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From: Gerry Armstrong <gerry@gerryarmstrong.org>
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Subject: Erich Fromm on reason and sheep in the paranoid system
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From: Psychoanalysis and Religion
© 1950, Erich Fromm
Bantam Edition
Chapter III, An Analysis of Some Types of Religious Experience,
pp 55-57

[Quote]

Psychoanalysis has demonstrated the ambiguous nature of our thinking
processes. Indeed, the power of rationalization, this counterfeit of
reason, is one of the most puzzling human phenomena. If we were not
accustomed to it, man's rationalizing effort would clearly appear to
us as similar to a paranoid system. The paranoid person can be very
intelligent, make excellent use of his reason in all areas of life
except in that isolated part where his paranoid system is involved.
The rationalizing person does exactly the same. We talk to an
intelligent Stalinist who exhibits a great capacity to make use of his
reason in many areas of thought. When we come to discuss Stalinism
with him, however, we are suddenly confronted with a closed system of
thought, the only function of which is to prove that his allegiance to
Stalinism is in line with and not contradictory to reason. He will
deny certain obvious facts, distort others, or, inasmuch as he agrees
to certain facts and statements, he will explain his attitude as
logical and consistent. He will at the same time declare that the
fascist cult of the leader is one of the most obnoxious features of
authoritarianism and claim that the Stalinist cult of the leader is
something entirely different, that it is the genuine expression of the
people's love for Stalin. When you tell him that is what the Nazis
claimed too, he will smile tolerantly about your want of perception or
accuse you of being the lackey of capitalism. He will find a thousand
and one reasons why Russian nationalism is not nationalism, why
authoritarianism is democracy, why slave labor is designed to educate
and improve anti-social elements. The arguments which are used to
defend or explain the deeds of the inquisition or those used to
explain racial or sex prejudices are illustrations of the same
rationalizing capacity.

The degree to which man uses his thinking to rationalize irrational
passions and to justify, the actions of his group shows how great the
distance which man has still to travel in order to become Homo
Sapiens. But we must go beyond such an awareness. We must try to
understand the reasons for this phenomenon lest we fall into the error
of believing that man's readiness for rationalization is a, part of
"human nature" which nothing can change.

Man by origin is a herd animal. His actions are determined by an
instinctive impulse to follow the leader and to have close contact
with the other animals around him. Inasmuch as we are sheep, there is
no greater threat to our existence than to lose this contact with the
herd and to be isolated. Right and wrong, true and false are
determined by the herd. But we are not only sheep. We are also human;
we are endowed with awareness of ourselves, endowed with reason which
by its very nature is independent of the herd. Our actions can be
determined by the results of our thinking regardless of whether or not
the truth is shared by others.

The split between our sheep nature and our human nature is the basis
for two kinds of orientations: the orientation by proximity to the
herd and the orientation by reason. Rationalization is a compromise
between our sheep nature and our human capacity to think. The
latter forces us to make believe that everything we do can stand the
test of reason, and that is why we tend to make it appear that our
irrational opinions and decisions are reasonable. But inasmuch as we
are sheep, reason is not our real guide; we are guided by an entirely
different principle, that of herd allegiance.

[End Quote]

Fromm published this book Psychoanalysis and Religion in 1950, the
same year he reviewed Hubbard's Dianetics the Modern Science of Mental
health, so it predates the creation of the Scientology cult by four
years. Fromm's 1950 example of a person in a paranoid system
rationalizing his unreason is a Stalinist keeping Stalinism working,
but in 2005 a Scientologist keeping Scientology working fits the mold
perfectly.

We talk to an intelligent Scientologist who exhibits a great capacity
to make use of his reason in many areas of thought. When we come to
discuss Scientology with him, however, we are suddenly confronted with
a closed system of thought, the only function of which is to prove
that his allegiance to Scientology is in line with and not
contradictory to reason. He will deny certain obvious facts, distort
others, or, inasmuch as he agrees to certain facts and statements, he
will explain his attitude as logical and consistent. He will at the
same time declare that the fascist cult of the leader is one of the
most obnoxious features of authoritarianism and claim that the
Scientology cult of the leader is something entirely different, that
it is the genuine expression of the people's love for Hubbard, or
Miscavige. When you tell him that is what the Nazis claimed too, he
will smile tolerantly about your want of perception or accuse you of
being the lackey of capitalism. He will find a thousand and one
reasons why Scientology totalitarianism is not totalitarianism, why
authoritarianism is democracy, why slave labor is designed to educate
and improve anti-social elements. The arguments which are used to
defend or explain the deeds of the inquisition or those used to
explain racial or sex prejudices are illustrations of the same
rationalizing capacity.

© Gerry Armstrong
http://www.gerryarmstrong.org

 
 
 
 

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