Home Page Image

Erich Fromm (1900 - 1980)

Psychoanalyst and philosopher who sought to identify the sources of of man's estrangement from himself in western industrialised society.

Quotes from 'The Forgotten Language - a first primer in dream interpretation' - 1952



An Observation

- On the Significance of Dreams -

Fromm's words in BLUE - All emphasis is mine - pc -


According to Fromm: if we see outer reality as predominately beneficial, then our dreaming will be of less value to us… and vice-versa. By ‘reality’ is meant culture and the world of humankind, not ‘nature’ which is neutral (ie, nature is both helpful and dangerous, but intentionally neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’):

What differentiates us from the world of animals is our capacity to create culture. What differentiates the higher from the lower stages of human development is the variation in cultural level. The most elementary element of culture, language, is the precondition for any human achievement. Man has been rightly called a symbol-making animal, for without our capacity to speak, we could hardly be called human.”

We learn to think by observing others and by being taught by them. We develop our emotional, intellectual and artistic capacities under the influence of contact with the accumulation of knowledge and artistic achievement that created society. We learn to love and to care for others by contact with them, and we learn to curb impulses of hostility and egoism by love for others, or at least by fear of them.

But culture can also be detrimental (and for most of us is).

Human beings are dependent on each other, they need each other. But human history up to now has been influenced by one fact: material production was not sufficient to satisfy the legitimate needs of all men. The table was set for only a few of the many who wanted to sit down and eat. Those who were stronger tried to secure places for themselves, which meant that they had to prevent others from getting seats. If they had loved their brothers as much as Buddha or the Prophets or Jesus postulated, they would have shared their bread rather than eat meat and drink wine with­out them. But, love being the highest and most difficult achievement of the human race, it is no slur on man that those who could sit at the table and enjoy the good things of life did not want to share, and therefore were compelled to seek power over those who threat­ened their privileges. This power was often the power of the conqueror, the physical power that forced the majority to be satisfied with their lot. But physical power was not always available or sufficient. One had to have power over the minds of people in order to make them refrain from using their fists. This control over mind and feeling was a necessary element in retaining the privileges of the few. In this process, however, the minds of the few became as distorted as the minds of the many. The guard who watches a prisoner becomes almost as much a prisoner as the prisoner himself. The "elite" who have to control those who are not "chosen" become the prisoners of their own restrictive tendencies. Thus the human mind, of both rulers and ruled, be­comes deflected from its essential human purpose, which is to feel and to think humanly, to use and to develop the powers of reason and love that are inherent in man and without the full development of which he is crippled. (The consequences of this are starkly clarified by C Wright Mills' 'The Power Elite' as summarised here >>)

In this process of deflection and distortion man's character becomes distorted. Aims which are in contrast to the interests of his real human self become para­mount. His powers of love are impoverished, and he is driven to want power over others. His inner security is lessened, and he is driven to seek compensation by passionate cravings for fame.and prestige. He loses the sense of dignity and integrity and is forced to turn himself into a commodity, deriving his self-respect from his saleability, from his success. All this makes for the fact that we learn not only what is true, but also what is false. That we hear not only what is good, but are constantly under the influence of ideas detrimental to life.

This holds true for a primitive tribe in which strict laws and customs influence the mind, but it is true also for modern society with its alleged freedom from rigid ritualism. In many ways the spread of literacy and of the media of mass communication has made the influence of cultural clichés as effective as it is in a small, highly restricted tribal culture. Modern man is exposed to an almost unceasing "noise," the noise of the radio, television, headlines, advertising, the movies, most of which do not enlighten our minds but stultify them. We are exposed to rationalizing lies which masquerade as truths, to plain nonsense which masquerades as common sense or as the higher wisdom of the specialist, of double talk, intellectual laziness, or dishonesty which speaks in the name of "honour" or "realism," as the case may be....

Is it surprising, then, that to be awake is not exclusively a blessing but also a curse? Is it surprising that in a state of sleep, when we are alone with ourselves, when we can look into ourselves without being bothered by the noise and nonsense that surround us in the daytime, we are better able to feel and to think our truest and most valuable feelings and thoughts?

If these deductions are even partially correct, then it is clear that for the past several millennia we humans have been developing a reality that is alien from the reality we evolved from. Furthermore, it is a development that not only distorts our psyche and profoundly influences our dream world, but ultimately portends disaster for humankind - that is, in reality!

It also, if correct, shows that our true inherent nature is not the stupidity and waste, the greed and brutality that so many people have understandably come to believe - but reason, generosity, love and compassion that our current culture (ie, capitalism) precludes as a predominating force.

PART 2 >>