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The Cure for Loneliness by Vivian Gornick

In philosophy, social sciences, sociology, writers on June 19, 2013 at 19:13

From: The Cure for Loneliness by Vivian Gornick, Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net

In Fromm’s view, humanity was always trading freedom for the comfort of external authority.

Fromm’s thesis in Escape from Freedom was a simple one and, like Freud before him, he did not hesitate to use the conventions of mythic storytelling to make it vivid for the educated layperson. In Freud’s case the story derived from the classics; in Fromm’s, from Genesis (don’t forget those Talmudic studies). Human beings, he argued, were at one with nature until they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, whereupon they evolved into animals endowed with the ability to consciously reason and to feel. From then on they were creatures apart, no longer at one with a universe they had long inhabited on an equal basis with other dumb animals. For the human race, the gifts of thought and emotion created both the glory of independence and the punishment of isolation; on the one hand the dichotomy made the race proud, on the other hand lonely. The loneliness proved our undoing. It so perverted our instincts that we became strangers to ourselves—the true meaning of alienation—and thus unable to feel kinship with others.

Ironically, though, for each of these thinkers, it was the exercise of the very powers that had brought about our downfall that alone could release human beings from the imprisonment of such separateness. If men and women learned to occupy their own conscious selves, fully and freely, they would find that they were no longer alone: they would have themselves for company. Once one had company one could feel benign toward others.

This, Fromm said, was the only solution to the problem of the alienated individual in relation to the modern world. The only thing that could save humanity from its own soul-destroying loneliness was the individual’s ability to inhabit what came to be known as the “authentic” self. If you achieved authenticity, you would be rewarded with the inner peace necessary to become a free agent who is happy to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

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