair of gloves on both women.

 

Here is the same video as that above, this time un-edited and full length (though glitchy to where it repeats in places).

Here’s a link to the WFAA-TV news story on that presented above. And here’s a link to the lawsuit filed by the women in the above video against Texas State Trooper David Ferrell (dated December 2012). An excerpt from the lawsuit follows:

“This intrusive cavity search occurred on the side of a public freeway illuminated by lights from the police vehicle in full view of the passing public,” the lawsuit reads. “Moreover, this roadside body cavity search was done without her consent.”

 

Damn. And all because that trooper claims he smelled marijuana in the car. That’s it and that’s all.

Next, we have the case of “Breakfast in Collinsville (with Michael Reichert),”a well-made video containing the original police video footage that led to a well-deserved lawsuit for an illegal search:

The gist: On December 4th 2011, StarTrek fans Terrance Huff and Jon Seaton are stopped illegally after a StarTrek Exhibition for suspected drug transportation in Collinsville, Illinois. Award winning filmmaker Terrance Huff does a breakdown of an illegal traffic stop and subsequent search involving a K9 Officer who has a questionable past.

 

How much bullshit was that traffic stop? Talk about blatantly violating this man’s civil rights. Think this shit is rare? Think again. There are good police officers, and there are bad ones, and in a system that’s increasingly putting the squeeze on people with integrity—that is, quality, law-observing police officers—how long can we assume it will be before decent people no longer comprise the majority of officers on the force?

 

“No one can be good for long if goodness is not in demand. — Bertolt Brecht

 

At what point do we as a citizenry start getting real with ourselves and one another on the direction our society is taking? There’s a lot to take in today, and an indecipherable, complicated profusion of laws on the books combined with the degraded state of law enforcement is a very significant concern confronting our society. With law books rendered unnecessarily complicated by a ceaseless stream of new laws introduced, plenty of which are unneeded and/or unenforceable, we’re put in a situation where individuals cannot possibly keep up with what all is legal or illegal, and thereby we are hindered and compromised when it comes to protecting and legally defending our rights and interests. This, of course, involves various outlying factors that further complicate the situation, including the debased state of our political system and the impact economics have on all sectors of society, but that’s beyond the scope of today’s post.

Carrying on…

After Angela Garbarino was arrested in Shreveport, Louisiana last November [2007?] on suspicion of drunk driving, she wound up lying on the police station floor in a pool of her own blood with two black eyes, a broken nose, two broken teeth, and other cuts and bruises.

Garbarino says that Officer Wiley Willis beat her up after turning off the police video camera. Willis’s attorney insists that Garbarino slipped and fell when Willis tried to prevent her from leaving the room. However, Garbarino says that the extent of her injuries are proof that she was beaten.

 

Here’s the 2011 case of Florida Trooper Watts pulling over Miami Police Officer Fausto Lopez abusing the power of his position by traveling off-duty to his side job at speeds purportedly surpassing 120 mph:

Feeling sorry for the Miami cop in the video above? Consider the following video of Miami cops mistreating a peaceful protester and then laughing about it later on camera:

Continuing on…

That’s enough of that for now. A topic to be revisited another day.

Human as partly divine, partly animal — Ch. 3 excerpt from the book “The Sane Society”

Picking back up Erich Fromm’s book The Sane Society (1955) and continuing on to Chapter 3 titled “The Human Situation — The Key to Humanistic Psychoanalysis,” beginning on page 29:

Man, in respect to his body and his physiological functions, belongs to the animal kingdom. The functioning of the animal is determined by instincts, by specific action patterns which are in turn determined by inherited neurological structures. The higher an animal is in the scale of development, the more flexibility of action pattern and the less completeness of structural adjustment do we find at birth. In the higher primates we even find considerable intelligence; that is, use of thought for the accomplishment of desired goals, thus enabling the animal to go far beyond the instinctively prescribed action pattern. But great as the development within the animal kingdom is, certain basic elements of existence remain the same.

