To Have Or to Be? is one of the seminal books of the second half of the 20th century. Nothing less than a manifesto for a new social and psychological revolution to save our threatened planet, this book is a summary of the penetrating thought of Eric Fromm. His thesis is that two modes of existence struggle for the spirit of humankind: the having mode, which concentrates on material possessions, power, and aggression, and is the basis of the universal evils of greed, envy, and violence; and the being mode, which is based on love, the pleasure of sharing, and in productive activity. To Have Or to Be? is a brilliant program for socioeconomic change.… (more)
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The Way to do is to be. [Lao-tse]
People should not consider so much what they are to do, as what they are. [Meister Eckhart]
The less you are and the less you express of your life - the more you have and the greater is your alientated life. [Karl Marx]
The Great Promise of Unlimited Progress - the promise of domination of nature, of material abundance, of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and of unimpeded personal freedom - has sustained the hopes and faith of the generations since the beginning of the industrial age.
The grandeur of the Great Promise, the marvelous material and intellectual achievements of the industrial age, must be visualized in order to understand the trauma that realization of its failure is producing today. For the industrial age has indeed failed to fulfill its Great Promise, and ever growing numbers of people are becoming aware that:
- Unrestricted satisfaction of all desires is not conducive to well-being, nor is it the way to happiness or even to maximum pleasure.
- The dream of being independent masters of our lives ended when we began awakening to the fact that we have all become cogs in the bureaucratic machine, with our thoughts, feelings, and tastes manipulated by government and industry and the mass communications that they control.
- Economic progress has remained restricted to the rich nations, and the gap between rich and poor nations has ever widened.
- Technical progress itself has created ecological dangers and the dangers of nuclear war, either or both of which may put an end to all civilization and possibly to all life.
None of the other great Masters taught that the factual existence of a desire constituted an ethical norm. They were concerned with humankind’s optimal well-being (vivere bene). The essential element in their thinking is the distinction between those needs (desires) that are only subjectively felt and whose satisfaction leads to momentary pleasure, and those needs that are rooted in human nature and whose realization is conducive to human growth and produces eudaimonia, i.e., “well-being.” In other words, they were concerned with the distinction between purely subjectively felt needs and objectively valid needs—part of the former being harmful to human growth and the latter being in accordance with the requirements of human nature.
The second psychological premise of the industrial age, that the pursuit of individual egoism leads to harmony and peace, growth in everyone’s welfare, is equally erroneous on theoretical grounds, and again its fallacy is proven by the observable data. Why should this principle, which only one of the great classical economists, David Ricardo, rejected, be true? To be an egoist refers not only to my behavior but to my character. It means: that I want everything for myself; that possessing, not sharing, gives me pleasure; that I must become greedy because if my aim is having, I am more the more I have; that I must feel antagonistic toward all others: my customers whom I want to deceive, my competitors whom I want to destroy, my workers whom I want to exploit. I can never be satisfied, because there is no end to my wishes; I must be envious of those who have more and afraid of those who have less. But I have to repress all these feelings in order to represent myself (to others as well as to myself) as the smiling, rational, sincere, kind human being everybody pretends to be.
The development of this economic system was no longer determined by the question: What is good for Man? but by the question: What is good for the growth of the system? One tried to hide the sharpness of this conflict by making the assumption that what was good for the growth of the system (or even for a single big corporation) was also good for the people. This construction was bolstered by an auxiliary construction: that the very qualities that the system required of human beings —egotism, selfishness, and greed—were innate in human nature; hence, not only the system but human nature itself fostered them. Societies in which egotism, selfishness, and greed did not exist were supposed to be “primitive,” their inhabitants “childlike.” People refused to recognize that these traits were not natural drives that caused industrial society to exist, but that they were the products of social circumstances.
Not least in importance is another factor: people’s relation to nature became deeply hostile. Being “freaks of nature” who by the very conditions of our existence are within nature and by the gift of our reason transcend it, we have tried to solve our existential problem by giving up the Messianic vision of harmony between humankind and nature by conquering nature, by transforming it to our own purposes until the conquest has become more and more equivalent to destruction. Our spirit of conquest and hostility has blinded us to the facts that natural resources have their limits and can eventually be exhausted, and that nature will fight back against human rapaciousness.
Industrial society has contempt for nature—as well as for all things not machine-made and for all people who are not machine makers (the nonwhite races, with the recent exceptions of Japan and China). People are attracted today to the mechanical, the powerful machine, the lifeless, and ever increasingly to destruction.
The need for profound human change emerges not only as an ethical or religious demand, not only as a psychological demand arising from the pathogenic nature of our present social character, but also as a condition for the sheer survival of the human race. Right living is no longer only the fulfillment of an ethical or religious demand. For the first time in history the physical survival of the human race depends on a radical change of the human heart. However, a change of the human heart is possible only to the extent that drastic economic and social changes occur that give the human heart the chance for change and the courage and the vision to achieve it.
Is There an Alternative to Catastrophe?
All the data mentioned so far are published and well known. The almost unbelievable fact is that no serious effort is made to avert what looks like a final decree of fate. While in our private life nobody except a mad person would remain passive in view of a threat to our total existence, those who are in charge of public affairs do practically nothing, and those who have entrusted their fate to them let them continue to do nothing.
How is it possible that the strongest of all instincts, that for survival, seems to have ceased to motivate us? One of the most obvious explanations is that the leaders undertake many actions that make it possible for them to pretend they are doing something effective to avoid a catastrophe: endless conferences, resolutions, disarmament talks, all give the impression that the problems are recognized and something is being done to resolve them. Yet nothing of real importance happens; but both the leaders and the led anesthetize their consciences and their wish for survival by giving the appearance of knowing the road and marching in the right direction.
Another explanation is that the selfishness the system generates makes leaders value personal success more highly than social responsibility. It is no longer shocking when political leaders and business executives make decisions that seem to be to their personal advantage, but at the same time are harmful and dangerous to the community. Indeed, if selfishness is one of the pillars of contemporary practical ethics, why should they act otherwise? They do not seem to know that greed (like submission) makes people stupid as far as the pursuit of even their own real interests is concerned, such as their interest in their own lives and in the lives of their spouses and their children (cf. J. Piaget, The Moral Judgment of the Child
). At the same time, the general public is also so selfishly concerned with their private affairs that they pay little attention to all that transcends the personal realm.
Yet another explanation for the deadening of our survival instinct is that the changes in living that would be required are so drastic that people prefer the future catastrophe to the sacrifice they would have to make now. Arthur Koestler’s description of an experience he had during the Spanish Civil War is a telling example of this widespread attitude: Koestler sat in the comfortable villa of a friend while the advance of Franco’s troops was reported; there was no doubt that they would arrive during the night, and very likely he would be shot; he could save his life by fleeing, but the night was cold and rainy, the house, warm and cozy; so he stayed, was taken prisoner, and only by almost a miracle was his life saved weeks later by the efforts of friendly journalists. This is also the kind of behavior that occurs in people who will risk dying rather than undergo an examination that could lead to the diagnosis of a grave illness requiring major surgery.
Memory entrusted to paper is another form of alienated remembering. By writing down what I want to remember I am sure to have that information, and I do not try to engrave it on my brain. I am sure of my possession—except that when I have lost my notes, I have lost my memory of the information, too. My capacity to remember has left me, for my memory bank had become an externalized part of me, in the form of my notes.
Considering the multitude of data that people in our contemporary society need to remember, a certain amount of notemaking and information deposited in books is unavoidable. But the tendency away from remembering is growing beyond all sensible proportions. One can easily and best observe in oneself that writing down things diminishes one’s power of remembering, but some typical examples may prove helpful.
An everyday example occurs in stores. Today a salesclerk will rarely do a simple addition of two or three items in his or her head, but will immediately use a machine. The classroom provides another example. Teachers can observe that the students who carefully write down every sentence of the lecture will, in all likelihood, understand and remember less than the students who trusted their capacity to understand and, hence, remember at least the essentials. Further, musicians know that those who most easily sight-read a score have more difficulty in remembering the music without the score. (Toscanini, whose memory was known to be extraordinary, is a good example of a musician in the being mode.) For a final example, in Mexico I have observed that people who are illiterate or who write little have memories far superior to the fluently literate inhabitants of the industrialized countries. Among other facts, this suggests that literacy is by no means the blessing it is advertised to be, especially when people use it merely to read material that impoverishes their capacity to experience and to imagine.
