Fromm’s Early Diagnosis of Affluenza

Did somebody just mention Erich Fromm?  From a review of a book about the mental health costs of competitive societies:

Drawing extensively on the work of American psychologist Tim Kasser, [The Selfish Capitalist: The Origins of Affluenza by Oliver James] argues that our recent increased wealth has come at the cost of the emotional well-being of a large proportion of the population; rates of distress among women in the UK almost doubled between 1982 and 2000. This is true of New Zealand and Australia as well as the UK and the US, in striking contrast with more egalitarian and collectivist countries such as Denmark or Germany. He tracks how "selfish capitalism" generates insecurity and inflates comparisons; how a winner-takes-all competitiveness merely creates losers and a pandemic of low self esteem, with its compensatory pathologies around celebrity and status.

Remarkably, Erich Fromm, the Marxist psychoanalyst and Buddhist writer, foresaw much of this half a century ago and James quotes his prescient analysis of the "passive, empty, anxious, isolated person for whom life has no meaning" and who compensates through "compulsive consumption". There are interesting issues to draw out of Fromm’s work about how our mass consumer societies, ironically, cripple personal agency despite their avowals of individual choice….

One thought on “Fromm’s Early Diagnosis of Affluenza

  1. Erich Fromm did foresee much that, regrettably, has become social reality.

    Incidentally, the characterization of Fromm as “Marxist psychoanalyst and Buddhist writer” creates a misleading impression, as Fromm was an adherent primarily of the early, not later, Marx, and a critic of the Soviet communism of his time. Fromm, in his collaboration with D.T. Suzuki, did write about Buddhism, but his religious roots were in Talmudic scholarship.

    Fromm was not a “true believer.” He was first and foremost a humanist opposed to necrophiliac ideological structures.

    It is bitter to realize that not intellectuals like Fromm but Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman have shaped the last twenty-five years of American politics.


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