Our approach to life becomes increasingly mechanical.People love mechanical gadgets more than living beings. (Erich Fromm)

Our approach to life becomes increasingly mechanical.People love mechanical gadgets more than living beings. (Erich Fromm)

Our approach to life becomes increasingly mechanical. The aim of social efforts is to produce things, and. in the process of idolatry of things we transform ourselves into commodities. The question here is not whether they are treated nicely and are well fed (things, too, can be treated nicely); the question is whether people are things or living beings. People love mechanical gadgets more than living beings. The approach to man is intellectual-abstract. One is interested in people as objects, in their common properties, in the statistical rules of mass behavior, not in living individuals.

All this goes together with the increasing role of bureaucratic methods. In giant centers of production, giant cities, giant countries, men are administered as if they were things; men and their administrators are transformed into things, and they obey the law of things. But man is not meant to be a thing; he is destroyed if he becomes a thing; and before this is accomplished he becomes desperate and wants to kill a life.

In a bureaucratically organized and centralized industrialism, men’s tastes are manipulated so that they consume maximally and in predictable and profitable directions. Their intelligence and character become standardized by the ever-increasing use of tests, which select the mediocre and unadventurous over the original and daring. Indeed, the bureaucratic-industrial civilization that has been victorious in Europe and North America has created a new type of man. He has been described as the “organization man” and as homo consumens. He is in addition the homo mechanicus. By this I mean a “gadget man,” deeply attracted to all that is mechanical and inclined against all that is alive. It is, of course, true that man’s biological and physiological equipment provides him with such strong sexual impulses that even the homo mechanicus still has sexual desires and looks for women. But there is no doubt that the gadget man’s interest in women is diminishing. A New Yorker cartoon pointed to this very amusingly: a sales girl trying to sell a certain brand of perfume to a young female customer recommends it by remarking, “It smells like a new sports car.” Indeed, any observer of men’s behavior today will confirm that this cartoon is more than a clever joke. There are apparently a great number of men who are more interested in sports-cars, television and radio sets, space travel, and any number of gadgets than they are in women, love, nature, food; who are more stimulated by the manipulation of non-organic, mechanical things than by life. Their attitude toward a woman is like that toward a car: you push the button and watch it race. It is not even too farfetched to assume that homo mechanicus has more pride in and is more fascinated by, devices that can kill millions of, people across a distance of several thousands of miles within minutes than he is frightened and depressed by the possibility of such mass destruction. Homo mechanicus still likes sex and drink. But all these pleasures are sought for in the frame of reference of the mechanical and the unalive. He expects that there must be a button which, if pushed, brings happiness, love, pleasure. (Many go to a psychoanalyst under the illusion that he can teach them to find the button.) The homo mechanicus becomes more and more interested in the manipulation of machines, rather than in the participation in and response to life. Hence he becomes indifferent to life.

Consider the role that killing plays in our amusements. The movies, the comic strips, the newspapers are full of excitement because, they are full of reports of destruction, sadism, brutality. Millions of people live humdrum but comfortable existences and nothing excites them more than to see or read of killings, whether it is murder or the fatal accident in an automobile race. Is this not an indication of how deep this fascination with death has already grown? Or think of expressions such as being “thrilled to death” or “dying to” do this or that, or the expression “it kills me.”

Briefly then, intellectualization, quantification, abstractification, bureaucratization, and reification–the very characteristics of modern industrial society–when applied to people rather than to things are not the principles of life but those of mechanics. People living in such a system must necessarily become indifferent to life, even attracted to death. They are not aware of this. They take the thrills of excitement for the joys of life and live under the illusion that they are very much alive when they only have many things to own and to use. The lack of protest against nuclear war and the discussion of our “atomologists” of the balance sheet of total or half-total destruction show how far we have already gone into the “valley of the shadow of death.”

 

 

 

The Heart of Man
Erich Fromm



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