Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Weekly Fromm: Erich Fromm on the marketing orientation



Introducing a regular new feature on this blog: The Weekly Fromm.

The feature will focus on the work of the great German social philosopher and psychoanalyst Dr Erich Fromm, arguably the most prescient writer of the 20th century.

Fromm has influenced my political thought more than any other writer: if I was allowed just three words of advice for anyone interested in trying to improve the society we live in, I would say 'Read Erich Fromm'. Sadly, it seems all too few people in Britain today do read Erich Fromm, and if we are going to rescue our disintegrating society, that's something that needs to change.

To kick off the series, above is the first part of Fromm's 1958 television interview with Mike Wallace. In it he talks, among other topics, about the marketing orientation.

Modern capitalism Fromm argued, produces a neurotic character type: "the marketing character", who "adapts to the market economy by becoming detached from authentic emotions, truth and conviction".

For the marketing character "everything is transformed into a commodity, not only things, but the person himself, his physical energy, his skills, his knowledge, his opinions, his feelings, even his smiles".

(For a perfect example of a "marketing character", we only need to think of a recent inhabitant of No 10 Downing Street).

The marketing character is deeply insincere, and modern capitalism ensures that we have marketing characters in abundance.

HAT TIP for the You Tube clip- to the Editors at Media Lens.

11 comments:

douglasbass said...

When I saw the quote at the end about the marketing character (which I repeated at Twitter, by the way), I thought of this video by the unspeakably hilarious Bill Hicks:

Neil Clark said...

Nice one, douglas!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful clip, Neil. Thanks for posting.

tommyschmitz said...

Neil, thank you.

Turn to almost any page from any one of Erich's Fromm's many works and one can find wisdom useful to both the person and the society:

Here's a random sample. From "The Sane Society". Page 233. I just grabbed it off the book shelf:

"The nature of man cannot be deduced from the specific manifestation of human nature as it is engendered by the capitalist system."

And yet, today, in our crumbling system, what other "nature of man" do we know? It is mind numbing and despairing for anybody to think about. And the one thing we don't need right now is unthinking despair.

Fortunately, in a time of crisis we tend to reflect upon who we are, personally and socially. There are, to say the least, considerable gaps between who we say we are, who we are told we are, and who we really are.

Now is probably a good time to personally reflect upon those daunting but fertile gaps. I cannot think of a better Virgil to lead us through the present inferno than Erich Fromm, who offers not so much an answer but keen observation, critical orientation and perspective.

How important, how relevant is Fromm today?

Here's what no less a thinker than Ernest Becker says about him on page 134 of "The Denial of Death":

"Fromm is exciting reading... one has to go directly to him and study how compelling are these insights... how well they continue to apply to present day problems of slavishness, viciousness, and continuing political madness. This... is the authentic line of cumulative critical thought on the human condition... The astonishing thing is that [Fromm] occupies so little of the concern and ongoing activity of scientists." (and bloggers, I might add. :)

Looking forward to your Weekly Fromm.

Martin Meenagh said...

I think Erich Fromm and Christopher Lasch are two of my favourite reads when it comes to this sort of thing. Excellent post, thank you very much!

Nicholas said...

Very good to see him 'in the flesh' as it always adds a dimension. Also, had nostalgia for the format: a serious interview on an important topic on television! Wonder upon wonder...!

David Bracewell said...

You would enjoy Karl Polanyi's "Great Transformation", Neil.

I've found a lot of overlap between the two. And Galbraith touches on the thoughts of both when speaking of false stimulation of consumption.

Neil Clark said...

thanks for the comments.

tommy: totally agreed. thanks for the great quote from Becker.

martin: many thanks.

nicholas: "a serious interview on an important topic on television! Wonder upon wonder...!"
sadly, something we don't get much of today. can you imagine a mike wallace show or a 'face to face with John Freeman' being broadcast on tv today? Instead we have a national debate over who should be kicked off 'Strictly Come Dancing. The dumbing down over the last twenty/thirty years has been extraordinary.

David: thanks very much for the tip.

james said...

Hi, great to see people into Fromm who understand it as an inspiration to change the world around us, as well I would argue inside us,

A word on the marketing characteristic, I think the real challenge Fromm sets us is not only to see the depravity of
our insane society in others but in ourselves. If we look in the mirror, what do we see?

Now a word on action, a friend and I after a number of years of reading Fromm, have started the Erich Fromm Action Committiee. We are based in London and would very much like to talk to anyone who digs Fromm and worries that sentiment without action will ruin what soul we have left.

I'd especially like to get in touch with you Neil, not sure how, I can't see any one to one on this blog thing. If you fancy a chat post it up and we can figure something out. If not no worries.

james said...

Hi Neil, I see you have to give the okey before anything goes up, so if your interested contact me on
jimmymessenger@aol.com (you could delete the last bit of my last post if you want, and don't put this up please!)

james said...

Hi, great to see people into Fromm who understand it as an inspiration to change the world around us, as well I would argue inside us,

A word on the marketing characteristic, I think the real challenge Fromm sets us is not only to see the depravity of
our insane society in others but in ourselves. If we look in the mirror, what do we see?

Now a word on action, a friend and I after a number of years of reading Fromm, have started the Erich Fromm Action Committiee. We are based in London and would very much like to talk to anyone who digs Fromm and worries that sentiment without action will ruin what soul we have left.

james