“Freedom!!!!!”

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.

24 thoughts on ““Freedom!!!!!”

  1. I swear, “privilege” is the new buzz word. It has become the latest way to insult someone. I think the popular usage within the progressive crowd came from Critical Race Theory but I’m not sure.

    • For sure that witch — my neighbor — is absolutely NOT progressive. She still hates Jane Fonda over Vietnam. There is a connection between “White privilege” and CRT, I guess but I hear it more down here talking about liberals. I’m so over this bullshit. I want to take my hiking stick (that I don’t have) and go hit rocks into a ravine. A baseball bat would work, but I don’t have that either or a ravine 🤣

    • Ha, thanks! The term has also arrived in Europe in the meantime. My son also recently said that I only was successful with a certain project because I was privileged. I immediately had to think of the 1970s and 1980s, when even criminals were often excused by saying that their behavior was dependent on the environment and that their responsibility was therefore excusable.

  2. Martha, I can only say that your neighbor’s supposed insult (calling you an intellectual) is actually a compliment to you and a self-putdown. At least that’s what my mother would have said. And she should know since she wore her “title” (bestowed by a pugnacious conservative) of Bleeding heart liberal bitch as if it were the most elegant compliment ever given her!

  3. Ah, freedom, a word with many unclear meanings. Am I privileged? Yes, most certainly. I earned only some of that. At the heart of it, I am privileged to be alive and experience my time in this universe. The rest of it is just the rest of it.

    • ❤️ I think the idea of “privilege” we grew up with is not the idea that people have in mind when they use that word now. I think we grew up with the idea it’s a privilege to be alive. I didn’t understand what was meant by “white privilege” until I saw the video of that woman abusing that black bird watcher in Central Park. I was stunned. That was maybe the beginning of my realizing that I live in a pipe dream (no pipe, though).

        • I think it’s about ignorance and the media. My neighbor has never lived among people of a different race and she saw the BLM riots through the lens of Fox News. I lived a large part of my adult life in mixed neighborhoods, so I didn’t see the riots that way at all in spite of my skin color. I saw that she was actually afraid of the black people. Someone might have called that “white privilege.” I would have called it ignorance. I’m now living in an exceedingly racist place and that’s one thing I hate about it. I don’t want to be segregated by my skin color. I’ve lived mostly among Latinos… So it’s kind of alienating to be a “white lady.” But what can you do?

          • When we moved to Dana Point from north of Boston in 1966, the very first friends I had were Latinos of Mexican descent. They folded me into their family. We are still close. Feeling at home with them was probably the most important part of my education, such as it was. (And thank goodness it’s ongoing.) I look back on that time and marvel.

  4. I have not read this but would be interesting to see what you think of the book! This is one of those questions that often gets bandied about but it is such a personal concept that we may never agree an answer. Although, of course, absolute freedom can never exist 😉

    • You’re right. No two people would ever agree on what freedom is. It’s a pretty awful word, really, meaning both full of awe and terrible. I think people are afraid of it. I don’t know about countries in Europe but here there is the idea that if someone has something then someone else doesn’t. It’s a culture built on scarcity. I have no idea why.

      • That is an interesting way of looking at things! Certainly, there are some who trot our similar lines here but it is not an idea expressed in those terms.
        I guess here we have all been invaded/occupied and lived under the real threat of both within living memory. That kinda frames the prism through which we view freedom. We (perhaps too easily) accept constraints on individual freedoms but accept them when they apply equally.

        • Liberty is OK with us and a lot more concrete than freedom. That French statue in the harbor in New York isn’t the Statue of Freedom. At this point in my life I think the biggest constraint on individual freedom is my expected lifespan. 🤣

  5. We both remember when 50 years ago the hit parade was full of people singing about freedom. Quite a few had sold their souls to a music agent – others died of an overdose. The next enjoys his freedom on his Harley, which he bought on credit and others bite into their “freedom fries” with conviction. I’m sorry if it sounds cynical. As human beings, we probably need a concept such as freedom, just as we need other concepts such as faithfulness, honesty, and so on. They also work as long as we don’t scratch the paint.

    • Yep — I was raised with the idea that my freedom ended where another person’s began, that it was relative. What people mean by “privilege” now I would call luck. My neighbor who calls me “privileged” has no idea what my education cost me, not in dollars, but in personal sacrifice and bad luck. My dad was a disabled veteran and that “entitled” me to a stipend for college. I worked my way through grad school which is one reason I might not have been the best student in the university. I knew another world and other imperatives. People tell me I was lucky to have gone to China, and I agree, but I worked there. I was no tourist. But I think people all look at others through their own eyes and here, anyway, there seems to be the idea that having something means you took it from someone. In this very wealthy country there is a prevailing view that someone is taking something away from us. You don’t sound cynical to me.

      • Since I’ve been dealing more intensively with Zen again, I’ve realized how much we are shaped by terms that were coined by someone at some point. The word Privilleg naturally had a different meaning in the Middle Ages than it does today, and yet we use it as a static variable.

        For me, the concept of freedom also has something of the carrot in the mouth of the mule to a certain extent. There is this carrot – I can see it clearly….

        • I think the carrot analogy works perfectly. It reminds me of my Chinese students telling me that I didn’t understand; China hadn’t reached Communism but when it did, everyone would be happy and have everything they wanted — including freedom. For me, there is this moment and my freedom consists in my choices. I think you’re right, too, about language.

  6. Loved this post, Martha, and the comments it has generated. Concepts we all need to keep front-and-center these days, evaluating and re-evaluating what they mean to us and others.

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