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Alienation, The Human Condition and Cognitive Development

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Alienation, The Human Condition and Cognitive Development

In "Alienation," Nathaniel Branden deals with the psychological theories of neo-Marxist Erich Fromm. Branden's review is, unsurprisingly, critical. Whilst I do not wish to defend Fromm, I believe Fromm has identified an important fact which may be useful to Objectivists that wish to investigate, elaborate upon and propose theoretical understandings of the genesis of psycho-epistemic personality types.

Rand and Branden both had an obvious interest in the way that cognitive style (what Rand called "Psycho-Epistemology") affected personality development. In many respects their initial work is flawed given that at times they had a propensity to sink into a pattern of methodologically rationalist philosophical determinism; i.e. treating philosophical premises as the sole factor that goes into the construction of an individual's personality.

In spite of my reservations I do believe there is much value to be gained from analyzing, expanding upon and (where necessary) correcting the flaws of Rand and Branden's work. My experience, whilst confirming that philosophical premises aren't the only factor in formation of individual psychology, certainly indicates that someone's subconscious and conscious philosophical convictions and cognitive style are immensely important factors.

The fact that I believe Fromm is correct in identifying is the fact of "alienation." By this, Fromm is referring to the fact that humans are (to our current knowledge) unique.

As Fromm describes it;

"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" (The Revolution of Hope (1968)).

Fromm reinforces this statement in a later work,

"What is it that distinguishes man from animals?... It is something altogether new, a previously unknown quality: self-awareness."

(Affluence and Ennui in Our Society (1986)).

In short, Fromm identifies the fact that humans are unique amongst all creatures we know of by virtue of possessing reason/free will/a self. As a result of this fact we feel different, set apart, alienated.

I believe that Fromm is correct about the immense psychological importance of this fact and I believe that this fact can be connected to Rand and Branden's work on the philosophical-cognitive factors that shape personality.

The first thing that is important to note is that the source of Fromm's alienation is the mind; we have it and other beings (to our knowledge) do not. Thus, how one reacts to this "Fact Of Alienation" [Footnote 1] has direct impact on one's attitude towards human reason.

Continuing the tradition of Objectivist trichotomic analysis, I believe that there are basically three general ways to which people react to the Fact Of Alienation. Each of these ways can be connected to various philosophical positions and to personality types that Rand discussed.

There are three ways that people react to the Fact Of Alienation.

1) Denial

2) Damnation

3) Affirmation

Denial

Denial is simply a situation where, when confronted with a surprising or unplesant fact, the confronted subject simply denies it to be true. In the case of the Fact Of Alienation (us being different from all other known lifeforms), Denial is to simply reject this.

This comes in two forms. The harder form is to deny that human reason exists and that we are "just another animal." The softer form acknowledges that human reason exists but that it is meaningless and doesn't set us apart from other animals in any meaningful respect.

Examples of this outlook are LaVeyan Satanism (the Church of Satan) and Skinnerian Behaviorism in Psychology. Arguably, orthodox Marxism also counts. In these cases, the common denominator is what Rand called "Mysticism of Muscles" or the subordination of human reason and agency to a "materialist" or "naturalist" factor. Rand's "Atilla" figure sits here.

There are two kinds of outlook that may confuse this category. The first is Fascism. Fascism denies individual human agency and free will and reason, but in favor of a "spirit of the nation" (a very mystical concept) rather than any materialist-type factor.

The second kind of outlook that may confuse this category is what I refer to as the "memetic social constructivist" viewpoints. These are viewpoints which deny human agency and free will and reason but argue our psyches are constructed by (more or less) indoctrination by our peers and media and culture. The Postmodernists generally fit here.

It is possible that these two kinds of "confusing outlook" are examples of Denial, but simply not examples of "Mystic of Muscle" (thus making "Denial" a broader category and "Mystic of Muscle" a subcategory).

Damnation

This second response to the Fact Of Alienation is without question the most influential on human history and is probably the most common response. Damnation acknowledges that we are different from all other known life forms and says this is a bad thing.

The most obvious example of this response is the Christian concept of Original Sin. It was the act of acquiring our minds and morality that was responsible for casting us out of the Garden of Eden. Note that this myth indeed targets human reason as being that which sets us apart from the "ultimate order" (the natural world and God's will), and note that it is morally condemnatory.

Another example of this response comes, ironically to some, from the radical Environmentalist Left. As Al Gore wrote in Earth In The Balance, describing human reason, "This rational, detached, scientific intellect, observing a world of which it is no longer a part, is too often arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring" (emphasis mine). In other words, the Fact Of Alienation is true and that which sets us apart from our world is bad. Gore is fond of describing Anthropogenic Global Warming in moral terms, calling it "the greatest moral challenge of our time". He even denies that the essential issue is the physical fact of Anthropogenic Global Warming! Indeed, he argues that the essential issue is that "the relationship between the species and the planet has been radically altered".

In both cases, the pattern is the same. There was once an 'original position' (apologies to Rawls) where there was a perfect natural/divine order. Human beings were once part of it, but the process of acquiring or exercising our unique cognitive faculties we have disturbed this order and set ourselves apart from it.

