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Erich Fromm on the Nature of Man and the Concept of Character
Renowned psychoanalyst/philosopher Dr. According to Erich Fromm, man, by his very nature, needs to be oriented towards understanding himself, his fellow human beings and the world around him. Another way of explaining this is that humans have a great fear of isolation, isolation and disconnection from themselves, their fellow humans and the world around them.
In that light, to the degree that a person develops a realistic understanding of and connection with himself, his fellow human beings, and the world around him, he is sane (orientated, coherently rational, and balanced). To the extent that he fails to develop such understanding and connection, he is paranoid (distracted, dissociated, isolated and detached).
The vehicle that allows humans to realistically connect with the world of objects is called Fromm logic. The vehicle that allows humans to connect realistically with themselves and their fellow humans is what Fromm calls love. Humans therefore need to develop the capacity to reason and love in order to connect realistically with themselves, their fellow humans, and the world around them.
Productive VS Non-Productive Character
The ability (or inability) to develop one’s ability to reason and love is greatly influenced by the circumstances in which a person is raised. A person’s experience at an early age solidifies Fromm’s term character.* Fromm divides character into two camps. Camp number one is the productive (sane, rational, healthy) character type. Camp number two is the non-productive (neurotic, psychotic, paranoid) character types.
The productive camp revolves around what Fromm calls a “being” orientation to life in which the main focus is on exploring, developing, and fulfilling one’s productive capacities. In contrast a non-productive orientation to life revolves around what Fromm calls a “being” orientation to life in which the primary focus is on accumulating/consuming things. In the orientation human life itself (individually and collectively) is reduced to something that can be bought, sold, owned, controlled and manipulated by someone or something other than oneself.
Both types of character exist within all human beings as possibilities to be developed or left undeveloped. Their reality, as we have already said, depends a lot on the circumstances in which a person grows up. If one’s productive potential is encouraged, nurtured, and cultivated, the productive character type will emerge dominantly. But if one’s productive potential is discouraged, blocked, distorted, or otherwise prevented from developing, the non-productive character type(s) will predominate.
Fromm’s four non-productive character types
Fromm identifies four nonproductive character types, including masochistic, sadistic, hoarding, and marketing orientation. All four non-productive character types lack self-esteem, (self-worth, self-love) their inability to creatively and realistically interact with themselves, other human beings, and the world of things. This personal emptiness allows a person to depend on someone or something outside of themselves to develop orientation in life. But all people must have an orientation (even if superficial) to work. A non-productive character in the process avoids taking responsibility for one’s own life. To use Fromm’s phrase, he is “running away from freedom.”
More specifically, the receptive character dislikes/disrespects himself and his ability to be productive. So anything of value (including one’s orientation to life) must come from someone or something outside oneself. The receptive character type effectively involves themselves in a symbiotic relationship with someone outside (such as a parent, spouse, boss, coach) or something else (state, corporation, church, team) and depends on that entity to guide and define them. the life A receptive character is usually called masochistic.
In contrast, the exploitative character also dislikes/deprecates themselves and their ability to be productive. As a result, anything of value (including one’s orientation towards life) must come from someone or something outside oneself. The difference is that the exploiter doesn’t wait to get the character. He takes what he wants from someone who is weak and exploitable. Instead of being dominated, the exploitative character dominates. However, he is dependent on others (the exploited) as a receptive character for his value. Receptive and absorbing characters need each other. An exploiter is usually called sadistic.
A third non-productive type Fromm labels the HOARDING character. The hoarding character also finds himself incapable of being productive. But he is not receptive or exploitative. Instead, he saves everything. He is stingy. His relationship with people is distant, distrustful and cynical. He himself cannot give anything. Yet he is still 100% dependent on entities outside himself for anything of value, including the direction of his life. When something of value comes into his grasp he never lets it go. A penny saved is truly money earned.
