On Antiwar Sentiments And The Standards Of Autonomy

My antiwar sentiments are derived from what I perceive to be a universal natural aversion to suffering, and an innate sense of personal autonomy; together which enable me to form a peaceful code of ethics and a reliable moral standard.

It seems evident that every human being has a natural aversion to discomfort which is manifested from the moment of one’s birth. Every newborn asserts their aversion to even the slightest discomfort in no uncertain terms. The cries of a baby are by no means without reason. Those reasons invariably being that everyone has a natural aversion to discomfort.

This natural aversion to discomfort is so overwhelming that life amounts to a moment by moment quest for an ever illusive and rarely lasting state of comfort. In fact the most basic instinct is to manage circumstances in search of satisfaction. The dog that seeks shade on a hot Summer day does so for the same reason the human opens the window and engages the electric fan. Each being monitors its elements in search of comfort in accord with a natural aversion to discomfort.

In fact the moral code which seems to most naturally emerge from the human experience is to recognize and respect each other’s innate aversion to discomfort. For most people from even an early age manifest sensitivity to the sufferings of others. Indeed the sounds of the suffering of a stray or even unidentifiable animal cause a distress in most every person which seem unbearable. Additionally these feelings of distress transform into a seemingly irresistible sense of duty to alleviate the suffering of others in such circumstances.

And so the innate aversion to suffering which serves as the basis for our first effort to communicate on the day of our birth, invariably over the course of time and experiences develops into a universally recognized natural moral code: Do no harm to another, and alleviate the suffering of others. In fact the teachings of social reciprocity in such philosophies as Confucianism and Christianity would be unintelligible were people not innately endowed with a natural aversion to suffering. It thus seems that the moral code which naturally develops from our innate aversion to suffering is that of nonviolence and peaceful relations.

Yet if this natural moral code is universal, as experience and observation generally confirm, then how is it that violence proliferates and war prevails throughout the world? It seems clear that humanity is conflicted by an existence in an impersonal and unpredictable universe which consistently negates our natural quest for comfort by inflicting pain and suffering without regard for effect. Similarly humanity seems conflicted between a natural moral code of nonviolence and peaceful relations based upon our innate aversion to suffering, and otherwise tendencies towards aggression and domination.

I would suggest that the conflict between conscience and conduct relates to our autonomous nature and the tripartite personality. The latter refers to the Freudian theory that humanity develops the capacity to reason and experience feelings of compassion, but that our core instinct to seek pleasure is innate. In fact the pleasure principle is so instinctive as to be irresistible unless internally regulated by reason and compassion. In this regard, the instinctive quest for comfort is neither rational nor moral in and of itself.

Frankly our irresistible pleasure principle would neither regard self preservation or the effects of our actions on others in our instinctive quest for comfort unless humanity had developed the capacity to reason and care. Unlike the instinctive pleasure principle though, our capacity to reason and care are qualities which are neither irresistible nor involuntary. In this regard the individual human being is an autonomous agent who can employ or subjugate the naturally developed capacity to reason or care based upon personal choice.

For many the freedom to think for themselves and to forge their own moral code creates a sense of alienation and helplessness which can be somewhat overwhelming. Circumstantial dilemmas can be so dramatic that the burden is too difficult for people to handle alone. It is not unusual at all for a person experiencing even the daily drama of existence to seek the counsel of a trusted friend or a trained professional in times of doubt or dilemma. The comfort sought in such circumstances is oftentimes that of sharing the burden of responsibility in the decision making process. Such scenarios are by no means unusual and the process of mutual deliberation can prove effectual towards achieving a desired end while at the same time maintaining sound mental health.

