Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fromm Here to Eternity

Another re-post.  This one is from this time last year.  Regular readers will note that there are themes I've been sounding and threads I've been following for a while now.


If you read nothing else on this blog, read my piece Boredom and the Barbarian, especially the part where I quote Erich Fromm.

Fromm's vision is of two sorts of modern man.

  • The Bored - homo consumens - those who are eternally infantile, always wanting to be passively fed, to suck forever on the Great Teat; they are never satisfied; they are depressed and self-indulgent.  They neither understand nor appreciate culture or beauty, or even other people beyond the use they can put other people to.  

  • The Interested - those who are inter-esse, whose being is within and among people and things outside of themselves and their own egos.

You might say that the first, the Slackers, are simply selfish, not knowing how to invest their libido, their Eros, their love.  Never properly educated to appreciate truth, goodness or beauty - or even to appreciate others - they remain whining adolescents all of their lives; they don't understand sacrifice for the sake of another; and their view of heaven is a place where they are eternally taking in, where their hunger is always being fed.  The teaching of the Body of Christ is ridiculous to them, since self-giving has no meaning, since sex is all about desire and never about love, marriage or babies, and since everything for them begins and ends within the confines of their own narrow selves.

But does the Church really encourage the opposite?  Does she encourage the Interested to be Interested?  Doesn't the Church have a long tradition of what she calls detachment, and what I prefer to call disinterest?  Does the Church not say that we are not to love the things of this world?

Well, she says we are not to love them for their own sake.  They are not ends in themselves.  If the goods of this world - health, friendship, family - are not ways of approaching and serving God and neighbor; if the goods of this life are self-serving and not a means for self-giving, then we become consuming man and not loving man - takers, not givers.

To be Disinterested is not to be uninterested.  To be disinterested means to have no claim on personal profit from a given situation.  We cannot love without being interested, but we must love for reasons other than our own selfish interest, otherwise it's not love.  

And one of the odd things about the youth of today is even when they become interested is something or someone, they have the uncanny ability to withdraw that interest in a heartbeat.  This may explain why it's so easy for them to hop from relationship to relationship and from bed to bed without getting their hearts broken; or even getting upset or ruffled.  Many of my young friends and acquaintances complain of this - the ease with which friends and lovers abandon one another the moment the tide changes.  I suspect the young do this more than they used to in my day because now interest is assumed to be what it is in business - a claim on gain, a benefit.  If your friend or your lover no longer proves beneficial or useful to you, your interest suddenly drops off, and you drop out.

So again I say that much of our problem in the modern world is a problem of love in all its aspects - Eros, Libido, Agape, Philia.  The problem is manifold - how to train our children properly to love (which is education); how to steward our own love (which is maturity and prudence); and how to find friends who will love us even after we no longer prove useful or convenient or interesting to them.

For the greatest of all earthly gifts is friendship, which is a form of love.  

When you gain a friend, first test him,
and be not too ready to trust him
For one sort of friend is a friend when it suits him,
but he will not be with you in time of distress ...
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth. - (Sir. 6:7-14)