The modes of reading are the same with regard to a book whose theme is philosophy or history. The way one reads a philosophy or history book is formed—or better, deformed—by education. The school aims to give each student a certain amount of “cultural property,” and at the end of their schooling certifies the students as having at least the minimum amount. Students are taught to read a book so that they can repeat the author’s main thoughts. This is how the students “know” Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Heidegger, Sartre. The difference between various levels of education from high school to graduate school is mainly in the amount of cultural property that is acquired, which corresponds roughly to the amount of material property the students may be expected to own in later life. The so-called excellent students are the ones who can most accurately repeat what each of the various philosophers had to say. They are like a well-informed guide at a museum. What they do not learn is that which goes beyond this kind of property knowledge. They do not learn to question the philosophers, to talk to them; they do not learn to be aware of the philosophers’ own contradictions, of their leaving out certain problems or evading issues; they do not learn to distinguish between what was new and what the authors could not help thinking because it was the “common sense” of their time; they do not learn to hear so that they are able to distinguish when the authors speak only from their brain and when their brain and heart speak together; they do not learn to discover whether the authors are authentic or fake; and many more things.
The mode of being readers will often come to the conclusion that even a highly praised book is entirely without value or is of very limited value. Or they may have fully understood a book, sometimes better than had the author, who may have considered everything he or she wrote as being equally important.
Our education generally tries to train people to have
knowledge as a possession, by and large commensurate with the amount of property or social prestige they are likely to have in later life. The minimum they receive is the amount they will need in order to function properly in their work. In addition they are each given a “luxury-knowledge package” to enhance their feeling of worth, with the size of each such package being in accord with the person's probable social prestige. The schools are the factories in which these overall knowledge packages are produced—although schools usually claim they mean to bring the students in touch with the highest achievements of the human mind. Many undergraduate colleges are particularly adroit in nurturing these illusions. From Indian thought and art to existentialism and surrealism, a vast smörgåsbord of knowledge is offered from which students pick a little here, a little there, and in the name of spontaneity and freedom are not urged to concentrate on one subject, not even ever to finish reading an entire book. (Ivan Illich’s
radical critique of the school system brings many of its failings into focus.)
God, originally a symbol for the highest value that we can experience within us, becomes, in the having mode, an idol. In the prophetic concept, an idol is a thing that we ourselves make and project our own powers into, thus impoverishing ourselves. We then submit to our creation and by our submission are in touch with ourselves in an alienated form. While I can have the idol because it is a thing, by my submission to it, it, simultaneously, has me. Once He has become an idol, God’s alleged qualities have as little to do with my personal experience as alienated political doctrines do. The idol may be praised as Lord of Mercy, yet any cruelty may be committed in its name, just as the alienated faith in human solidarity may not even raise doubts about committing the most inhuman acts. Faith, in the having mode, is a crutch for those who want to be certain, those who want an answer to life without daring to search for it themselves.
In the being mode, faith is an entirely different phenomenon. Can we live without faith? Must not the nursling have faith in its mother’s breast? Must we all not have faith in other beings, in those whom we love, and in ourselves? Can we live without faith in the validity of norms for our life? Indeed, without faith we become sterile, hopeless, afraid to the very core of our being.
Faith, in the being mode, is not, in the first place, a belief in certain ideas (although it may be that, too) but an inner orientation, an attitude. It would be better to say that one is in faith than that one has faith. (The theological distinction between faith that is belief [fides quae crediturl] and faith as belief [fides qua crediturl] reflects a similar distinction between the content of faith and the act of faith.) One can be in faith toward oneself and toward others, and the religious person can be in faith toward God. The God of the Old Testament is, first of all, a negation of idols, of gods whom one can have. Though conceived in analogy to an Oriental king, the concept of God transcends itself from the very beginning. God must not have a name; no image must be made of God.
When love is experienced in the mode of having it implies confining, imprisoning, or controlling the object one “loves.” It is strangling, deadening, suffocating, killing, not life-giving. What people call love is mostly a misuse of the word, in order to hide the reality of their not loving. How many parents love their children is still an entirely open question. Lloyd de Mause has brought out that for the past two millennia of Western history there have been reports of cruelty against children, ranging from physical to psychic torture, carelessness, sheer possessiveness, and sadism, so shocking that one must believe that loving parents are the exception rather than the rule.
The same may be said of marriages. Whether their marriage is based on love or, like traditional marriages of the past, on social convenience and custom, the couple who truly love each other seem to be the exception. What is social convenience, custom, mutual economic interest, shared interest in children, mutual dependency, or mutual hate or fear is consciously experienced as “love”—up to the moment when one or both partners recognize that they do not love each other, and that they never did. Today one can note some progress in this respect: people have become more realistic and sober, and many no longer feel that being sexually attracted means to love, or that a friendly, though distant, team relationship is a manifestation of loving. This new outlook has made for greater honesty—as well as more frequent change of partners. It has not necessarily led to a greater frequency of loving, and the new partners may love as little as did the old.
One of the main themes of the Old Testament is: leave what you have; free yourself from all fetters; be!
The history of Hebrew tribes begins with the command to the first Hebrew hero, Abraham, to give up his country and his clan: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Abraham is to leave what he has—land and family—and go to the unknown. Yet his descendants settle on a new soil, and new clannishness develops. This process leads to more severe bondage. Precisely because they become rich and powerful in Egypt, they become slaves; they lose the vision of the one God, the God of their nomadic ancestors, and they worship idols, the gods of the rich turned later into their masters.
The second hero is Moses. He is charged by God to liberate his people, to lead them out of the country that has become their home (even though eventually a home for slaves), and to go into the desert “to celebrate.” Reluctantly and with great misgiving, the Hebrews follow their leader Moses—into the desert.
The desert is the key symbol in this liberation. The desert is no home: it has no cities; it has no riches; it is the place of nomads who own what they need, and what they need are the necessities of life, not possessions. Historically, nomadic traditions are interwoven in the report of the Exodus, and it may very well be that these nomadic traditions have determined the tendency against all nonfunctional property and the choice of life in the desert as preparation for the life of freedom. But these historical factors only strengthen the meaning of the desert as a symbol of the unfettered, nonpropertied life. Some of the main symbols of the Jewish festivals have their origin in the connection with the desert. The unleavened bread is the bread of those who are in a hurry to leave; it is the bread of the wanderers. The suka (“tabernacle”) is the home of the wanderer: the equivalent of the tent, easily built and easily taken down. As defined in the Talmud it is “the transitory abode,” to be lived in, instead of the “fixed abode” one owns.
Indeed, one cannot help associating the situation of the early Christians with what goes on in the world today. Not a few people, scientists rather than religionists (with the exception of the Jehovah’s Witnesses), believe that we might be approaching the final catastrophe of the world. This is a rational and scientifically tenable vision. The situation of the early Christians was quite different. They lived in a small part of the Roman Empire at the height of its power and glory. There were no alarming signs of catastrophe. Yet this small group of poor Palestinian Jews carried the conviction that this powerful world would soon collapse. Realistically, to be sure, they were mistaken; as a result of the failure of Jesus’ reappearance, Jesus’ death and resurrection are interpreted in the gospels as constituting the beginning of the new eon, and after Constantine an attempt was made to shift the mediating role of Jesus to the papal church. Finally, for all practical purposes the church became the substitute—in fact, though not in theory—for the new eon.
One must take early Christianity more seriously than most people do, in order to be impressed by the almost unbelievable radicalism of this small group of people, who spoke the verdict over the existing world on nothing but their moral conviction. The majority of the Jews, on the other hand, not belonging exclusively to the poorest and most downtrodden part of the population, chose another way. They refused to believe that a new era had begun and continued to wait for the Messiah, who would come when humankind (and not only the Jews) had reached the point where the realm of justice, peace, and love could be established in a historical rather than in an eschatological sense.
The younger “Q” source has its origin in a further stage of development of early Christianity. Here, too, we find the same principle, and the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan expresses it in a very succinct form. In this story, the lust for having things and the craving for power and other manifestations of the having structure are condemned. To the first temptation—to transform stones into bread, symbolically expressing the craving for material things—Jesus answers: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 44; Luke 4:4). Satan tempts Jesus then with the promise of giving him complete power over nature (changing the law of gravity), and finally, with unrestricted power, dominion over all kingdoms of the earth, and Jesus declines (Matthew Luke 4: 5—12). (Rainer Funk has called my attention to the fact that the temptation takes place in the desert, thus taking up the topic of the Exodus again.)
Jesus and Satan appear here as representatives of two opposite principles. Satan is the representative of material consumption and of power over nature and Man. Jesus is the representative of being, and of the idea that not-having is the premise for being. The world has followed Satan’s principles, since the time of the gospels. Yet even the victory of these principles could not destroy the longing for the realization of full being, expressed by Jesus as well as by many other great Masters who lived before him and after him.
