Erich Fromm

If the individual realizes his self by spontaneous activity and thus relates himself to the world, he ceases to be an isolated atom; he and the world become part of one structuralized whole; he has his rightful place, and thereby his doubt concerning himself and the meaning of life disappears. This doubt sprang from his separateness and from the thwarting of life; when he can live, neither compulsively nor automatically but spontaneously, the doubt disappears. He is aware of himself as an active and creative individual and recognizes that there is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself.

— Erich Fromm was born this day in 1900.  In the wake of Freud, who sought to legitimize a science of the mind, Fromm sought to infuse compassion and joy (no pun intended) into psychotherapy.

Man is the only animal that can be bored, the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem.

Temperament and Culture

Fact: In Inuit communities that have not yet come under the influence of Western economics, the people seem preternaturally serene.  Domestic violence is unknown, and violence of any kind is rare.

As viewed through the eyes of an academic psychologist, this is about individuals who have more inner strength and self-control.

What NPR is permitted to say about it:  It’s because parents don’t yell at their kids or punish them, but tell them morality tales instead.  How Inuit Parents Teach Kids To Control Their Anger

What NPR doesn’t or can’t say: Maybe they don’t have any anger that needs controlling.  Inuits live in tightly interdependent societies, where no one is left out, everyone is included.  There is much more cooperation and sharing, much less individual competition.  The wide individual differences in wealth and status that we take for granted are unknown in Inuit villages.

Maybe the anxiety that we carry with us and have come to think of as ‘the human condition’, maybe it’s not the human condition, but an artifact of our Western culture.  Maybe there’s another way to live, which doesn’t produce the isolation and self-doubt that are facts of everyday life for most of us.

We believe that man’s nature is uncaring and selfish, and that it is control and authority and discipline that tame our wild instincts so that we can be nice to each other.  We believe that indigenous people had little so they must have been fighting over the little they had.  We thought we could bring them both prosperity and the civilizing influence of law and central control.

Maybe we should focus more on what we have to learn and less on what we have to teach.

Shanthi

Shanthi. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. “The Peace which passeth understanding” is a feeble translation of the content of this word.
— T S Eliot

Though Eliot drew this phrase from the New Testament, his translation is a step in the right direction, because it calls forth a mystical faith. We cannot know with certainty that we are safe; and yet we can experience a perfect peace.

It may be that a word like shanthi is culture-bound, that it is a project in cultural expansion for any Westerner to try to approach the fullness of what is conveyed by the word. Indeed, that is what we are reaching for each time that we say “shanthi” in preference to “peace”.

The English word “peace” began as a description of the state of relationships among nations, and only in Middle English was the meaning extended to encompass personal behavior. Shakespeare’s usage may be translated in the vernacular as, “Shut up.” The phrase “inner peace” dates only from the close of the 19th Century, when awareness of psychology was first taking root in Western culture.

In contrast, “shanthi” was used first to connote a condition of the soul, and the notion of राष्ट्रों के बीच शांति (“shanthi among nations”) is an expansion outward from there. This is no surprise. We get that shanthi is a state of mind. We have all had times when we are more anxious, and other times when we are more calm, and we may imagine, by extrapolation, a state of perfect calm, of not wanting anything to be different, an intuitive knowledge that the world is perfect, and that this place and this moment are an aspect of that perfection. We may have experienced something like this state, rarely, and we may suspect that there are practices and philosophies that might enable us to know shanthi more deeply.

We may even suspect that we live in a particularly restless time in a particularly restless culture, and that there are other cultures in which it is easier to be satisfied with what is. We may have harbored (without explicitly articulating) the idea that too much peace leads to complacency, and that the reason that Western technology has leapfrogged past the rich scientific and artistic traditions of the East in the last 200 years has something to do with the churning dissatisfaction of the Western mind. Could it be that the Oriental mind is hamstrung by “too much peace”—complacency, fatalism, resignation? Ambition, the conviction that things might be made better, the determination to rally the will for a lofty aim—these qualities may seem to us to be incompatible with shanthi.

