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  1. #1

    Default What I do not like in contemporary society

    I thought about posting this in my blog thread but then I thought I might like someone else to actually read it and comment on it

    Anyway, its an essay from Erich Fromm in a book entitled "On Being Human", I pretty much agree with what he has to say, although things have changed since his time, some of the worse and some have taken on a different complection entirely but broadly speaking I think he's right about a lot of things. So it could be what I personally dislike too. Read and comment if its your thing

    What I do not like in contemporary society.

    There are so many things in contemporary society that I dislike that it is difficult to decide with which particular complaint to begin. But the fact is, it does not really matter, because it is quite clear that all the things I dislike are only various facets of the structure of modern industrial society; they form a syndrome, and all go back to the same root: the structure of industrial society, both in its capitalist and its soviet form.

    The first dislike I want to mention is the fact that everything and almost everybody is for sale. Not only commodities and services, but ideas, art, books, persons, convictions, a feeling, a smile - they all have been transformed into commodities. And so is the whole man, with all his faculties and potentialities.

    From this follows something else: fewer and fewer people can be trusted. Not necessarily do I mean this in the crude sense of dishonesty in business or underhandedness in personal relations, but in something that goes much deeper. Being for sale, how can one be trusted to be the same tommorrow as on is today? How do I know who he is, in whom I should put my trust? Just that he will not murder or rob me? This, indeed, is reassuring, but it is not much of a trust.

    This is, of course, another way of saying that ever fewer people have convictions by conviction I mean an opinion rooted in the preson's character, in the total personality, and which therefore motivates action. I do not mean simply an idea that remains central and can be easily changed.

    Another point is closely related to the former: the older generation tends to have a character that is very much shaped by the conventional patterns and by the need for successful adaptation. Many of the younger generation tend to have no character at all. By that I do not mean that they are dishonest; on the contrary, one of the few enjoyable things in the modern world is the honesty of the greater part of the younger generation. What I mean is that they live, emotionally and intellectually speaking, from hand to mouth. They satisfy every need immediately, have little patience to learn, cannot easily endure frustration, and have no centre within themselves, no sense of identity. They suffer from this and question themselves, their identity, and the meaning of life.

    Some psychologists have made a virtue out of this lack of identity. They say that these young people have a "Protean Character", striving for everything, not bound by anything. But this is only a more poetic way of speaking about the lack of self that BF Skinner's "human engineering", according to which man is what he is conditioned to be.

    I dislike, too, the general boredom and lack of joy. Most people are bored because they are not interested in what they are doing, and our industrial system is not interested in having them be interested in their work. They hope for more amusement [than the older generation had] is supposed to be the only incentive that is necessary to compensate them for their boring work. But their leisure and amusement time, however, is boring. It is just as much managed by the amusement industry as working time is managed by the industrial plant. People look for pleasure and excitement, instead of joy; for power and property, instead of growth. The want to have much, and use much, instead of being much.

    They are more attached to the dead and mechanical than to life and living processes. I have called this attraction to that which is not alive, using the words of Miguel De Unamuno, "necrophilia" and the attraction to all that is alive, "biophilia". In spite of all the emphasis on pleasure, our society produces more and more necrophilia and less and less love of life. All this leads to great boredome, which is only superficially compensated by constantly changing stimuli. The less these stimuli permit a truly alive and active interest, the more frequently they have to be changed, since it is a biological given fact that repeated "flat" stimuli soon become monotonous.

    What I dislike most is summed up in the description in Greek mythology of the "Iron Race" the Greeks saw emerging. This description is - according to Hesiod's Erga (lines 132 - 42) - as follows: "As generations pass, they grow worse. A time will come when they have grown so wicked that they will worship power; might will be right to them and reverence for the good will cease to be at last, when no man is angry anymore at wrongdoing or feels shame in the prescence of the miserable, Zeus will destroy them too. And yet even then something might be done, if only the common people would rise and put down rulers who oppress them".