The Acquisitive Society—Basis for the Having Mode
Our judgments are extremely biased because we live in a society that rests on private property, profit, and power as the pillars of its existence. To acquire, to own, and to make a profit are the sacred and unalienable rights of the individual in the industrial society. What the sources of property are does not matter; nor does possession impose any obligations on the property owners. The principle is: “Where and how my property was acquired or what I do with it is nobody’s business but my own; as long as I do not violate the law, my right is unrestricted and absolute.”
The norms by which society functions also mold the character of its members (social character). In an industrial society these are: the wish to acquire property, to keep it, and to increase it, i.e., to make a profit, and those who own property are admired and envied as superior beings. But the vast majority of people own no property in a real sense of capital and capital goods, and the puzzling question arises: How can such people fulfill or even cope with their passion for acquiring and keeping property, or how can they feel like owners of property when they haven't any property to speak of?
Of course, the obvious answer is that even people who are property poor own something—and they cherish their little possessions as much as the owners of capital cherish their property. And like the big property owners, the poor are obsessed by the wish to preserve what they do have and to increase it, even though by an infinitesimal amount (for instance by saving a penny here, two cents there).
Perhaps the greatest enjoyment is not so much in owning material things but in owning living beings. In a patriarchal society even the most miserable of men in the poorest of classes can be an owner of property—in his relationship to his wife, his children, his animals, over whom he can feel he is absolute master. At least for the man in a patriarchal society, having many children is the only way to own persons without needing to work to attain ownership, and without capital investment. Considering that the whole burden of childbearing is the woman’s, it can hardly be denied that the production of children in a patriarchal society is a matter of crude exploitation of women. In turn, however, the mothers have their own form of ownership, that of the children when they are small. The circle is endless and vicious: the husband exploits the wife, she exploits the small children, and the adolescent males soon join the elder men in exploiting the women, and so on.
The male hegemony in a patriarchal order has lasted roughly six or seven millennia and still prevails in the poorest countries or among the poorest classes of society. It is, however, slowly diminishing in the more affluent countries or societies—emancipation of women, children, and adolescents seems to take place when and to the degree that a society’s standard of living rises. With the slow collapse of the old-fashioned, patriarchal type of ownership of persons, wherein will the average and the poorer citizens of the fully developed industrial societies now find fulfillment of their passion for acquiring, keeping, and increasing property? The answer lies in extending the area of ownership to include friends, lovers, health, travel, art objects, God, one’s own ego. A brilliant picture of the bourgeois obsession with property is given by Max Stirner
. Persons are transformed into things; their relations to each other assume the character of ownership. “Individualism,” which in its positive sense means liberation from social chains, means, in the negative sense, “self-ownership,” the right—and the duty—to invest one's energy in the success of one’s own person.
This positive element in the picture needs to be qualified, however. Many of these same young people (and their number has been markedly decreasing since the late sixties) had not progressed from freedom from
to freedom to
; they simply rebelled without attempting to find a goal toward which to move, except that of freedom from restrictions and dependence. Like that of their bourgeois parents, their motto was “New is beautiful!” and they developed an almost phobic disinterest in all tradition, including the thoughts that the greatest minds have produced. In a kind of naïve narcissism they believed that they could discover by themselves all that is worth discovering. Basically, their ideal was to become small children again, and such authors as Marcuse
produced the convenient ideology that return to childhood—not development to maturity—is the ultimate goal of socialism and revolution. They were happy as long as they were young enough for this euphoria to last; but many of them have passed this period with severe disappointment, without having acquired well-founded convictions, without a center within themselves. They often end up as disappointed, apathetic persons—or as unhappy fanatics of destruction.
What is restricted is the free, spontaneous expression of the infant’s, the child’s, the adolescent’s, and eventually the adult’s will, their thirst for knowledge and truth, their wish for affection. The growing person is forced to give up most of his or her autonomous, genuine desires and interests, and his or her own will, and to adopt a will and desires and feelings that are not autonomous but superimposed by the social patterns of thought and feeling. Society, and the family as its psychosocial agent, has to solve a difficult problem: How to break a person’s will without his being aware of it? Yet by a complicated process of indoctrination, rewards, punishments, and fitting ideology, it solves this task by and large so well that most people believe they are following their own will and are unaware that their will itself is conditioned and manipulated.
The greatest difficulty in this suppression of the will exists with regard to sexuality, because we deal here with a strong tendency of the natural order that is less easy to manipulate than many other desires. For this reason people try harder to fight their sexual desires than almost any other human desire. No need to cite the various forms of the vilification of sex from moral grounds (its evilness) to health grounds (masturbation does physical harm). The church had to forbid birth control and extramarital sex, and it still sticks to these principles even today when prudence would recommend a more tolerant course.
The effort made to suppress sex would be beyond our understanding if it were for the sake of sex as such. Not sex, however, but the breaking of human will is the reason for vilifying sex. A great number of the so-called primitive societies have no sex tabu whatever. Since they function without exploitation and domination, they do not have to break the individual’s will. They can afford not to stigmatize sex and to enjoy the pleasure of sexual relations without guilt feelings. Most remarkable in these societies is that this sexual freedom does not lead to sexual greed; that after a period of relatively transient sexual relations couples find each other; that they then have no desire to swap partners, but are also free to separate when love has gone. For these not-property-oriented groups sexual enjoyment is an expression of being, not the result of sexual possessiveness. In saying this I do not imply that we should return to living as these primitive societies do—not that we could, even if we wanted to, for the simple reason that the process of individuation and individual differentiation and distance that civilization has brought about gives individual love a different quality from that in primitive society. We cannot regress; we can only move forward. What matters is that new forms of propertylessness will do away with the sexual greed that is characteristic of all having societies.
Sexual desire is one expression of independence that is expressed very early in life (masturbation). Its denunciation serves to break the will of the child and make it feel guilty, and thus more submissive. To a large extent the impulse to break sexual tabus is essentially an attempt at rebellion aimed at restoring one’s freedom. But the breaking of sexual tabus as such does not lead to greater freedom; the rebellion is drowned, drowned, as it were, in the sexual satisfaction . . . person’s subsequent guilt. Only the achievement of inner independence is conducive to freedom and ends the need for fruitless rebellion. The same holds true for all other behavior that aims at doing the forbidden as an attempt to restore one’s freedom. Indeed, tabus create sexual obsessiveness and perversions, but sexual obsessiveness and perversions do not create freedom.
The rebellion of the child manifests itself in many other ways: by the child’s not accepting the rules of cleanliness training; by not eating, or by overeating; by aggression and sadism, and by many kinds of self-destructive acts. Often the rebellion manifests itself in a kind of general “slowdown strike”—a withdrawal of interest in the world, laziness, passivity, up to the most pathological forms of slow self-destruction. The effects of this power struggle between children and parents is the subject of David E. Schecter’s paper on “Infant Development.” All data indicate that heteronomous interference with the child’s and the later person’s growth process is the deepest root of mental pathology, especially of destructiveness.
The need to have has still another foundation, the biologically given desire to live. Whether we are happy or unhappy, our body impels us to strive for immortality. But since we know by experience that we shall die, we seek for solutions that make us believe that, in spite of the empirical evidence, we are immortal. This wish has taken many forms: the belief of the Pharaohs that their bodies enshrined in the pyramids would be immortal; many religious fantasies of life after death, in the happy hunting grounds of early hunter societies; the Christian and Islam paradise. In contemporary society since the eighteenth century, “history” and “the future” have become the substitutes for the Christian heaven: fame, celebrity, even notoriety—anything that seems to guarantee a footnote in the record of history—constitutes a bit of immortality. The craving for fame is not just secular vanity—it has a religious quality for those who do not believe in the traditional hereafter any more. (This is particularly noticeable among political leaders.) Publicity paves the way to immortality, and the public relations agents become the new priests.
But perhaps more than anything else, possession of property constitutes the fulfillment of the craving for immortality, and it is for this reason that the having orientation has such strength. If my self is constituted by what I have, then I am immortal if the things I have are indestructible. From Ancient Egypt to today—from physical immortality, via mummification of the body, to mental immortality, via the last will—people have remained alive beyond their physical/ mental lifetimes. Via the legal power of the last will the disposal of our property is determined for generations to come; through the laws of inheritance, I—inasmuch as I am an owner of capital—become immortal.
