ERICH FROMM and ESCAPE FROM FREEDOM are popping up often enough at the moment to think we might have realized that we’ve had a pretty good working hypothesis about the “end of Liberal Democracy” and “the rise of the New Right.” Of course, he figured it out a long time and the fact that we re-discover it whenever freedom is threatened means it’s possible to at least remember if not prevent.
Fromm left Germany and after a year in Geneva, accepted a teaching position at Columbia University in 1935. His approach to psychoanalysis was informed by his early academic work in law and graduate work in sociology and philosophical psychology. Escape From Freedom jumps up the university reading lists whenever the pendulum in this country moves toward repression and authoritarianism. Approachable and crisp, his work provides a great working model for understanding we’re doing to ourselves and why. I’ve been meaning to revisit it for a while, and this piece in the The Guardian will make me wander in to my stacks and find my copy. From the Guardian article by Dr. Michele Gelfand, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland:
“The philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm first identified this predicament in his 1941 book, Escape from Freedom. The gist of it is this: when people perceive an increase in disorder, they feel tremendous anxiety. Inevitably, this anxiety leads to a quest for security. To bring a sense of safety back into their lives, they latch on to authoritarianism and conformity. As Fromm noted, this often leads to “a readiness to accept any ideology and any leader if only he offers a political structure and symbols which allegedly give meaning and order to an individual’s life”. He had observed this in Germany, which he fled in 1933: “Modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds,” he wrote.”
Anxiety is probably not the best word today, since we are always anxious about most things in our lives. Probably because the amount of stimulus has increased tremendously over the decades and because some of us recognize the symptoms if not the causes of what we observe around us, the concept I keep hearing is “Existential Dread.” From Ari Melber and Hip Hop Artists on MSNBC to music reviews of Dustin Welch’s “Amateur Theatre” to George Will, the concept is starting to surface a lot. Worth considering before it gets it’s own TV show.
Fromm wasn’t an Existentialist, although he studied with Karl Jaspers while a doctoral student at Heidelberg in the 1920s. He was certainly influenced by Existentialism, being a contemporary of Hannah Arendt and Sartre. So before the TV show comes out with a theme song about “Here comes the Zeitgeist,” Escape From Freedom is available on Amazon and Google and any other place you care to look.
NEWSPEAK Comes to National Archives, Creating New Orwellian Discipline, NEWPICTURE
As a non-partisan, non-political federal agency, we blurred references to the President’s name on some posters, so as not to engage in current political controversyOur mission is to safeguard and provide access to the nation’s most important federal records, and our exhibits are one way in which we connect the American people to those records. Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records.— Statement by Miriam Kleimen, Spokesperson, National Archives, Email to WAPO, January 17, 2019.
Oddly enough, this really angers me. History is a lot of things, but neat and non-controversial it definitely is not and never has been. Upset about “vagina?” on a posterboard in a crowd of a million or so angry people? Really…take a junior college course in human anatomy? Upset about “pussy” in this context? Get a life, and talk to a 12 year old about sexual body parts: today, that’s a tame term in a heated conversation. Don’t want to let people either living or in the future know that someone thought God hates Trump? No, you were just avoiding controversy…. So, as that Genteel Stylist and Disciple of Orwell in the late 20th Century, Norman Mailer, would say…Fuck you.
Orwell was a bit more elegant in his approach. If you’ve forgotten Winston Smith and his pal Syme in 1984, you might re-visit it. Both are minor functionaries in Big Brother’s Party in Europa, and they discuss their work. Syme is a lexicographer, although that complicated idea is probably no longer in Newspeak. He’s working on a new edition of the approved Dictionary, and explains it purpose to Smith, Orwell’s Candide in this worst of all possible worlds.
Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. . . . The process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thought-crime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. . . Syme to Winston Smith, Chapter 5, 1984, Australia, Gutenberg Project
The world has changed since the suffragettes, and yet the issues remain the same in so many ways. The idea of women in trousers — Trousers! oh my eyes?” — was too hard for some people to bear 100 years ago. How about women in “Pussy” caps? Be freaking serious about your responsibility and show the history as it is, three years or so after the inauguration of a vilely obscene, vulgar and criminal fool and charlatan.
Preserve the records as they are; any time you publish them, publish them accurately. Interesting that one of the pictures used is owned by someone else, and the National Archives needed permission in order to alter it.
Does any rational analyst really think that protecting the eyes of the well-meaning children children studying the poster of the exhibit was the reason for this well-meaning busy-body exercise. Or fear that some Trump functionary looking for something to be bothered about as a deep state exercise might alight on this one, or worse that the Ogre-Hyena of Mir a Lago might encounter the poster and demand the head on a platter of some clerical staff and archivists?
Come on, people. At least be realistic, or we’re a bit closer to Syme’s vision of the future.
Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?…