Do We Want to Escape from Freedom?

Escape from Freedom AbeBooks horz.

Erich Fromm, a social psychologist of some renown, researched and wrote his book, Escape from Freedom, in the years between WWI and WWII. He  was watching the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany and he was shocked and puzzled by what he was seeing. He was seeing people who had just fought a consuming and destructive war being swept up in a fury of national fervor and ready to go to war again. The first war lasted four years and was seemingly triggered by the assassination of an Archduke, but was most likely caused by simmering resentments about national borders and national slights among powerful European nations. World War I changed the configuration of European and Middle Eastern states forever. People had difficulty adjusting loyalties to nations that held no history in their hearts. Many people were liberated from Empires that had governed their lives for decades or even centuries but they were not prepared for the political changes that resulted from the war.

https://voanews-vh.akamaihd.net/i/Pangeavideo/2014/08/1/16/16199b35-4022-4d10-b56c-3287414c6600,_mobile,,_hq,.mp4.csmil/master.m3u8

In his book, Fromm explores the conundrum that, although people long for freedom in the abstract, they often feel more secure under authoritarian rule by one person or one ruling party. When the leader is benign people tolerate authoritarianism well, but we know that power corrupts. Leaders find it difficult to remain benign. They get greedy and their people become more critical and must be squelched to justify the power of the leader. When people cannot speak freely, freedom is gone and rebellion grumbles in the villages, towns, and cities.

By the time Erich Fromm wrote his book, which was published in 1941, the same people who had lost so much in World War I were tuning in to the voice of a new, arousing, madman who offered the German people a restoration of national pride and the boundaries of the old Germanic Empire, shrunken by the Versailles Treaty and the end of World War I. (National boundaries and national pride cause most wars, both large and small.) Hitler was also tapping into the jealousy and hatred people felt towards “others”, non-Arians, and he was beginning his campaign that would eventually lead to the murder of 6 million Jewish people and the eviction of many more.

In the second Forward to his newest edition of Escape from Freedom, Fromm writes:

“After centuries of struggles, man succeeded in building an undreamed-of wealth of material goods; he built democratic societies in parts of the world, and recently was victorious in defending himself against new totalitarian schemes; yet as the analysis in Escape from Freedomattempts to show, modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.”

He cites three trends that may contribute to our fear of freedom. First he mentions the development of atomic energy and nuclear weapons. He says, “Yet only a relatively short time ago, during the Cuban crisis, hundreds of millions of human beings in America and in Europe for a few days did not know whether they and their children were ever to see another day…” This anxiety is still with us.

“Aside from the nuclear revolution, the cybernetic revolution has developed more rapidly than many could have foreseen twenty-five years ago. We are entering the second industrial revolution in which not only human physical energy – man’s hands and arms as it were – but also his brain and his nervous reactions are being replaced by machines.”

And third, he says, “Another danger has increased, rather than diminished: the population explosion.”

“The giant forces in society and the danger for man’s survival have increased in these twenty-five years, and hence man’s tendency to escape from freedom.”

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He says, “[T]he drive for freedom inherent in human nature, while it can be corrupted and suppressed, tends to assert itself again and again.”

“[T]he development of man’s intellectual capacities has far out-stripped the development of his emotions. Man’s brain lives in the twentieth century; the heart of most men lives still in the Stone Age. The majority of men have not yet acquired the maturity to be independent, to be rational, to be objective. They need myths and idols to endure the fact that man is all by himself, that there is no authority which gives meaning to life except man himself.”

So here we are, 73 years after World War II and after the man who almost succeeded in turning Europe into an empire ruled by the most dangerous dictator the modern world has seen so far. Yet we are once again seeing people vote for dictators to head their nation and then reelecting them again, even after they have proven to be suppressive. We see a Chinese dictator getting his people to make him President for life. We see Duterte more popular than when he became the leader in the Philippines. We see Erdogan reelected by a pretty big margin because he promises to keep Muslims from a Middle East in disarray out of Turkey. We see a significant group of Americans treating our President like the authoritarian leader of a cult of loyalty and backing his most undemocratic policies with a mysterious fervor.