At the same time the freedom of autonomy can be a responsibility so overwhelming that some seek a somewhat permanent dependency to relieve the stress of self governance. Such people require more than the occasional conversation asking advice from a trusted ally in times of dilemma or doubt. As a coping mechanism they subconsciously surrender the burden and responsibility of autonomy to outside sources. Their effort to escape from freedom (a phrase borrowed from Fromm) leads them to subjugate their own autonomy to an authority type which both relieves them of the burden of self governance and simultaneously redirects their thinking through regimentation and indoctrination. They may join a street gang, embrace religion, enlist in the military, or merely adopt the philosophy of a collective authoritarian ideology. But by so doing in each case such people surrender their autonomy at least to a certain degree, thus allowing an external source to do their thinking and feeling for them.

It should come as no surprise that the greater demographic who make this transition do so as late teens or as early adults. This is by no means coincidental. For when folk surrender their autonomy to another they are in ways replicating the relationship of the child to their parent figure. And so most people who embrace the concept of religion do so at the very time in their lives when they are evolving from their heretofore lifelong relationship as subordinates to their parents, and are emerging into alienated autonomous agents. The concept of self governance is too much of a burden for the psyche of many who are at that point in their lives, and in such a state of their existence they are quite vulnerable to exchanging autonomy for the security of faith in a higher purpose and a supreme being.

Similarly, late teens and early adults are oftentimes vulnerable to the indoctrination of tribalism and xenophobia when confronted by such by street gangs and military recruiters. They are especially susceptible to the subtle seduction of street gang and military recruiters when they face limited financial prospects. When a person has little in the first place, and when their hopes for social improvement are dim if not doomed, then the prospect of joining an authoritarian collective can offer a sense of purpose and belonging for an otherwise alienated and seemingly nihilistic existence.

Whether a person exchanges their sense of self governance in order to serve a god by joining a church or a government by way of joining the military, either way the act itself is that of surrendering personal autonomy for an authoritarian relationship. And in so doing a person voluntarily subjugates introspective feelings and intellectual reasonings for authoritarian indoctrination. In essence, when people surrender their autonomy to a god, a group, or a government then they allow others to decide their values and even their actions.

Conversely, an autonomous individual does not rely upon others to decide who qualifies as either an enemy or an ally, nor does the autonomous individual need a religious ideology in order to maintain ethical standards and a moral code. Granted, there are those who honestly feel they need religion as a means to live a decent and peaceful life. For such, then their faith is a coping mechanism which enables their quest for coexistence in a world rife with conflict. The end surely justifies the means as a necessary expedient towards a peaceful existence for those so inclined. However; if a religion teaches, encourages, or endorses violence and war as a just or acceptable enterprise, then surely an alternative religion which encourages trust in introspective sensitivity for the suffering of others as a reliable code of ethics and one’s personal moral standard is preferable for the purposes of peace and coexistence.

The potential problem then of exchanging autonomy for any form of authoritarian ideology is that one might be distracted from the natural moral code to do no harm to another, and alleviate the suffering of others.

Peace to all.
And no more war.

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas

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On Fromm’s Theory Of Love

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone…”

These lyrics are as relevant now as when written by Hal David in the turbulent ’60s. At the time our society was consumed with consumerism, in danger of nuclear war, embroiled in the effects of racial tension, and was struggling with the safety and health effects of pollution and environmental irresponsibility. Generally speaking, world issues then were the same as they are today.

These four brief lyrics address a basic conflict between capitalism and the concept of love. They likewise reference the scope of love, which I would suggest is inherent to the concept itself. For love as I comprehend the concept is an objective care and concern for the well being of others. The ideal of objective concern is negated if the sentiment and the evident exercise thereof is either partial or less than universal as perceived or practiced. Hence, whatever love may be, it should be “not just for some but for everyone.”

In his 1956 masterpiece “The Art Of Loving”, German-American sociologist and psychologist Erich Fromm identified four basic elements which are fundamental to the very concept of love. For while discussing the theory of love therein Fromm referenced care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge as the basic elements which are common to all forms of love. Among the examples of such were the natural maternal care for a child, and the habitual tending to vegetation and plants of the horticulturist and the home gardener. Conversely, Fromm utilized the biblical tale of Jonah as an example of one whose lack of objectivity serves as an example of a failure to love. For although best known as the biblical character who is alleged to have spent three nights in the whale’s belly, Jonah actually serves as a great example of a bad example with regards to social relations.

