Freedom to be powerless and frustrated
Erich Fromm wrote:
Doubt is the starting point of modern philosophy; the need to silence it had a most powerful stimulus on the development of modern philosophy and science. But although many rational doubts have been solved by rational answers, the irrational doubt has not disappeared and cannot disappear as long as man has not progressed from negative freedom to positive freedom. The modern attempts to silence it, whether they consist in a compulsive striving for success, in the belief that unlimited knowledge of facts can answer the quest for certainty, or in the submission to a leader who assumes the responsibility for “certainty”— all these solutions can only eliminate the awareness of doubt. The doubt itself will not disappear as long as man does not overcome his isolation and as long as his place in the world has not become a meaningful one in terms of his human needs.
Fromm, Erich (2013-03-26). Escape from Freedom (pp. 78-79). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
Doubt inhibits action. Does anyone disagree with that?
I raise Erich Fromm yet another question in this poker game of doubt. Can doubt ever truly disappear from the conscious or subconscious mind of a rational, independent thinking human being? I have my doubts :).
The problem that goes with the topic of this thread is formulating some sort of sane policy in complex societies in the face of this psychological human problem of doubt.
When I say we need more peer reviewed studies, on one level I’m talking to that psychological need in humans, and thus human populations, to answer rational doubt where we need to address that rational doubt to come to rational decisions. In the case of complex ecosystems of the planet, both marine and land based, we are talking about answering that need with institutionally-based policies.
Those policies have their own rational systemic features, generally based in institutional rule and enforcement structures, and some of those related to global commons involve relationships between sovereign nation states.
What are some of the ways those relationships are being addressed so that some sort of mitigative action can occur in the case of nation states with policies that allow plundering of the world’s commons that goes on at the expense of us all, while individuals and private entities profit from environmental destruction?
In the realm of scientific peer reviewed efforts to deal with the details of rational doubts, we have macro efforts like the United Nations and their international scientists involved in merely the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate change is one aspect of a global systemic ecological meltdown (pun). Much more ecological damage is occurring based on other human causes. Too many to even begin to list them here. The conclusions of the UN’s IPCC macro studies on just climate change are made available on a voluntary basis to United Nations member nations. There is no international regulatory agency nor any means of enforcement to maintain a healthy biosphere for the good of all at this time.
On a policy-making level we have international bodies like the WTO, the World Bank, and we have various trade agreements arising all the time. The latest are discussed elsewhere on this board, often with some alarm on the part of many of us. From my own experience in trying to deal with NAFTA’s formation back in the 90’s, I am aware that trade agreements often work against the individual nation states that attempt to enact regulations to inhibit the plundering and destruction of their commons. The agreements can be used by private corporate profit-making interests to negate a nation’s specific regulation of some kind if it has some effect on an effort to compete profitably with other international profit-making interests. Thus international private interest can legally trump national common interests. As I noted before, there is no international regulatory enforcement system to deal with this problem.
On another level I’m talking about doubts that can impede a concerted need to act before we bring all this complexity down on our heads — if that is even possible. Given the history of complex societies as reviewed by such scholars as Joseph Tainter and others who have developed a field of management study being called complexity theory, we should harbor some doubts about our abilities as modern, complex societies in that direction.
More peer reviewed studies are part of the modern day effort to attack doubt, and mostly the rational doubt that Erich Fromm identified in that prescient piece published in the early years of WWII.
The macro studies that look at the whole of what is taking place by attempting to combine all the bits and pieces addressed by the many micro studies performed by university educated science people in nearly all the modern states keep coming to the same macro conclusions. We are breaking the complex web of life on this planet. I keep looking for studies that don’t, and they aren’t easy to find.
And the problem is, peer reviewed studies that will eliminate doubt take time. Meanwhile we appear to be looking at a potential global, ecological collapse scenario that may require immediate action if what’s left at this point is sufficient to come back without all the feedback loops triggering a thorough ecological collapse that includes the demise of most of the species on the planet, including our own.
Raising subconscious, or irrational doubt, is the grist of modern day propaganda programs. Immobilize the populations and those who can manage the system for their own ends are freer to make decisions of whatever kind. Simply put, remove the democracy factor in the big chess power game. Immobilized populations tend to look to an authority or an authoritarian leadership rather than to their own abilities to come together to address their circumstances and doubts. There is no guarantee that those leadership decisions will be made for the good of all. The history of the collapse of complex societies shows they seldom have been. And that’s especially so in systems designed to achieve power monopolized for the few. Systems like monopoly capitalist systems. Systems like ours.
