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FROMM'S ORIENTATIONS TEST
How well does each word apply to you? 5 (very well), 4, 3, 2, 1 (not at all).
You will need to sum down for the first four orientations and sum across some of the rows, then sum down and divide by two for the last orientation. The chart should make it clear.
Conceited_____ Suspicious_____ Unprincipled_____ Sum_____Idealistic_____
Opportunistic_____ Sum_____Sentimental_____ Seducing_____ Obsessive_____
Wishful_____ Rash_____ Cold_____ Tactless_____ Sum_____Sensitive_____
Childish_____ Sum_____Devoted_____ Active_____ Practical_____ Purposeful_____
Sum_____Sum down_____ Sum down_____ Sum down_____ Sum down_____ Sum down &
divide by two_____ Receptive Exploitative Hoarding Marketing Productive
Scores from 12 to 24 are low, 25 to 36 low medium, 37 to 48 high medium, and 49 to 60 high. Please do not take your scores too seriously: the reliability and validity of this test are unknown! This is presented only to give you a better sense of Fromm's orientations
Erich Fromm 1900 - 1980
8Erich Fromm was born in 1900 in Frankfurt, Germany. His father was a business man and, according to Erich, rather moody. His mother was frequently depressed. His childhood was not very happy.
8Like Jung, Erich came from a very religious family, in his case orthodox Jews. Fromm himself later became what he called an atheistic mystic.
8In his autobiography, Beyond the Chains of Illusion, Fromm talks about two events in his early adolescence that started him along his path.
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The first involved a friend of the family's:
Maybe she was 25 years of age; she was beautiful, attractive, and in addition a painter. Fromm remembered having heard that she was in an engagement that soon deteriorated. She was almost invariably in the company of her widowed father who happened to be an old, uninteresting, and rather unattractive man, or perhaps Erich’s judgment was somewhat biased by jealousy. One day he heard the shocking news: her father had died, and immediately afterwards, she had killed herself and left a will which stipulated that she wanted to be buried with her father.
As you can imagine, this news hit the 12 year old Erich hard, and he found himself asking what many of us might ask: why? Later he began finding some answers -- partial ones, admittedly -- in Freud.
The second event was even larger: World War I. At the tender age of 14, he saw the extremes of nationalism. All around him, he heard the message: Germans, or more precisely, Christian Germans, are great; The English and their allies are cheap mercenaries. The hatred; the "war hysteria," frightened him, as well it should.
So again, he wanted to understand something irrational -- the irrationality of mass behavior -- and he found some answers, this time in the writings of Karl Marx.
8To finish Fromm's story, he received his PhD from Heidelberg in 1922 and began a career as a psychotherapist. He moved to the U.S. in 1934 -- a popular time for leaving Germany! He then settled in New York City, where he met many of the other great refugee thinkers that gathered there, including Karen Horney, with whom he had an affair.
8Toward the end of his career, he moved to Mexico City to teach. He had done considerable research into the relationship between economic class and personality types there. He died in 1980 in Switzerland.
As his biography suggests, Fromm's theory is a rather unique blend of Freud and Marx. Freud, of course, emphasized the unconscious, biological drives, repression, and so on. In other words, Freud postulated that our characters were determined by biology. Marx, on the other hand, saw people as determined by their society, and most especially by their economic systems. He added to this mix of two deterministic systems something foreign to them: The idea of freedom. He allows people to transcend the determinisms that Freud and Marx attribute to them. In fact, Fromm makes freedom the central characteristic of human nature.
There are, Fromm points out, examples where determinism alone operates. A good example of nearly pure biological determinism, ala Freud, is animals (at least simple ones). Animals do not worry about freedom -- their instincts take care of everything. Woodchucks, for example, don't need career counseling to decide what they are going to be when they grow up: They are going to be woodchucks.
A good example of socioeconomic determinism, ala Marx, is the traditional society of the Middle Ages. Just like woodchucks, few people in the Middle Ages needed career counseling: They had fate, the Great Chain of Being, to tell them what to do. If your father were a peasant, you would be a peasant. If your father were a king, that is what you would become. If you were a woman, well, there was only one role for women.
