Friday, July 9, 2021

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm - Summary

The Art of Loving  is a book by the psychoanalyst and philosopher of the Jews - the German Erich Fromm , which was published in 1956 .In this book, Fromm presents love as an art , as a skill that can be learned and developed. He rejects the idea that love is something magical and mysterious that cannot be explained and analyzed, and distinguishes between love and falling in love .
At the beginning of his book, Fromm argues that love is not a gift to God that falls from the sky on a person or an emotion that the person suddenly becomes acquainted with, but a not easy skill that must be studied theoretically and practiced, just like any other art. In fact, contrary to the belief that love is a simple subject, it is rare to find love in the modern world. Fromm lists three reasons for this:

Focusing on the Passive Side of Love: Most people think that the real problem is how to be loved, not how to love themselves. That is why they are looking for ways to be popular and loved and are not training their love ability.
Focusing on the object of love at the expense of the ability to love: People tend to think that the real challenge is finding the right person for love, and if they find it they will win love. In doing so, they ignore the fact that for the most part their ability to love is non-existent. Therefore, Fromm argues, the focus should be on training this ability. Fromm explains that this confusion stems from the modern society in which we live, which is characterized by the freedom to choose the couple on the one hand, and consumer culture on the other.
Focusing on falling in love at the expense of the state of love: People tend to consider falling in love as the pinnacle of aspirations, but when the initial excitement goes down, it turns out that there is no love at all, and the couple is disappointed. Fromm emphasizes love as a static state as something to strive for, as opposed to falling in love (Falling in love, an expression that implies movement).
Fromm argues that love on its various issues - romantic and erotic love, parental love for their children, sibling love, human love for God and even self-love - is the only answer to the problem of human existence. In its ability to resolve the pains of our alienated and lonely generation, and to destroy the barriers that have arisen between human beings.

To know Fromm, Most of the frustrations that man feels due to being gifted with the power of the mind, stem from knowing his loneliness and loneliness , his separate and fleeting existence, and helplessness in the face of the forces of nature and society . With the development of man he developed intelligence and awareness and separated from nature. Awareness of this situation causes him anxiety, shame and guilt (Fromm cites as an example the story of Adam and Eve, who in their food from the tree of knowledge become aware of being naked and feel shame and guilt), summed up in a concept he coined: existential separation . This is even more evident in the modern and technological age, which is characterized by the severance of the "first connections" to society. Fromm attributes this to the influence of the Protestant Christian religion and the capitalist view , which liberated man spiritually and materially, but also intensified in him the feeling of nothingness, insecurity, theAlienation , skepticism , loneliness and anxiety .

Therefore, the primary and basic aspiration of man is to get out of the state of difference and achieve oneness with the world outside. Failure to achieve this need means madness. Indeed, Fromm argues later in the book, mental illness is a condition in which a person sees the outside world in terms of his inner world exclusively.

In order to escape from existential difference to oneness, man has created for himself various ways that partially address the problem of his existence:

Orgasmic experiences - united by orgasmic experiences such as trance and drug use , alcohol and sexual experiences in which the person expands from his physicality, and escapes the pain of his loneliness. The disadvantage of these experiences lies in the fact that they are temporary and transient.
Conformism - unity by conformity to the group (such as the state, the church, etc.) while adapting its customs, ways and beliefs while eliminating the "I" and the things that divide the individual and the group through the standardization of the person. This is the main way to escape the experience of loneliness. Its disadvantage is that it is actually a pseudo-unity.
Creation and work - unity through an act of creation and productive work, in which the creator unites with the act of creation that symbolizes the world outside him. Its disadvantage is that it is not interpersonal.
According to Fromm, the only and main way to solve the problem of human existential dilemma is true love (and not symbiotic love) - in interpersonal union and the merging of a soul with a second soul, so that two souls become one and still remain two. It is in his opinion the most intense aspiration of man, the most basic desire, and the power that binds the human race as a whole and in its various groups. He even states emphatically: "Without love humanity could not exist even one day." The hallmarks of true love are: caring, responsibility, respect , and knowing the object of love. From the engagement with the other in true love that has no sadistic possessiveness or masochistic fusion , but a spontaneous approval of the other while maintaining personal character, the inner distress of the feeling of alienation and loneliness can be resolved.

Love Between Parent And Child 

Fromm argues that a person's mental health, including his ability to develop healthy relationships, is directly affected by his relationship with his parents. In doing so, it characterizes the parental models of love.

Maternal love is characterized by being unconditional. That is, the child receives love from his mother regardless of his character and actions. At this point the child is characterized by helplessness and the mother provides for his needs. The union with the mother is the protection for him. As the child grows older, the focus shifts from mother to father. Fatherly loveIt is conditional love. The father introduces the child to the rules and requirements of the society in which he lives. When a child meets his father's requirements, he is loved, and when he fails he is punished. This stage is different because now the child can actively influence the love he will receive, but he is not yet completely independent. When the child reaches adulthood, he will be able to internalize the functions that his mother and father fulfilled in his life, and in fact provide himself with unconditional love, and at the same time set goals and rules for himself. It is important to emphasize that Fromm is talking about the ideal models of parenting (he claims). As a person grows up in this way, he or she will be able to develop healthy and egalitarian relationships with spouses. But when the parents do not fulfill the function optimally - for example, when the mother is too domineering and intrusive - fixation will be created and the person may project the abusive relationship with his mother on his future relationships.


