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To Have or to Be?

Avik Gangopadhyay reads how the “Having Mode” of Technocratic Fascism devours the “Being Mode” in Eric Fromm’s Blueprint for Modern Man...

Published : Saturday, 11 August, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 944

Known as a critique of Freud's dualistic thinking that identified a discrepancy between early and later Freudian theory, Erich Fromm (1900 -1980) was one of Founders of The William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York. Associated to the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, this German-born social psychologist, humanistic philosopher and democratic socialist questioned values and made shocking predictions. In To Have or To Be, published in 1976, Erich Fromm offers a surprising insight: two modes of existence are struggling fiercely for the spirit of mankind-- the Having mode, dedicated to material possession and property, aggressiveness and personal gain with the accompanying evils of war; and the Being mode, suffused with love, the spirit of caring and a proper regard for humanity, which means contentment, a pleasant sufficiency of the means to life (but no more) and a profound kinship with nature.
Nothing less than a manifesto for a new social and psychological revolution, To Have or to Be? By Erich Fromm, author of The Art of Loving, The Revolution of Hope and Escape from Freedom, is his major work, a summary of a lifetime of thought. Actually, the title of this book and two earlier titles are almost identical: Gabriel Marcel, Being and Having, and Balthasar Staehelin, Haben und Sein (Having and Being). All three books are written in the spirit of humanism, but approach the subject in very different ways. Marcel writes from a theological and philosophical standpoint; Staehelin's book is a constructive discussion of materialism in modem science and a contribution to Wirklichkeitsanalyse. This volume deals with an empirical psychological and social analysis of the two modes of existence.
Aspiring to be Gods of earth points to radical hedonism, to use a sober idiom, and in plain-speak unlimited consumption and increase in possessions. This book follows two trends of the author's previous writings. First, it extends the development of the work in radical-humanistic psychoanalysis, concentrating on the analysis of selfishness and altruism as two basic character orientations. Then carries further a theme that the author dealt with in The Sane Society and the Revolution of Hope: the crisis of contemporary society and possibilities for its solution. Repetitions of previously expressed thoughts have been unavoidable, but the hope the new viewpoint from which this small work is written and its extended concepts will compensate even readers who are familiar with Eric Fromm's previous writings.
In the chapter The End of an Illusion the author comes down heavily on "The Great Promise, Its Failure, and New Alternatives." 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. To be sure, our civilization began when the human race started taking active control of nature; but that control remained limited until the advent of the industrial age. With industrial progress, from the substitution of mechanical and then nuclear energy for animal and human energy to the substitution of the computer for the human mind, we could feel that we were on our way to unlimited production and, hence, unlimited consumption-- "that technique made us omnipotent; that science made us omniscient. We were on our way to becoming gods, supreme beings who could create a second world, using the natural world only as building blocks for our new creation."
Men and, increasingly, women experienced a new sense of freedom; they became masters of their own lives: feudal chains had been broken and one could do what one wished, free of all shackles or so people felt. And even though this was true only for the upper and middle classes, their achievement could lead others to the faith that eventually the new freedom could be extended to all.
The book was originally published in the World Perspectives book series edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen for Harper & Row publishing firm. The book acted as the thesis of World Perspectives that man is in the process of developing a new consciousness which, in spite of his apparent spiritual and moral captivity, can eventually lift the human race above and beyond the fear, ignorance, and isolation which beset it today. It is to this nascent consciousness, to this concept of man born out of a universe that is perceived through a fresh vision of reality. In every mode of life, people should ponder more on "being" nature and not towards the "having" nature. This is the truth which people deny and thus people of the modern world have completely lost their inner selves.
This work brings into the surface the culmination of his thesis which he propagated before as four types of non-productive character orientation-- which he called receptive, exploitative, hoarding, and marketing, and one positive character orientation, which he called productive. Receptive and exploitative orientations are basically how an individual may relate to other people and are socialization attributes of character. A hoarding orientation is an acquiring and assimilating materials character trait. The marketing orientation arises in response to the human situation in the modern era. The current needs of the market determine value. It is a relativistic ethic. In contrast, the productive orientation is an objective ethic. Man has entered a new era of evolutionary history, one in which rapid change is a dominant consequence. He is contending with a fundamental change, since he has intervened in the evolutionary process. He must now better appreciate this fact and then develop the wisdom to direct the process toward his fulfilment rather than toward his destruction.

Avik Gangopadhyay, an author, columnist and educationist, writes from, Kolkata, India

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