As the tale goes, Jonah was commanded by God to go to the city of Ninevah and preach the message of repentance to the inhabitants there. Instead he boarded a ship headed the opposite direction. He did so because he did not want the Assyrians to repent, for the simple reason that he did not want them to be spared from the wrath of God. When a fierce storm endangered the ship due to Jonah’s disobedience, Jonah was voluntarily thrown overboard in order to spare the crew. It was at this time that he was allegedly swallowed by a great fish, where he remained for three days until the fish spat him out. Predictably enough, Jonah then went to Ninevah where he successfully persuaded the people of Ninevah to repent of their alleged wrong doings. Oddly enough, Jonah was angry that the people responded positively to his message. Jonah was so hung up on the concepts of justice and punishment that he merely could not rejoice in the well being of the Assyrian people.

Fromm rightly observes that though Jonah was a man of law and order, that he was deficient with regards to the concept of love. This is evidenced by his prejudiced attitude and partial perspective towards the Assyrians. Jonah did not maintain an objective concern for the well being of the inhabitants of Ninevah. Thus Jonah did not love the Assyrian people.

Fromm furthermore notes that by not taking responsibility for the well being of the Ninevites when the opportunity originally availed itself that Jonah had already manifested his deficiency with regards to the concept of love. In other words, when Jonah disobeyed God’s directive he revealed a lack of willingness to be responsible for the well being of the Assyrian people. And according to Fromm, one of the basic qualities of love is to be ready and willing to respond to the needs of others as per circumstantial situations.

To feel a sense of responsibility for the well being of all people then is to love objectively. And an objective care and concern for the well being of others is manifested when people respond actively to the needs of others. Jonah’s refusal to respond to the needs of the people of Ninevah then revealed his lack of objective concern for the well being of the Assyrian people. Hence, the tale of Jonah serves as a prime example of one who was deficient as to the concept of love.

A third element of love as noted by Fromm is respect. Respect being a consistent recognition that each person has rights, feelings, and needs which are unique to that particular individual. Though such qualities are unique to the individual person, objective recognition of such as innate qualities shared by everyone is the basis for having respect for others. In essence, respect entails recognizing and supporting any given individual person as an autonomous being who has the right to freedom and liberty, so long as the exercise thereof does not disrespect another.

Fromm notes that respect then naturally means a lack of exploitation. Liberty which in practice exploits another actually disrespects that individual as a means to an end. A mere commodity. A tool for one’s use rather than as a person with dignity and feelings. The exploitation of another is to disregard that person’s humanity. Exploitation then is to transparently disrespect another individual, which evidently demonstrates a deficiency with regards to the concept of love.

The fourth element of love as noted by Fromm is knowledge. By knowledge he seems to mean an insight into the psyche of human needs and feelings. An understanding of what makes a person tick, what moves us to feel, the inner angst which covets acceptance. An understanding then of humanity which is based on empathy and which is experienced through an empathetic union with others. A soul fusion and a mind meld of sorts.

This empathetic union with others is of course a more natural experience with our familiars than with strangers. Yet the principles translate to people with whom we are not acquainted, or to individuals who we do not even realize exist. When one’s empathy for humanity is consistently objective, then care and concern for the well being of each and every living person becomes a natural element of that person’s worldview. A subsequently sincere respect for people as people then motivates us to respond to the needs of others out of a sense of responsibility for the general welfare for all humanity. In essence, Fromm’s theory of love was that the concept itself is founded upon an empathetic understanding of the needs of the human being, motivated by a sincere care and concern for the well being of all, and is manifested by a sincere response to those needs out of respect for people in general.

