Beginning an Interesting Book…

A while ago I mentioned a book I’d read about in another book (ah, the great chain of reading) by Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom. Yesterday I remembered I had it (ha ha) and began reading. It’s captivating. His perspective is that of a psychologist. While I’ve benefited from other’s study of psychology, I have never studied it beyond what I had to in college. The book begins (and I’m in the beginning) with a discussion of psychological explanations for human behavior and the role of the individual in society as defined by different psychological systems. From this discussion, I’ve learned that Fromm has great respect — love? — for the individual and regards individuals as dynamic forces in human culture and history.

There’s so much here. It’s truly the richest writing I’ve read in a long, long time. It was originally published in 1941 and Fromm sets freedom against Fascism which he defines as the systems that had gained ascendancy in Germany and Italy. He writes that when he wants to discuss events in Germany only, he’ll call it Nazism.

For Fromm, freedom is the property of individuals; freedom is individual, and the threat to freedom is that people don’t want it. It seems — so far — that the tension is between individual freedom and an equal desire on the part of many for submission. That’s so whack. He writes, “Can freedom become a burden, too heavy for man to bear, something he tries to escape from? Why then is it that freedom is for many a cherished goal and for others a threat?” As I read, I thought about the Supremes overturning Roe v. Wade, eliminating an important individual freedom from the law of the land. How do I feel about abortion? Nobody likes it. I don’t like it. I’m sorry for any woman who finds herself contemplating it. Should women have dominion over their individual bodies? Yes. Can I live with that? Yes. Apparently others can’t.

Fromm quotes John Dewey (go west young man) “The serious threat to our democracy is not the existence of foreign totalitarian states. It is the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader in foreign countries. The battlefield is also accordingly here — within ourselves our institutions.”

In 1997 I attended an Alice Cooper concert in Zürich. It was held in the Tonhalle. Earlier that day I’d seen photos of the very auditorium taken during the Nazi era. One of the photos was a meeting of sympathetic Swiss in the Tonhalle. I don’t know how to describe my feelings that night, with that photo still living in my mind. When Alice started singing “School’s Out,” most of the audience stood, raised their fists in the air, and sang along. I remember asking myself, “Who are we?” Same hall. The same image as in the photo. Same people a generation or two later. Same idea of uniting with others of like mind or music taste, anyway. “What makes us do this?” I saw the whole thing — Nazi rally, Alice Cooper concert — as bonding rites.

Fromm writes about this, too, about the different kinds of isolation. I think that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother blog post, but the bottom line is that people cannot live without others. Fromm explains all the kinds of possible connections and as I read, I thought of this blog. Some time back, I happened to look at my stats and saw that 2020 had the most connections. I understood that; in our enforced isolation our WordPress “neighborhood” became more important, maybe necessary.

I am not sure where Fromm is going next, but it seems at this point it might be the eternal tension between self and belonging. Not sure… I could be putting the cart before the horse. Anyway, so far I like this very much. I like his attitude toward Freud (You gave us a lot, but, dude, your ideas are flawed), I like his focus on the individual. We’ll see what happens as I continue reading — one thing for sure, this is vastly different from the contest books I read every winter.

OH, in my continued pursuit to figure out WHAT is attractive to anyone about TFG I learned yesterday about a book that’s passed out at his rallies. President Donald J. Trump, The Son of Man – The Christ. It’s very scary to me that there are people who actually believe this. From the opening:

I had long appreciated that his followers constitute a cult, but I had no idea…

I’d Rather have Liberty

Teaching at an international school for 13 years I had the opportunity to see “ourselves as others see us.” The word “freedom” was a trigger word in class discussions. Maybe it’s always been a trigger word, but class discussions got pretty heated. Most of my European students felt that there wasn’t much freedom in America. What they REALLY felt was that they were not in Kansas anymore, and the US wasn’t like they expected it to be. Freedom = things just the way you want them. Some of my students didn’t like our speed limits but they hadn’t done the conversion from kilometers to miles or they’d have realized they were pretty much the same as European speed limits.

One of my Japanese students said that Freedom in America is having 20 different choices for sandwiches at Subway. A German girl said, “Ja! So many different kinds of corn flakes at the store!” She meant cold cereal, but… I get that. After a year living in a country without any choice, I find the superfluity of irrelevant options here in this country tyrannical. My students (especially those from France, Switzerland and Germany) also thought our documents were stupid because they “guaranteed happiness.” A lot of Americans think that, too, when the document in question just says “pursuit of happiness” and it doesn’t say anything about freedom. It talks about liberty.

One thing I learned in those discussions is that freedom and liberty are not exactly the same thing and that liberty is far more concrete and optimistic. Freedom? No, it’s not just another word for nothing left to lose, though, I guess if you’re standing on the promontory of your life with absolutely NOTHING you have nothing to preserve; that’s a bleak kind of liberty. Anyway, I hate that song.

The idea of freedom is kind of squishy. Freedom is relative to something — freedom TO, freedom FROM — freedom to stay out until midnight? Freedom from want? The first freedom here isn’t freedom; it’s liberty. Your parents extend your curfew. Yay! You can sit in the car in front of the house and steam up the windows longer! Waaa–HOOOO! The second? Fucking impossible. Idealistic. A goal to work toward. NO one can make that happen.

Another example? Until recently a person had the right (liberty) to carry a gun within certain legal parameters, but now that stupid fat-faced little twit who killed two people and got off with a self-defense plea has screwed that up. The idea (liberty, the negotiated freedom) was you keep your guns in your state and you don’t kill people, but OH well. FREEDOM!!!

Liberty is concrete. It’s defined by law. It is enforceable, codified, clear. Ideally people with clear heads and an idealistic, optimistic view of human nature work on the laws. If a law needs to be changed, it can be changed. That’s the whole point of government — the fair and equitable application of laws for the liberty of all. MLK (whom we remember once a year as the sole avatar of Civil Rights) fought for freedom FROM Jim Crow laws which were inequitable and unjust. That is to say, the Freedom Riders were fighting for liberty.

To the best of my knowledge English is the only language that uses these two words and we have our linguistic history to thank for this fuck up. As we wandered around in our Anglo-Saxon world until 1066 I guess we all had our Germanic word frēodōm then with the Normans we got liberte which were essentially, originally, synonymous but, over time, in English anyway, the essence of the words’ meanings evolved.

At this point in my life I hate the word “freedom.” It’s been taken over by a bunch of ignorant, angry people who have no idea. I’m not crazy about the flag of my country, either, which has been co-opted as the flag of people who don’t understand anything.

Until last night, the San Luis Valley has been enduring the tyranny of drought. The drought hasn’t broken by a long shot but it SNOWED. A respectable 6 cm.