In both cases, the solution is similar; repentance.

As our alienation from the world around is is considered sinful, it is a problem to be remedied. This is done, according to Christians, by accepting the torture-death of Yeshua of Nazareth as a scapegoat for our sins. For the extreme Environmentalists, it requires the abandonment of modern civilization, or at least the majority of its technological foundation.

Erich Fromm himself was also an example of Damnation. After all, he referred to the phenomenon as "alienation" and claimed it caused anguish, as if that were the only possible phenomenon that the Fact Of Alienation could cause. "Alienation" as a term was popularized by Marxist theory and referred to the psychological damage the Proletariat would allegedly suffer under Capitalism. Whilst Fromm's meaning is different from the classical Marxist meaning, it is clear he considered psychological pain to be the only possible reaction to the Fact Of Alienation. And as such, he argued for social institutions to be re-engineered in a manner which he believed would reduce alienation; specifically, for society to become Socialist.

Again, with Fromm, the pattern remains; man is cast aside from some greater perfect order, this is undeniably bad, and must be re-integrated into this order somehow.

Damnation naturally leads to a belief in the mind-body dichotomy. Damnation begins with the acceptance that human beings live in bodies and have minds (whereas Denial simply denies or marginalizes the latter). However, it claims this to be a bad thing. As Al Gore described it, the intellect is "no longer a part" of this world, even if our bodies are quite clearly a part of this world.

This leads to two subcategories of Damnation-believers. Whilst both accept that the Fact Of Alienation is a pathology, these subcategories each propose their own version of a cure. The first subcategory, which I call "Transcendentalists," believe that the solution to the Fact of Alienation is to transcend the material world. This quite clearly is the Platonic-Religious and Ascetic traditions; those Rand would call the "Mystics of Spirit." They accept the mind-body dichotomy, and treat the mind as the "real" thing.

The second category is one I would call the "Dionysianists." Their proposal to solve the Fact Of Alienation is the inverse of that proposed by the Transcendentalists. Whilst the Transcendentalists believe the body and the physical must be abandoned, the Dionysian-Naturalists believe the mind must be. This category includes the Hippy-culture of the 1960's, and quite clearly the Environmentalists also fit here. The ancient "mystery religions" also count as examples. Erich Fromm also counts as a member of this category. Some of the more mystical variants of Feminism would fit here too; claiming that the Patriarchy has used reason as a tool of oppression and that mystic spirituality will help women get in touch with their 'true selves.'

As stated above, the ideology of Fascism is a complicated one to place. I previously argued that it was an extreme case of denial. However, it is also potentially a form of Dionysianism. Some Fascists may argue that human beings do indeed have a rational component to their nature, but that this component alienates us from the national community (producing psychological trauma) by holding up false (according to them) ideals above the brotherhood of the organic nation-state. Thus, reason and the intellect must be bypassed in order to tap into the primal, natural unity that a nation (according to Fascism) shares.

The example of Fascism may indicate a strong level of overlap between the softer forms of Denialist (i.e. those that accept we have minds but that these are meaningless and we're just another type of animal and ultimately no different) and the Dyonisians.

Affirmation

The third and, unfortunately, least common response to the Fact Of Alienation is Affirmation. This, ultimately, is acceptance of the human condition as not abberant. We are what we are, and as it is a fact of nature it isn't open to being morally judged.

The Aristotelian tradition of Hellenic philosophy is probably the earliest known example of this line of thought. Aristotle's argument was that something is good if it serves its function (for instance, a good sword is called "good" because it is good at cutting off heads). Aristotle argued that humans too have a natural function and thus a good human is a human that serves this function.

There are weaknesses in Aristotle's argument (for instance the reliance on intrinsic natural functions ignores the fact that a "use" assumes a "user"). But irrespective of this, the point is that for Aristotle, the human condition could not be morally judged since the nature of things is logically prior to moral concepts.

This attitude returned during the Enlightenment; where philosophers aimed to validate rational, anthropocentric ethical codes. Whilst the Enlightenment philosophers clearly were not uniform in their understandings of the human condition (Descartes, for instance, was a mind-body dualist), the level of pathologization of the Fact Of Alienation fell to historic lows during the Enlightenment.

The Counter-Enlightenment, unfortunately, did not continue this pattern.

Irrespective, it is clear that Objectivism falls under this category. To Objectivism, the primary flaw with the Damnation response is that it fundamentally ignores that it is the human condition which gives rise to moral concepts in the first place. Thus, to condemn it is to render a value judgment onto a matter which is properly thought of as amoral.

Summary

The Fact Of Alienation can be responded to in the following ways;

1) Denying it to be true by claiming human beings are just another animal; either they don't have reason/free will/a self or they do but its meaningless. This is "Denial" and Denialist positions exist on a continuum depending on how hard their claim is.

2) Accepting it is true and pathologizing it. This is "Damnation."

2a) Aiming to solve this by arguing that the mind is more fundamental and the body/flesh is to be transcended. This is "Transcendentalism."

2b) Aiming to solve this by arguing that the body is more fundamental and reason is to be transcended. This is "Dionysianism."