One understands Spinoza’s ideas about passions and passivity fully only if one proceeds to the last—and most modern—step of his thinking: that to be driven by irrational passions is to be mentally sick. To the degree that we achieve optimal growth, we are not only (relatively) free, strong, rational, and joyous but also mentally healthy; to the degree that we fail to reach this aim, we are unfree, weak, lacking rationality, and depressed. Spinoza, to my knowledge, was the first modern thinker to postulate that mental health and sickness are outcomes of right and wrong living respectively.
For Spinoza mental health is, in the last analysis, a manifestation of right living; mental illness, a symptom of the failure to live according to the requirements of human nature. “But if the greedy person thinks only of money and possessions, the ambitious one only of fame, one does not think of them as being insane, but only as annoying; generally one has contempt for them. But factually
, greediness, ambition, and so forth are forms of insanity, although usually one does not think of them as ‘illness’ ” (Ethics
, 4, prop. 44). In this statement, so foreign to the thinking of our time, Spinoza considers passions that do not correspond to the needs of human nature as pathological; in fact, he goes so far as to call them a form of insanity.
Spinoza’s concepts of activity and passivity are a most radical critique of industrial society. In contrast to today’s belief that persons driven mainly by greed for money, possession, or fame are normal and well adjusted, they are considered by Spinoza utterly passive and basically sick. The active persons in Spinoza’s sense, which he personified in his own life, have become exceptions, and are somewhat suspected of being “neurotic” because they are so little adapted to so-called normal activity.
We can witness a similar phenomenon among the sons and daughters of the well-to-do in the United States and Germany, who see their life in their affluent home environment as boring and meaningless. But more than that, they find the world’s callousness toward the poor and the drift toward nuclear war for the sake of individual egotism unbearable. Thus, they move away from their home environment, looking for a new lifestyle—and remain unsatisfied because no constructive effort seems to have a chance. Many among them were originally the most idealistic and sensitive of the young generation; but at this point, lacking in tradition, maturity, experience, and political wisdom, they become desperate, narcissistically overestimate their own capacities and possibilities, and try to achieve the impossible by the use of force. They form so-called revolutionary groups and expect to save the world by acts of terror and destruction, not seeing that they are only contributing to the general tendency to violence and inhumanity. They have lost their capacity to love and have replaced it with the wish to sacrifice their lives. (Self-sacrifice is frequently the solution for individuals who ardently desire to love, but who have lost the capacity to love and see in the sacrifice of their own lives an experience of love in the highest degree.) But these self-sacrificing young people are very different from the loving martyrs, who want to live because they love life and who accept death only when they are forced to die in order not to betray themselves. Our present-day self-sacrificing young people are the accused, but they are also the accusers, in demonstrating that in our social system some of the very best young people become so isolated and hopeless that nothing but destruction and fanaticism are left as a way out of their despair.
If I am what I have and if what I have is lost, who then am I? Nobody but a defeated, deflated, pathetic testimony to a wrong way of living. Because I can lose what I have, I am necessarily constantly worried that I shall lose what I have. I am afraid of thieves, of economic changes, of revolutions, of sickness, of death, and I am afraid of love, of freedom, of growth, of change, of the unknown. Thus I am continuously worried, suffering from a chronic hypochondriasis, with regard not only to loss of health but to any other loss of what I have; I become defensive, hard, suspicious, lonely, driven by the need to have more in order to be better protected. Ibsen has given a beautiful description of this self-centered person in his Peer Gynt. The hero is filled only with himself; in his extreme egoism he believes that he is himself, because he is a “bundle of desires.” At the end of his life he recognizes that because of his property-structured existence, he has failed to be himself, that he is like an onion without a kernel, an unfinished man, who never was himself.
The anxiety and insecurity engendered by the danger of losing what one has are absent in the being mode. If I am who I am and not what I have, nobody can deprive me of or threaten my security and my sense of identity. My center is within myself; my capacity for being and for expressing my essential powers is part of my character structure and depends on me. This holds true for the normal process of living, not, of course, for such circumstances as incapacitating illness, torture, or other cases of powerful external restrictions.
While nature has devised, as it were, the prototype—or perhaps the symbol—of shared enjoyment in the sexual act, empirically the sexual act is not necessarily an enjoyment that is shared; the partners are frequently so narcissistic, self-involved, and possessive that one can speak only of simultaneous, but not of shared pleasure.
In another respect, however, nature offers a less ambiguous symbol for the distinction between having and being. The erection of the penis is entirely functional. The male does not have an erection, like a property or a permanent quality (although how many men wish to have one is anybody’s guess). The penis is in a state of erection, as long as the man is in a state of excitement, as long as he desires the person who has aroused his excitement. If for one reason or another something interferes with this excitement, the man has nothing. And in contrast to practically all other kinds of behavior, the erection cannot be faked. George Groddek, one of the most outstanding, although relatively little known, psychoanalysts, used to comment that a man, after all, is a man for only a few minutes; most of the time he is a little boy. Of course, Groddek did not mean that a man becomes a little boy in his total being, but precisely in that aspect which for many a man is the proof that he is a man. (See the paper I wrote  on “Sex and Character.”)
To the extent that we live in the having mode, we must fear dying. No rational explanation will take away this fear. But it may be diminished, even at the hour of death, by our reassertion of our bond to life, by a response to the love of others that may kindle our own love. Losing our fear of dying should not begin as a preparation for death, but as the continuous effort to reduce the mode of having and to increase the mode of being. As Spinoza says, the wise think about life, not about death.
The instruction on how to die is indeed the same as the instruction on how to live. The more we rid ourselves of the craving for possession in all its forms, particularly our ego-boundness, the less strong is the fear of dying, since there is nothing to lose.
Here, Now—Past, Future
The mode of being exists only in the here and now (hic et nunc). The mode of having exists only in time: past, present, and future.
In the having mode we are bound to what we have amassed in the past: money, land, fame, social status, knowledge, children, memories. We think about the past, and we feel by remembering feelings (or what appear to be feelings) of the past. (This is the essence of sentimentality.) We are the past; we can say: “I am what I was.”
The future is the anticipation of what will become the past. It is experienced in the mode of having as is the past and is expressed when one says: “This person has a future,” indicating that the individual will have many things even though he or she does not now have them. The Ford company’s advertising slogan, “There’s a Ford in your future,” stressed having in the future, just as in certain business transactions one buys or sells “commodity futures.” The fundamental experience of having is the same, whether we deal with past or future.
The present is the point where past and future join, a frontier station in time, but not different in quality from the two realms it connects.
Being is not necessarily outside of time, but time is not the dimension that governs being. The painter has to wrestle with color, canvas, and brushes, the sculptor with stone and chisel. Yet the creative act, their “vision” of what they are going to create, transcends time. It occurs in a flash, or in many flashes, but time is not experienced in the vision. The same holds true for the thinkers. Writing down their ideas occurs in time, but conceiving them is a creative event outside of time. It is the same for every manifestation of being. The experience of loving, of joy, of grasping truth does not occur in time, but in the here and now. The here and now is eternity, i.e., timelessness. But eternity is not, as popularly misunderstood, indefinitely prolonged time.
The whole concept of past, present, and future, i.e., of time, enters into our lives due to our bodily existence: the limited duration of our life, the constant demand of our body to be taken care of, the nature of the physical world that we have to use in order to sustain ourselves. Indeed, we cannot live in eternity; being mortal, we cannot ignore or escape time. The rhythm of night and day, of sleep and wakefulness, of growing and aging, the need to sustain ourselves by work and to defend ourselves, all these factors force us to respect time if we want to live, and our bodies make us want to live. But that we respect time is one thing; that we submit to it is another. In the mode of being, we respect time, but we do not submit to it. But this respect for time becomes submission when the having mode predominates. In this mode not only things are things, but all that is alive becomes a thing. In the mode of having, time becomes our ruler. In the being mode, time is dethroned; it is no longer the idol that rules our life.
In industrial society time rules supreme. The current mode of production demands that every action be exactly “timed,” that not only the endless assembly line conveyor belt but, in a less crude sense, most of our activities be ruled by time. In addition, time not only is time, “time is money.” The machine must be used maximally; therefore the machine forces its own rhythm upon the worker.
Via the machine, time has become our ruler. Only in our free hours do we seem to have a certain choice. Yet we usually organize our leisure as we organize our work. Or we rebel against tyrant time by being absolutely lazy. By not doing anything except disobeying time’s demands, we have the illusion that we are free, when we are, in fact, only paroled from our time-prison.