(Perhaps there is a democratic – authoritarian cycle just like there is an economic boom – bust cycle. Maybe the universe of human governance is simply ruled by physics and perhaps sine waves rule. In America we produced a straight-line of democratic rule for almost 250 years. I was hoping that we could defy the physics of governance (if there is such a thing) and extend that out for at least another 250 years. We could bust the hegemony of the sine wave or make those sine waves intervals so long that the line became, for all  practical purposes, essentially straight.)

So a book that seemed passé might offer insight into current events. What social psychological research backs up Fromm’s claims? His premises strike a chord with us, and this very inexpensive book may provide us with some answers that will have relevance here at our current moment when we are experiencing our own “fear of freedom”, here at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Is what we are experiencing a case of the fear of freedom that prompts humans to give up freedom whenever they win it, or can we save our democracy/republic and harness intellect and rational thought to keep hard-won freedoms and make them so attractive that other nations want to join in. Can we stop America’s descent into authoritarianism or even nouveau serfdom and take the planet into a positive new world order that is humane and believes in the future rather than the apocalypse?

I realize it is boring to say these things over and over, I realize it is repetitive, but until #hope and #freedom and #equality are, once again, subjects that are understood and embraced, rather than contested ground, we, who think humans can be free, will keep bombarding the universe with this message. #Make it So.

On May 6, 2010, I wrote “Let Freedom Ring”, also about this book, Escape from Freedomhttps://www.thearmchairobserver.com/let-freedom-ring/

 

Normalizing By Default

normalizing trump big media matters

In the early days of the Trump administration it was seemed impossible to accept that this crass guy who had assaulted women, who had perhaps done business with mafias, or laundered money that was somehow dirty could actually be our President. In all certainty there would be some kind of intervention. If we poured out into the streets and shouted our discontent someone would hear us? If Trump got tangled up with the courts and was found guilty of all his sins that would be the end of his presidency? Suppose it was discovered that he had somehow sent his loyal henchmen off to Russia to get help from Putin with the 2016 election? Would that be bad enough to convince Congress to impeach him? Would the Republicans finally turn against him because he does not have the character to be the President of the United States or even because he wasn’t helping them get enough done? Would he have a breakdown and be hauled off in a strait jacket drooling? Did we ever think that we would end up normalizing by default?

Well it has been many months, days, and weeks. We have watched this man overturn hard-won protections in the form of regulations placed on businesses to prevent them from getting too rapacious, and laws designed to finally end problems like acid rain and toxic smog, toxic waste dumps, dependence on fossil fuels, toss out rules that acted as safeguards for risky banking practices that hurt consumers and home buyers. We have watched him lash out morning after morning on Twitter, calling those who disagree with him ridiculous made-up names, which is a tactic that should not work but somehow does. We have watched him tweet out policy that comes straight from the mouths of talking heads on Fox News. We have endured seeing him strut like a peacock when he “wins” and throw hissy fits when he loses. His behavior reminds me of some kings who did not have the maturity to be good kings; kings who thought only of themselves and let their subjects fend for themselves, or actively made their lives worse.

Here is a man who greatest accomplishments as president so far involve overturning the thoughtful laws of the last American President. He may want us to think that he does this because these laws are bad for business or because it is what the Republicans want, but it could just as easily be the act of a racist who wants America to be a white, Christian nation (as he seems to think it was intended to be). Of course we know and he must know that unless his peeps use all those guns they are stockpiling to wipe anyone with pigmented skin off the face of the earth, that whiteness is not going to “win”. Our planet is too small and getting smaller every day. We might, instead, begin to think that the Republican Party is the root of all evil and that America would be far better off without them.

Here is a man whose second greatest accomplishment was to allow Congress to pass tax cuts that are supposed to set up we the people to lose our benefits. The current tax cut law creates a huge deficit. Then Congress tried this very week to pass a “balanced budget’ amendment which so far failed (John Katko, my Representative voted yes to this). If you make a budget that racks up debt and pass a spending plan that adds even more debt, and then you tell voters that the budget must, according to law, be balanced, next thing you know the GOP, by the grace of Trump, is finally rid of all those pesky safety net programs that supposedly don’t work and that are weighing the country down (Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, SNAP, SSD and more). These benefits may seem unnecessary if you are a billionaire, but not if you are a blind person, or you have a bad back, or you paid into a program because someone promised you that when you were old you would at least not be destitute.

