Sane Society?

„Man first emerged from the animal world as a freak of nature. Having lost most of the instinctive equipment which regulates the animal’s activities, he was more helpless, less well equipped for the fight for survival, than most animals. Yet he had developed a capacity for thought, imagination and selfawareness, which was the basis for transforming nature and himself For many thousands of generations man lived by food gathering and hunting. He was still tied to nature, and afraid of being cast out from her. He identified himself with animals and´worshiped these representatives of nature as his gods. After a long period of slow development, man began to cultivate the soil, to create a new social and religious order based on agriculture and animal husbandry. During this period he worshiped goddesses as the bearers of natural fertility, experienced himself as the child dependent on the fertility of the earth, on the lifegiving breast of Mother. At a time some four thousand years ago, a decisive turn in man’s history took place. He took a new step in the long-drawn-out process of his emergence from nature. He severed the ties with nature and with Mother, and set himself a new goal, that of being fully born, of being fully awake, of being fully human; of being free. Reason and conscience became the principles which were to guide him; his aim was a society bound by the bonds of brotherly love, justice and truth, a new and truly human home to take the place of the irretrievably lost home in nature.

And then again about five hundred years before Christ in the great religious systems of India, Greece, Palestine, Persia and China, the idea of the unity of mankind and of a unifying spiritual principle underlying all reality assumed new and more developed expressions. Lao-tse, Buddha, Isajah, Heraclitus and Socrates, and alter, on Palestinian soil, Jesus and the Apostles, on American soil, Quetzalcoatl, and later again, on Arabian soil, Mohammed, taught the ideas of the unity of man, of reason, love and justice as the goals man must strive for.

Northern Europe seemed to sleep for a long time. Greek and Christian ideas were transmitted to its soil, and it took a thousand years before Europe was saturated with them. Around 1500 A.D. a new period began. Man discovered nature and the individual, he laid the foundations for the natural sciences, which began to transform the face of the earth. The closed world of the Middle Ages collapsed, the unifying heaven broke up, man found a new unifying principle in science, and was searching for a new unity in the social and political unification of the earth and in the domination of nature. Moral conscience, the heritage of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and intellectual conscience, the heritage of the Greek tradition, fused and brought about a flowering of human creation as man had hardly ever known it before.

Europe, the youngest child of humanity, culturally speaking, developed such wealth and such weapons that it became the´master of the rest of the world for several hundred years. But again, in the middle of the twentieth century, a drastic change is occurring, a change as great as ever occurred in the past. The new techniques replace the use of the physical energy of animals and men by that of steam, oil and electricity; they create means of communication which transform the earth into the size of one continent, and the human race into one society where the fate of one group is the fate of all; they create marvels of devices which permit the best of art, literature and music to be brought to every member of society; they create productive forces which´will permit everybody to have a dignified material existence, and reduces work to such dimensions that it will fill only a fraction of man’s day.

Yet today, when man seems to have reached the beginning of a new, richer, happier human era, his existence and that of the generations to follow is more threatened than ever. How is this possible?

Man had won his freedom from clerical and secular authorities, he stood alone with his reason and his conscience as his only judges, but he was afraid of the newly won freedom; he had achieved „freedom from“—without yet having achieved „freedom to“—to be himself, to be productive, to be fully awake. Thus he tried to escape from freedom. His very achievement, the mastery over nature, opened up the avenues for his escape. In building the new industrial machine, man became so absorbed in the new task that it became the paramount goal of his life. His energies, which once were devoted to the search for God and salvation, were now directed toward the domination of nature and ever-increasing material comfort. He ceased to use production as a means for a better life, but hypostatized it instead to an end in itself, an end to which life was subordinated.

In the process of an ever-increasing division of labor, everincreasing mechanization of work, and an ever-increasing size of social agglomerations, man himself became a part of the machine, rather than its master. He experienced himself as a commodity, as an investment; his aim became to be a success, that is, to sell himself as profitably as possible on the market. His value as a person lies in his salability, not in his human qualities of love, reason, or in his artistic capacities. Happiness becomes identical with consumption of newer and better commodities, the drinking in of music, screen plays, fun, sex, liquor and cigarettes.

Not having a sense of self except the one which conformity with the majority can give, he is insecure, anxious, depending on approval. He is alienated from himself, worships the product of his own hands, the leaders of his own making, as if they were above him, rather than made by him. He is in a sense back where he was before the great human evolution began in the second millenium B.C.“

From: The Sane Society (1955) by Erich Fromm . This book is a summation of his social and political philosophy wherein he critiques and psychoanalyzes the modern industrial capitalist society and its necessarily alienated, commercialized and conformed citizenry. Rather than explaining pathologies of individuals, he analyzes the pathologies of society contributing to the sickness of individuals.

See also: Vuval Harari


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