Posts Tagged “philosophy”
Feb 24, 2019
This is my summary for “To have or to be?”, the book by Erich Fromm. This summary follows the structure and order of the book, although I have skipped several sections for brevity or because I didn’t find a good way to summarise them.
Meaning of life
Inner liberation, break the chains of greed. Reason only works as long as it’s not stifled by greed. Industrial societies only talk about political liberation and have forgotten about the inner one.
Obstacles to a greater conscience
- Fascination for power and fame, lack of authenticity.
- Trivial chatter. It comes from emptiness, indifference and routine. We have become afraid of intimacy but also of loneliness.
- The idea of life without effort and pain. In theory, modern progress was supposed to give us more free time for higher, more creative tasks. But instead we have idealized absolute laziness and horror to any real effort.
- Fear of authoritarianism and idealization of little whims. Fear of anything imposed on us have resulted in the idealization of total freedom to choose. We end up with freedom for little whims (ie. desires that come spontaneously, without any connection to our personality or our goals), instead of freedom for our will. Our “anti-authoritarianism” (which is good otherwise!) has been used to justify narcissistic complacency.
Ways of conscience
- Wanting a single thing. Set ourselves a goal, and dedicate ourselves to it.
- Be awake and aware. Pay attention to the outside world.
- Be conscious. Truth has a liberating effect, even when we learn about problems that have no solution. This is the most crucial aspect of the art of being. We achieve this personal independence by refusing to submit (not the rebelliousness without a goal). Another important attitude is realising that most of what we hear, and even know, is false: a healthy skepticism.
- Concentration. It’s harder and harder to focus, due to the way we produce and consume, but it’s important to learn to focus if we want to pursue many things. Practising sports, painting, playing musical instruments, and such, can help us concentrate.
- Meditation. Part of the advantage is to be more conscious, and part of it is to connect to our subconscious to make it more explicit and let us inspect it and control it more easily.
Self-analysis as a way of knowing oneself
This chapter is too complex to summarise, but in short it says that psychoanalysis is usually seen, even by professionals, as a way to cure neurosis, but the author sees it also as a good way to know oneself. Starting from an analysis from a professional, one can learn to analyse oneself and apply those principles for the rest of one’s life, to increase self-knowledge over time.
The chapter proposes concrete techniques and strategies to do this.
Two forms of ownership
Functional and non-functional. The first are things that we need or use often, and are connected to our goals; these things encourage activity and vitality. The second are things that we simply collect.
Trying to have only the first kind has several interesting consequences:
- Having only what I use encourages me to be active.
- It’s harder to have greed to have more things, because my capacity to use them productively would be impaired.
- It’s harder to feel envy, because I’m already busy with what I have.
- I won’t be worried about losing what I have, because functional property is easier to replace.
The strategy to live a better life is to beat our narcissism and our egotism. To do so we need conscience, will, practice, and learn to tolerate our fears and new experiences. Instead of thinking “I am what I have”, move towards “I am what I do”.
I realise, when I re-read the summary, that it feels “fluffy” and new-agey, because it lacks the depth of the original text. One of the things that make a difference is the way the author argues and explains each point, eg. it’s not evident from this summary that he rejects schools of thought or groupthink.
Although I didn’t agree with everything on the book, I really enjoyed reading it. I encourage you to read it if the topics and themes sound vaguely interesting, because the book is much better than my summary makes it out to be.
Feb 4, 2012
This is something I’ve been thinking about for months, but took me a while to give it a shape in my mind and put it into words. I’m not done exploring these ideas, I might write about them again.
Edit: forgot to thank Manu for her feedback on a draft of this post.
It all started with a couple of conversations I have had with different people, about different topics. The common denominator was me not doing/buying certain stuff for “non-consumer reasons”. Some examples (feel free to skip):
Apple. I don’t buy anything from Apple. The most important reason is that I don’t believe in a closed software ecosystem controlled by a single company (even if I know it has advantages in the short term). There are other reasons, like them trying to fight the right to jailbreak or them supporting SOPA.
Sony/PlayStation. Although I do own a PlayStation 2, many things that have happened since then made me decide not to buy a PlayStation 3 (yes, there are many PS3 games, some of them exclusive, that make me drool and I’d love to play them). Partly closed systems, partly Sony fighting users’ rights on court and chasing homebrew developers, partly the draconian terms of the PSN.
Being vegetarian/vegan. I’m actually not a vegetarian (but I’m somewhat close; long story), but I understand and support vegetarianism and veganism. I was pretty surprised that one concrete person I talked to about this hadn’t even thought of it as a form of belief or activism (the person thought vegetarians were, more or less, people who “don’t like meat”).
Note that I don’t claim to be right about these beliefs or about the best/most practical way to support them, but that’s completely besides the point I’m trying to make, namely that many people seem pretty surprised by those decisions, as if anything that doesn’t maximise your short-term “joy” or minimise the money spent was irrelevant when spending money. As if it was unthinkable not to be a Homo economicus. I mean, money has essentially zero influence on your happiness once you have enough to live comfortably. Thus, I fail to see how money should be a deciding factor for close to nothing at all (again, assuming you already have enough to live without worrying about money).
I think of myself, first and foremost, as a human being (with values, morals, empathy, etc), not as a consumer or a money-spender. For me it follows that mainly caring about money and “consumer values” is wrong, because that consumer identity I have can never override most of my other identities. Even feeling the need to write about this and explain it is pretty awkward. It seems to be a suspicious position to be in, as if you had to explain that not making “consumer values” the centre of your life doesn’t make you a crazy extremist. Part of this awkwardness is somewhat confirmed by a comment I have heard several times, something along the lines of “it’s your loss”, as if eg. having a PlayStation (as opposed to other consoles, or devoting your time to reading more books or jogging or playing board games or whatever) had to be more important than anything else I might care about.
But this is not just a philosophical question, there are two practical points in all this. The first is that how and where you spend your money matters and lot. Let’s say there’s two companies providing the same product. Company A offers it cheaper and uses illegal, poorly paid workers, while company B is more expensive but its workers have normal working conditions (this is of course a simplification for the sake of the argument). When you give your money to company A, you are saying that using illegal workforce with a shitty pay is ok as long as they give you a better price. You are saying than you, deep inside, care more about saving a couple of bucks than about having normal working conditions. Those decisions, our decisions, are what make companies behave in this or that way.
The second practical point is that if one makes all decisions based only on “consumer values”, you are defining your path of least resistance. And it’s big companies and lobby groups that have all the money and resources to make that path of least resistance something that makes you do whatever is in their interest (and possibly against yours, in the long term). And I know it’s human nature to save energy, be lazy, not think too much about every single thing we do, etc. I do that myself all the time. What kills me is not that people don’t resist, is that people don’t seem to see it as a limitation in themselves, but as a weirdness in anyone that tries to.