Eric Fromm in the Sane Society

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Eric Fromm in the Sane Society analyzes and criticizes Freud’s ideas of a new, alienated, congruent and capitalist society. He analyzes how a sick society can create sick people. Unlike Freud, he believes that culture, as it is, has plenty to take care of human needs. Most of the ideas that he analyzes in his book is the pathology of normalcy. He believes that since certain people relate to and stick to such vices, their vices are not real. Man argues that the truthfulness and the rightfulness of something is dependent on the number of people who think in a similar way, thereby allowing what they consider to be natural. Fromm says that a society can be insane and yet believe to be sane. He gives an example of a society where people are filled with greed for power and money to an extent they believe anyone not as ambitious as they are is insane. The people described in Fromm’s society believe it is normal to be greedy for power and money but Fromm seeks to prove that these kinds of individuals are indeed insane. He argues that as mankind changes the society around him, he also changes himself to fit in the society. For instance, an individual will engage in violence and support violence since it is normal in the society,

Fromm explains the argument that the fact that people share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths by giving an example of war. His chapter on man in a capitalistic society describes an alienated man who is out of touch with himself and the world around him to an extent he feels like an alien in a human body. This kind of man does not consider himself to be in control of his actions or the shaper of his destiny. Instead, he lets desires which most of the time are not virtuous control him.

This man becomes a slave of his actions and their consequences. He finds himself feeling important at the thought of social disruptions like wars. Violence to him becomes a way of manipulating situations to be able to achieve certain consequences. A man who is out of touch with himself and the rest of the world acts to satisfy a specific hunger which can only be satisfied by him being in control and seeing his actions have an impact on the society. The chaos and violence gives him some sense of power. That is why we have world leaders bombing rival countries as a way of asserting power and showing control. These acts are perceived to be normal, after all many countries do it.

Leaders meet each other and try to come to a common ground regarding issues affecting both countries but since they cannot trust each other, they bomb each other as soon as they leave the boardroom. After the bombing, questions get asked but not loud enough to demand for violence free negotiations, or respect for human rights. Months pass by and everything goes back to normal. We forget that millions are killed in unnecessary wars caused just to prove a point, and our leaders go back to painting each other with clean brushes. People move on and no one is held to account because it is normal and that is how things get done.

The actions of our leaders have trickled down to civilians. Violence is a normal occurrence is our society. If issues cannot be resolved by dialogue the logical thing to do is to use a little violence to get things done faster. This is not normal at all but since that is how most people handle impossible situations, violence is perceived to be normal. Fromm talks about a sick society in his book. He goes ahead to pose the question, ‘can a society be sick’? Truthfully the answer is yes. We live in a society so sick that we do not care about the vices and violence around us as long as it does not touch us or people we care about. Our sick society is our own creation. There is no society without man, and if man was virtuous enough to call out and repel vices our society would not be sick.

It is unfortunate that we watch in silence as people of different race or countries suffer violence. We are indifferent to other people’s plight because we are under the impression their plight will never get to us, but truth is we are creating a monster. The sick society that we have created will turn around and eat us one day if we do not check the vices. Our ignorance to the war and its consequences is what makes us insane even when we think we are sane. Fromm argues that just because most people in the society believe there are valid reasons for violence and war, does not mean they are any right or sane than those who are against war. However, our society has programmed us to think that what is done or believed by the majority is the right thing.

Our culture has made it okay for us to live with flaws without becoming ill. This means that our perception of what is normal might hinder us from realizing our full potential or believing in different ideas which might be right for us. Our society is full of people who do things they do not believe in because that is what everyone expects them to believe. Similarly, there are many people who wish they could do something to stop the violence and other vices in our society but they cannot because they are afraid to speak up. They are the minority and they might be castigated if they speak up. These people have gotten used to living a certain way to an extent it has become normal for them, and they have lost their sense of identity.

However, the man discussed above might get tired of being oppressed and forced to live a certain way that he ends up reacting in a way that his needs are satisfied. Systems of oppressed societies collapse at some point and the end result is either hate and destruction, or a better society as explained by Fromm. This further shows how a sick society can lead to war. Wars are viewed as normal by most people because they believe they constitute a greater good.

There is the belief that blood must be shed to get rid of a tyrant or to promote democracy and when such narratives are propagated nobody stands up against them because the media, the UN and world leaders in general unite to congratulate a country for breaking free from dictatorship. All the while they forget about the innocent casualties of the war who had to die for a course. Often, wars that happen in pursuit of democracy are applauded and people are convinced that it is okay for deaths to occur for a good course. It is not okay and it is not normal because the people who die did not choose to die for democracy. Therefore for the world to wake up after war and act like people are not dying in Libya for instance is absolutely insane and immoral.

We do not have to normalize war to achieve change in a country. It is possible to achieve change or conduct a bloodless coup as recently seen in Zimbabwe. In a ‘normal’ country where revolution and change of guard must happen by force, blood must be shed. That explains the surprise on many people’s faces and the numerous headlines commending Zimbabwe for a bloodless coup. If it was normal for revolutions to happen peacefully and without bloodshed, people would not have been amazed and shocked by how Zimbabwe military forced their president to resign without anyone getting hurt. But people were surprised because these are not things that happen. What is normal for us is bloodshed in such situations. The sad thing is that had there been violence in Zimbabwe, people would have acted like it is normal.

Conclusion

Wars are bad and should never be encouraged. We have been conditioned by the society to believe that the majority is right and those on the minority are wrong. As a result, many people are living a life that is not theirs, but they have no way of realizing their full potential because they are restricted by the society’s expectation of their actions and beliefs. That is why we have many people silently condemning war but cannot speak out loud because they will be going against the majority.

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