Social Character and “Religious” Needs
The social character has a further and significant function beyond that of serving the needs of society for a certain type of character and satisfying the individual’s character-conditioned behavioral needs. Social character must fulfill any human being’s inherent religious needs. To clarify, “religion” as I use it here does not refer to a system that has necessarily to do with a concept of God or with idols or even to a system perceived as religion, but to any group-shared system of thought and action that offers the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion. Indeed, in this broad sense of the word no culture of the past or present, and it seems no culture in the future, can be considered as not having religion.
This definition of “religion” does not tell us anything about its specific content. People may worship animals, trees, idols of gold or stone, an invisible god, a saintly person, or a diabolic leader; they may worship their ancestors, their nation, their class or party, money or success. Their religion may be conducive to the development of destructiveness or of love, of domination or of solidarity; it may further their power of reason or paralyze it. They may be aware of their system as being a religious one, different from those of the secular realm, or they may think that they have no religion, and interpret their devotion to certain allegedly secular aims, such as power, money, or success, as nothing but their concern for the practical and the expedient. The question is not one of religion or not? but of which kind of religion?—whether it is one that furthers human development, the unfolding of specifically human powers, or one that paralyzes human growth.
A specific religion, provided it is effective in motivating conduct, is not a sum total of doctrines and beliefs; it is rooted in a specific character structure of the individual and, inasmuch as it is the religion of a group, in the social character. Thus, our religious attitude may be considered an aspect of our character structure, for we are what we are devoted to, and what we are devoted to is what motivates our conduct. Often, however, individuals are not even aware of the real objects of their personal devotion and mistake their “official” beliefs for their real, though secret religion. If, for instance, a man worships power while professing a religion of love, the religion of power is his secret religion, while his so-called official religion, for example Christianity, is only an ideology.
Indeed, had European history continued in the spirit of the thirteenth century, had it developed the spirit of scientific knowledge and individualism slowly and in an evolutionary way, we might now have been in a fortunate position. But reason began to deteriorate into manipulative intelligence and individualism into selfishness. The short period of Christianization ended and Europe returned to its original paganism.
However the concepts may differ, one belief defines any branch of Christianity: the belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior who gave his life out of love for his fellow creatures. He was the hero of love, a hero without power, who did not use force, who did not want to rule, who did not want to have anything. He was a hero of being, of giving, of sharing. These qualities deeply appealed to the Roman poor as well as to some of the rich, who choked on their selfishness. Jesus appealed to the hearts of the people, even though from an intellectual standpoint he was at best considered to be naive. This belief in the hero of love won hundreds of thousands of adherents, many of whom changed their practice of life, or became martyrs themselves.
The Christian hero was the martyr, for as in the Jewish tradition, the highest achievement was to give one’s life for God or for one’s fellow beings. The martyr is the exact opposite of the pagan hero personified in the Greek and Germanic heroes. The heroes’ aim was to conquer, to be victorious, to destroy, to rob; their fulfillment of life was pride, power, fame, and superior skill in killing (St. Augustine compared Roman history with that of a band of robbers). For the pagan hero a man’s worth lay in his prowess in attaining and holding onto power, and he gladly died on the battlefield in the moment of victory. Homer’s Iliad is the poetically magnificent description of glorified conquerors and robbers. The martyr’s characteristics are being, giving, sharing; the hero’s, having, exploiting, forcing. (It should be added that the formation of the pagan hero is connected with the patriarchal victory over mother-centered society. Men’s dominance of women is the first act of conquest and the first exploitative use of force; in all patriarchal societies after the men’s victory, these principles have become the basis of men’s character.)
Which of the two irreconcilably opposed models for our own development still prevails in Europe? If we look into ourselves, into the behavior of almost all people, into our political leaders, it is undeniable that our model of what is good and valuable is the pagan hero. European—North American history, in spite of the conversion to the church, is a history of conquest, pride, greed; our highest values are: to be stronger than others, to be victorious, to conquer others and exploit them. These values coincide with our ideal of “manliness”: only the one who can fight and conquer is a man; anyone who is not strong in the use of force is weak, i.e., “unmanly.”
It is not necessary to prove that the history of Europe is a history of conquest, exploitation, force, subjugation. Hardly any period is not characterized by these factors, no race or class exempted, often including genocide, as with the American Indians, and even such religious enterprises as the Crusades are no exception. Was this behavior only outwardly economically or politically motivated, and were the slave traders, the rulers of India, the killers of Indians, the British who forced the Chinese to open their land to the import of opium, the instigators of two World Wars and those who prepare the next war, were all these Christians in their hearts? Or were perhaps only the leaders rapacious pagans while the great mass of the population remained Christians? If this were so, we might feel more cheerful. Unfortunately, it is not so. To be sure, the leaders were often more rapacious than their followers because they had more to gain, but they could not have realized their plans were it not that the wish to conquer and to be victorious was and still is part of the social character.
If all this is correct, why do not Europeans and Americans frankly abandon Christianity as not fitting our times? There are several reasons: for example, religious ideology is needed in order to keep people from losing discipline and thus threatening social coherence. But there is a still more important reason: people who are firm believers in Christ as the great lover, the self-sacrificing God, can turn this belief, in an alienated way, into the experience that it is Jesus who loves for them. Jesus thus becomes an idol; the belief in him becomes the substitute for one’s own act of loving. In a simple, unconscious formula: “Christ does all the loving for us; we can go on in the pattern of the Greek hero, yet we are saved because the alienated ‘faith’ in Christ is a substitute for the imitation of Christ.” That Christian belief is also a cheap cover for one’s own rapacious attitude goes without saying. Finally, I believe that human beings are so deeply endowed with a need to love that acting as wolves causes us necessarily to have a guilty conscience. Our professed belief in love anesthetizes us to some degree against the pain of the unconscious feeling of guilt for being entirely without love.
What shapes one’s attitude toward oneself is the fact that skill and equipment for performing a given task are not sufficient; one must be able to “put one’s personality across” in competition with many others in order to have success. If it were enough for the purpose of making a living to rely on what one knows and what one can do, one’s self-esteem would be in proportion to one’s capacities, that is, to one’s use value. But since success depends largely on how one sells one’s personality, one experiences oneself as a commodity or, rather, simultaneously as the seller and the commodity to be sold. A person is not concerned with his or her life and happiness, but with becoming salable.
The aim of the marketing character is complete adaptation, so as to be desirable under all conditions of the personality market. The marketing character personalities do not even have egos (as people in the nineteenth century did) to hold onto, that belong to them, that do not change. For they constantly change their egos, according to the principle: “I am as you desire me.”
Those with the marketing character structure are without goals, except moving, doing things with the greatest efficiency; if asked why they must move so fast, why things have to be done with the greatest efficiency, they have no genuine answer, but offer rationalizations, such as, “in order to create more jobs,” or “in order to keep the company growing.” They have little interest (at least consciously) in philosophical or religious questions, such as why one lives, and why one is going in this direction rather than in another. They have their big, ever-changing egos, but none has a self, a core, a sense of identity. The “identity crisis” of modern society is actually the crisis produced by the fact that its members have become selfless instruments, whose identity rests upon their participation in the corporations (or other giant bureaucracies), as a primitive individual’s identity rested upon membership in the clan.
The marketing character neither loves nor hates. These “old-fashioned” emotions do not fit into a character structure that functions almost entirely on the cerebral level and avoids feelings, whether good or evil ones, because they interfere with the marketing characters’ main purpose: selling and exchanging—or to put it even more precisely, functioning according to the logic of the “megamachine” of which they are a part, without asking any questions except how well they function, as indicated by their advancement in the bureaucracy.
Since the marketing characters have no deep attachment to themselves or to others, they do not care, in any deep sense of the word, not because they are so selfish but because their relations to others and to themselves are so thin. This may also explain why they are not concerned with the dangers of nuclear and ecological catastrophes, even though they know all the data that point to these dangers. That they are not concerned with the danger to their personal lives might still be explained by the assumption that they have great courage and unselfishness; but the lack of concern even for their children and grandchildren excludes such explanation. The lack of concern on all these levels is the result of the loss of any emotional ties, even to those “nearest” to them. The fact is, nobody is close to the marketing characters; neither are they close to themselves.
The supremacy of cerebral, manipulative thinking goes together with an atrophy of emotional life. Since it is not cultivated or needed, but rather an impediment to optimal functioning, emotional life has remained stunted and never matured beyond the level of a child’s. As a result the marketing characters are peculiarly naive as far as emotional problems are concerned. They may be attracted by “emotional people,” but because of their own naiveté, they often cannot judge whether such people are genuine or fakers. This may explain why so many fakers can be successful in the spiritual and religious fields; it may also explain why politicians who portray strong emotions have a strong appeal for the marketing character—and why the marketing character cannot discriminate between a genuinely religious person and the public relations product who fakes strong religious emotions.