Today, we might look at life in the Middle Ages, or life as an animal, and cringe. Nevertheless, the fact is that the lack of freedom represented by biological or social determinism is easy. Your life has structure, meaning, there are no doubts, no cause for soul-searching, you fit in and never suffered an identity crisis.
Historically speaking, this simple, if hard, life began to change with the Renaissance. In the Renaissance, people started to see humanity as the center of the universe, instead of God. Then came the Reformation, which introduced the idea of each of us being individually responsible for our own soul's salvation. After Reformation came democratic revolutions such as the American and the French revolutions. Now all of a sudden people were supposed to govern themselves. Then came the industrial revolution, and instead of tilling the soil or making things with our hands, we had to sell our labor in exchange for money. Finally, there came socialist revolutions such as the Russian and the Chinese, which introduced the idea of participatory economics. You were no longer responsible only for your own well-being, but for your fellow workers as well.
Therefore, over a mere 500 years, the idea of the individual, with individual thoughts, feelings, moral conscience, freedom, and responsibility, came into being. Unfortunately, with individuality came isolation, alienation, and bewilderment. Freedom is a difficult thing to have, and when it is possible, people tend to flee from it.
Fromm describes three ways in which we escape from freedom:
1. Authoritarianism. We seek to avoid freedom by fusing ourselves with others, by becoming a part of an authoritarian system like the society of the Middle Ages. There are two ways to approach this. One is to submit to the power of others, becoming passive and compliant. The other is to become an authority yourself, a person who applies structure to others. Either way, you escape your separate identity.
In many classes, for example, there is an implicit contract between students and professors: Students demand structure, and the professor sticks to his notes. It seems innocuous and even natural, but this way the students avoid taking any responsibility for their learning, and the professor can avoid taking on the real issues of his field.
2. Destructiveness. Authoritarians respond to a painful existence by eliminating themselves: If there is no me, how can anything hurt me? But others respond to pain by striking out against the world: If I destroy the world, how can it hurt me? It is this escape from freedom that accounts for most of the brutality, humiliation, vandalism, crime, and terrorism. Fromm adds that if a person's desire to destroy is blocked by circumstances, he or she may redirect it inward. The most obvious kind of self-destructiveness is, of course, suicide. However, we can also include many illnesses, drug addiction, alcoholism, and even the joys of passive entertainment. He turns Freud's death instinct upside down: Self-destructiveness is frustrated destructiveness, not the other way around.
3. Automaton conformity. Authoritarians escape by hiding within an authoritarian hierarchy. But our society emphasizes equality! Hiding within hierarchies has become increasingly difficult. When people need to hide, they hide in the mass culture. When I get dressed in the morning, there are so many decisions! But I only need to look at what you are wearing, and my frustrations disappear. Or I can look at the television, which, like a horoscope, will tell me quickly and effectively what to do. If I look like, talk like, think like, feel like... everyone else in my society, then I disappear into the crowd, and I don't need to acknowledge my freedom or take responsibility. It is the horizontal counterpart to authoritarianism. The person who uses automaton conformity is like a social chameleon: He takes on the coloring of his surroundings. Since he looks like a million other people, he no longer feels alone. He is not alone, perhaps, but he is not himself either. The automaton conformist experiences a split between his genuine feelings and the colors he shows the world, very much along the lines of Horney's theory. In fact, since humanity's "true nature" is freedom, any of these escapes from freedom alienates us from ourselves. Here is what Fromm had to say:
“Man is born as a freak of nature, being within nature and yet transcending it. He has to find principles of action and decision making which replace the principles of instincts. He has to have a frame of orientation that permits him to organize a consistent picture of the world as a condition for consistent actions. He has to fight not only against the dangers of dying, starving, and being hurt, but also against another anger which is specifically human: that of becoming insane. In other words, he has to protect himself not only against the danger of losing his life but also against the danger of losing his mind.” (Fromm, 1968, p. 61)
Which of the escapes from freedom you tend to use has a great deal to do with what kind of family you had grown up in. Fromm outlines two kinds of unproductive families.
