Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Art of Loving

Some quotes from Erich Fromm's - The Art of Loving:

On GIVING:    

     "What is giving?  Simple as the answer to this question seems to be, it is actually full of ambiguities and complexities.  The most widespread misunderstanding is that which assumes that giving is "giving up" something, being deprived of, sacrificing.  The person whose character has not developed beyond the stage of the receptive, exploitative, or hoarding orientation, experiences the act of giving in this way.  The marketing character is willing to give, but only in exchange for receiving; giving without receiving for him is being cheated.  People whose main orientation is a non-productive one feel giving as an impoverishment.  Most individuals of this type therefore refuse to give.  Some make a virtue out of giving in the sense of a sacrifice.  They feel that just because it is painful to give, one should give; the virtue of giving to them lies in the very act of acceptance of the sacrifice.  For them, the norm that it is better to give than to receive means that it is better to suffer deprivation than to experience joy. 
       For the productive character, giving has entirely different meaning.  Giving is the higest expression of potency.  In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power.  The experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy.  I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous.  Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness."


     "In a primitive society the group is small; it consists of those with whom one shares blood and soil.  With the growing development of culture, the group enlarges; it becomes the citizenry of a polis, the citizenry of a large state, the members of a church.  Even the poor Roman felt pride because he could say "civis romanus sum:,; Rome and the Empire were his family, his home, his world.  Also in contemporary Western society the union with the group is the prevalent way of overcoming separateness.  It is a union in which the individual self disapears to a large extent, and where the aim is to belong to the herd.  If I am like everybody else, if I have no feelings or thoughts which make me different, if I conform in custom, dress, ideas, to the pattern of the group, I am saved; saved from the frightening experience of aloneness.  The dictatorial systems use threats and terror to induce this conformity; the democratic countries, suggestion and propaganda.  There is, indeed, one great difference between the two systems.  In the democracies non-conformity is possible and, in fact, by no means entirely absent; in the totalitarian systems, only a few unusual heroes and martyrs can be expected to refuse obedience.  But in spite of this difference the democratic societies show an overwhelming degree of conformity.  The reason lies in the fact that there has to be an answer to the quest for union, and if there is no other or better way then the union of herd conformity becomes the predominant one.  One can only understand the power of fear to be different, the fear to be only a few steps away from the herd, if one understands the depths of the need not to be separated.  Sometimes this fear of non-conformity is rationalized as fear of practical dangers which could threaten the non-conformist.  But actually, people want to conform to a much higher degree than they are forced to conform, at least in the Western democracies.
     Most people are not even aware of their need to conform.  They live under the illusion that they follow their own ideas and inclinations, that they are individuals, that they have arrived at their opinions as the result of their own thinking--and that it just happens that their ideas are the same as those of the majority.  The consensus of all serves as a proof for the correctness of "their" ideas.  Since there is still a need to feel some individuality, such need is satisfied with regard to minor differences; the initials on the handbag or the sweater, the name plate of the bank teller, the belonging to the Democratic as against the Republican part, to the Elks instead of to the Shriners become the expression of individual differences.  The advertising slogan of "it is different" shows up this pathetic need for difference, when in reality there is hardly any left.


He goes on to describe our current situation in capitalistic society.  He describes how man and woman are being brought to be equal through sameness, eliminating all differences.  This is as opposed to being equal opposites.  This sameness is the creation of automatons where on union can be made.  "Women are equal because they are not different anymore.  The proposition of Enlightenment philosophy, the soul has no sex, disappearing, and with it erotic love, which is based on this polarity.  Men and women become the same, not equals as opposite poles.  Contemporary society preaches the ideal of unindividualized equality becase it needs human atoms, each one the same, to make them function in a mass aggregation, smoothly, without friction; all obeying the same commands, yet everybody being convinced that he is following his own desires.  Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called "equality."


"The unity achieved in productive work[creation, art] is not interpersonal; the unity acheived in orgiastic fusion[drugs, sex, visionary] is transitory; the unity acheived by conformity[union with groups] is only pseudo-unity.  Hence, they are only partial answers to the problem of existence.  The full answer lies in the achievement of interpersonal union, of fusion with another person, in love."

You can choose to seek outside yourself and find a (hopefully) equal to yourself of the opposite sex or you can go within and find union with God.  You could also find a member of the opposite sex and also unite with God.  I think most who seek union within find that union with a member of the opposite sex is too constraining.  I would also think that most who find union with their equal opposite outside of themselves will find it tough to then go and find union within with God.  The other means of finding unity described above I would say are more transitory ways of going about it.  


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