Here is a man who has been under investigation by a special prosecutor almost since he took office, who has lied to the American people and the world so many times and so shamelessly that our heads are spinning. We didn’t think someone who was our president would lie so blatantly or that he would be so obvious about it, all the while insisting that it was not happening. It is very possible, considering all of the shady leaks, meetings, chance encounters that we have learned were “innocently” and accidentally blundered into between Donald’s campaign and Russia, or Russian people, that things Russia did actually may have affected the outcome of the 2016 election. And yet everyone assures 45 that they are not trying to say the election was invalid. (All the while wishing that would happen.)

And here is a man who exhibits almost every behavior “rulers”, elected, or otherwise, manifest when they have an authoritarian bent and hope to change a democracy into a dictatorship. We know that it is not a good thing when your country’s leader goes to war with any media outlet or person that speaks against him. We know that in an authoritarian state the government gets control of the media so that the news always favors the leader. If we get to the point where we are jailing journalists for “negative” reporting then we will know for sure that we are in danger. Right now the preferred method seems to be a sort of business model that just buys out media, weakened by the internet, and tucks them under the Conservative umbrella. Could we lose our fair and balanced media in this way? Could we lose our opposition media this way? It is already happening.

Here also is a man who would rather rule by caveat then go, hat in hand, to Congress  and use the structures our forefathers designed in our Constitution. The excuse here is that Obama used executive actions, but data proves that no President has ever been as obstructed as Obama was in his two terms. This president’s party owns all three branches of our government. What is really going on is much more sinister. Authoritarian guys somehow always find a government’s existing Constitution needs to be rewritten. If we get there will we finally know we’re in real trouble? Will it be too late?

So we have been told that impeachment is not a possibility and considering the current makeup of Congress that is right. And we have been told that Trump’s health is excellent and that he is does not have dementia so the 25thAmendment is unlikely to help. We got excited about the emoluments clause for a brief minute but it has no teeth. We hold out hope that Mueller will take Trump out, but we are told that even if we can prove actual treason by Trump he could still stay in office. We see that no one except a few loyal old cronies can even stand to work with Trump, which would certainly feed right into the modus operandiof any authoritarian dictator anywhere. If everyone in the government quits that would probably make Trump quite happy. We are even hoping that somehow a prostitute may be able to rid us of a problematic president. Then, in the next breath we are told that none of these things will work, especially given the Republican party’s willingness to use their majority status in Congress to back up a president who flaunts every rule that America once adhered to. In addition, an authoritarian leader also only likes the judges and courts who will give any of his actions legal status. Sound familiar?

Apparently a bad, terrible, very awful president gets normalized by default, because none of the safeguards we thought we had have any power at all, unless we agree that they do. We are not all in agreement. Yes, the Rasmussen poll gave Trump a 50% approval rating recently, but the Rasmussen poll is known to be skewed to the right. Check out the poll information in these two articles which compare the results of competing polls and compare Trump’s popularity to our most well-known presidents.

The following article contains interesting interactive graphics which lose their value if transferred as a static chart. This article is also very recent.

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/

http://news.gallup.com/poll/203198/presidential-approval-ratings-donald-trump.aspx

It’s a conundrum such as America has never faced before. Getting rid of the president might destroy so much of American law and tradition that it could mean the demise of our current system. Not getting rid of a president who seems to favor authoritarian ways could also mean the demise of our democracy and years under a figure who inspires no pride or trust in we the people. Our hopes are relying on pathways that are in danger of disappearing altogether. Our lives will go on but it is hard to know how depressing our lives might become.

https://www.thenation.com/article/how-trump-has-normalized-the-unspeakable/

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/01/we-havent-normalized-trump-weve-just-gotten-used-to-him-that-may-be-worse.html

Eugene Robinson on normal. Pinterest big

 

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women have some idea of the challenges that men have historically faced, one of the toughest challenges being to go off to fight in wars. Men are expected to be kind and wise and to be incredibly responsible as citizens, workers, husbands and bread-winners. Women have some empathy for these male roles which many men obviously struggle against sometimes.

