Changing Self, Community, and Society

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Is large-scale ideological change possible? A meditation by Inspector Lohmann at http://inspectorlohmann.blogspot.com/2006/11/our-historical-purgatory-between.html

(inspired by the distinction by Erich Fromm between the having and being modes)

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"Assuming the premise is right — that only a fundamental change in human character from a preponderance of the having mode to a predominantly being mode of existence can save us from a psychologic and economic catastrophe — the question arises: Is large-scale characterological change possible, and if so, how can it be brought about?

I suggest the human character can change if these conditions exist:


1. We are suffering and are aware that we are.

2. We recognize the origin of our ill-being.

3. We recognize that there is a way of overcoming our ill-being.

4. We accept that in order to overcome our ill-being we must follow certain norms for living and change our present practice of life.


Well, if this is the criteria then I believe there is some hope, at least for an ever-growing percentage of people who see what's happening, and who will serve as the trailblazers for the rest of humanity. The tools and methods for this radical change in our worldview already exist. More and more people are doing them. But don't hold your breathe waiting to hear about these things on The Today Show — unless it's to mock them.

Let's quickly look at each of Fromm's conditions:


  • We are suffering and are aware that we are.

This is a self-selecting group of people, but not necessarily in obvious ways. Many people suffer without being aware of it — such people will often re-double their efforts on the treadmill, thinking it will get them to a better place. Also, many people do not even know that they are suffering as they fill their minds with distractions, unaware of their isolation. I would suppose that the majority of the world is aware of their own suffering. I expect there must be a certain amount of psychological dissonance for a great many people who do not experience the wondrous benefits of economic growth constantly shouted at them. Nonetheless, I believe a majority would probably fall under this category.


  • We recognize the origin of our ill-being.

Here the numbers drop precipitously. I would add that such an awareness entails being consciously aware in a way that is reality based. Blaming ills on phantasms — God punishing society for permitting licentious homosexuality, for instance; or that "liberals" or "conservatives" are to blame — will not lead to anything productive. I would suggest that recognizing the origin of our ill-being requires us to dig very deep to discover some of the fundamental causes. Anything else is misdiagnosing the problem, and will lead to using bandaids to cure food poisoning.


  • We recognize that there is a way of overcoming our ill-being.

Here the numbers drop off even more. I expect very few reach this point, other than the traditional placebos of "making more money" or "if only everyone was a christian". But growing numbers do recognize a variety of ways. I would suggest that there is not any single way, but a number of interrelated things that need to happen. Dr. Meeker suggests a very important one: to alter our epistemological outlook from a tragic outlook to a comic one. But that's only one path of several that need to be mapped.


  • We accept that in order to overcome our ill-being we must follow certain norms for living and change our present practice of life.

I'm assuming that if people have reached the previous conclusion they will naturally reach this one as well. But, in many ways, this is the biggest and most difficult jump. Just as with any kind of self-improvement, it's one thing to recognize the right way, it's another to do it. The space between this condition and the previous condition is the same space that Gramsci describes, the seemingly untraversable space between here and there, between the old and the new. This condition is the most daunting as it asks the most of us: It asks us to redefine ourselves by living in ways completely alien to our normal everyday life. It's one thing to think something; it's another thing to do it.

It cannot be emphasized enough — such change cannot happen by oneself. One may reach their own conclusions, one may even get themself off the grid; such an escape hatch may work for some people, but it will not effect change at a scale that will benefit society. The situationist's call to "think globally, act locally" demands that individual actors must get together locally first, must find each other and form their own communities on a local level. We are, after all, in this together. To find ways out together, we must literally get together." (http://inspectorlohmann.blogspot.com/2006/11/our-historical-purgatory-between.html)