The animal “is lived” through biological laws of nature; it is part of nature and never transcends it. It has no conscience of a moral nature, and no awareness of itself and of its existence; it has no reason, if by reason we mean the ability to penetrate the surface grasped by the senses and to understand the essence behind that surface; therefore the animal has no concept of truth, even though it may have an idea of what is useful.

Animal existence is one of harmony between the animal and nature; not, of course, in the sense that the natural conditions do not often threaten the animal and force it to a bitter fight for survival, but in the sense that the animal is equipped by nature to cope with the very conditions it is to meet, just as the seed of a plant is equipped by nature to make use of the conditions of soil, climate, etcetera, to which it has become adapted in the evolutionary process.

At a certain point of animal evolution, there occurred a unique break, comparable to the first emergence of matter, to the first emergence of life, and to the first emergence of animal existence. This new event happens when in the evolutionary process, action ceases to be essentially determined by instinct; when the adaptation of nature loses its coercive character; when action is no longer fixed by hereditarily given mechanisms. When the animal transcends nature, when it transcends the purely passive role of the creature, when it becomes, biologically speaking, the most helpless animal, man is born. At this point, the animal has emancipated itself from nature by erect posture, the brain has grown far beyond what it was in the highest animal. This birth of man may have lasted for hundreds of thousands of years, but what matters is that a new species arose, transcending nature, that life became aware of itself.

Self-awareness, reason and imagination disrupt the “harmony” which characterizes animal existence. Their emergence has made man into an anomaly, into the freak of the universe. He is part of nature, subject to her physical laws and unable to change them, yet he transcends the rest of nature. He is set apart while being a part; he is homeless, yet chained to the home he shares with all creatures. Cast into this world at an accidental place and time, he is forced out of it, again accidentally. Being aware of himself, he realizes his powerlessness and the limitations of his existence. He visualizes his own end: death. Never is he free from the dichotomy of his existence: he cannot rid himself of his mind, even if he should want to; he cannot rid himself of his body as long as he is alive—and his body makes him want to be alive.

Reason, man’s blessing, is also his curse; it forces him to cope everlastingly with the task of solving an insoluble dichotomy. Human existence is different in this respect from that of all other organisms; it is in a state of constant and unavoidable disequilibrium. Man’s life cannot “be lived” by repeating the pattern of his species; he must live. Man is the only animal that can be bored, that can feel evicted from paradise. Man is the only animal who finds his own existence a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape. He cannot go back to the prehuman state of harmony with nature; he must proceed to develop his reason until he becomes the master of nature, and of himself.

But man’s birth ontogenetically as well as phylogenetically is essentially a negative event. He lacks the instinctive adaptation to nature, he lacks physical strength, he is the most helpless of all animals at birth, and in need of protection for a much longer period of time than any of them. While he has lost the unity with nature, he has not been given the means to lead a new existence outside of nature. His reason is most rudimentary, he has no knowledge of nature’s processes, nor tools to replace the lost instincts; he lives divided into small groups, with no knowledge of himself or of others; indeed, the biblical Paradise myth expresses the situation with perfect clarity. Man, who lives in the Garden of Eden, in complete harmony with nature but without awareness of himself, begins his history by the first act of freedom, disobedience to a command. Concomitantly, he becomes aware of himself, of his separateness, of his helplessness; he is expelled from Paradise, and two angels with fiery swords prevent his return.

Man’s evolution is based on the fact that he has lost his original home, nature—and that he can never return to it, can never become an animal again. There is only one way he can take: to emerge fully from his natural home, to find a new home—one which he creates, by making the world a human one and by becoming truly human himself.

When man is born, the human race as well as the individual, he is thrown out of a situation which was definite, as definite as the instincts, into a situation which is indefinite, uncertain and open. There is certainty only about the past, and about the future as far as it is death—which actually is return to the past, the inorganic state of matter.

