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

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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.