A fourth non-productive type Fromm labels the MARKETING character. A relatively modern phenomenon, the primary characteristic of marketing orientation is its flexibility, its flexibility, its ability to change in a heartbeat according to market demands. This character type effectively worships the bazaar (invisible hand) as their god. He sees himself as a commodity to be bought and sold in the free market, which in his eyes determines the value of everything, including himself. His relationship with others is “I am what you want me to be.” He is a chameleon. The customer is always right. ***
The antidote to the non-productive character problem
Character is formed at a young age. But it is not set in stone or immutable. While it is true that character change is difficult, it is not impossible. In Fromm’s view the cure for the non-productive (neurotic, psychotic, paranoid) character is the understanding and practice of a productive life. In other words, the cure to the problem is to actively develop one’s own innate capacity to love and be loved (respect, honor, value, value) humanity, starting with oneself as a full, respected member of the human race. ***
Developing such an ability requires understanding and practice. But when man’s productive life potential begins to emerge and take shape, the experience of a meaningful and purposeful life becomes complete in a way that unproductive orientations never can. The experience of being responsible for one’s life – as much as is humanly possible – is sufficiently satisfying that non-productive (externally driven) motivators gradually begin to fade, losing their power, the ability to influence and control one’s behavior.
Productive character type
So now let’s focus specifically on the productive character type. The term “productivity” used by Fromm* refers to the particular way in which a person relates to himself, to others, and to the world around him. It is an orientation, a context in which human life has the potential to become meaningful, purposeful, and worth living.
Respectful, interactive, and creative
For Fromm, a productive relationship begins with deep respect, respect for life in general, including and especially for oneself and one’s fellow human beings (regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, religion, nationality or socio-economic status). Conversely, a lack of respect and reverence for human life (gender, caste, etc.) results in an inability to relate to oneself and one’s fellow human beings. This makes the experience of productivity impossible.
This mutually respectful, productive relationship is also interactive (in the sense that it is something one does, mentally or physically with others and/or the things around them) rather than passive (in the sense that it is something one does, mentally or physically with others). and/or by things around them). In other words, productivity takes at least two tangos.
This mutually respectful, interactive relationship is also creative in that it produces something new whether it is an idea, an appreciation for, an understanding of, or an actual physical entity. The experience of productivity in this sense is divine in its ability to create, recreate and exponentially enhance the lives of those who understand and practice it.
ends and means
The experience of productivity is also an end in itself rather than a means to an end outside of itself. So if it is done for the sake of fame, fortune, social acceptance, or some other extrinsic reward, it is not productivity in the way Fromm uses the term. That is, productivity itself is a reward, a motivation. One practices productivity because the experience itself is inherently rewarding, fulfilling, and meaningful.
The powers of logic and love
As we have already said, according to Fromm, reason is the vehicle with which a person actively penetrates beneath the surface, superficial, and comes to understand the world of things. Love, on the other hand, is the vehicle with which one actively penetrates beneath the surface, superficially, and comes to understand oneself and one’s fellow human beings.**
Thus through the power of reason, a person has the ability to penetrate, understand, and interact productively/creatively with the things around him. In the process, he has the ability to improve his own situation and the situation of his fellow humans.
Through the power of love one has the ability to enter, understand, interact, appreciate and connect creatively with oneself and one’s fellow human beings. Thus the powers of reason and love are the means through which man can express and experience productivity.
Conditions encourage or discourage productivity
The possibility of a productive relationship with the world also depends on the individual’s circumstances. That is, it is nearly impossible to productively relate to the world when there is an overwhelming need for food, drink, a roof over one’s head, or clothes on one’s back.
On the other hand, when not struggling with economic needs, when such basic needs are met predictably, the possibilities of productive relationships are increased exponentially. So when he has rational time and a healthy upbringing, when he is legitimately free and free from culturally oriented illusions to think for himself and choose accordingly, man has the opportunity to develop his productive capacities. He is not inherently lazy, lazy, corrupt or sinful as some argue
And historically speaking, productivity, when given the opportunity to breathe freely, has evolved human culture, from language and history to religion, art, science and sports. In other words, without rational time to be productive, there would be no Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle, no Jesus, Allah, or Buddha, no Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, Einstein, Elvis, Muhammad Ali, or Robin Williams. In other words, discretionary time, not necessity, is the true mother of invention and a fruitful, meaningful life.
* The concepts of character and productivity are discussed in detail in Erich Fromm’s book titled Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics.
** In “The Art of Loving” Fromm’s most famous book, the concept of love is explored in detail.
*** These four types of characters have been simplified to describe the primary qualities of each type individually. But in real life they are found in different combinations in individual people. This means that a person can be a marketing oriented character who is also exploitative.
****Mental illness, generally speaking, is the result of a person’s productive nature being disrupted. According to Erich Fromm, the antidote to depression, anxiety and ennui is productivity.
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