3) Accepting it is true and accepting it as a matter of fact not open to moral judgment. This is "Affirmation."

The following philosophical outlooks can be said to be associated with each position:

Denial: LaVeyan Satanism, Skinnerian Behaviorism, Orthodox Marxism, Fascism (possibly), Postmodernism, the Counter-Enlightenment Post-Humean Empirical Skeptics, Oakshottean Conservatism, Hegelianism.

Damnation:

Transcendentalist: Platonism, Christianity, Asceticism, many Eastern Religious outlooks

Dionysian: "Mystery" religions, some forms of Neo-Paganism, some forms of Feminism, "Hippy" culture, Radical Environmentalism, Erich Fromm himself, Fascism (possibly).

Affirmation: Enlightenment philosophy generally, Aristotle, Objectivism

There is quite possibly a relationship between the more mystic kinds of Denial (Denialists that allege human minds/wills/etc. are just products of external mystical-ish forces like national spirits or Hegelian Zeitgeists) and the Dionysian Damnationists (who argue our minds/wills/etc. need to be transcended in order for us to end our alienation). Perhaps this is a continuum of views.

Conclusion

I think that Fromm was quite correct in his identification of the Fact Of Alienation as important in the development of people's psychology. Whilst I believe Fromm to be incorrect in his neo-Marxism and his assumption that the Fact Of Alienation can only cause pain, I believe that how individuals actually react to this fact about the human condition is indeed an important element to how a person's personality and cognitive style will develop.

I hope that future work by Objectivists on psychological and cognitive development will integrate the importance of reactions to the Fact Of Alienation.

Footnotes

1. I use the term "Fact Of Alienation" to refer to the fact that human nature is unique due to the fact we are the sole possessors of a mind. Unlike the Marxists/Neo-Marxists I do not wish the term to be construed as indicating a value judgment. Typically, alienation (as a feeling) is experienced as pain or angst, which is why the term is usually construed as referring to "a bad thing." Since I do not believe that the unique nature of the human condition is a bad thing, I use the term "Fact Of Alienation" rather than just "Alienation."

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There are three ways that people react to the Fact Of Alienation.

1) Denial

2) Damnation

3) Affirmation

------------

I think that Fromm was quite correct in his identification of the Fact Of Alienation as important in the development of people's psychology. Whilst I believe Fromm to be incorrect in his neo-Marxism and his assumption that the Fact Of Alienation can only cause pain, I believe that how individuals actually react to this fact about the human condition is indeed an important element to how a person's personality and cognitive style will develop.

Yes, Fromm did have a point at that time, I did think - at least his identification was correct, the rest was rubbish. Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden could have analysed 'alienation' more than they chose to, as you have done, studio.

I believe this is a very important expansion that you have undertaken. It explains plenty about the late 20thcentury til now.

Well done, and thank you.

Tony

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Yes, Fromm did have a point at that time, I did think - at least his identification was correct, the rest was rubbish. Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden could have analysed 'alienation' more than they chose to, as you have done, studio.

I believe this is a very important expansion that you have undertaken. It explains plenty about the late 20thcentury til now.

Well done, and thank you.

Tony

Tony,

My sincerest thanks for your comments! I'm glad you found the article insightful. I think a comprehensive Objectivist treatment of the Human Condition, Human Nature and the like will have to deal with the Fact of Alienation. The Fact Of Alienation explains quite a bit... first about our tendency to anthropomorphize our Gods (and those that worship animal-gods are most likely Dionysians) and secondly about why the search for sentient alien life intrigues human beings so much.

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UPDATED VERSION

Alienation, The Human Condition and Cognitive Development

In "Alienation," Nathaniel Branden deals with the psychological theories of neo-Marxist Erich Fromm. Branden's review is, unsurprisingly, critical. Whilst I do not wish to defend Fromm, I believe Fromm has identified an important fact which may be useful to Objectivists that wish to investigate, elaborate upon and propose theoretical understandings of the genesis of psycho-epistemic personality types.

Rand and Branden both had an obvious interest in the way that cognitive style (what Rand called "Psycho-Epistemology") affected personality development. In many respects their initial work is flawed given that at times they had a propensity to sink into a pattern of methodologically rationalist philosophical determinism; i.e. treating philosophical premises as the sole factor that goes into the construction of an individual's personality.

In spite of my reservations I do believe there is much value to be gained from analyzing, expanding upon and (where necessary) correcting the flaws of Rand and Branden's work. My experience, whilst confirming that philosophical premises aren't the only factor in formation of individual psychology, certainly indicates that someone's subconscious and conscious philosophical convictions and cognitive style are immensely important factors.

The fact that I believe Fromm is correct in identifying is the fact of "alienation." By this, Fromm is referring to the fact that humans are (to our current knowledge) unique.

As Fromm describes it;

"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" (The Revolution of Hope (1968)).

Fromm reinforces this statement in a later work,

"What is it that distinguishes man from animals?... It is something altogether new, a previously unknown quality: self-awareness."

(Affluence and Ennui in Our Society (1986)).