In this day and age of endless wars, nuclear madness, climate catastrophes, rampant racism, conditioned consumerism, intoxicated illusions of self importance; and in a culture whose economic system is sustained and maintained by exploitation and domination; Fromm’s theory of empathetic love would serve as an antidote for a world plagued with apathy and disregard for human welfare.

What the world needs now is love sweet love.
It is truly the one thing that there is just too little of.

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas

On Capitalism As A Culture Industry

In the 1940’s, the German-American philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno introduced the term “culture industry” as a description for Capitalist societies. The basic premise being that such cultures function as industries, and that various aspects therein condition people to function as active consumers and alienated workers in order to sustain the process of mass production. Mass marketing conditions addictive spending habits, standardizes styles, and defines fads and fashions in order to create and coordinate cyclical yet predictable markets in order to justify endless mass production.

In his 1957 book “The Art Of Loving”, Erich Fromm identified three elements which are necessary in a Capitalist society. Those elements being people who will work together to perform assigned tasks, people who will buy things, and people who will obey orders. The ability of people to work together in order to produce in bulk is a quality which is exploited by those who condition those workers to do as they are instructed. Consumerism then serves as a necessary active agent in order to preserve the system itself. That said, Fromm, Horkheimer, and Adorno all observed that such elements are conditioned as a mass deception rather than presented as evident dictates. Thus the need to incorporate a variety of aspects of society in order to subtly yet effectively sustain the culture industry.

In their book “Dialectic Of Enlightenment”, Horkheimer and Adorno dismissed the notion that mass production is the response to consumer demand. Rather they noted that mass production is the design of corporate board members and wealthy profiteers. Consumerism in turn is a conditioned response to manipulative marketing. Since people in general will not be exploited voluntarily, then the means to condition the masses to servitude and complicit participation in the process are so encompassing that such entails the shaping of the entire culture into a responsive and productive industry.

Horkheimer and Adorno identified several aspects of society which are utilized as means to such ends. Namely film, radio, magazines, television, religion, formal education and politics were mentioned as avenues which the culture industry exploits in an effort to entice habitual consumerism and maintain a wage slave system of mass production. Film and television portray a picture of the ideal family as owning a nice home with several of the latest model vehicles. Radio and magazine ads aggressively market specific commodities for purchase. Religion and formal education promote obedience to authority, routine ritualism, and patriotism. Politics offers a sense of identity and the illusion of choice and influence in the economic and social system itself. The end goal of the culture industry then is to manipulate buying habits through seductive marketing, while at the same time manage and produce a demographic of willing wage slaves who are suitable servants in the process of mass production.

As I read Horkheimer and Adorno, it occurs to me how perceptive these two German-American philosophers were as to their observations regarding the culture industry. Their astute observations and warnings of social manipulation were documented decades before the era of daily conservative propaganda talk radio, 24 hour news cycles and Shopping Channels, and electronic marketing sites. Despite the transformation of America from an industrial economy to a retail market base, it would seem that the culture industry continues in 21st Century America in much the same manner as described by Horkheimer and Adorno.

In essence, the culture industry is the subtle social engineering and the mobilization of the masses for active and compliant service in a social system which is based upon wage slavery and a manipulated economy. Such service entails willing labor for long hours with minimal time for rest and recovery, addictive consumerism, and passionate support for militarism and imperialism as a matter of patriotic pride. Basically speaking, the masses must be manipulated to embrace and accept their own exploitation in order to sustain an effective culture industry.

Collective gullibility to social conditioning and systemic propaganda thus serves as the lifeline which sustains the ongoing culture industry. The ease with which collective thinking may be conditioned renders the masses vulnerable to the very circumstances which maintain the culture industry. Routine schedules of the over worked and underpaid reinforce and somewhat ritualize the very process of the oppression of the working class. Alienated and exploited working class people adapt by assimilation into the culture industry as a means of survival.

Capitalism as a culture industry will then predictably continue to thrive in a society of people who are willing prey to propaganda, who continue to function as complicit participants in the process of collective coercion, and whose very existence depends upon their service as wage slaves.