1. Symbiotic families. Symbiosis is the relationship two organisms have who cannot live without each other. In a symbiotic family, some members of the family are "swallowed up" by other members, so that they do not fully develop personalities of their own. The more obvious example is the case where the parent "swallows" the child, so that the child's personality is merely a reflection of the parent's wishes. In many traditional societies, this is the case with many children, especially girls.
The other example is the case where the child "swallows" the parent. In this case, the child dominates or manipulates the parent, who exists essentially to serve the child. Particularly in certain cultures, how else would a boy learn what he needs to know in order to be an adult?
In reality, nearly everyone in a traditional society learns both how to dominate and how to be submissive, since nearly everyone has someone above them and below them in the social hierarchy. Obviously, the authoritarian escape from freedom is built-in to such a society. But note that, it may offend our modern standards of equality; this is the way people lived for thousands of years. It is a very stable social system, it allows for a great deal of love and friendship, and billions of people live in it still.
2. Withdrawing families. In fact, the main alternative is most notable for its cool indifference, if not cold hatefulness. Although withdrawal as a family style has always been around, it has come to dominate some societies only in the last few hundred years, that is, since the bourgeoisie -- the merchant class -- arrive on the scene in force.
The "cold" version is the older of the two, found in northern Europe and parts of Asia, and wherever merchants are a formidable class. Parents are very demanding of their children, who are expected to live up to high, well-defined standards. Punishment is not a matter of a slap upside the head in full anger and in the middle of dinner; it is instead a formal affair, a full-fledged ritual, possibly involving cutting switches and meeting in the woodshed. Punishment is cold-blooded, done "for your own good." Alternatively, a culture may use guilt and withdrawal of affection as punishment. Either way, children in these cultures become strongly driven to succeed in whatever their culture defines as success.
This puritanical style of family encourages the destructive escape from freedom, which is internalized until circumstances allow its release. I might add that this kind of family more immediately encourages perfectionism -- living by the rules -- which is also a way of avoiding freedom that Fromm does not discuss. When the rules are more important than people are, destructiveness is inevitable.
The social unconscious
Fromm emphasizes that we soak up our society with our mother's milk. We often think that our way of doing things is the only way, the natural way. We have learned so well that it has all become unconscious -- the social unconscious, to be precise. So, many times we believe that we are acting according to our own free will, but we are only following orders we are so use to, we no longer notice them.
Fromm believes that our social unconscious is best understood by examining our economic systems. In fact, he defines, and even names, five personality types, which he calls orientations, in economic terms. If you like, you can take a personality test made up of lists of adjectives Fromm used to describe his orientations.
1. The receptive orientation. These people expect to get what they need. If they do not get it immediately, they wait for it. They believe that all goods and satisfactions come from outside themselves. This type is most common among peasant populations. It is also found in cultures that have particularly abundant natural resources, so that one need not work hard for one's sustenance. It’s also found at the very bottom of any society: Slaves, serfs, welfare families, and migrant workers... all are at the mercy of others.
This orientation is associated with symbiotic families, especially where children are "swallowed" by parents. It is similar to Freud's oral passive, Adler's leaning getting, and Horney's compliant personality. In its extreme form, it can be characterized by adjectives such as submissive and wishful. In a more moderate form, adjectives such as accepting and optimistic are more descriptive.
2. The exploitative orientation. These people expect to have to take what they need. In fact, things increase in value to the extent that they are taken from others: Wealth is preferably stolen, ideas plagiarized, and love achieved by coercion. This type is prevalent among history's aristocracies, and in the upper classes of colonial empires. Think of the English in India for example: Their position was based entirely on their power to take from the indigenous population. Among their characteristic qualities is the ability to be comfortable ordering others around. We can also see it in pastoral barbarians and populations who rely on raiding (such as the Vikings).
They are Freud's oral aggressive, Adler's ruling-dominant, and Horney's aggressive types. In extremes, they are aggressive, conceited, and seducing. Mixed with healthier qualities, they are assertive, proud, captivating.
