…we are in a sort of bubble of irreality: spurious world generated by— the plenary powers, astral determinism, whatever the fuck that is.
—Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis
John Dewey once said that the “serious threat to our democracy is not the existence of foreign totalitarian states. It is the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader… The battlefield is also accordingly here– within ourselves and our institutions.”1 Of late I’ve begun to see Erich Fromm’s point that what men fear is what drives them to escape into tyranny rather than freedom, and it is autonomy and freedom above all that humans fear most.
Couched as his work was in Freud and Existentialism Fromm would seek an understanding of why humans feared freedom or, as he’d suggest – aloneness, isolation, independence. In his simplistic diagnosis he’d discovered over time that people choose two paths of escape from aloneness. The first path was a positive acceptance of autonomy and separateness, and these individuals would confront themselves and the world in such a way they can relate themselves spontaneously to the it in love and work, in the genuine expression of emotional, sensuous, and intellectual capacities; each can thus become one again with man, nature, and themselves, without giving up the independence and integrity of their singularity. (Fromm, 120) The other form would take a darker turn, one that would force such individuals who suddenly awakened intto aloneness, freedom, and autonomy to feel anxiety, panic, and ultimately run scared, leading them to seek complete surrender of their unique and singular lives, and the integrity of the self, to an external authority in total self-abnegation of their former freedom and autonomy. (Fromm, 121) As he’d remark of this second path of escape, such persons “show a tendency to belittle themselves, to make themselves weak, and not to master things.