The term “marketing character” is by no means the only one to describe this type. It can also be described by using a Marxian term, the alienated character; persons of this character are alienated from their work, from themselves, from other human beings, and from nature. In psychiatric terms the marketing person could be called a schizoid character; but the term may be slightly misleading, because a schizoid person living with other schizoid persons and performing well and being successful, because of his schizoid character entirely lacks the feeling of uneasiness that the schizoid character has in a more “normal” environment.
If Marx had pronounced his ideas today, at the beginning—and rapidly increasing—decline of capitalism, his real
message would have had a chance to be influential or even victorious, provided one can make such a historical conjecture. As it is, even the words “socialism” and “communism” are compromised. At any rate, every socialist or communist party that could claim to represent Marxian thought would have to be based on the conviction that the Soviet regimes are not socialist systems in any sense, that socialism is incompatible with a bureaucratic, thing-centered, consumption-oriented social system, that it is incompatible with the materialism and cerebralization that characterize the Soviet, like the capitalist, system.
The corruption of socialism explains the fact that genuine radical humanist thoughts often come from groups and individuals who were not identified with the ideas of Marx or who were even opposed to them, sometimes after having been active members of the communist movement.
While it is impossible to mention here all the radical humanists of the post-Marxian period, some examples of their thinking are given on the following pages. Though the conceptualizations of these radical humanists differed widely, and sometimes seem to contradict each other completely, they all share the following ideas and attitudes:
- that production must serve the real needs of the people, not the demands of the economic system;
- that a new relation must be established between people and nature, one of cooperation not of exploitation;
- that mutual antagonism must be replaced by solidarity;
- that the aim of all social arrangements must be human wellbeing and the prevention of ill-being;
- that not maximum consumption but sane consumption that furthers well-being must be striven for;
- that the individual must be an active, not a passive, participant in social life.
He [Albert Schweitzer] sees industrial society characterized not only by lack of freedom but also by “overeffort” (Überanstrengung). “For two or three centuries many individuals have lived only as working beings and not as human beings.” The human substance is stunted and in the upbringing of children by such stunted parents, an essential factor for their human development is lacking. “Later on, himself subjected to overoccupation, the adult person succumbs more and more to the need for superficial distraction....Absolute passivity, diverting attention from and forgetting of oneself are a physical need for him” (emphasis added). As a consequence Schweitzer pleads for reduction of work and against overconsumption and luxury.
Schweitzer, the Protestant theologian, insists, as does [Meister] Eckhart, the Dominican monk, that Man’s task is not to retire into an atmosphere of spiritual egotism, remote from the affairs of the world, but to lead an active life in which one tries to contribute to the spiritual perfection of society. “If among modern individuals there are so few whose human and ethical sentiments are intact, not the least reason is the fact that they sacrifice constantly their personal morality on the altar of the fatherland, instead of being in constant living interchange with the collective and of giving it the power which drives the collective to its perfection” (emphasis added).
He concludes that the present cultural and social structure drives toward a catastrophe, from which only a new Renaissance “much greater than the old one will arise”; that we must renew ourselves in a new belief and attitude, unless we want to perish. “Essential in this Renaissance will be the principle of activity, which rational thinking gives into our hands, the only rational and pragmatic principle of the historical development produced by Man. . . . I have confidence in my faith that this revolution will occur if we decide to become thinking human beings” (emphasis added).
Even authors whom one cannot call radical humanists, since they hardly transcend the transpersonal, mechanistic attitude of our age (such as the authors of the two reports commissioned by the Club of Rome), do not fail to see that a radical inner human change is the only alternative to economic catastrophe. Mesarovic
demand a “new a new ethic in the use of material world consciousness . . . a new attitude toward nature, based on harmony resources . . . a sense of identification with rather than on conquest . . . For the first time in Man’s life on earth, future generations . . . he is being asked to refrain from doing what he can do; he is being asked to restrain his economic and technological advancement, or at least to direct it differently from before; he is being asked by all the future generations of the earth to share his good fortune with the unfortunate—not in a spirit of charity but in a spirit of necessity. He is being asked to concentrate now on the organic growth of the total world system. Can he, in good conscience, say no?” They conclude that without these fundamental human changes, “Homo sapiens
is as good as doomed.”
Conditions for Human Change and the Features of the New Man
Assuming the premise is right—that only a fundamental change in human character from a preponderance of the having mode to a predominantly being mode of existence can save us from a psychologic and economic catastrophe—the question arises: Is large-scale characterological change possible, and if so, how can it be brought about?
I suggest that human character can
change if these conditions exist:
- We are suffering and are aware that we are.
- We recognize the origin of our ill-being.
- We recognize that there is a way of overcoming our ill-being.
- We accept that in order to overcome our ill-being we must follow certain norms for living and change our present practice of life.
These four points correspond to the Four Noble Truths that form the basis of the Buddha’s teaching dealing with the general condition of human existence, though not with cases of human ill-being due to specific individual or social circumstances.
The same principle of change that characterizes the methods of the Buddha also underlies Marx’s idea of salvation. In order to understand this it is necessary to be aware that for Marx, as he himself said, communism was not a final goal, but a step in the historical development that was to liberate human beings from those socioeconomic and political conditions that make people inhuman—prisoners of things, machines, and their own greed.
A New Science of Man
The first requirement in the possible creation of the new society is to be aware of the almost insurmountable difficulties that such an attempt must face. The dim awareness of this difficulty is probably one of the main reasons that so little effort is made to make the necessary changes. Many think: “Why strive for the impossible? Let us rather act as if the course we are steering will lead us to the place of safety and happiness that our maps indicate.” Those who unconsciously despair yet put on the mask of optimism are not necessarily wise. But those who have not given up hope can succeed only if they are hardheaded realists, shed all illusions, and fully appreciate the difficulties. This sobriety marks the distinction between awake
To mention only a few of the difficulties the construction of the new society has to solve:
- It would have to solve the problem of how to continue the industrial mode of production without total centralization, i.e., without ending up in fascism of the old-fashioned type or, more likely, technological “fascism with a smiling face.”
- It would have to combine overall planning with a high degree of decentralization, giving up the “free-market economy,” that has become largely a fiction.
- It would have to give up the goal of unlimited growth for selective growth, without running the risk of economic disaster.
- It would have to create work conditions and a general spirit in which not material gain but other, psychic satisfactions are effective motivations.
- It would have to further scientific progress and, at the same time, prevent this progress from becoming a danger to the human race by its practical application.
- It would have to create conditions under which people experience well-being and joy, not the satisfaction of the maximum-pleasure drive.
- It would have to give basic security to individuals without making them dependent on a bureaucracy to feed them.
- It must restore possibilities for individual initiative in living, rather than in business (where it hardly exists any more anyway).
As in the development of technique some difficulties seemed insurmountable, so the difficulties listed above seem insurmountable now. But the difficulties of technique were not insurmountable because a new science had been established that proclaimed the principle of observation and knowledge of nature as conditions for controlling it (Francis Bacon: Novum Organum
, 1620). This “new science” of the seventeenth century has attracted the most brilliant minds in the industrialized countries up to this day, and it led to the fulfillment of the technical Utopias the human mind had been dreaming of.
But today, roughly three centuries later, we need an entirely different new science. We need a Humanistic Science of Man as the basis for the Applied Science and Art of Social Reconstruction.
Whether such a change from the supremacy of natural science to a new social science will take place, nobody can tell. If it does, we might still have a chance for survival, but whether it will depends on one factor: how many brilliant, learned, disciplined, and caring men and women are attracted by the new challenge to the human mind, and by the fact that this time the goal is not control over nature but control over technique and over irrational social forces and institutions that threaten the survival of Western society, if not of the human race.
If the economic and political spheres of society are to be subordinated to human development, the model of the new society must be determined by the requirements of the unalienated, being-oriented individual. This means that human beings shall neither live in inhuman poverty—still the main problem of the majority of people—nor be forced—as are the affluent of the industrial world—to be a Homo consumers by the inherent laws of capitalist production, which demand continuous growth of production and, hence, enforce growing consumption. If human beings are ever to become free and to cease feeding industry by pathological consumption, a radical change in the economic system is necessary: we must put an end to the present situation where a healthy economy is possible only at the price of unhealthy human beings. The task is to construct a healthy economy for healthy people.