The problem of man’s existence, then, is unique in the whole of nature; he has fallen out of nature, as it were, and is still in it; he is partly divine, partly animal; partly infinite, partly finite. The necessity to find ever-new solutions for the contradictions in his existence, to find ever-higher forms of unity with nature, his fellow men and himself, is the source of all psychic forces which motivate man, of all his passions, affects and anxieties.

[Bold emphasis mine.]

Let’s leave off there tonight on page 31, to be picked up again another day.

Appropriately enough, while typing that above Pandora played the song “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, underscoring Fromm’s explanation of what we humans can’t help but be preoccupied with, namely persistently reflecting on our own existence and its seeming futility. Just struck me as kinda ironic is all.

Love = Respect, Care, Responsibility, Knowledge

Following is one of my favorite excerpts transcribed from Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving (1956).  Beginning on page 24:

It is hardly necessary to stress the fact that the ability to love as an act of giving depends on the character development of the person.  It presupposes the attainment of a predominantly productive orientation; in this orientation the person has overcome dependency, narcissistic omnipotence, the wish to exploit others, or to hoard, and has acquired faith in his own human powers, courage to rely on his powers in the attainment of his goals. To the degree that these qualities are lacking, he is afraid of giving himself—hence of loving.

Beyond the element of giving, the active character of love becomes evident in the fact that it always implies certain basic elements, common to all forms of love.  These are care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.

That love implies care is most evident in a mother’s love for her child.  No assurance of her love would strike us as sincere if we saw her lacking in care for the infant, if she neglected to feed it, to bathe it, to give it physical comfort; and we are impressed by her love if we see her caring for the child.  It is not different even with the love for animals or flowers.  If a woman told us that she loved flowers, and we saw that she forgot to water them, we would not believe in her “love” for flowers.  Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.  Where this active concern is lacking, there is no love. This element of love has been beautifully described in the book of Jonah.  God has told Jonah to go to Nineveh to warn its inhabitants that they will be punished unless they mend their evil ways.  Jonah runs away from his mission because he is afraid that the people of Nineveh will repent and that God will forgive them.  He is a man with a strong sense of order and law, but without love.  However, in his attempt to escape, he finds himself in the belly of a whale, symbolizing the state of isolation and imprisonment which his lack of love and solidarity has brought upon him. God saves him, and Jonah goes to Nineveh.  He preaches to the inhabitants as God has told him, and the very thing he was afraid of happens.  The men of Nineveh repent their sins, mend their ways, and God forgives them and decides not to destroy the city.  Jonah is intensely angry and disappointed; he wanted “justice” to be done, not mercy.  At last he finds some comfort in the shade of a tree which God has made to grow for him to protect him from the sun.  But when God makes the tree wilt, Jonah is depressed and angrily complains to God.  God answers: “Thou hast had pity on the gourd for the which thou hast not labored neither madest grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night.  And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand people that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”  God’s answer to Jonah is to be understood symbolically.  God explains to Jonah that the essence of love is to “labor” for something and “to make something grow,” that love and labors are inseparable.  One loves that for which one labors, and one labors for that which one loves.

Care and concern imply another aspect of love; that of responsibility.  Today responsibility is often meant to denote duty, something imposed upon one from the outside.  But responsibility, in its true sense, is an entirely voluntary act; it is my response to the needs, expressed or unexpressed, of another human being.  To be “responsible” means to be able and ready to “respond.”  Jonah did not feel responsible to the inhabitants of Nineveh.  He, like Cain, could ask: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The loving person responds.  The life of his brother is not his brother’s business alone, but his own.  He feels responsible for his fellow men, as he feels responsible for himself.  This responsibility, in the case of the mother and her infant, refers mainly to the care for physical needs.  In the love between adults it refers mainly to the psychic needs of the other person.