Love Objects 

According to Fromm, love is not a relationship with a specific person but an approach or orientation to the world as a whole. There are several possible objects for love, which he reviews, and all of which stem from the basic capacity for love. According to Fromm, when a person is capable and ready for love, he will love all human beings wherever they are, because there is no inherent difference between one person and another (this type of love is called Brotherly Love. Fromm was deeply influenced by the verse " and love your neighbor as yourself ").

Erotic love (loving another person in a non-platonic way) is characterized by a relationship with a specific person. But it is not fundamentally different from the basic love between one person and another. In fact, in erotic love a person sees in his partner an incarnation of human qualities and loves in him the whole of humanity. Erotic love in which the couple loves each other but does not love other people at all, is a situation that Fromm calls egoism in the two: the couple satisfy each other's needs and find refuge from the anxiety resulting from the feeling of separation, but the relationship never becomes intimate because they do not discover The human in the spouse. Fromm argues that love in general is not an abstraction of a specific person's love, but is in fact a precondition for the possibility of loving a specific person. It follows that erotic love requires a choice and a promise to love a particular person. But to the same extent, it is a situation that can only happen between certain people.

In the same way, every man will love himself, for he himself is a man. Here Fromm draws the difference between self-love and selfishness. The selfish person hates himself and does not take care of himself. Selfishness is a self-focus that reveals the things he is unable to provide for himself. On the other hand, self-love is characterized by seeing the human needs of the person and caring for them.

Love of God 

According to Fromm, the love of God also stems from the desire for unity. Because God is the pinnacle of human values ​​in all religions, an analysis of the religious person must be performed. At the beginning of human history, although man was already separated from nature, he maintained a connection and identity to it. This connection provided him with a sense of security. This connection can be seen in many of the primitive religions: totems of animals that man worships, performing religious ceremonies while wearing animal masks, or direct worship of animals. When man evolved and became a craftsman, a change was also seen in religious ceremonies: now man worshiped objects he created from clay, silver or gold, which indirectly constitutes a worship of man's powers. At a later stage, when man becomes himself the most sublime ideal, the gods themselves wear a human figure.

At this point Fromm points to two axes in which religion develops. The first axis is the masculine or feminine nature of the gods. According to Fromm, in the early stages of the religions known to us, religions in which these figures were dominant were dominated by mothers. This maternal goddess has the same characteristics as the maternal love model: the goddess loves all her children because they are her children, and not because they are "good", "bad" or according to their degree of obedience. In the next step, the one that is more familiar to us, God becomes the Father. The paternal god is characterized by his requirements, laws, and principles, and his love depends on the degree of obedience to them. He loves the most obedient son and punishes the sinful son. This is true for monotheistic religions as well as for other religions, where there is a hierarchy of gods and above all a male god.

The other axis is the degree of maturity in the religious faith. Fromm points to the covenant God made with Noah , at the moment when God becomes one who sets the laws, one who is also subject to them himself. The development in the image of God continues to the point where God himself becomes a symbol of truth and justice. At this point God has no name, since there symbolizes a final thing. Therefore, the immature form of religious belief is one that sees God the Father, who blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, when man himself is likened to a child who seeks to be saved by his father. This person's religious immaturity is characterized by his pretension to make claims about God. On the other hand, the truly religious person, the one whose religious faith is mature, recognizes his limitations and that he can know nothing about God. God is for him a symbol of unity and love, but one that exists in the inner human reality and according to which he chooses to live his life. Therefore he does not speak of God and refrains from mentioning him.

Finally, Fromm argues, there is a direct connection between a person's relationship with his parents and his relationship with God: when a person gets stuck early in the relationship with his parents, he will not be able to develop a more mature relationship with God.

The Practice of Love 

Finally, Fromm deals with the analysis of the characteristics necessary to improve the practical capacity of love. According to him, a loving person needs discipline, concentration and sensitivity to himself and his body (one of the practices he offers to improve these abilities is meditation ). In addition, he needs to rise above narcissism . Narcissism is a state in which a person perceives the outside world in terms of his inner world exclusively. That is, the outside world exists only insofar as it is a tool for satisfying man's desires and desires. This requires the ability to think objectively, Which is the opposite of narcissism, in which a person perceives things in the world as they really are. Humility is also needed - a person's recognition that he is not omnipotent and omniscient. Finally, this process requires faith. It is not a religious belief, but a state of mind in which the person trusts the truths of the things he perceives. For example, a belief that a friend remains essentially the same person, even if he changes his views, or a belief in the persistence of personal identity over time. Another example is the belief that a specific person will carry out the potential forces inherent in him, and that humanity in general will fulfill values ​​of justice and equality.

Criticism of Freud 

The claim that man's basic aspiration is for love and oneness is to challenge Freud . Freud argued that man's initial aspiration is for pleasure, while love is a refinement (sublimation) of the sex drive. That is, love is an emotion experienced by a person who strives to satisfy his sexual desire, but must present this urge in a way that is more acceptable in society. Consequently, the psychoanalytic tradition held that a person's mental problems are likely to be solved if he solves the problems in his sex life. In contrast, Fromm argues that the pursuit of love is paramount, and mental problems usually result from the unfulfillment of the pursuit of oneness. Fromm, however, acknowledges Freud's great influence on him, and even argues that Freud's later theory of the power of the fiancé constitutes progress from his initial thought.