But not all men seem as understanding of the imperfect lives of women and the challenges they have faced and the challenges they still face. Almost every culture has traditions or laws or customs that circumscribe the lives of women; that hem them in to their own traditional roles as wives, housewives, child-bearers, child-raisers, household managers.

Often religion has been used to keep women close to home and uneducated. Many churches did not allow women to worship with men, and even primitive cultures that predate religion often had separate rituals for men and women. In modern novels there may be women ostensibly living in early cultures running around hunting with spears or fighting in wars, but in real life, I’m thinking, it was quite rare for a women to get a chance to learn or use these skills.

Women have been bought and sold, used as hostages, kidnapped to be sexual objects, been forced to suffer through clitoral mutilations so that they would find no pleasure from the sexual act, had their feet bound for the sexual pleasure of wealthy men, have been killed in honor killings for breaking any number of cultural rules or taboos and have suffered atrocities too numerous to mention.

Obviously life on earth has not always been, nor is it now, easy, regardless of someone’s sexuality. Since we have access to books and histories that allow us to view the lives of humans over hundreds of centuries we might be expected to learn from the histories and stories that we read. You would think that we would try to take some of the burdens off both men and women, and that we would ease each others’ journey through lives so full of the paradoxes like wealth and poverty, good and evil, health and illness, war and peace, joy and grief, pleasure and pain and more.

So why are some men still trying to control the lives of women and take away hard won rights and set back the fight to offer greater freedom to women around the globe to lead lives that are as full of opportunities to succeed or fail as are the lives of men? Just watch a TV offering like Dateline and you will see that men (mostly men) kill women for all kinds of reasons, like jealousy, or because they see murder as the only route to freedom, or there is some primitive impulse still in them that makes trying to murder a woman and get away with it attractive.

Men often have complicated feelings about women and women are often victims of emotions that men cover over for long periods of time with manners and a fog of romance perhaps. We see over and over that we may never actually know someone we have lived with for many years. Of course this can also be true of women, although they may not choose murder as a way out.

It is not difficult to see that the wiring in our brains may still resemble the wiring we had as Neanderthals. With 9 billion people due on the planet real soon we may have to give up our primitive imperatives and we may have to “fake it until we make it” to a more evolved wiring system in human brains.

Women in America came to believe that the ideals expressed by our forefathers, when they said all men are created equal, used the term men to stand for mankind and that this freedom did include women. America has offered women opportunities to fight for rights, many of them having to do with matters which have traditionally concerned women but some which have broadened the freedoms women could exercise in our world.

When I look back and see that women in America did not win the right to vote until 1920 it seems impossible that it could have taken so long to gain such a right. We have only had the right to control our own pregnancies since 1973 when Roe v Wade passed the Supreme Court and there has never been a day that someone has not wanted to chastise women for ever wanting to stop a child from being born, even though men have killed women for becoming pregnant inconveniently.

So I went to the Women’s March, January 21, 2017 (although I went locally and not to Washington) because the battle to take these hard won rights away from women has grown more fierce in the past 8 years, so much so that some stern male purists even want to take away our modern methods of contraception.

It makes perfect sense that I would want to go to a demonstration of our resistance to this attempt on the part of some men to take away rights women have won. It makes perfect sense that I would be happy at a rally where someone has a sign which reads “1958 is calling…we’re not answering” or where there is a sign that says “If you don’t have a uterus, then be quiet.”

I appreciate that so many men and boys attended the demonstrations. I appreciate their support of women and I am glad to see that there are men with healthy egos who are not threatened by women who express their skills, talents, and personalities. The presence of men also told the world that this resistance is a movement of the many American people who feel that the authoritarianism we have always tried to expose and overturn around the world is now a real threat to America that must be resisted.

Charles Blow said it really well in his article in the NYT this morning

“And the marches, which included quite a few men and boys as well, also represented more than that. They were a rebuke of bigotry and a call for equality and inclusion. They demonstrated the awesome power of individual outrage joined to collective action. And it was a message to America that the majority did not support this president or his plans and will not simply tuck tail and cower in the face of the threat. This was an uprising; this was a fighting back. This was a resistance.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/23/opinion/we-are-dissidents-we-are-legion.html?