3. The hoarding orientation. Hoarding people expect to keep. They see the world as possessions and potential possessions. Even loved ones are things to possess, to keep, or to buy. Fromm, drawing on Karl Marx, relates this type to the bourgeoisie, the merchant middle class, as well as richer peasants and crafts people. He associates it particularly with the Protestant work ethic and such groups as our own Puritans.
Hoarding is associated with the cold form of withdrawing family, and with destructiveness. I might add that there is a clear connection with perfectionism as well. In its pure form, it means you are stubborn, economical, and unimaginative.
4. The marketing orientation. The marketing orientation expects to sell. Success is a matter of how well I can sell myself, package myself, and advertise myself. My family, my schooling, my jobs, and my clothes -- all are an advertisement, and must be "right." Even love is thought of as a transaction. Only the marketing orientation thinks up the marriage contract, wherein we agree that I shall provide such and such, and you in return shall provide this and that. If one of us fails to hold up our end of the arrangement, the marriage is null and void. This, according to Fromm, is the orientation of the modern industrial society. This is all of society’s orientation!
This modern type comes out of the cool withdrawing family, and tends to use automaton conformity as its escape from freedom. In extreme, the marketing person is opportunistic, childish, and tactless. Less extreme, and he or she is purposeful, youthful, and social. Notice today's values as expressed to us by our mass media: Fashion, fitness, eternal youth, adventure, daring, novelty, sexuality... these are the concerns of the "yuppie," and his or her less-wealthy admirers. The surface is everything.
5. The productive orientation. There is a healthy personality, which Fromm occasionally refers to as the person without a mask. This person nevertheless does not shirk away from freedom and responsibility. This person comes out of a family that loves without overwhelming the individual that prefers reason to rules, and freedom to conformity.
The society that gives rise to the productive type does not exist yet, according to Fromm. He calls it humanistic communitarian socialism. That's quite a mouthful, so, humanistic means oriented towards human beings, and not towards some higher entity -- not the all-powerful State or someone's conception of God. Communitarian means composed of small communities (Gesellschaften, in German), as opposed to big government or corporations. Socialism means everyone is responsible for the welfare of everyone else. Thus understood, it is hard to argue with Fromm's idealism.
Fromm says that the first four orientations are living in the having mode. They focus on consuming, obtaining, possessing.... They are defined by what they have. Fromm says that "I have it" tends to become "it has me," and we become driven by our possessions. The productive orientation, on the other hand, lives in the being mode. What you are is defined by your actions in this world. You live without a mask, experiencing life, relating to people, being yourself. He says that most people, being so used to the having mode, use the word have to describe their problems:
“Doctor, I have a problem: I have insomnia. Although I have a beautiful home, wonderful children, and a happy marriage, I have many worries." He is looking to the therapist to remove the bad things, and let him keep the good ones, a little like asking a surgeon to take out your gall bladder. What you should be saying is more like "I am troubled. I am happily married, yet I cannot sleep...." By saying you have a problem, you are avoiding facing the fact that you are the problem -- i.e. you avoid, once again, taking responsibility for your life.’
Fromm, in some ways, is a transition figure or, if you prefer, a theorist that brings other theories together. I believe interest in his ideas will rise as the fortune of existential psychology does.
Another aspect of his theory is unique to him: his interest in the economic and cultural roots of personality. No one before or since has put it so directly: Your personality is to a considerable extent a reflection of such issues as social class, minority status, education, vocation, religious and philosophical background, and so forth. This has been a very under-represented view, perhaps because of its association with Marxism. But it is, I think, inevitable that we begin to consider it more and more, especially as a counterbalance to the increasing influence of biological theories.
Fromm is an excellent and exciting writer. You can find the basics of his theory
in Escape from Freedom (1941) and Man for Himself (1947).
His interesting Treatise on love in the modern world is called The Art of Loving (1956). My favorite of his books is The Sane Society (1955), which perhaps should have been called "the insane society" because most of it is devoted to demonstrating how crazy our world is right now, and how that leads to psychological difficulties.
He has also written "the" book on aggression, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), which includes his ideas on necrophilia. He has written many other great books, including ones on Christianity, Marxism, and Zen Buddhism.