In short, Fromm identifies the fact that humans are unique amongst all creatures we know of by virtue of possessing reason/free will/a self. As a result of this fact we feel different, set apart, alienated.

I believe that Fromm is correct about the immense psychological importance of this fact and I believe that this fact can be connected to Rand and Branden's work on the philosophical-cognitive factors that shape personality.

The first thing that is important to note is that the source of Fromm's alienation is the mind; we have it and other beings (to our knowledge) do not. Thus, how one reacts to this "Fact Of Alienation" [Footnote 1] has direct impact on one's attitude towards human reason.

Continuing the tradition of Objectivist trichotomic analysis, I believe that there are basically three general ways to which people react to the Fact Of Alienation. Each of these ways can be connected to various philosophical positions and to personality types that Rand discussed.

There are three ways that people react to the Fact Of Alienation.

1) Denial

2) Damnation

3) Affirmation

Denial

Denial is simply a situation where, when confronted with a surprising or unplesant fact, the confronted subject simply denies it to be true. In the case of the Fact Of Alienation (us being different from all other known lifeforms), Denial is to simply reject this.

This comes in two forms. The harder form is to deny that human reason exists and that we are "just another animal." The softer form acknowledges that human reason exists but that it is meaningless and doesn't set us apart from other animals in any meaningful respect.

Examples of this outlook are LaVeyan Satanism (the Church of Satan) and Skinnerian Behaviorism in Psychology. Arguably, orthodox Marxism also counts. In these cases, the common denominator is what Rand called "Mysticism of Muscles" or the subordination of human reason and agency to a "materialist" or "naturalist" factor. Rand's "Atilla" figure sits here.

There are two kinds of outlook that may confuse this category. The first is Fascism. Fascism denies individual human agency and free will and reason, but in favor of a "spirit of the nation" (a very mystical concept) rather than any materialist-type factor.

The second kind of outlook that may confuse this category is what I refer to as the "memetic social constructivist" viewpoints. These are viewpoints which deny human agency and free will and reason but argue our psyches are constructed by (more or less) indoctrination by our peers and media and culture. The Postmodernists generally fit here.

It is possible that these two kinds of "confusing outlook" are examples of Denial, but simply not examples of "Mystic of Muscle" (thus making "Denial" a broader category and "Mystic of Muscle" a subcategory).

Damnation

This second response to the Fact Of Alienation is without question the most influential on human history and is probably the most common response. Damnation acknowledges that we are different from all other known life forms and says this is a bad thing.

The most obvious example of this response is the Christian concept of Original Sin. It was the act of acquiring our minds and morality that was responsible for casting us out of the Garden of Eden. Note that this myth indeed targets human reason as being that which sets us apart from the "ultimate order" (the natural world and God's will), and note that it is morally condemnatory.

Another example of this response comes, ironically to some, from the radical Environmentalist Left. As Al Gore wrote in Earth In The Balance, describing human reason, "This rational, detached, scientific intellect, observing a world of which it is no longer a part, is too often arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring" (emphasis mine). In other words, the Fact Of Alienation is true and that which sets us apart from our world is bad. Gore is fond of describing Anthropogenic Global Warming in moral terms, calling it "the greatest moral challenge of our time". He even denies that the essential issue is the physical fact of Anthropogenic Global Warming! Indeed, he argues that the essential issue is that "the relationship between the species and the planet has been radically altered". Pro-Anthropocentric envrionmental advocates Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger both argue that the radical Environmentalist Left (which they refer to as "utopian environmentalism") has "always promised to heal the alienation wrought by modernity" (see http://www.tnr.com/article/the-green-bubble?page=0,2).

In both cases, the pattern is the same. There was once an 'original position' (apologies to Rawls) where there was a perfect natural/divine order. Human beings were once part of it, but the process of acquiring or exercising our unique cognitive faculties we have disturbed this order and set ourselves apart from it.

In both cases, the solution is similar; repentance.

As our alienation from the world around is is considered sinful, it is a problem to be remedied. This is done, according to Christians, by accepting the torture-death of Yeshua of Nazareth as a scapegoat for our sins. For the extreme Environmentalists, it requires the abandonment of modern civilization, or at least the majority of its technological foundation. As Nordhaus and Shellenberger write about many Greens, "too many reject the modern project of expanding prosperity altogether."

Erich Fromm himself was also an example of Damnation. After all, he referred to the phenomenon as "alienation" and claimed it caused anguish, as if that were the only possible phenomenon that the Fact Of Alienation could cause. "Alienation" as a term was popularized by Marxist theory and referred to the psychological damage the Proletariat would allegedly suffer under Capitalism. Whilst Fromm's meaning is different from the classical Marxist meaning, it is clear he considered psychological pain to be the only possible reaction to the Fact Of Alienation. And as such, he argued for social institutions to be re-engineered in a manner which he believed would reduce alienation; specifically, for society to become Socialist.

Again, with Fromm, the pattern remains; man is cast aside from some greater perfect order, this is undeniably bad, and must be re-integrated into this order somehow.