    I cannot conclude without saying that, in spite of all this, I am not hopeless. We are in the midst of a process in which many people are beginning to dive up their illusions, and, as Marx once said, to give up illusions is the condition for giving up circumstances that require illusions.

    P.38-41, On Being Human Erich Fromm, Continuum Publishing Company, 1994

  2. #2
    WhoCares
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    While I agree with some of the opening tenets I find a real disconnect with the logic then revealed behind them.

    We are for sale. In tenchnicality yes that's true. But if this a contemporary phenomena? No it is not. Ever since society began we have always been for sale. People traded one thing for another. The terms of the trade are just framed differently. In ancient society the trade might have been based on slavery, marriage or barter, but it was still a terms of trade.

    People are inherently untrustworthy. Yes I find this to be true. People for the most part flip and switch by popular opinion or what garners them the most economic advantage. So yes I find it difficult to judge the content of a person's character by their actions since their actions are fickle and subject to momentary change for reasons unknown. There is an inherent instability in humanity due to the fickle nature of humans. Is this however a product of contemporary society? no. I think humans have always been fickle by nature but contemporary society just makes flipping the switch that much more acceptable and easier. There is no longterm facade to maintain.

    Lack of character? Yes I agree. Each generation I encunter seems more vacuous than the last. But is this an ill? I'm not so sure. I am undoubtedly more vacuous than my parents but I still managed to find myself by middle age. It's just that I was able to do so outside the realms of a rigid and strictly enforced social structure. I wasn't forced to have my identity crisis in private nor was I forced into a societal role at odds with who i was and enslaved by it forever more.

    The boredom and lack of joy though is apparent. And nowhere is it more apparent than in privileged societies. The coining of the term first world problems is very apt. But if this a problem created by modern society? Or is it one that's always been there but short lives, rigid social structures and a defined path for people to travel down in order to call themselves 'happy' masked very well?

    In short I don't think the problems in modern society are necessarily modern problems. I think they are age-old issues with humanity that are simply more apparent in the context of modern society than they were when life was more structured and ritualised. Like removing the bandage to expose the wound underneath. I think the problems with modern society lie in the fact that humanity has never really understood itself, and just grasped for one thing after the next as a salve for it's ills without looking for the causes.

  3. #3
    Dreaming the life onemoretime's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WhoCares View Post
    While I agree with some of the opening tenets I find a real disconnect with the logic then revealed behind them.

    We are for sale. In tenchnicality yes that's true. But if this a contemporary phenomena? No it is not.
    In the early days of wage labor, people revolted against the system because they thought it was fundamentally degrading to sell one's labor for a wage. These are people who otherwise saw no problems with indentures, because at the end of the contract, the person would be freed.

    Wage labor absolutely is a contemporary phenomenon.

    Ever since society began we have always been for sale. People traded one thing for another. The terms of the trade are just framed differently. In ancient society the trade might have been based on slavery, marriage or barter, but it was still a terms of trade.
    Serfs did not trade. Serfs were tied to the land, and provided labor for their liege lord as a matter of obligation, while the lord provided the means necessary to cultivate the land as a matter of obligation. To modern eyes, this might look like trade, but it was not, as there was no free exchange. Both parties satisfied an obligation separate from the other person, even though it affected them.

    People are inherently untrustworthy. Yes I find this to be true. People for the most part flip and switch by popular opinion or what garners them the most economic advantage. So yes I find it difficult to judge the content of a person's character by their actions since their actions are fickle and subject to momentary change for reasons unknown. There is an inherent instability in humanity due to the fickle nature of humans. Is this however a product of contemporary society? no. I think humans have always been fickle by nature but contemporary society just makes flipping the switch that much more acceptable and easier. There is no longterm facade to maintain.
    This is a bleak view of humanity.