The function of the state is to establish norms for healthy consumption, as against pathological and indifferent consumption. In principle, such norms can be established. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers a good example; it determines which foods and which drugs are harmful, basing its determination on the expert opinion of scientists in various fields, often after prolonged experimentation. In similar fashion, the value of other commodities and services can be determined by a panel of psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, theologians, and representatives of various social and consumer groups.
But the examination of what is life-furthering and what is life-damaging requires a depth of research that is incomparably greater than that necessary for resolving the problems of the FDA. Basic research on the nature of needs that has hardly been touched will have to be done by the new science of Man. We will need to determine which needs originate in our organism; which are the result of cultural progress; which are expressions of the individual’s growth; which are synthetic, forced upon the individual by industry; which “activate” and which “passivate”; which are rooted in pathology and which in psychical health.
In contrast to the existing FDA, the decisions of the new humanist body of experts would not be implemented by force, but would serve only as guidelines, to be submitted to the citizens for discussion. We have already become very much aware of the problem of healthful and unhealthful food; the results of the experts’ investigations will help to increase society’s recognition of all other sane and pathological needs. People would see that most consumption engenders passivity; that the need for speed and newness, which can only be satisfied by consumerism, reflects restlessness, the inner flight from oneself; they would become aware that looking for the next thing to do or the newest gadget to use is only a means of protecting oneself from being close to oneself or to another person.
The government can greatly facilitate this educational process by subsidizing the production of desirable commodities and services, until these can be profitably produced. A large educational campaign in favor of sane consumption would have to accompany these efforts. It is to be expected that a concerted effort to stimulate the appetite for sane consumption is likely to change the pattern of consumption. Even if the brainwashing advertising methods that industry now uses are avoided—and this is an essential condition—it does not seem unreasonable to expect this effort to have an effect that is not too far behind that of industrial propaganda.
Sane consumption is possible only if we can drastically curb the right of the stockholders and management of big enterprises to determine their production solely on the basis of profit and expansion.
Such changes could be effected by law without altering the constitutions of Western democracies (we already have many laws that restrict property rights in the interest of the public welfare). What matters is the power to direct production, not ownership of capital. In the long run, the tastes of the consumers will decide what is to be produced, once the suggestive power of advertising is ended. Either the existing enterprises will have to convert their facilities in order to satisfy the new demands, or where that is not possible, the government must spend the capital necessary for the production of new products and services that are wanted.
All these changes can only be made gradually, and with the consent of the majority of the population. But they amount to a new form of economic system, one that is as different from present-day capitalism as it is from the Soviet centralized state capitalism and from the Swedish total welfare bureaucracy.
Obviously, from the very beginning the big corporations will use their tremendous power to try to fight such changes. Only the citizens’ overwhelming desire for sane consumption could break the corporations’ resistance.
To achieve a society based on being, all people must actively participate in their economic function and as citizens. Hence, our liberation from the having mode of existence is possible only through the full realization of industrial and political participatory democracy.
This demand is shared by most radical humanists.
Industrial democracy implies that each member of a large industrial or other organization plays an active role in the life of the organization; that each is fully informed and participates in decision-making, starting at the level of the individual’s own work process, health and safety measures (this has already been successfully tried by a few Swedish and American enterprises) and eventually participating in decision-making at higher, general policy levels of the enterprise. It is essential that the employees themselves, and not representatives of trade unions, represent the workers in the respective bodies of codetermination. Industrial democracy means also that the enterprise is not only an economic and technical institution, but a social institution in whose life and manner of functioning every member becomes active and, therefore, interested.
The same principles apply to the implementation of political democracy. Democracy can resist the authoritarian threat if it is transformed from a passive “spectator democracy” into an active “participatory democracy”—in which the affairs of the community are as close and as important to the individual citizens as their private affairs or, better, in which the wellbeing of the community becomes each citizen’s private concern. By participating in the community, people find life becomes more interesting and stimulating. Indeed, a true political democracy can be defined as one in which life is just that, interesting. By its very nature such participatory democracy—in contrast to the “people’s democracies” or “centralistic democracy”—is unbureaucratic and creates a climate that virtually excludes the emergence of demagogues.
“Why make these elaborate plans,” it will be asked, “when opinion polls can perform the task of eliciting the whole population’s opinion in an equally short time?” This objection touches upon one of the most problematical aspects of the expression of opinion. What is the “opinion” on which the polls are based but the views a person has without the benefit of adequate information, critical reflection, and discussion? Furthermore, the people polled know that their “opinions” do not count and, thus, have no effect. Such opinions only constitute people’s conscious ideas at a given moment; they tell us nothing about the underlying trends that might lead to the opposite opinions if circumstances were to change. Similarly, the voters in a political election know that once they have voted for a candidate, they have no further real influence on the course of events. In some respects, voting in a political election is even worse than the opinion polls because of the dulling of thinking by semihypnotic techniques. Elections become an exciting soap opera, with the hopes and aspirations of the candidates—not political issues—at stake. The voters can even participate in the drama by giving their votes to the candidate with whom they side. Even though a large part of the population refuses to make this gesture, most people are fascinated by these modern Roman spectacles in which politicians, rather than gladiators, fight in the arena.
At least two requirements are involved in the formation of a genuine conviction: adequate information and the knowledge that one’s decision has an effect. Opinions formed by the powerless onlooker do not express his or her conviction, but are a game, analogous to expressing a preference for one brand of cigarette over another. For these reasons the opinions expressed in polls and in elections constitute the worst, rather than the best, level of human judgment. This fact is confirmed by just two examples of people’s best judgments, i.e., people’s decisions are far superior to the level of their political decisions (a) in their private affairs (especially in business, as Joseph Schumpeter has so clearly shown) and (b) when they are members of juries. Juries are comprised of average citizens, who have to make decisions in cases that are often very intricate and difficult to understand. But the panel members get all pertinent information, have the chance for extended discussion, and know that their judgment decides the life and happiness of the persons they are mandated to judge. The result is that, by and large, their decisions show a great deal of insight and objectivity. In contrast, uninformed, half-hypnotized, and powerless people cannot express serious convictions. Without information, deliberation, and the power to make one’s decision effective, democratically expressed opinion is hardly more than the applause at a sports event.
Active Participation in political life requires maximum decentralization throughout industry and politics.
Because of the immanent logic of existing capitalism, enterprises and government grow ever larger and eventually become giants that are administered centrally from the top through a bureaucratic machine. One of the requisites of a humanistic society is that this process of centralization should stop and large-scale decentralization take place. There are several reasons for this. If a society is transformed into what Mumford has called a “megamachine” (that is, if the whole of a society, including its people, is like a large, centrally directed machine), fascism is almost unavoidable in the long run because (a) people become sheep, lose their faculty for critical thinking, feel powerless, are passive, and necessarily long for a leader who “knows” what to do—and everything else they do not know, and (b) the “megamachine” can be put in operation by anybody with access to it, simply by pushing the proper buttons. The megamachine, like an automobile, essentially runs itself: i.e., the person behind the wheel of the car has only to push the right buttons, manage the steering and the braking, and pay some attention to a few other similarly simple details; what in a car or other machine are its many wheels, in the megamachine are the many levels of bureaucratic administration. Even a person of mediocre intelligence and ability can easily run a state once he or she is in the seat of power.
Active and responsible participation further requires that humanistic management replace bureaucratic management.
Most people still believe that every kind of large-scale administration must necessarily be “bureaucratic,” i.e., an alienated form of administration. And most people are unaware of how deadening the bureaucratic spirit is and how it pervades all spheres of life, even where it seems not to be obvious, as in physician-patient and husband-wife relationships. The bureaucratic method can be defined as one that (a) administers human beings as if they were things and (b) administers things in quantitative rather than qualitative terms, in order to make quantification and control easier and cheaper. The bureaucratic method is governed by statistical data: the bureaucrats base their decisions on fixed rules arrived at from statistical data, rather than on response to the living beings who stand before them; they decide issues according to what is statistically most likely to be the case, at the risk of hurting the 5 or 10 percent of those who do not fit into that pattern. Bureaucrats fear personal responsibility and seek refuge behind their rules; their security and pride lie in their loyalty to rules, not in their loyalty to the laws of the human heart.
- All brainwashing methods in industrial and political advertising must be prohibited.