Damnation naturally leads to a belief in the mind-body dichotomy. Damnation begins with the acceptance that human beings live in bodies and have minds (whereas Denial simply denies or marginalizes the latter). However, it claims this to be a bad thing. As Al Gore described it, the intellect is "no longer a part" of this world, even if our bodies are quite clearly a part of this world.

This leads to two subcategories of Damnation-believers. Whilst both accept that the Fact Of Alienation is a pathology, these subcategories each propose their own version of a cure. The first subcategory, which I call "Transcendentalists," believe that the solution to the Fact of Alienation is to transcend the material world. This quite clearly is the Platonic-Religious and Ascetic traditions; those Rand would call the "Mystics of Spirit." They accept the mind-body dichotomy, and treat the mind as the "real" thing.

The second category is one I would call the "Dionysianists." Their proposal to solve the Fact Of Alienation is the inverse of that proposed by the Transcendentalists. Whilst the Transcendentalists believe the body and the physical must be abandoned, the Dionysian-Naturalists believe the mind must be. This category includes the Hippy-culture of the 1960's, and quite clearly the Environmentalists also fit here. The ancient "mystery religions" also count as examples. Erich Fromm also counts as a member of this category. Some of the more mystical variants of Feminism would fit here too; claiming that the Patriarchy has used reason as a tool of oppression and that mystic spirituality will help women get in touch with their 'true selves.'

As stated above, the ideology of Fascism is a complicated one to place. I previously argued that it was an extreme case of denial. However, it is also potentially a form of Dionysianism. Some Fascists may argue that human beings do indeed have a rational component to their nature, but that this component alienates us from the national community (producing psychological trauma) by holding up false (according to them) ideals above the brotherhood of the organic nation-state. Thus, reason and the intellect must be bypassed in order to tap into the primal, natural unity that a nation (according to Fascism) shares.

The example of Fascism may indicate a strong level of overlap between the softer forms of Denialist (i.e. those that accept we have minds but that these are meaningless and we're just another type of animal and ultimately no different) and the Dyonisians.

Affirmation

The third and, unfortunately, least common response to the Fact Of Alienation is Affirmation. This, ultimately, is acceptance of the human condition as not abberant. We are what we are, and as it is a fact of nature it isn't open to being morally judged.

The Aristotelian tradition of Hellenic philosophy is probably the earliest known example of this line of thought. Aristotle's argument was that something is good if it serves its function (for instance, a good sword is called "good" because it is good at cutting off heads). Aristotle argued that humans too have a natural function and thus a good human is a human that serves this function.

There are weaknesses in Aristotle's argument (for instance the reliance on intrinsic natural functions ignores the fact that a "use" assumes a "user"). But irrespective of this, the point is that for Aristotle, the human condition could not be morally judged since the nature of things is logically prior to moral concepts.

This attitude returned during the Enlightenment; where philosophers aimed to validate rational, anthropocentric ethical codes. Whilst the Enlightenment philosophers clearly were not uniform in their understandings of the human condition (Descartes, for instance, was a mind-body dualist), the level of pathologization of the Fact Of Alienation fell to historic lows during the Enlightenment.

The Counter-Enlightenment, unfortunately, did not continue this pattern.

Irrespective, it is clear that Objectivism falls under this category. To Objectivism, the primary flaw with the Damnation response is that it fundamentally ignores that it is the human condition which gives rise to moral concepts in the first place. Thus, to condemn it is to render a value judgment onto a matter which is properly thought of as amoral.

Summary

The Fact Of Alienation can be responded to in the following ways;

1) Denying it to be true by claiming human beings are just another animal; either they don't have reason/free will/a self or they do but its meaningless. This is "Denial" and Denialist positions exist on a continuum depending on how hard their claim is (with "hard" denial being denying the existence of a rational mind, and "soft" denial being a declaration that said rational mind is insignificant and meaningless) [Footnote 2].

2) Accepting it is true and pathologizing it. This is "Damnation."

2a) Aiming to solve this by arguing that the mind is more fundamental and the body/flesh is to be transcended. This is "Transcendentalism."

2b) Aiming to solve this by arguing that the body is more fundamental and reason is to be transcended. This is "Dionysianism."

3) Accepting it is true and accepting it as a matter of fact not open to moral judgment. This is "Affirmation."

The following philosophical outlooks can be said to be associated with each position:

Denial: LaVeyan Satanism, Skinnerian Behaviorism, Orthodox Marxism, Fascism (possibly), Postmodernism, the Counter-Enlightenment Post-Humean Empirical Skeptics, Oakshottean Conservatism, Hegelianism.

Damnation:

Transcendentalist: Platonism, Christianity, Asceticism, many Eastern Religious outlooks

Dionysian: "Mystery" religions, some forms of Neo-Paganism, some forms of Feminism, "Hippy" culture, Radical Environmentalism, Erich Fromm himself, Fascism (possibly).

Affirmation: Enlightenment philosophy generally, Aristotle, Objectivism

There is quite possibly a relationship between the more mystic kinds of Denial (Denialists that allege human minds/wills/etc. are just products of external mystical-ish forces like national spirits or Hegelian Zeitgeists) and the Dionysian Damnationists (who argue our minds/wills/etc. need to be transcended in order for us to end our alienation). Perhaps this is a continuum of views.