Responsibility could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness, were it not for a third component of love, respect.  Respect is not fear and awe; it denotes, in accordance with the root of the word (respicere = to look at), the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality.  Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is.  Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation.  I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me.  If I love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with him as he is, not as I need him to be as an object for my use.  It is clear that respect is possible only if I have achieved independence; if I can stand and walk without needing crutches, without having to dominate and exploit anyone else.  Respect exists only on the basis of freedom: “l’amour est l’enfant de la liberté” as an old French song says; love is the child of freedom, never that of domination.

To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge.  Knowledge would be empty if it were not motivated by concern.  There are many layers of knowledge; the knowledge which is an aspect of love is one which does not stay at the periphery, but penetrates to the core.  It is possible only when I can transcend the concern for myself and see the other person in his own terms.  I may know, for instance, that a person is angry, even if he does not show it overtly; but I may know him more deeply than that; then I know that he is anxious, and worried; that he feels lonely, that he feels guilty.  Then I know that his anger is only the manifestation of something deeper, and I see him as anxious and embarrassed, that is, as the suffering person, rather than as the angry one.

Knowledge has one more, and a more fundamental, relation to the problem of love.  The basic need to fuse with another person so as to transcend the prison of one’s separateness is closely related to another specifically human desire, that to know the “secret of man.”  While life in its merely biological aspects is a miracle and a secret, man in his human aspects is an unfathomable secret to himself—and to his fellow man.  We know ourselves, and yet even with all the efforts we may make, we do not know ourselves.  We know our fellow man, and yet we do not know him, because we are not a thing, and our fellow man is not a thing.  The further we reach into the depth of our being, or someone else’s being, the more the goal of knowledge eludes us.  Yet we cannot help desiring to penetrate into the secret of man’s soul, into the innermost nucleus which is “he.”

There is one way, a desperate one, to know the secret: it is that of complete power over another person; the power which makes him do what we want, feel what we want, think what we want; which transforms him into a thing, our thing, our possession.  The ultimate degree of this attempt to know lies in the extremes of sadism, the desire and ability to make a human being suffer; to torture him, to force him to betray man’s secret in his suffering.  In this craving for penetrating man’s secret, his and hence our own, lies an essential motivation for the depth and intensity of cruelty and destructiveness.  In a very succinct way this idea has been expressed by Isaac Babel.  He quotes a fellow officer in the Russian civil war, who has just stamped his former master to death, as saying: “With shooting—I’ll put it this way—with shooting you only get rid of a chap. . . . With shooting you’ll never get at the soul, to where it is in a fellow and how it shows itself.  But I don’t spare myself, and I’ve more than once trampled an enemy for over an hour.  You see, I want to get to know what life really is, what life’s like down our way.”

In children we often see this path to knowledge quite overtly.  The child takes something apart, breaks it up in order to know it; or it takes an animal apart; cruelly tears off the wings of a butterfly in order to know it, to force its secret.  The cruelty itself is motivated by something deeper: the wish to know the secret of things and of life.

The other path to knowing “the secret” is love.  Love is active penetration of the other person, in which my desire to know know is stilled by union.  In the act of fusion I know you, I know myself, I know everybody—and I “know” nothing.  I know in the only way knowledge of that which is alive is possible for man—by experience of union—not by any knowledge our thought can give.  Sadism is motivated by the wish to know the secret, yet I remain as ignorant as I was before.  I have torn the other being apart limb from limb, yet all I have done is to destroy him.  Love is the only way of knowledge, which in the act of union answers my quest.  In the other person, I find myself, I discover myself, I discover us both, I discover man.

The longing to know ourselves and to know our fellow man has been expressed in the Delphic motto “Know thyself.”  It is the mainspring of all psychology.  But inasmuch as the desire is to know all of man, his innermost secret, the desire can never be fulfilled in knowledge of the ordinary kind, in knowledge only by thought.  Even if we knew a thousand times more of ourselves, we would never reach bottom.  We would still remain an enigma to ourselves, as our fellow man would remain an enigma to us.  The only way of full knowledge lies in the act of love: this act transcends thought, it transcends words.  It is the daring plunge into the experience of union.  However, knowledge in thought, that is psychological knowledge, is a necessary condition for full knowledge in the act of love.  I have to know the other person and myself objectively, in order to be able to see his reality, or rather, to overcome the illusions, the irrationally distorted picture I have of him.  Only if I know a human being objectively can I know him in his ultimate essence, in the act of love.

