Eric Fromm on modern life
“Capitalistic society is based on the principle of political freedom on the one hand, and of the market as the regulator of all economic, hence social, relations, on the other. The commodity market determines the conditions under which commodities are exchanged, the labour market regulates the acquisition and sale of labour. Both useful things and useful energy and skill are transformed into commodities which are exchanged without the use of force and without fraud under the conditions of the market.”
“Modern capitalism needs men who cooperate smoothly and in large numbers; who want to consume more and more; and whose tastes are standardized and can be easily influenced and anticipated. It needs men who feel free and independent, not subject to any authority or principle or conscience—yet willing to be commanded, to do what is expected of them, to fit into the social machine without friction; who can be guided without force, led without leaders, prompted without aim—except the one to make good, to be on the move, to function, to go ahead.
What is the outcome? Modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions. Human relations are essentially those of alienated automatons, each basing his security on staying close to the herd, and not being different in thought, feeling or action.”
“Man becomes a ‘nine to fiver,’ he is part of the labour force, or the bureaucratic force of clerks and managers. He has little initiative, his tasks are prescribed by the organization of the work; there is even little difference between those high up on the ladder and those on the bottom. They all perform tasks prescribed by the whole structure of the organization, at a prescribed speed, and in a prescribed manner. Even the feelings are prescribed: cheerfulness, tolerance, reliability, ambition, and an ability to get along with everybody without friction.”
“From birth to death, from Monday to Monday, from morning to evening – all activities are reutilised and prefabricated. How should a man caught in this net of routine not forget that he is a man, a unique individual, one who is given only this one chance of living, with hopes and disappointments, with sorrow and fear, with the long for love and the dread of the nothing and of separateness?”
“In the modern work process of a clerk, the worker on the endless belt, little is left of this uniting quality of work. The worker becomes an appendix to the machine or to the bureaucratic organization.”
(from The Art of Loving, 1956)