Conclusion

I think that Fromm was quite correct in his identification of the Fact Of Alienation as important in the development of people's psychology. Whilst I believe Fromm to be incorrect in his neo-Marxism and his assumption that the Fact Of Alienation can only cause pain, I believe that how individuals actually react to this fact about the human condition is indeed an important element to how a person's personality and cognitive style will develop.

I hope that future work by Objectivists on psychological and cognitive development will integrate the importance of reactions to the Fact Of Alienation.

Footnotes

1. I use the term "Fact Of Alienation" to refer to the fact that human nature is unique due to the fact we are the sole possessors of a mind. Unlike the Marxists/Neo-Marxists I do not wish the term to be construed as indicating a value judgment. Typically, alienation (as a feeling) is experienced as pain or angst, which is why the term is usually construed as referring to "a bad thing." Since I do not believe that the unique nature of the human condition is a bad thing, I use the term "Fact Of Alienation" rather than just "Alienation."

2. "Denialism" seems to have the following subsets... A) Man's reason/free will are meaningless, B ) Man's reason/free will doesn't exist, our minds are just products of some sort of material factor (either biology or material conditions), C) Man's reason/free will doesn't exist, our minds are just products of memetic social construction, D) Man's reason/free will doesn't exist, our minds are just products of an underlying spiritual factor (Zeitgeists etc).

Subtype A is where LaVeyan Satanism fits. Subtype B is where Orthodox Marxism, Behaviorism and Biological Determinism fit. Subtype C is where Postmodernism and Oakshotte-style Conservatism fits. Subtype D is where Hegelianism and Fascism (assuming its a type of Denialism) both fit.

Subtype D has overlap with Dionysian Damnationism. Subtype A is generally a "soft" denialist position. Subtypes B, C and D are generally "hard" denialist positions.

Edited by studiodekadent
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YET ANOTHER UPDATED VERSION (Apologies in advance)

Alienation, The Human Condition and Cognitive Development

In "Alienation," Nathaniel Branden deals with the psychological theories of neo-Marxist Erich Fromm. Branden's review is, unsurprisingly, critical. Whilst I do not wish to defend Fromm, I believe Fromm has identified an important fact which may be useful to Objectivists that wish to investigate, elaborate upon and propose theoretical understandings of the genesis of psycho-epistemic personality types.

Rand and Branden both had an obvious interest in the way that cognitive style (what Rand called "Psycho-Epistemology") affected personality development. In many respects their initial work is flawed given that at times they had a propensity to sink into a pattern of methodologically rationalist philosophical determinism; i.e. treating philosophical premises as the sole factor that goes into the construction of an individual's personality.

In spite of my reservations I do believe there is much value to be gained from analyzing, expanding upon and (where necessary) correcting the flaws of Rand and Branden's work. My experience, whilst confirming that philosophical premises aren't the only factor in formation of individual psychology, certainly indicates that someone's subconscious and conscious philosophical convictions and cognitive style are immensely important factors.

The fact that I believe Fromm is correct in identifying is the fact of "alienation." By this, Fromm is referring to the fact that humans are (to our current knowledge) unique.

As Fromm describes it;

"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" (The Revolution of Hope (1968)).

Fromm reinforces this statement in a later work,

"What is it that distinguishes man from animals?... It is something altogether new, a previously unknown quality: self-awareness."

(Affluence and Ennui in Our Society (1986)).

In short, Fromm identifies the fact that humans are unique amongst all creatures we know of by virtue of possessing reason/free will/a self. As a result of this fact we feel different, set apart, alienated.

I believe that Fromm is correct about the immense psychological importance of this fact and I believe that this fact can be connected to Rand and Branden's work on the philosophical-cognitive factors that shape personality.

The first thing that is important to note is that the source of Fromm's alienation is the mind; we have it and other beings (to our knowledge) do not. Thus, how one reacts to this "Fact Of Alienation" [Footnote 1] has direct impact on one's attitude towards human reason.

Continuing the tradition of Objectivist trichotomic analysis, I believe that there are basically three general ways to which people react to the Fact Of Alienation. Each of these ways can be connected to various philosophical positions and to personality types that Rand discussed.

There are three ways that people react to the Fact Of Alienation.

1) Denial

2) Damnation

3) Affirmation

Denial

Denial is simply a situation where, when confronted with a surprising or unplesant fact, the confronted subject simply denies it to be true. In the case of the Fact Of Alienation (us being different from all other known lifeforms), Denial is to simply reject this.

This comes in two forms. The harder form is to deny that human reason exists and that we are "just another animal." The softer form acknowledges that human reason exists but that it is meaningless and doesn't set us apart from other animals in any meaningful respect.

The harder form comes in three separate varieties. The first simply argues human beings are just animals and that our cognitive operations are, at best, mere attempts to avoid facing this fact, and at worst, just expressions of biology. Examples of this are LaVeyan Satanism and Skinnerian Behaviorism (the former arguing explicitly that man is just another animal, the latter arguing that all human conduct is merely operant conditioning and thus humans are merely stimulus-response creatures).