    Lack of character? Yes I agree. Each generation I encunter seems more vacuous than the last. But is this an ill? I'm not so sure. I am undoubtedly more vacuous than my parents but I still managed to find myself by middle age. It's just that I was able to do so outside the realms of a rigid and strictly enforced social structure. I wasn't forced to have my identity crisis in private nor was I forced into a societal role at odds with who i was and enslaved by it forever more.
    Good for you. The point still stands.

    The boredom and lack of joy though is apparent. And nowhere is it more apparent than in privileged societies. The coining of the term first world problems is very apt. But if this a problem created by modern society? Or is it one that's always been there but short lives, rigid social structures and a defined path for people to travel down in order to call themselves 'happy' masked very well?
    What is happiness, then?

    In short I don't think the problems in modern society are necessarily modern problems. I think they are age-old issues with humanity that are simply more apparent in the context of modern society than they were when life was more structured and ritualised. Like removing the bandage to expose the wound underneath. I think the problems with modern society lie in the fact that humanity has never really understood itself, and just grasped for one thing after the next as a salve for it's ills without looking for the causes.
    The issue isn't with humanity, because we're no different than we were before, biologically. There was a time, though, before agriculture, when these issues were not of such weight. Clearly, the circumstances have changed.

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    Senior Member reason's Avatar
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    Honestly, I find this essay pathetic--I see nothing of value in it. It's almost a parody of bad sociology. It sounds like Fromm has concocted an entire political philosophy around the fact that he finds the modern world aesthetically displeasing. This kind of writing is kind of fun, in its way, but it's not to be taken seriously.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

  5. #5
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    i'm lucky to be so blissfully ignorant to things like this.



    or do i understand it all so well i am happy?








    nah, blissfully ignorant.

  6. #6
    it's a nuclear device antireconciler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    ... everything and almost everybody is for sale. Not only commodities and services, but ideas, art, books, persons, convictions, a feeling, a smile - they all have been transformed into commodities...
    So, just trying to understand, do you feel that this makes our social relationships with each other more distant and abstract and businesslike? Less based on social bonding and compassion?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    ... ever fewer people have convictions by conviction I mean an opinion rooted in the preson's character, in the total personality, and which therefore motivates action. I do not mean simply an idea that remains central and can be easily changed...
    I think what you're saying here and continue with your discussion of the young generation is that people, society, has become more hedonistic, less purposeful, less motivated internally by principal?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    ..They are more attached to the dead and mechanical than to life and living processes...
    This is an interesting reflection, but I'm not sure what you mean here ... can you speak more about this? Maybe if you made some example of what you mean by this distinction between attraction to life and attraction to mechanism?

    I suppose that I basically value all these same things you are valuing, but why do you feel that things are worse now than before?
    ~ a n t i r e c o n c i l e r
    What is death, dies.
    What is life, lives.

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    Quote Originally Posted by antireconciler View Post
    So, just trying to understand, do you feel that this makes our social relationships with each other more distant and abstract and businesslike? Less based on social bonding and compassion?



    I think what you're saying here and continue with your discussion of the young generation is that people, society, has become more hedonistic, less purposeful, less motivated internally by principal?



    This is an interesting reflection, but I'm not sure what you mean here ... can you speak more about this? Maybe if you made some example of what you mean by this distinction between attraction to life and attraction to mechanism?

    I suppose that I basically value all these same things you are valuing, but why do you feel that things are worse now than before?
    I like what Žižek says about our supposed "hedonism," and I think this may be closer to what @Lark is saying.

    "What is the model of today’s hedonism? A couple of days ago flying here, I read some airline journal that you get, and it had a long text praising sex -- but in a way which was totally depressive. It said, 'Make love as often as you can because it’s good for your blood circulation. It strengthens your heart.' Then it had even an obscene theory how if you kiss a lot, especially French kisses, it’s good to strengthen your jaws, your mouth, and so on. This is a terrifying vision," he argues.
    It's obscene, for Žižek, because of the way it transforms pleasure and/or love into an opportunity for self-improvement. And it's terrifying for roughly the same reason: it suggests an overwhelming impulse to quantify the unquantifiable, to accrue life's moments like capital rather than to experience awareness in a physical or emotional sense. In a tragic-comic twist, the sexual revolution seems to have made talking about sex not just acceptable, but boring.