Brahms put a lot of work into every measure that he composed, writing and rewriting, trying different arrangements, editing, and ultimately burning most of his compositions, sharing with us, his public, only those he considered to be most satisfying. Mozart, in contrast, spoke of receiving entire operas in a moment of inspiration, after which it remained for him only to write down the notes, as though taking dictation from God, with nary a correction or an afterthought. Brahms’s music is richer and more complex than Mozart’s; perhaps this can be achieved through angst and obsession. But Bach seems to be a counter-example; his music appears to be worked out with an intricate, rational plan that would determine every note—to our wondering ears, it would appear the simultaneous requirements of counterpoint and harmony might OVERdetermine every note. And yet, contemporary accounts of Bach suggest that he improvised fully-formed 3-part fugues on the keyboard, and that he worked in a mode much closer to Mozart than to Brahms.

Rembrandt might have meticulously adjusted each line, each brushstroke and each color until he found the effect that he was looking for. In a Japanese painting tradition, the artist prepares his unconscious with ritual and meditation, then picks up the brush and paints without technical effort…letting inspiration come to him through meticulous observation. The hand that guides the brush has already caught and executed what floated before the mind at the same moment as the mind began to form it, and in the end the pupil no longer knows which of the two—mind or hand—was responsible for the work. [Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery (1971)]

I have read accounts of Picasso painting his famous peace icon in just this way.

Framed Dove of Peace Print

Is it possible for someone from our culture to experience that perfect stillness that only comes from realizing the perfection of all that is? Well, of course it is possible, but it is not easy—and easy is exactly what we are reaching for, for if it is difficult, it is not shanthi. And to the extent that we are reaching or striving at all, we are not at peace.

Is it possible to live a productive life, to be part of a dynamic perfection that shapes and re-shapes itself, spreading trust and love and cooperation ever more widely—is it possible to participate fully in this program while still living in a deep knowledge that the whole is perfect, and experiencing the shanthi that can only come from that conviction?

Just as a working hypothesis, I want to propose that this is more than possible, in fact, that far the best way to be effective in all our arts and our projects is to act from an inner experience of perfect satisfaction with what is, to create our presence in the outer life from the shanthi that we experience within.

— Source ???

Worship at the Office

Today, it is fair to say that elite American men have transformed themselves into the world’s premier workaholics, toiling longer hours than both poorer men in the U.S. and rich men in similarly rich countries.  This shift defies economic logic—and economic history. The rich have always worked less than the poor, because they could afford to. The landed gentry of preindustrial Europe dined, danced, and gossiped, while serfs toiled without end. In the early 20th century, rich Americans used their ample downtime to buy weekly movie tickets and dabble in sports. Today’s rich American men can afford vastly more downtime. But they have used their wealth to buy the strangest of prizes: more work!

Read more from Derek Thompson at The Atlantic

A man sleeps at his desk.

As our work has become more dissociated from anything we can value as a benefit to our communities or to ourselves, we have responded by throwing more of ourselves into it. Is it because we are escaping the emptiness inside us by keeping busy?  Or is it because the work is so inherently unsatisfying that we do more of it to try to squeeze out a modicum of gratification?

What single change in governance structure would produce most benefit?

Public control over the Fed would end profiteering on war, healthcare, education, and most other markets, would quickly eliminate the nation debt (since we would no longer be paying principal and interest on private bank notes created from thin air and passed off as our “legal tender”), and the embedded 30 to 40% interest in the cost of goods and services, which eats away at our productive capacity, would also disappear. It would also make most taxes irrelevant because unnecessary.
Robert Bows

Image result for banking war

Bows’s premise is that the Federal Reserve is managing the money supply and manipulating the American economy for private gain, not for public good.  Though the fact is hardly ever explained in the mainstream press, the Federal Reserve, which is empowered to create dollars with the flip of a computer switch, is a consortium of the nation’s largest banks, not an agency of the US Government.

If Bows is correct, then the influence of private investment banks in distorting the world’s economic system is deep and broad.  If central banks were subject to democratic control, not only would a great leech be removed from  the economy, promoting an easy and widespread prosperity, but the financial motive for war would be removed.

Free love

Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?

Free love? As if love is anything but free! Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere. 

Emma Goldman