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The Essential Fromm
Life Between Having and Being
By Erich Fromm, Rainer Funk
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Estate of Erich Fromm
All rights reserved.
Market Economy and Its Effects on People
The most important fact for understanding both the character and the secret religion of contemporary human society is the change in the social character from the earlier era of capitalism to the second part of the twentieth century. The authoritarian-obsessive-hoarding character that had begun to develop in the sixteenth century, and continued to be the dominant character structure at least in the middle classes until the end of the nineteenth century, was slowly blended with or replaced by the marketing character. I have called this phenomenon the "marketing character" because it is based on experiencing oneself as a commodity, and one's value not as "use value" but as "exchange value."
To Have or to Be?, p. 147.
Our modern economy is not governed by a market where people sit and sell their wares, but what you might call a "National Commodity Market," in which prices and production are determined by demand. This national market is the regulating factor for modern economy. The prices are not determined by any economic group who says that and that must be paid. This is something exceptional in wartime or in certain situations. The price or "while existence" is determined by the operation of the market, which constantly tends to equalize and to balance itself up to a certain point.
What is the meaning of all this in psychological terms? What happens on the market is that all things appear as commodities. What is the difference between a thing and a commodity? This glass of water here is a thing that at the moment I can use to hold water and so on. It is very useful to me. It is not particularly pretty, but it is what it is. However, as a commodity it is something I can buy, which has a certain price, and I perceive of it not only as this thing, as something that has a certain use value as they say, but as a commodity that has a certain exchange value. It appears as a commodity in the market, and its function as a commodity is in the sense that I can describe it as a fifty-cent or twenty-five-cent thing. That is, so to say, I can express this thing in terms of money, or in terms of an abstraction. In fact, if you take your own attitude toward things and if you analyze it a little, you will find that you relate yourself to things to a large extent, not as concrete things, but as commodities. You perceive already of a thing in terms of its abstract money value, in terms of its exchange value.
The Pathology of Normalcy, pp. 61-62.
Also the living being becomes a commodity on the "personality market." The principle of evaluation is the same on both the personality and the commodity markets: on the one, personalities are offered for sale; on the other, commodities. Value in both cases is their exchange value, for which "use value" is a necessary but not a sufficient condition.
Although the proportion of skill and human qualities on the one hand and personality on the other hand as prerequisites for success varies, the "personality factor" always plays a decisive role. Success depends largely on how well persons sell themselves on the market, how well they get their personalities across, how nice a "package" they are; whether they are cheerful, "sound," "aggressive," "reliable," or "ambitious"; furthermore, what their family backgrounds are, what clubs they belong to, and whether they know the "right" people.
The type of personality required depends to some degree on the special field in which a person may choose to work. A stockbroker, a salesperson, a secretary, a railroad executive, a college professor, or a hotel manager must each offer a different kind of personality that, regardless of their differences, must fulfill one condition: to be in demand.
What shapes one's attitude toward oneself is the fact that skill and equipment for performing a given task are not sufficient; one must be able to "put one's personality across" in competition with many others in order to have success. If it were enough for the purpose of making a living to rely on what one knows and what one can do, one's self-esteem would be in proportion to one's capacities, that is, to one's use value. But since success depends largely on how one sells one's personality, one experiences oneself as a commodity or, rather, simultaneously as the seller and the commodity to be sold. A person is not concerned with his or her life and happiness, but with becoming salable.
The aim of the marketing character is complete adaptation, so as to be desirable under all conditions of the personality market. The marketing character personalities do not even have egos (as people in the nineteenth century did) to hold onto, that belong to them, that do not change. For they constantly change their egos, according to the principle: "I am as you desire me."
Those with the marketing character structure are without goals, except moving, doing things with the greatest efficiency; if asked why they must move so fast, why things have to be done with the greatest efficiency, they have no genuine answer, but offer rationalizations, such as, "in order to create more jobs," or "in order to keep the company growing." They have little interest (at least consciously) in philosophical or religious questions, such as why one lives, and why one is going in this direction rather than in another. They have their big, ever- changing egos, but none has a self, a core, a sense of identity. The "identity crisis" of modern society is actually the crisis produced by the fact that its members have become selfless instruments, whose identity rests upon their participation in the corporations (or other giant bureaucracies), as a primitive individual's identity rested upon membership in the clan.
To Have or to Be?, pp. 147-48.
The average person today feels alone. He feels himself to be a commodity, by which I mean he feels that his value depends on his success, depends on his salability, depends on approval by others. He feels that it does not depend on the intrinsic or what you might call use value of his personality, not on his powers, not on his capacity to love, not on his human qualities—except if he can sell them, except if he can be successful, except if he is approved by others.