The second harder form is the position that our minds are just products of our economic situation. The clearest example of this is Orthodox Marxism which argued all social-memetic phenomena are just reflections of society's mode of production.

The third and final harder form of this position is the idea that our mental functions are entirely "socially constructed" by our culture, society and group affiliations. Postmodernism tends to fit here.

The softer form of this attitude arguably exists within all three subtypes; it is a matter of degree that separates the "hard" from the "soft" versions of these attitudes. Basically, the soft versions of these attitude acknowledge reason and free will exist, but diminish their importance or efficacy to various degrees in the face of the external factors previously named.

Damnation

This second response to the Fact Of Alienation is without question the most influential on human history and is probably the most common response. Damnation acknowledges that we are different from all other known life forms and says this is a bad thing.

The most obvious example of this response is the Christian concept of Original Sin. It was the act of acquiring our minds and morality that was responsible for casting us out of the Garden of Eden. Note that this myth indeed targets human reason as being that which sets us apart from the "ultimate order" (the natural world and God's will), and note that it is morally condemnatory.

Another example of this response comes, ironically to some, from the radical Environmentalist Left. As Al Gore wrote in Earth In The Balance, describing human reason, "This rational, detached, scientific intellect, observing a world of which it is no longer a part, is too often arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring" (emphasis mine). In other words, the Fact Of Alienation is true and that which sets us apart from our world is bad. Gore is fond of describing Anthropogenic Global Warming in moral terms, calling it "the greatest moral challenge of our time". He even denies that the essential issue is the physical fact of Anthropogenic Global Warming! Indeed, he argues that the essential issue is that "the relationship between the species and the planet has been radically altered". Pro-Anthropocentric envrionmental advocates Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger both argue that the radical Environmentalist Left (which they refer to as "utopian environmentalism") has "always promised to heal the alienation wrought by modernity" (see http://www.tnr.com/article/the-green-bubble?page=0,2).

In both cases, the pattern is the same. There was once an 'original position' (apologies to Rawls) where there was a perfect natural/divine order. Human beings were once part of it, but the process of acquiring or exercising our unique cognitive faculties we have disturbed this order and set ourselves apart from it.

In both cases, the solution is similar; repentance.

As our alienation from the world around is is considered sinful, it is a problem to be remedied. This is done, according to Christians, by accepting the torture-death of Yeshua of Nazareth as a scapegoat for our sins. For the extreme Environmentalists, it requires the abandonment of modern civilization, or at least the majority of its technological foundation. As Nordhaus and Shellenberger write about many Greens, "too many reject the modern project of expanding prosperity altogether."

Erich Fromm himself was also an example of Damnation. After all, he referred to the phenomenon as "alienation" and claimed it caused anguish, as if that were the only possible phenomenon that the Fact Of Alienation could cause. "Alienation" as a term was popularized by Marxist theory and referred to the psychological damage the Proletariat would allegedly suffer under Capitalism. Whilst Fromm's meaning is different from the classical Marxist meaning, it is clear he considered psychological pain to be the only possible reaction to the Fact Of Alienation. And as such, he argued for social institutions to be re-engineered in a manner which he believed would reduce alienation; specifically, for society to become Socialist.

Again, with Fromm, the pattern remains; man is cast aside from some greater perfect order, this is undeniably bad, and must be re-integrated into this order somehow.

Damnation naturally leads to a belief in the mind-body dichotomy. Damnation begins with the acceptance that human beings live in bodies and have minds (whereas Denial simply denies or marginalizes the latter). However, it claims this to be a bad thing. As Al Gore described it, the intellect is "no longer a part" of this world, even if our bodies are quite clearly a part of this world.

This leads to two subcategories of Damnation-believers. Whilst both accept that the Fact Of Alienation is a pathology, these subcategories each propose their own version of a cure. The first subcategory, which I call "Transcendentalists," believe that the solution to the Fact of Alienation is to transcend the material world. This quite clearly is the Platonic-Religious and Ascetic traditions; those Rand would call the "Mystics of Spirit." They accept the mind-body dichotomy, and treat the mind as the "real" thing.

The second category is one I would call the "Dionysianists." Their proposal to solve the Fact Of Alienation is the inverse of that proposed by the Transcendentalists. Whilst the Transcendentalists believe the body and the physical must be abandoned, the Dionysian-Naturalists believe the mind must be. This category includes the Hippy-culture of the 1960's, and quite clearly the Environmentalists also fit here. The ancient "mystery religions" also count as examples. Erich Fromm also counts as a member of this category. Some of the more mystical variants of Feminism would fit here too; claiming that the Patriarchy has used reason as a tool of oppression and that mystic spirituality will help women get in touch with their 'true selves.'

Fascism is arguably a form of Dionysianism. Some Fascists may argue that human beings do indeed have a rational component to their nature, but that this component alienates us from the national community (producing psychological trauma) by holding up false (according to them) ideals above the brotherhood of the organic nation-state. Thus, reason and the intellect must be bypassed in order to tap into the primal, natural unity that a nation (according to Fascism) shares. The Nazi variant of Fascism is known for having a significant level of involvement with mysticism, which further cements the connection to Dionysianism.