The problem of knowing man is parallel to the religious problem of knowing God.  In conventional Western theology the attempt is made to know God by thought, to make statements about God.  It is assumed that I can know God in my thought.  In mysticism, which is the consequent outcome of monotheism (as I shall try to show later on), the attempt is given up to know God by thought, and it is replaced by the experience of union with God in which there is no more room—and no need—for knowledge about God.

The experience of union, with man, or religiously speaking, with God, is by no means irrational.  On the contrary, it is as Albert Schweitzer has pointed out, the consequence of rationalism, its most daring and radical consequence.  It is based on our knowledge of the fundamental, and not accidental, limitations of our knowledge.  It is the knowledge that we shall never “grasp” the secret of man and of the universe, but that we can know, nevertheless, in the act of love.  Psychology as a science has its limitations, and, as the logical consequence of theology is mysticism, so the ultimate consequence of psychology is love.

Care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are mutually interdependent.  They are a syndrome of attitudes which are to be found in the mature person; that is, in the person who develops his own powers productively, who only wants to have that which he has worked for, who has given up narcissistic dreams of omniscience and omnipotence, who has acquired humility based on the inner strength which only genuine productivity can give.

[Bold emphasis mine.]

Stopping on page 30.

Feels important for me to return to this passage and re-read it from time to time.

“The internet’s a vast place.”

The internet’s a vast place. It can be easy to get stuck in a rut watching and reading what we find agreeable, the tendency being to attract toward people who confirm our own beliefs. This is known to some as the echo chamber effect and has potential to be vacuous. My aim instead has been and continues to be to explore a wide array of topics and ideas, not limiting myself to what I personally wish to believe and not avoiding possible evidence simply because it makes me uncomfortable.

It is my belief that if we consistently fail to make the effort to treat the internet and other technologies responsibly, as in safeguarding net neutrality and by individually making the decision to utilize this electronic medium to further our own growth and critical understandings rather than merely entertaining ourselves, it will be our own selves who lose out in the end. Why let short-sighted indulgences wreck a valuable tool and erode its benefit for oneself and everyone else going forward? In other words, when we type as if with impunity, how are we adding value to our virtual communication realm?

The potential contained within the internet is connected with the choices of each individual searcher making use of this powerful tool. What we seek and what we choose to put out in the world via the internet ultimately determines its usefulness and value. If we allow it to devolve into little more than a haven for us to misbehave in, we have diminished its worth. If it is turned into little more than a commercialized smorgasbord and a platform for celebrated drama queens and kings not unlike the televised medium that came before it, we have only ourselves to blame, and it will be we who suffer as a consequence.

So, with that, my goal here on this blog is to explore ideas and information that have come my way through books, films, the arts, and the internet, and to share my findings and considerations with others in case anything may be of value to anyone else. But these are my thoughts in my small corner of the universe, most of which aren’t intended to be promoted as facts but rather are offered as tidbits of food for thought as I grapple with the complexities of modern living. And for the record, not claiming to be an authority on any subject or to be sharpest knife in the drawer. Haha

The subjects I would like to broach span across the spectrum and are too numerous to lay out here. The aim is to allow information and ideas to flow and converge without setting up divisions created by arbitrary categorization of phenomena, as unfortunately has become all-too-common as our educational institutions divide life exploration into various separate disciplines, treating them as if distinctly partitioned. That is an illusion, a social construct that is coming to outlive its usefulness at a time when dots call out to be connected. So consider this one person’s interdisciplinary approach to making sense out of life and living, past and present, with an eye toward what may await us going forward.