This accounts for the fact that the self-esteem of most people today is very shaky. They do not feel themselves worthy because of their own conviction: "This is me, this is my capacity to love, this is my capacity to think and to feel," but because they are approved by others, because they can sell themselves, because others say: "This is a wonderful man" or "a wonderful woman."
Naturally, when the feeling of self-esteem is dependent upon others it becomes uncertain. Each day is a new battle because each day you have to convince someone, and you have to prove to yourself, that you are all right. To use an analogy, I would suggest that you consider how handbags would feel on a counter in a store. The handbag of one particular style, of which may have been sold, would feel elated in the evening; and the other handbag, of a style a little out of fashion or a little too expensive or which, for some reason or other, had not been sold, would be depressed. The one handbag would feel: "I am wonderful," and the other handbag would feel: "I am unworthy," and yet the "wonderful" handbag may not be more beautiful or more useful or have any better intrinsic quality than the other one. The unsold handbag would feel it was not wanted. In our analogy, a handbag's sense of value would depend on its success, on how may purchasers, for one reason or another, preferred the one to the other.
In human terms that means that one must be peculiar, that one's own personality must always be open to change in order to conform to the latest model. That is why parents often feel embarrassed when they are with their children. The children know the latest models better than the parents do. But the parents are very ready to be taught, to be told, to learn. They, like the children, listen to the latest quotations on the personality market. And where do you find these market quotations? Where do you read them? In the movies, in the liquor ads, in the clothing ads, in the indications of the ways that important people dress and talk.
Man and Woman, pp. 11-12.
Everything has become an operation, everything has to have a function and a use. There is no sense of identity, but rather just a spiritual void. People have neither convictions nor genuine goals. The marketing character is the perfectly alienated human being. He is concerned only with manipulating and functioning. That is exactly the type that meets social needs. One can say that most people turn out to be as society wishes them so that they can be successful. Society fabricates types of people just as it fabricates styles of shoes or of clothes or of automobiles, that is, as goods that are in demand. A person learns already as a child what type is in demand.
Interview with Reif 1977, pp. 27-28.
The term "marketing character" is by no means the only one to describe this type. It can also be described by using a Marxian term, the alienated character; persons of this character are alienated from their work, from themselves, from other human beings, and from nature. In psychiatric terms the marketing person could be called a schizoid character; but the term may be slightly misleading, because a schizoid person living with other schizoid persons and performing well and being successful, because of his schizoid character, entirely lacks the feeling of uneasiness that the schizoid character has in a more "normal" environment.
To Have or to Be?, p. 151.
Reason and Intelligence
The marketing character goal, "proper functioning" under the given circumstances, makes them respond to the world mainly cerebrally. Reason in the sense of understanding is an exclusive quality of homo sapiens; manipulative intelligence as a tool for the achievement of practical purposes is common to animals and humans. Manipulative intelligence without reason is dangerous because it makes people move in directions that may be self-destructive from the standpoint of reason. In fact, the more brilliant the uncontrolled manipulative intelligence is, the more dangerous it is.
To Have or to Be?, pp. 149-50.
Reasons discern causes and relationships, how they are and why they are that way. Manipulative intelligence is concerned only with how a person can better use things for himself. Reason is specifically human and is effective only insofar as man has freed himself from irrational passions and desires. Insofar as man is avaricious, his reason cannot have an effect.
His manipulative intelligence, on the other hand, is excited and increased by greediness. The greedy person is sly; the reasonable person is smart; the dependent person becomes stupid, the independent person becomes wiser. Ultimately, the distinction between reason and manipulative intelligence issues from a moral problem. The more man wants to have and the more he makes himself dependent on things and is bound to them, the more he will become a prisoner of things. Stupidity is not a result of deficient innate intelligence, but rather of deficient freedom. Reason develops only in freedom, not only in freedom from external coercive forces, but also from internal coercive forces of confinement in its numerous manifestations. This distinction is easily forgotten in industrial society, where manipulative intelligence is the ruling type of thinking. If we take this distinction seriously, then one would be confronted with the unpleasant realization that we still usually employ our thinking like animals (this is especially clear in the case of the primates), and only a small minority has attained a human level of thinking. Intelligence makes us only the cleverest animal, symbolized in the Biblical myth as a serpent that "was cleverer than all other animals." Manipulative intelligence can be useful, it can lead to an improvement of life, but it can also be the path to hell; cognizant reason is a child of freedom, and its development leads to ever- growing freedom.