These brainwashing methods are dangerous not only because they impel us to buy things that we neither need nor want, but because they lead us to choose political representatives we would neither need nor want if we were in full control of our minds. But we are not in full control of our minds because hypnoid methods are used to propagandize us. To combat this ever-increasing danger, we must prohibit the use of all hypnoidforms of propaganda, for commodities as well as for politicians
The hypnoid methods used in advertising and political propaganda are a serious danger to mental health, specifically to clear and critical thinking and emotional independence. I have no doubt that thorough studies will show that the damage caused by drug addiction is only a fraction of the damage done by our methods of brainwashing, from subliminal suggestions to such semihypnotic devices as constant repetition or the deflection of rational thought by the appeal to sexual lust (“I’m Linda, fly me!”). The bombardment with purely suggestive methods in advertising, and most of all in television commercials, is stultifying. This assault on reason and the sense of reality pursues the individual everywhere and daily at any time: during many hours of watching television, or when driving on a highway, or in the political propaganda of candidates, and so on. The particular effect of these suggestive methods is that they create an atmosphere of being half-awake, of believing and not believing, of losing one’s sense of reality.
- The gap between the rich and the poor nations must be closed.
There is little doubt that the continuation and further deepening of that gap will lead to catastrophe. The poor nations have ceased to accept the economic exploitation by the industrial world as a God-given fact. Even though the Soviet Union is still exploiting its own satellite states in the same colonialist manner, it uses and reinforces the protest of the colonial peoples as a political weapon against the West. The increase in oil prices was the beginning—and a symbol—of the colonial peoples’ demand to end the system that requires them to sell raw materials cheap and buy industrial products dear. In the same way, the Vietnam war was a symbol of the beginning of the end of the colonial peoples’ political and military domination by the West.
What will happen if nothing crucial is done to close the gap? Either epidemics will spread into the fortress of the white society or famines will drive the population of the poor nations into such despair that they, perhaps with the help of sympathizers from the industrial world, will commit acts of destruction, even use small nuclear or biological weapons, that will bring chaos within the white fortress.
- Many of the evils of present-day capitalist and communist societies would disappear with the introduction of a guaranteed yearly income.
The core of this idea is that all persons, regardless of whether they work or not, shall have the unconditional right not to starve and not to be without shelter. They shall receive not more than is basically required to sustain themselves—but neither shall they receive less. This right expresses a new concept for today, though a very old norm, demanded by Christianity and practiced in many “primitive” tribes, that human beings have an unconditional right to live, regardless of whether they do their “duty to society.”
It is a right we guarantee to our pets, but not to our fellow beings. The realm of personal freedom would be tremendously enlarged by such a law; no person who is economically dependent on another (e.g., on a parent, husband, boss) could any longer be forced to submit to the blackmail of starvation; gifted persons wanting to prepare for a different life could do so provided they were willing to make the sacrifice of living in a degree of poverty for a time. Modern welfare states have accepted this principle—almost . . . which actually means “not really.” A bureaucracy still “administers” the people, still controls and humiliates them. But a guaranteed income would require no “proof” of need for any person to get a simple room and a minimum of food. Thus no bureaucracy would be needed to administer a welfare program with its inherent waste and its violations of human dignity.
Considering the present-day cost of running a large welfare bureaucracy, the cost of treating physical, especially psychosomatic, illnesses, criminality, and drug addiction (all of which are largely forms of protest against coercion and boredom), it seems likely that the cost of providing any person who wanted it with a guaranteed annual income would be less than that of our present system of social welfare. The idea will appear unfeasible or dangerous to those who believe that “people are basically lazy by nature.” This cliché has no basis in fact, however; it is simply a slogan that serves as a rationalization for the resistance against surrendering the sense of power over those who are helpless.
- A Supreme Cultural Council, charged with the task of advising the government, the politicians, and the citizens in all matters in which knowledge is necessary, should be established.
The cultural council members would be representative of the intellectual and artistic elite of the country, men and women whose integrity was beyond doubt. They would determine the composition of the new, expanded form of the FDA and would select the people to be responsible for disseminating information.
There is a substantial consensus on who the outstanding representatives of various branches of culture are, and I believe it would be possible to find the right members for such a council. It is of decisive importance, of course, that this council should also represent those who are opposed to established views: for instance, the “radicals” and “revisionists” in economics, history, and sociology. The difficulty is not in finding the council members but in choosing them, for they cannot be elected by popular vote, nor should they be appointed by the government. Yet other ways of selecting them may be found. For instance, start with a nucleus of three or four persons and gradually enlarge the group to its full size of, say, fifty to a hundred persons. This cultural council should be amply financed so that it would be able to commission special studies of various problems.
- A system of effective dissemination of effective information must also be established.
Information is a crucial element in the formation of an effective democracy. Withholding information or falsifying it in the alleged interests of “national security” must be ended. But even without such illegitimate withholding of information, the problem remains that at present the amount of real and necessary information given to the average citizen is almost zero. And this holds true not only for the average citizen. As has been shown abundantly, most elected representatives, members of government, the defense forces, and business leaders are badly informed and to a large extent misinformed by the falsehoods that various government agencies spread, and the news media repeat. Unfortunately, most of these same people, in turn, have at best a purely manipulative intelligence. They have little capacity to understand the forces operating beneath the surface and, hence, to make sound judgments about future developments, not to speak of their selfishness and dishonesty, of which we have heard enough. But even to be an honest and intelligent bureaucrat is not enough to solve the problems of a world facing catastrophe.
With the exception of a few “great” newspapers, even the factual information on political, economic, and social data is extremely limited. The so-called great newspapers inform better, but they also misinform better: by not publishing all the news impartially; by slanting headlines, in addition to writing headlines that often do not conform with their accompanying text; by being partisan in their editorials, written under the cover of seemingly reasonable and moralizing language. In fact, the newspapers, the magazines, television, and radio produce a commodity: news
, from the raw material of events. Only news is salable, and the news media determine which events are news, which are not. At the very best, information is ready-made, concerns only the surface of events, and barely gives the citizens an opportunity to penetrate through the surface and recognize the deeper causes of the events. As long as the sale of news is a business, newspapers and magazines can hardly be prevented from printing what sells (in various degrees of unscrupulousness) their publications and does not antagonize the advertisers.
Another hopeful sign is the increasing display of dissatisfaction with our present social system. A growing number of people feel la malaise du siöcle: they sense their depression; they are conscious of it, in spite of all kinds of efforts to repress it. They feel the unhappiness of their isolation and the emptiness of their “togetherness”; they feel their impotence, the meaninglessness of their lives. Many feel all this very clearly and consciously; others feel it less clearly, but are fully aware of it when someone else puts it into words.
So far in world history a life of empty pleasure was possible for only a small elite, and they remained essentially sane because they knew they had power and that they had to think and to act in order not to lose their power. Today, the empty life of consumption is that of the whole middle class, which economically and politically has no power and little personal responsibility. The major part of the Western world knows the benefits of the consumer type of happiness, and growing numbers of those who benefit from it are finding it wanting. They are beginning to discover that having much does not create well-being: traditional ethical teaching has been put to the test—and is being confirmed by experience.
Only in those who live without the benefits of middle-class luxury does the old illusion remain untouched: in the lower middle classes in the West and among the vast majority in the “socialist” countries. Indeed, the bourgeois hope for “happiness through consumption” is nowhere more alive than in the countries that have not yet fulfilled the bourgeois dream.
One of the gravest objections to the possibilities of overcoming greed and envy, namely that their strength is inherent in human nature, loses a good deal of its weight upon further examination. Greed and envy are so strong not because of their inherent intensity but because of the difficulty in resisting the public pressure to be a wolf with the wolves. Change the social climate, the values that are either approved or disapproved, and the change from selfishness to altruism will lose most of its difficulty.
Thus we arrive again at the premise that the being orientation is a strong potential in human nature. Only a minority is completely governed by the having mode, while another small minority is completely governed by the being mode. Either can become dominant, and which one does depends on the social structure. In a society oriented mainly toward being, the having tendencies are starved and the being mode is fed. In a society like ours, whose main orientation is toward having, the reverse occurs. But the new mode of existence is always already present—though repressed. No Saul becomes a Paul if he was not already a Paul before his conversion.
If the City of God and the Earthly City were thesis and antithesis, a new synthesis is the only alternative to chaos: the synthesis between the spiritual core of the Late Medieval world and the development of rational thought and science since the Renaissance. This synthesis is The City of Being.(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English
To Have Or to Be? is one of the seminal books of the second half of the 20th century. Nothing less than a manifesto for a new social and psychological revolution to save our threatened planet, this book is a summary of the penetrating thought of Eric Fromm. His thesis is that two modes of existence struggle for the spirit of humankind: the having mode, which concentrates on material possessions, power, and aggression, and is the basis of the universal evils of greed, envy, and violence; and the being mode, which is based on love, the pleasure of sharing, and in productive activity. To Have Or to Be? is a brilliant program for socioeconomic change.
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