Hans's Reviews > To Have or to Be? The Nature of the Psyche

To Have or to Be? The Nature of the Psyche by Erich Fromm
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's review
Nov 05, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: paradigm-shifting, favorites
Read in October, 2012

Absolutely brilliant book. It takes a lot for a book to move me, or present a new idea that totally affects my perceptions of reality. This book got right to core of a deep-seated culturally accepted norm that was so hard to see I didn't even realize it was there. I have been aware of others talking about the alienating nature of Western culture without getting at the heart of why it is alienating. Erich Fromm makes it simple to understand; it is entirely our life-orientation towards having over being. This may seem insignificant but it is huge and influences every aspect of our lives.

Fromm contends that an orientation towards having creates a subject - object relationship with our environment. We interact with it through trying to possess it, through trying to possess property, knowledge and even people. Don't agree? Just look at these common expressions "I have a wife and two kids" or "I have a Liberal arts degree". I am the possessor they are the objects, instead of "I am a Liberal Arts major" or "I am a husband and a father of two". It seems small but it betrays how we have come to almost unconsciously define our world. It also has further implications that we enlarge and find fulfillment in our lives through not just possessing but possessing more.

It is interesting to me that upon pondering why some men physically abuse their wives I was always confounded by why the unwarranted cruelty towards the mother of their children and oftentimes best-friends. That is when after reading this it all clicked, and that for these men they view their wife and children as property "objects" and thus he can do as he pleases. I mean this even explains Jealousy. If you view relationships as property that you have, like "I have a best-friend" than you will obviously suffer from jealousy when you feel someone else has trespassed against you and your "property".

This book has caused me to seriously evaluate my own life and how much of it I spend intellectualizing and categorizing in the name of trying to possess an understanding of it. All the while neglecting to simply be fully present and live without judgement, without analysis but be completely lost inside the very present of being. I will definitely work on this.

I also enjoyed how Fromm has essentially conceptualized and 'westernized' Buddhist and even mystical christian thought, into something not only more palatable for the agnostic western student, but for the western mind in general.

"We fear, and consequently avoid, taking a step into the unknown, the uncertain; for indeed, while the step may not appear risky to us after we have taken it, before we take that step the new aspects beyond it appear very risky, and hence frightening. Only the old, the tried, is safe; or so it seems. Every new step contains the danger of failure, and that is one of the reasons people are so afraid of freedom"

"One has only to recall the wild, crazy enthusiasm with which people participated in the various wars of the past two centuries--- the readiness of millions to risk national suicide in order to protect the image of "the strongest power," or of "honor" or of profits. And for another example, consider the frenzied nationalism of people watching the contemporary Olympic Games, which allegedly serve the cause of peace. Indeed, the popularity of the Olympic Games is in itself a symbolic expression of Western paganism. They celebrate the pagan hero: the winner, the strongest, the most self-assertive".

"People who are firm believers in Christ as the great lover, the self-sacrificing God, can turn this belief, in an alienated way, into the experience that it is Jesus who loves for them. Jesus thus becomes an idol; the belief in him becomes the substitute for one's own act of loving. In a simple, unconscious formula: 'Christ does the all the loving for us; we can go on in the pattern of the Greek hero, yet we are saved because the alienated 'faith' in Christ is a substitute for the imitation of Christ"

"Finally, I believe that human beings are so deeply endowed with a need to love that acting as wolves causes us necessarily to have a guilty conscience. Our professed belief in love anesthetizes us to some degree against the pain of the unconscious feeling of guilt for being entirely without love"

"I cannot have a problem, because it is not a thing that can be owned: it, however, can have me. That is to say, I have transformed myself into "a problem" and am now owned by my creation"

"Modern consumers may identify themselves by the formula: I am = what I have and what I consume"

"The having mode of existence is not established by an alive, productive process between subject and object; it makes things of both object and subject. The relationship is one of deadness, not aliveness"
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Reading Progress

10/02/2012 "Already know I am going to love this book."
06/25/2016 marked as: read
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