Affirmation

The third and, unfortunately, least common response to the Fact Of Alienation is Affirmation. This, ultimately, is acceptance of the human condition as not abberant. We are what we are, and as it is a fact of nature it isn't open to being morally judged.

The Aristotelian tradition of Hellenic philosophy is probably the earliest known example of this line of thought. Aristotle's argument was that something is good if it serves its function (for instance, a good sword is called "good" because it is good at cutting off heads). Aristotle argued that humans too have a natural function and thus a good human is a human that serves this function.

There are weaknesses in Aristotle's argument (for instance the reliance on intrinsic natural functions ignores the fact that a "use" assumes a "user"). But irrespective of this, the point is that for Aristotle, the human condition could not be morally judged since the nature of things is logically prior to moral concepts.

This attitude returned during the Enlightenment; where philosophers aimed to validate rational, anthropocentric ethical codes. Whilst the Enlightenment philosophers clearly were not uniform in their understandings of the human condition (Descartes, for instance, was a mind-body dualist), the level of pathologization of the Fact Of Alienation fell to historic lows during the Enlightenment.

The Counter-Enlightenment, unfortunately, did not continue this pattern.

Irrespective, it is clear that Objectivism falls under this category. To Objectivism, the primary flaw with the Damnation response is that it fundamentally ignores that it is the human condition which gives rise to moral concepts in the first place. Thus, to condemn it is to render a value judgment onto a matter which is properly thought of as amoral.

Summary

The Fact Of Alienation can be responded to in the following ways;

1) Denying it to be true by claiming human consciousness is just a product of something else, like any other life form. These views tend to view human consciousness as a product of one of three things;

1a) Expressions of biology and nothing else, "man is just another animal" ("animalism").

1b) Expressions of our economic situation ("economic social constructivism").

1c) Expressions of our social context ("memetic social constructivism").

These views come in harder and softer versions and arguably people can blend the categories.

2) Accepting it is true and pathologizing it. This is "Damnation."

2a) Aiming to solve this by arguing that the mind is more fundamental and the body/flesh (which alienates us from our 'true self' and/or the 'natural order' and/or a 'higher power') is to be transcended. This is "Transcendentalism."

2b) Aiming to solve this by arguing that the body is more fundamental and reason (which alienates us from our 'true self' and/or the 'natural order' and/or a 'higher power') is to be transcended. This is "Dionysianism."

3) Accepting it is true and accepting it as a matter of fact not open to moral judgment. This is "Affirmation."

The following philosophical outlooks can be said to be associated with each position:

Denial:

Biological: LaVeyan Satanism, Skinnerian Behaviorism

Economic: Orthodox Marxism

Memetic: Postmodernism

Damnation:

Transcendentalist: Platonism, Christianity, Asceticism, many Eastern Religious outlooks

Dionysian: "Mystery" religions, some forms of Neo-Paganism, some forms of Feminism, "Hippy" culture, Radical Environmentalism, Rousseau/Romanticism, Erich Fromm himself, Fascism.

Affirmation: Enlightenment philosophy generally, Aristotle, Objectivism

Conclusion

I think that Fromm was quite correct in his identification of the Fact Of Alienation as important in the development of people's psychology. Whilst I believe Fromm to be incorrect in his neo-Marxism and his assumption that the Fact Of Alienation can only cause pain, I believe that how individuals actually react to this fact about the human condition is indeed an important element to how a person's personality and cognitive style will develop.

I hope that future work by Objectivists on psychological and cognitive development will integrate the importance of reactions to the Fact Of Alienation.

Footnotes

1. I use the term "Fact Of Alienation" to refer to the fact that human nature is unique due to the fact we are the sole possessors of a mind. Unlike the Marxists/Neo-Marxists I do not wish the term to be construed as indicating a value judgment. Typically, alienation (as a feeling) is experienced as pain or angst, which is why the term is usually construed as referring to "a bad thing." Since I do not believe that the unique nature of the human condition is a bad thing, I use the term "Fact Of Alienation" rather than just "Alienation."

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Happy Birthday, Andrew!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

These two look good for comparison with each other:

Man for Himself

Erich Fromm (1947)

Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life

Jonathan Lear (2000)

Edited by Stephen Boydstun
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Stephen,

Thanks for the birthday wishes!

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The third and, unfortunately, least common response to the Fact Of Alienation is Affirmation. This, ultimately, is acceptance of the human condition as not abberant. We are what we are, and as it is a fact of nature it isn't open to being morally judged.

In the aggregate. Not you and me and he/she personally.

--Brant

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The third and, unfortunately, least common response to the Fact Of Alienation is Affirmation. This, ultimately, is acceptance of the human condition as not abberant. We are what we are, and as it is a fact of nature it isn't open to being morally judged.

In the aggregate. Not you and me and he/she personally.

--Brant

Brant;

Correct. People's personality traits can be judged. But personality traits aren't metaphysical fact, they're a clear case of 'the man made.'

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