    "The only true hedonists, I think, are today, two kinds: drug users and cigarette smokers. And you see how under total pressure they are," explains Žižek. (He doesn't smoke because "screw the tobacco companies.") "But nonetheless, there is something deeply symptomatic in our horror at the chain smoker, as if what bothers us is his or her enjoyment, as if you see there is a guy who has a singular passion and he’s ready to risk everything he has for pursuing that passion."

    Žižek's take? "I find this rather nice, if you ask me."
    Why You Shouldn't Have Sex For Your Health

    Also, here's another good one where he talks about the commodification of happiness.

    Why Be Happy When You Could Be Creative?
    Artes, Scientia, Veritasiness

  8. #8
    it's a nuclear device antireconciler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orangey View Post
    I like what Žižek says about our supposed "hedonism," and I think this may be closer to what @Lark is saying.

    "What is the model of today’s hedonism? A couple of days ago flying here, I read some airline journal that you get, and it had a long text praising sex -- but in a way which was totally depressive. It said, 'Make love as often as you can because it’s good for your blood circulation. It strengthens your heart.' Then it had even an obscene theory how if you kiss a lot, especially French kisses, it’s good to strengthen your jaws, your mouth, and so on. This is a terrifying vision," he argues.
    It's obscene, for Žižek, because of the way it transforms pleasure and/or love into an opportunity for self-improvement. And it's terrifying for roughly the same reason: it suggests an overwhelming impulse to quantify the unquantifiable, to accrue life's moments like capital rather than to experience awareness in a physical or emotional sense. In a tragic-comic twist, the sexual revolution seems to have made talking about sex not just acceptable, but boring.

    "The only true hedonists, I think, are today, two kinds: drug users and cigarette smokers. And you see how under total pressure they are," explains Žižek. (He doesn't smoke because "screw the tobacco companies.") "But nonetheless, there is something deeply symptomatic in our horror at the chain smoker, as if what bothers us is his or her enjoyment, as if you see there is a guy who has a singular passion and he’s ready to risk everything he has for pursuing that passion."

    Žižek's take? "I find this rather nice, if you ask me."
    That is fascinating and insightful. I know that impulse personally. It is as though my primary interest is in building a suitable image or brand for myself when under that influence. I want to make something of myself. I'm not sure why I should have those thoughts, maybe I'm just trying to feel good enough. I don't want to feel like a loser. Being not equipped to be both happy and have the image I think is correct and good, I've many times had to break down that image and reject it as not for me and not to be desired for me. This is a personal issue I struggle with.
    ~ a n t i r e c o n c i l e r
    What is death, dies.
    What is life, lives.

  9. #9
    Wake, See, Sing, Dance Cellmold's Avatar
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    Everyone enjoys being the person with their finger on the pulse of problems that have been generated by the most recent cultural, social and economical shifts in human-constructed systems.

    Of course that's just it...everyone is. I suppose ive found a type of peace within a form of acceptance.

    Perhaps it is easier for me since I do not have a need to constantly re-evaluate what could be improved and what could be altered for the better.

    This isn't to say I accept the ill's within humanity or the modern world, but my perspective is such that I understand the immediate nature of my own existance in relation to everyone elses.

    Essentially...shit happens. Some of it you can clean up and tidy away, or else design a new method for cleaning it up with....but some of it slips away...smeared on the collective shoe of humanity.
    'One of (Lucas) Cranach's masterpieces, discussed by (Joseph) Koerner, is in it's self-referentiality the perfect expression of left-hemisphere emptiness and a precursor of post-modernism. There is no longer anything to point to beyond, nothing Other, so it points pointlessly to itself.' - Iain McGilChrist

    Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"
    "Suppose it didn't," said Pooh, after careful thought.
    Piglet was comforted by this.
    - A.A. Milne.

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