Monday 5 November 2012

Oppression and Liberty

Erich Fromm's analysis of Freedom begins with something of a warning:

The battles for freedom were fought by the oppressed, those who wanted new liberties, against those who had privileges to defend. Whilst a class was fighting for it own liberation from domination, it believed itself to be fighting for human freedom as such and thus was able to appeal to an ideal, to the longing for freedom rooted in all who are oppressed. In the long and virtually continuous battle for freedom, however, classes that were fighting against oppression at one stage sided with the enemies freedom when victory was won and new privileges were to be defended. 
Tables turn, history (and oppression) repeats itself. Slowly, in front of our eyes, we see patently oppressive situations emerge coming from the most unlikely sources. "Who'd have thought it?" we say, "I never thought he/she would ever behave like that!". Before long, the Reichstag is burnt and around the smouldering embers people rub their eyes in simultaneous disbelief at what has just occurred, shame that they didn't see it coming (but a guilt that they knew all along), and a cold, embittered reorientation to the new brutal reality they are faced with. "Was it the moment they said 'Dissent will not be tolerated!' and ordered dissenters to leave immediately?" they ask. "Was is the moment the brutal rationale was put forward as 'the only alternative'?", or "Was it the moment when so-and-so were forced out of their party/institution/job?"

All of these were the warning signs.

Then there are those who knew more of what was about to occur, but did nothing. In truth, all of us have something of this in us. They are the Adolf Eichmann figures, who only did their job, who only obeyed orders, who took their comfortable salaries, and who (maybe for the sake of their mortgages, the pension, their marriages, the children's education,  or other equally worthy, but selfish, cause) chose to put principle second. Everyone is fearful of their freedom (that is what Fromm's book is about).

Am I talking nonsense? It couldn't happen again! Not like that. That would take real EVIL. Our society is too sophisticated for it to happen again. We have TV, the internet, Facebook, etc.

But freedom is slippery. And Fromm may well be right. The real danger is that little word, "IDEAL". It is with that little word that we believe that we no longer have to listen to each other (especially those who we believe to be wrong), that we have the answer, that we have seen the truth and the way forward. Nothing binds us to our fateful human condition than that little word.

It's only antidote is another little word: "LOVE"

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