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Socratic Method / Flight From Freedom
« on: October 24, 2011, 07:40:05 PM »
Fromm describes three ways in which we escape from freedom:

1. Authoritarianism. We seek to avoid freedom by fusing ourselves with others, by becoming a part of an authoritarian system like the society of the Middle Ages. There are two ways to approach this. One is to submit to the power of others, becoming passive and compliant. The other is to become an authority yourself, a person who applies structure to others. Either way, you escape your separate identity. Fromm referred to the extreme version of authoritarianism as sadomasochism, and points out that both feel compelled to play their separate roles, so that even the sadist, with all his apparent power over the masochist, is not free to choose his actions. But milder versions of authoritarianism are everywhere. In many classes, for example, there is an implicit contract between students and professors: students demand structure, and the professor sticks to his notes. It seems innocuous and even natural, but this way the students avoid taking any responsibility for their learning, and the professor can avoid taking on the real issues of his field.

2. Destructiveness. Authoritarians respond to a painful existence by, in a sense, eliminating themselves: If there is no me, how can anything hurt me? But others respond to pain by striking out against the world: if I destroy the world, how can it hurt me? It is this escape from freedom that accounts for much of the indiscriminate nastiness of life -- brutality, vandalism, humiliation, vandalism, crime, terrorism ... Fromm adds that, if a person's desire to destroy is blocked by circumstances, he or she may redirect it inward. The most obvious kind of self-destructiveness is, of course, suicide. But we can also include many illnesses, drug addiction, alcoholism, even the joys of passive entertainment. He turns Freud's death instinct upside down: self-destructiveness is frustrated destructiveness, not the other way around.

3. Automaton conformity. Authoritarians escape by hiding within an authoritarian hierarchy. But our society emphasizes equality! There is less hierarchy to hide in (though plenty remains for anyone who wants it, and some who don't). When we need to hide, we hide in our mass culture instead. When I get dressed in the morning, there are so many decisions! But I only need to look at what you are wearing, and my frustrations disappear. Or I can look at the television, which, like a horoscope, will tell me quickly and effectively what to do. If I look like, talk like, think like, feel like ... everyone else in my society, then I disappear into the crowd, and I don't need to acknowledge my freedom or take responsibility. It is the horizontal counterpart to authoritarianism. The person who uses automaton conformity is like a social chameleon: he takes on the coloring of his surroundings. Since he looks like a million other people, he no longer feels alone. He isn't alone, perhaps, but he's not himself either. The automaton conformist experiences a split between his genuine feelings and the colors he shows the world.

Socratic Method / Human Freedom
« on: October 24, 2011, 07:25:00 PM »


Galton and many of his contemporaries rejected free will, claiming with circular logic that science had disproved this supposedly antiquated religious conception. (This was circular reasoning because they defined science to exclude free will, and then claimed that science disproved free will). Their insistence on determinism effectively ostracized religious or spiritual conceptions of human nature. The new fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology, which only became institutionalized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, generally embraced this deterministic view of human behavior. By rejecting free will and embracing determinism, Galton and his contemporaries were left with three main options: humans were either the product of their biological makeup, or they were the product of their environment, or they were the product of some combination of heredity and environment. Either form of determinism (or hybrids thereof) reduces humans to inputs, either from internal or external influences. They deny independent human agency and thus strip humanity of any moral responsibility.

In the mid-nineteenth century environmental determinism was more prominent than biological determinism. The philosopher Maurice Mandelbaum argues that one of the ideas dominating 19-century philosophy was the "malleability of man," i.e., the idea that human nature is shaped largely by external forces, such as culture, education, and training. The father of John Stuart Mill exemplified this perspective, rigorously educating his son from an early age. Mill became a leading voice in Europe touting the power of education and training in shaping human intellect and behavior.

In the late nineteenth century, especially by the 1890s, the pendulum swung away from environmental determinism, and biological determinism increased its influence among European thinkers. Galton was a pivotal figure in this development, publishing his seminal work, "Hereditary Genius," in 1869. Galton's influence was profound, especially since he convinced his cousin Charles Darwin that heredity was more important than environmental influences in shaping human intellect and behavior. Many Darwinists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries came to believe -- as Galton and Darwin also did -- that many human character traits, such as loyalty, thrift, and diligence (or on the negative side -- deceit and laziness), were biologically innate, not malleable moral traits, as most Europeans had previously thought.

Darwinists in various fields -- especially in biology, medicine, psychiatry, and anthropology -- were in the forefront promoting biological determinism. Cesare Lombroso, the famous Italian psychiatrist who founded criminal anthropology, built his ideology on Darwinism. He argued that criminals were atavistic creatures, throwbacks to ancestors in the evolutionary process. He was most famous for promoting the idea that criminality was hereditary, not formed through environmental influence. One of the most prominent man that popularized of Darwinism in Germany, the famous materialist Ludwig Büchner, published "The Power of Heredity" and "Its Influence on the Moral and Mental Progress of Humanity" in 1882. In the midst of his extended argument for biological determinism of mental and moral traits, Büchner showed where his vision of humanity led. He stated, "In the flow [of time] the individual is nothing, the species is everything; and history, just as nature, marks each of its steps forward, even the smallest, with innumerable piles of corpses."

And there Fromm @ # ! * i n g goes! Fromm's theory is a rather unique blend of Freud and Marx. Freud, of course, emphasized the unconscious, biological drives, repression, and so on. In other words, Freud postulated that our characters were determined by biology. Marx, on the other hand, saw people as determined by their society, and most especially by their economic systems. Fromm added to this mix of two deterministic systems something quite foreign to them: the idea of freedom. He allows people to transcend the determinisms that Freud and Marx attribute to them. In fact, Fromm makes freedom the central characteristic of human nature!

There are, Fromm points out, examples where determinism alone operates. A good example of nearly pure biological determinism, ala Freud, is animals (at least simple ones). Animals don't worry about freedom - their instincts take care of everything. Woodchucks, for example, don't need career counseling to decide what they are going to be when they grow up: they are going to be woodchucks! A good example of socioeconomic determinism, ala Marx, is the traditional society of the Middle Ages. Just like woodchucks, few people in the Middle Ages needed career counseling: they had fate, the Great Chain of Being, to tell them what to do. Basically, if your father was a peasant, you'd be a peasant. If your father was a king, that's what you'd become. And if you were a woman, well, there was only one role for women.

Historically speaking, this simple, if hard, life began to get shaken up with the Renaissance. In the Renaissance, people started to see humanity as the center of the universe, instead of God. In other words, we didn't just look to the church (and other traditional establishments) for the path we were to take. Then came the Reformation, which introduced the idea of each of us being individually responsible for our own soul's salvation. And then came democratic revolutions such as the American and the French revolutions. Now all of a sudden we were supposed to govern ourselves! And then came the industrial revolution, and instead of tilling the soil or making things with our hands, we had to sell our labor in exchange for money. All of a sudden, we became employees and consumers! Then came socialist revolutions such as the Russian and the Chinese, which introduced the idea of participatory economics. You were no longer responsible only for your own well-being, but for fellow workers as well!

So, over a mere 500 years, the idea of the individual, with individual thoughts, feelings, moral conscience, freedom, and responsibility, came into being. But with individuality came isolation, alienation, and bewilderment. Freedom is a difficult thing to have, and when we can we tend to flee from it.

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