|Fromm, Horkheimer Marion Beimer,
and later on a bit of Heisenberg
My personal genealogy,
Germany, the Goodpeople and me
What the hell do I know?
IIn my opinion the "great leap forward" of the symbolic behavior approach was to abolish this "false" dichotomy between having and being. In short, the `having' part is a necessary part of `being'. And it's not the case, that everything's fine now, as there are dark sides of consumption and pathological forms of wanting to have, as researched under the label of materialism. By the way, Russ Belk has cited Fromm in his 83 (wordly possession) and 84 (acquiring, possessing, collecting) papers as a) a psychoanalytic critic of consumption and b) a Marxist one. What impressed me was, that he didn't reiterate all this marketing and advertising bashing (like when Fromm speaks about the estranged marketing character and advertising as brainwashing) without loosing a critical focus.
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|my - me - mine|
|It's interesting to read Adorno's arguments against Fromm (which finally lead to the dissolution between the Frankfurt School and Fromm). Though the Frankfurt School was always interested in combining Freud with Marx, Adorno complained that Fromm has focused too much on the "repair" of the neurotic individual instead of focusing on the "repair" of the society. I liked the line he wrote to Horkheimer in the 30s after reading an article by Fromm: "No, it's just because we criticize Freud from the left, things like the silly argument of the "lack of goodness" must not happen." I still believe that Fromm has over-psychologized the solution while over- emphasized the monolithic status of a powerful consumer society and its mechanical, linear effects of duping the people.
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I haven't read Fromm again, just the passages you sent me in the context of the German translation. (By chance I saw the German paperback in a second-hand bookshop a few months ago. I saw it, reminisced about Marion Beimer, my own past and bought it because it's also a marketing bashing classics). Maybe I have to re-read it. Maybe he has interesting insights besides my criticism (like re-appreciating the Rolling Stones or Neil Young). But it's hard for me to separate Fromm from the above described context. Maybe it's more the fault of his readers in Germany. But I don't see how his arguments can help symbolic, interpretive, postmodern consumer approaches to get on. Just when it is important not to demonize consumption (it's bad, it's gonna deteriorate your soul), to acknowledge the inevitable contribution of object relations to the development of self and to see consumption as social action (and not some passive, trance-like obeying).
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And then there are some routines that are triggered by Fromm. Like ascribing a "we are the world" ideology to him. "Hand in hand we'll make this world a better place. Just believe very hard in the healing power of love, that could stabilize our universe. Bad politics is just made by bad politicians, perhaps we could lighten them up and they would realize that to be a good-hearted politician is much more fun. Hey, at least we know how good it feels to be such a good human being, it can't be so difficult to convince them, maybe the politicians don't love enough." After this routine I could combine my criticism with the specific US-context, like the excessive self-help bookshelves, the obsessive belief in psychoanalysis and the community volunteer spirit as a substitute for governmental decisions. I just was developing this kind of criticism, when I read a passage by Horkheimer (whom actually Adorno said to fire Fromm): (My gunshot translation): "Be suspicious of everyone who claims that you only can help the big things or not at all. It's to live a lie for those who actually doesn't want to help and who are talking their way out of this responsibility for the specific case with some grand theory. They rationalize their inhumanity." (Horckheimer, 1934, Daemmerung. Notizen in Deutschland [Twilight/Dusk, Notes in Germany]]. Sure you can rhetorically discredit every help like literacy neighborhood programs in referring to more important actions (like changing the social conditions, the whole education system or whatever]. A nice rhetoric line is to interpret local, small actions as focusing on the symptoms instead of focusing on the cause of all evil. But though I realize this problematic, I can't agree totally. For instance, the ideological answer of the `goodpeople' would be: Plant an apple tree [it's a famous book title of a German Author, who want's to express that as long as there are people "planting trees" [symbolically], even when the world around them seems to disintegrate, there's some hope, the seeds that will flourish]. And I must admit, I hate this author.
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As you can see, there are lot's of negative connotations. I'm not sure, but perhaps some of them would have been activated if we would have talked about the state of `being' in German. But it's quite hypothetical, as the whole context would have been totally different. To cut a long story short :- ) , you have managed to initiate a process of re-appreciation, to question some taken-for-granted conceptions. Something Erich Fromm couldn't have make possible :-). For instance: instead of accepting the dichotomy of Having or Being; or taking it as one hazy concept, I now believe that there are a lot of possibilities in-between, some more mutually connected, some less. And there are moments of just being. Not as a grand ideal, a whole different way of living or some structured type of personality, but as (related to the grand ideal) small experiences, nonetheless quite important ones. Definitely not adequate as building stones for a developed ideology but all the more worthwhile to strive for.
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Just a last supplement. When I played in my first punk band around 1980, we had a song about Poona (the camp in India for all the Baghwan freaks). The lyrics had nice lines about the crypto-fascism of this cult, including something about `smiling idiots'. I must admit this position has somehow survived. There are severe experiences of reactance when I hear someone say, that every day without a smile is a lost day. Actually, it isn't and I will always fight for my right not to smile if I don't want to. Streamlining persons, smiling idiots and insincere automatons. And here I had to adjust as well. Sometimes I even preferred the cliched friendliness of American service encounters to the sincere grumbling of German service encounters. And sometimes there were smiles, that are plainly perfect, requiring nothing else :-)
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Did you ever hear of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle? It's about the interactive nature of the inquirer-inquired into dyad. There is no one-way mirror where you can stand behind to observe. You're inquiry influences the phenomena and vice versa. You'll never have the possibility of being a participant observer in an authentic male-bonding experience unless you can transgress gender boundaries and take part as anything but a woman.
It's like you've probably always suspected: in the decisive boy-man initiation rituals we all have to take a vow: Never ever talk about what really happens with male-bonding to women, just tell anything but the truth. I would never trust a male informant telling you about how it's really like. By the way, I have always thought about female-bonding experiences, I guess the same holds true for women, and I'll never really know, isn't it?