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The Written Edition: Episode 49
For those of you who prefer to read, here's what we discussed on our latest episode
We know that some of you, some of the time, might prefer the written to the heard. So we wanted to put a summary of episode 49 into writing to see if its something that you enjoy. If so, we may continue the post-episode summary in the future.
Episode 49: The Handbag Analogy
Introduction & Thanks to Supporters
How can an analogy with handbags illustrate how we have turned humans from beings into things? We also discuss “proper functioning,” manipulative intelligence, and the split between emotion and intellect. And, Lacey shares where she’s moving!
We send lots of love and a huge shoutout to all our newest Substack subscribers since the last episode: Brad Swingruber, Bethany Williamson, Jenn Dearth, Mark Miller, Florence Tang, Carly Reilly, Moma Sayplay, Aaron Seskin, Rebecca Koenig, and Corey Moore. We appreciate you signing up for a free subscription!
Big props to Don Freeman and Cheryl & Steve Arnemann, who are our first paid subscribers! And we were so excited to see Cheryl’s comment on the bonus episode. We love it when you guys comment in the Rethinking Humanity Substack community!
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National News Commentary
The Inflation Reduction Act Legislation, Sonya shared, seems to be a big step in the right direction for the U.S. on climate change. Incentives versus punishments were the cornerstone of this legislation that many democrats knew was a goal of Biden’s to pass before the end of his presidency.
Trump’s Mar-A-Lago FBI Raid reminded Lacey of the FBI raid on Jeffrey Epstien’s Palm Beach home years ago, and wonders if big things will happen at some point in the future as a result of the historical event.
Lacey is moving to Spain! For all the juicy details, become a paid subscriber and you’ll have access to bonus episodes where she shares all about the big decision.
Become a paid subscriber below for more on Spain!
Quotes from the book The Essential Fromm by Erich Fromm, Edited by Ranier Funk. (The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2007. Copyright 1993, 1995 by The Estate of Erich Fromm)
The Handbag Analogy
The average person today feels alone. He feels himself to be a commodity, by which I mean he feels that his value depends on his success, depends on his salability, depends on the approval of others. He feels that it does not depend on the intrinsic or what you might call the use value of his personality, not on his powers, not on his capacity to love, not on his human qualities - except if he can sell them, except if he can be successful, except if he is approved by others.
This accounts for the fact that the self-esteem of most people today is very shaky. They do not feel themselves worthy because of their own conviction: “This is me, this is my capacity to love, this is my capacity to think and to feel,” but because they are approved by others, because they can sell themselves, because others say “This is a wonderful man or woman.”
Naturally, when the feeling of self-esteem is dependent upon others it becomes uncertain. Each day is a new battle because each day you have to convince someone, and you have to prove to yourself, that you are alright.
To use an analogy, I would suggest that you consider how handbags would feel on a counter store. The handbag of one particular style, of which may have been sold, would feel elated in the evening; and the other handbag, of a style a little out of fashion or a little too expensive or which, for some other reason, had not been sold, would be depressed. The one handbag would feel: “I am unworthy,” and yet the “wonderful” handbag may not be more beautiful, or more useful or have any better intrinsic quality than the other one. The unsold handbag would feel it was not wanted. In our analogy, a handbag’s sense of value would depend on its success, on how many purchasers, for one reason or another, preferred this one to the other. (pp.23-24)
Basically, Fromm is saying that a human being’s worth has now come to be evaluated by his/her own ability to sell themselves on the marketplace. For example, in our culure’s eyes, someone who is working is more “valuable” than someone who isn’t working. Someone who has money is more “valuable” than someone who is poor. Someone who has a fancy new car is more respected than someone who has an older one. A grandmother, a stay at home mom or a person who has a chronic disease is less likely to be viewed as ones worthy of the resources needed to live than one who works a conventional job. Another proof is the resistance to the idea of a Universal Basic Income. Is a person not worthy of food, drink, shelter, and safety regardless of what he does? Or is it only for those who have the ability to sell themselves or their abilities to others? What then, does this mean when it comes to our primary motivation and means to relating to each other?
The marketing character goal, “proper functioning” under the given circumstances, makes them function in the world mainly cerebrally. (p.25)
Lacey and Sonya comment on how relating to the world mainly cerebrally is hindering. Also, on how society is built with the ultimate goal of its inhabitants “functioning properly.” Functioning properly means following social norms, not questioning authority, and prioritizing work and the machine above all else, regardless of how much it is harmful to living things or denies our human needs.
Reason discerns causes and relationships, how they are and why they are that way. Manipulative intelligence is concerned only with how a person can better use things for himself. Reason is specifically human and is effective only insofar as man has freed himself from irrational passions and desires.
His manipulative intelligence, on the other hand, is excited and increased by greediness. The greedy person is sly; the reasonable person is smart; the dependent person becomes stupid; the independent person becomes wiser. Ultimately the distinction between reason and manipulative intelligence issues from a moral problem. The more man wants to have and the more he makes himself dependent on things and is bound to them, the more he will become a prisoner of things.
Stupidity is not a result of deficient innate intelligence, but rather of deficient freedom. Reason develops only in freedom, not only in freedom from external coercive forces, but also from internal coercive forces of confinement in its numerous manifestations. This distinction is easily forgotten in industrial society, where manipulative intelligence is the ruling type of thinking. (p.26)
What a powerful first line in that last paragraph. Deficient freedom is what causes stupidity. Sit with that for a minute. It can absolutely be seen in our current society. We have a lack of autonomy, and it breeds an attitude of disinterest, passivity and depression. It causes a lack of growth, experience and ability to relate to the world from the core of who we are.
The Split Between Affect (Emotion) and Intellect
Why we have developed in a top-heavy way is a very interesting question. Why, within three or four centuries, has all our emphasis shifted more and more to intellect and more and more away from rationality and intensity of affect?
There is not space to discuss this, but it has a great deal to do with our mode of production, with our increasing emphasis on technique, with our necessity to develop intellect for purposes of science and science for the purposes of technique.
We cannot quite separate the society, in which production becomes the paramount purpose, from human development in which intellect becomes the paramount value.
Sometimes one can see in psychoanalysis that a person consciously, on the surface, thinks he is very happy. He loves his wife, he loves his children and he is very happy. If you dig a little deeper, this follows: He makes a good living, he is successful and is respected; therefore, he assumes that he has to feel happy. So his feeling happy is actually an assumption about feeling happy. Then you go a step deeper and you might say to this man: “Look here, I have watched your face now for several sessions and I think you look awfully sad and depressed. What are you sad about?” Then you might find that this person who has said that for twenty years he has never cried, suddenly remembers something from his childhood, something that was always alive in him, and cries uncontrollably. You find that to protect himself from sadness he had to protect himself from feeling, and over this protection from feeling he put an illusion of feeling, something that was nothing but a logical assumption. (p.28)
Fromm writes: “You find that to protect himself from sadness, he had to protect himself from feeling.” Lacey might admit that she has observed the above scenario in her own life. She and Sonya comment on how common it seems to be. It seems that the values we hold as a society keep us from allowing ourselves to be human in the ways that make us fully alive: by feeling, by loving, by being, by experiencing.
Having, buying, consuming, producing, collecting: the obsessive desire for things is drowning out the ability to be and to feel. And that is eroding our relationships and our well being.
We end the episode by thanking our listeners for being with us, reminding them to check us out on Substack and to be on the lookout for the next bonus episode, which will drop next week.