Interview with Reif, pp. 43-43a.
The Split between Affect and Intellect
Why we have developed in a top-heavy way is a very interesting question. Why, within three or four centuries, has all our emphasis shifted more and more to intellect and more and more away from rationality and intensity of affect?
There is not space to discuss this, but it has a great deal to do with our mode of production, with our increasing emphasis on technique, with our necessity to develop intellect for purposes of science and science for the purposes of technique. We cannot quite separate the society, in which production becomes the paramount purpose, from human development in which intellect becomes the paramount value. But if we are to overcome our moral problem today, we must make a very serious effort to overcome the split between affect and intellect. We must restore the person to his totality or, as I would rather say, to his reality. I am not a mind and a body. I am I, and you are you, and my heart and my feelings can be just as rational as my thought, and my thought can be just as irrational as my heart. But, I cannot even speak of my heart and my thought because they are one, they are only two aspects of the same phenomenon. There is one logic, one rationality, and one irrationality that pervades them both. Whether we study psychosomatic illness or whether we study the phenomena of mass hysteria, it is all the same. Thought is made stupid by feeling and thought can be enlightened by feeling and vice versa. First, I think we must be aware of this problem because most of us are not. Most of us are somewhat embarrassed about having feelings at all.
Sometimes one can see in psychoanalysis that a person consciously, on the surface, thinks he is very happy. He loves his wife, he loves his children and he is very happy. If you dig a little deeper, this follows: He makes a good living, he is successful and is respected; therefore, he assumes that he has to feel happy. So his feeling happy is actually an assumption about feeling happy. Then you go a step deeper and you might say to this man: "Look here, I have watched your face now for several sessions and I think you look awfully sad and depressed. What are you sad about?" Then you might find that this person who has said that for twenty years he has never cried, suddenly remembers something from his childhood, something that was always alive in him, and cries uncontrollably. You find that to protect himself from sadness he had to protect himself from feeling, and over this protection from feeling he put an illusion of feeling, something that was nothing but a logical assumption.
The Moral Responsibility of Modern Man, pp. 11-12.
There are also false feelings. As an example, I will describe a very simple hypnotic experiment. Mr. A is being hypnotized. Let us assume that it is nine o'clock in the morning. He is told by the hypnotist that this afternoon, at three o'clock, he will take off his coat and, unless some other suggestions are given, he will forget that this happened. Now let us assume that you meet Mr. A, who has been hypnotized in the morning at nine o'clock, at half past two. You talk with him about the weather, whatever you are interested in at the moment. At just a minute before three o'clock, Mr. A will say: "Isn't it an awfully hot day? Really, I have to take off my coat." Now, if it is really a warm day you will think this is very sensible, or if it is a very cold day but the heating is so hot that you can't stand it, you will still think that his reaction is very sensible. However, if it's a day that is not too hot and your building is not overheated, you will be very surprised that Mr. A feels it is so hot and you might think that he is running a fever and suggest that he go to the doctor. Nonetheless, you are convinced that Mr. A feels hot and has a need to take off his coat. If, however, you had been present at nine o'clock during the hypnotic session, you would know that this whole feeling of being hot was only induced by the suggestion of the hypnotist. Still, there is this interesting phenomenon that Mr. A has the need to make what he does appear rational. Mr. A cannot simply, spontaneously take off his coat. No, he has to find a reason for it. If you were not present in the morning you would be convinced that he really feels warm.
Excerpted from The Essential Fromm by Erich Fromm, Rainer Funk. Copyright © 1993 Estate of Erich Fromm. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
On the Art of Living,
Market Economy and Its Effects on People,
Reason and Intelligence,
The Split between Affect and Intellect,
Love as a Commodity,
Origins of the Having Mode of Existence,
Having Mode and Language,
To Have or to Be?,
Having versus Being,
The Nature of the Having Mode of Existence,
Having and Possessiveness,
The Nature of the Being Mode of Existence,
Being and Productivity,
Essentials of a Life between Having and Being,
Consumerism (as a Compensation of Anxiety and Depressiveness) versus the Joy of Life,
Busyness (as a Compensation of Passiveness) versus Productive Activity,
Destructiveness (as a Compensation of Boredom) versus Creativity,
Narcissism (as a Compensation of Selflessness) versus Productive Self-Experience,
Idolatry (as a Compensation for Unbelief) versus Humanistic Religiousness,
Denial of Death (as a Compensation of Fear of Death) versus Love of Life,
Steps toward Being,
The Will for Character Changes,
Changes of Practice of Life,
Transformation of Humankind,