With time we lose memory of some of our wisest thinkers in modern times. We crowd our minds with the topical thinkers, the momentary flash points and discard some voices that foretold many of the catastrophes that have befallen us. Erich Fromm is one of the lost voices that we should spend some time to revive.
I had vague memories of reading Fromm when I was an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley, but I could not remember why he resonated with me. Thanks to You-Tube, where one can find interviews with many of the mid century thinkers, I was able to find an interview with Erich Fromm.
Listening to his interview, I remembered why my undergraduate education still matters. Why I still have this resistance to the world view of studying humanity under the microscope and the modern penchant for over specialized analysis even in the humanities and social sciences.
There is a constant din of studies released by public relations departments of universities. Studies that announce some scientific and unquestionable knowledge gained about human beings. Typically, this study is then is exploited by those who want the study to give gravitas to their world view. This specialization, has marginalized many of our great minds into methodological obscurity and has left the marginal thinkers to dominate the narrative of social analysis.
You ask how could someone like Beck gain so much traction? Well, he appears to be a wise man who gathers knowledge and transmits wisdom. Humans have a desire for wisdom. While our great minds are hidden away in Universities, the simpleton, is using the air waves to spew an ersatz wisdom.
As one of my professors at the time, Ansley Coales a classics professor said about the social sciences:
Social Scientists take a strand from the human tapestry, put it under the microscope, and try to tell us, without ever having seen the tapestry, what the image depicted on the tapestry is. An impossibility.
Social Scientists, via the media departments of their Universities, offer us a buffet of studies that show not even a thread, but a micro chip of the tapestry. A micro chip that is then sent around the world, this chip floats around as a stand alone fact that can be used to substantiate a world view. How many times have I screamed at the radio, article, or blog when the author uses the study as a manipulation.
Erich Fromm, a social psychologist, in this interview and his writings speaks about society in a holistic and a humanistic way. In this interview, you will see how he looks at the entire tapestry and gives us multiple layers. You get the sense of the complexity of human nature, society and our future.
An observer of humanity who applies the wisdom of humanity, to tell us his interpretation of the image on the tapestry, all the while looking at the entire tapestry. He wrote his whole life on different ideas, different aspects. You may not agree with his interpretation, of course I mention him because I agree with his interpretation.
I feel ill served by the social scientist who throws out a study from the laboratory, spends his/her time tinkering with statistics and methodology and spends no time on context and true wisdom. Of course we need the studies, but they have come to dominate how we look at the world. In their place, the shallow thinkers of the media, have interjected themselves as the voices of wisdom and telling of the human narrative.
Fromm uses knowledge and reason, to weave together a world view. Considering that his interview was almost sixty years ago, I would have to argue that many of alarms he sounded, based on observation, proved to be true. We have abdicated the human desire for wisdom to the simpletons and snake oil salesmen who pander the narrative of our oppressors. Our great minds are isolated from the rest of us devoted to an obscure specialization that can only serve what Fromm said, the desire to “have”, have knowledge, and ill serve our destiny to be.
Finally, this was television, discussing freedom and the survival of a free society. They brought on for a one on one, in depth interview, not shouting fest, a socialist, critical of American society. I wonder if Erich Fromm would ever make it on American television now a days.
NB: I have this particular distaste for the practice of networking, or what I call selling yourself on the block for gain. A commonly accepted practice that is encouraged in universities and by all the experts. A sycophanting practice that has been elevated to a virtue and an art form.
Part one at 5:25 minutes, a paraphrase of what he says,
our main way of relating ourselves to others…we exchange our personality package for something….selling our smile…the symbol pushers…those who manipulate men and symbols have to sell their personality. What the market is willing to pay for his personality