This is sort of a side discussion to the larger problem, which is: what can we as individuals do about broken oceans and ecosystems around the globe within these larger social systems? We are supposedly gifted with all this freedom from confining systems of authority, but what can we actually do in a positive sense? The issue of doubt comes into that question in various complex ways and at different levels, as does the sense of positivist science, which unfortunately for those who still seek the security of knowing with positive certainty has been pretty much debunked as a possibility now after a century of deep philosophical questioning. For a good overview and summary of the arguments I recommend The Philosophy of Science.
Fromm attempts to describe the social and historical process of how in the past millenium European humans became aware of their individuality during the Renaissance and Reformation periods. With that he sees the rise two distinct types of freedom: awareness of freedom from (passive freedom) many social control factors, and with that goes awareness of how that impinges on a freedom to (active freedom) act for oneself in the newly emerging social system. The deep psychological effect of these freedoms gives way to a realization of individual helplessness and insignificance, and he then goes into describing the intricacies of how people have attempted to escape from these psychological conditions grounded in these two freedoms.
These were new social problems that did not even concern the Anglo and Germanic ancestors during Medieval Times of many who now live the U.S. Fromm connects these two individual concerns with the emerging economic system (capitalism), the class structure, and two of the emerging protestant religions led by Luther and Calvin. I am sure, from the way he introduces the problem, that he did not intend to provide a comprehensive view of everything that was going on. But what he does offer as a kind of explanatory theory, combined with historical processes, is interesting enough as a kind of working paradigm that sets the story line on stage for making sense of social movements preceding his analysis that led to what was taking place around him on the European continent while he was writing in 1941, especially so if we are interested in understanding movements alive today that worry us about the possibilities for the rise of yet another fascist stranglehold on our freedoms that we can be fairly certain will handcuff any efforts to fix what our sciences are telling us are broken ecosystems around the planet.
Fromm does address faith in his examination of the psychological factors involved in what he saw as escape from the uncertainties and ultimately the anxieties of freedom. I don’t know if his various discussions of faith relate to your modern epistemological views. He was examining the twin movements headed by Luther and Calvin and the details of how those helped form the character of what might be called a work ethic that emerged with the rise of capitalism and the release from the somewhat secure structure of belonging that he saw as the Medieval period where people could count on a place, both a social place and a place to be physically throughout their lives without the daily trauma of being responsible for determining that for themselves. Here is a passage where he links love and faith within Luther’s epistemology:
Eric Fromm wrote:
The analysis of ideas has mainly to do with two tasks: one is to determine the weight that a certain idea has in the whole of an ideological system; the second is to determine whether we deal with a rationalization that differs from the real meaning of the thoughts. An example of the first point is the following: In Hitler’s ideology, the emphasis on the injustice of the Versailles treaty plays a tremendous role, and it is true that he was genuinely indignant at the peace treaty. However, if we analyze his whole political ideology we see that its foundations are an intense wish for power and conquest, and although he consciously gives much weight to the injustice done to Germany, actually this thought has little weight in the whole of his thinking. An example of the difference between the consciously intended meaning of a thought and its real psychological meaning can be taken from the analysis of Luther’s doctrines with which we are dealing in this chapter.
We say that his relation to God is one of submission on the basis of man’s powerlessness. He himself speaks of this submission as a voluntary one, resulting not from fear but from love. Logically then, one might argue, this is not submission. Psychologically, however, it follows from the whole structure of Luther’s thoughts that his kind of love or faith actually is submission; that although he consciously thinks in terms of the voluntary and loving character of his “submission” to God, he is pervaded by a feeling of powerlessness and wickedness that makes the nature of his relationship to God one of submission. (Exactly as masochistic dependence of one person on another consciously is frequently conceived as “love.”) From the viewpoint of a psychological analysis, therefore, the objection that Luther says something different from what we believe he means (although unconsciously) has little weight. We believe that certain contradictions in his system can be understood only by the analysis of the psychological meaning of his concepts.
Fromm, Erich (2013-03-26). Escape from Freedom (pp. 67-68). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
One kind of faith that we need at the existential level of our daily lives is a kind of attitudinal trust and faith that we will accomplish what we are trying to accomplish, that our physical self will somehow do what it needs to do without the detail of thinking out each movement required. That’s a kind of letting go, a trust, I could call it faith in myself that takes place while mastering a skill. But how does that relate to this other problem of seeing a broken ocean and finding ourselves within complex social structures that bring about a different sort of action problem: the problem of being unable to take part in essentially individually willing large institutional systems to act for what we individually ascertain (I use that word intentionally) to be our best interest? Where does faith enter that scenario, and how?