The last I spoke of Fromm, in this blog post, I explained his theory of human separateness, which very closely resembles Lacan’s mirror phase. Today, I’d like to begin a discussion regarding the ways in which the human race has, historically, endeavored to overcome this alienation, which is inherent to our experience.
The first measure, as distinguished by Fromm, is by inducing orgiastic states, either by ritual or through the use of drugs.
“In a transitory state of exaltation the world outside disappears, and with it the feeling of separateness from it…an experience of fusion with the group is added which makes this solution all the more effective.”Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
Of course, this type of orgiastic ritual was performed, historically, as an acceptable cultural mode of worship or tradition. While there exist, today, groups which find such experience common and esteemed, a more widespread practice of such rituals was customary in ancient times. While Fromm adds that sexual orgasm “can produce a state similar to the one produced by a trance…Rites of communal sexual orgies were a part of many primitive rituals.”
He argues that these orgiastic rituals of ecstasy serve to abate the anxiety of separation, temporarily. Eventually, however, the anxiety remounts and the ritual must be replicated anew.
The cycle must repeat.
“As long as these orgiastic states are a matter of common practice in a tribe, they do not produce anxiety or guilt.”Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
The norms established by the founders of the group accept and embrace ecstatic ritual.
“To act this way is right, and even virtuous, because it is a way shared by all, approved and demanded by the medicine men or priests; hence there is no reason to feel guilty or ashamed. It is quite different when the same solution is chosen by an individual in a culture which has left behind these common practices.”Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
In short, the practice of orgiastic ritual is assumed by Fromm to be an effective means of overcoming the inherent human experience of separateness. However, since it is no longer socially acceptable among the civilized masses of modernity, we must find another way.
I would like to add that any practice affirmed and encouraged by the social authority is one that could, on some level, usher in a false sense of unity. The collective serves as the adjudicator of what is and is not appropriate or acceptable. Those who conform earn a seat at the table; those aberrant few, who rebel or simply cannot comply, find themselves ostracized and excised from the group, like a cancer.
How, then, do we overcome the chasm that divides? I will continue my study and get back to you on other measures we humans have taken, historically, to bridge the gulf, as well as Fromm’s answer to this enigmatic question.
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