In the book I’ve been reading, The Spell of New Mexico, I read a line which mentions Erich Fromm, “As Dr. Fromm long since reminded us, most people try to escape freedom.” It’s in a long essay by a writer named Winfield Townley Scott — an American poet I had never heard of. His essay goes month-by-month of his first year in Santa Fe, NM. I liked it. He writes about how many people in the early 20th century (now?) were essentially ex-pats in New Mexico. Pretty much every essay in this book makes that point one way or another. We all know that there was a big art colony kind of thing going on in New Mexico during that time (still) so that isn’t new. But reading the perspectives of all these different writers has been interesting, particularly since New Mexico has played a big part in my life since I was a baby.
But…what struck me is that reference to Erich Fromm, that statement that most of us run from freedom. It made me think about freedom, particularly in these days when the word is thrown around so loudly and so shrilly by people who seem, to me, to represent the opposite of freedom. Maybe proving Fromm’s point? And now I know there’s a whole book entitled, Escape from Freedom? Again, one of those “O Brave new world,” moments and I want to read this.
Escape from Freedom is a book by the Frankfurt-born psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, first published in the United States… in 1941 with the title Escape from Freedom and a year later as The Fear of Freedom in UK. It was translated into German and first published in 1952 under the title ‘Die Angst vor der Freiheit’ (The Fear of Freedom). In the book, Fromm explores humanity’s shifting relationship with freedom, with particular regard to the personal consequences of its absence. His special emphasis is the psychosocial conditions that facilitated the rise of Nazism.Wikipedia “Escape from Freedom”
I don’t know what freedom is. The little I’ve read about Fromm’s book mentions his idea that there are two kinds of freedom; negative and positive. Freedom from (negative) and freedom to (positive). I’ll take that on faith for now until I have the chance to see for myself, but it makes sense to me.
Living here in the San Luis Valley after a lifetime in a very different world and environment, I have been puzzled by freedom. I have freedom TO paint, to write, to think, but I do not have freedom to “be” in a more social sense. People around me are suspicious of “intellectuals,” and I am one. That’s not ALL I am, but I am that. It never occurred to me that this would be the case until my neighbor looked down her nose at me and called me “privileged” because of my education. This happened at the beginning of this summer. After that I saw how often it had happened in my small gestures in a more social world. I scare people.
During my training to become an intellectual (ha ha) I didn’t do all that well. I was not a star student and the coterie of brains in my graduate program seemed bloodless and vague. I have hardly ever found a kindred spirit which is all fine. An aspect of freedom is liberty from encumbrances, expectations and ties, I guess. I have learned here that people expect that I am judging them and looking down at them, and, before I understood that, I wasn’t. Now, probably, I am. Prejudice of any kind is unappealing and destructive. I don’t like it when it’s turned toward me, but who does?
I don’t expect people all to be the same. I also know where my life has taken me and that not everyone has gone there. I believe we’ve all had choices to make in our labyrinthine lives, difficulties, terrors, mistakes, opportunities — both missed and not missed — bad relationships, illness, bizarre elements of fate. Godnose what any single person has had to deal with, and as such I believe all are worthy of respect. “What a poor good thing is man after all.” Goethe
Freedom is a weird word. Personally, I think may be too obscure and absolute to be discussed in a meaningful way. I think what people want is not the obscurity of “freedom,” but liberty which is the legal protection of their rights. BUT the Far Right in this country harps on freedom all the time when what it seems to offer is authoritarianism. That makes Fromm’s book even more interesting to me.
Freedom — as a concept? As a reality? Would seem to respect the individual, and I’ve seen in recent months that the Far Right doesn’t respect individual rights/freedom, not even to decide what a woman can do with her own body or a young person can do if he/she realizes that his/her mind and spirit were born in the wrong body. Minuscule things, these two things, affecting a small, small, small percentage of the population, but they reflect respect for the most personal and individual freedoms — freedom to be ones self, freedom of physical integrity. Why should these things interest anyone but the individuals faced with a couple of pretty excruciating problems? Being prohibited from choosing what’s right for her in the case of a woman with a complicated pregnancy, or prohibited from pursuing medical intervention to make life work for young person diminishes freedom to and puts the burden on freedom from. “You don’t have to make this decision, sweet cheeks. The government will make it for you.”
And more. It seems to support a rather whimsical (friendly way to say subjective and unjust) application of the law which diminishes liberty except for the selected group and creates fear.
So, yeah, I’d say people do fear freedom. We’ll see what I think after I get the book and, I hope, read it.