Fromm: Social Character and Social Unconscious

More quotes on social character and social unconscious from Erich Fromm’s Beyond the Chains of Illusion:

The members of the society and/or the various classes or status groups within it have to behave in such a way as to be able to function in the sense required by the social system. It is the function of the social character to shape the energies of the members of society in such a way that their behavior is not a matter of conscious decision as to whether or not to follow the social pattern, but one of the wanting to act as they have to act and at the same time finding gratification in acting according to the requirements of the culture.

Just as the member of the feudal society considered an attack against the feudal system immoral, and even inhuman, so the average person in a capitalist society considers an attack against private property a sign of barbarism and inhumanity. He will often not say so directly but rationalize his hate against the violators of private property in terms of their godlessness, injustice, and so on; yet, in reality, and often unconsciously, they appear to him as inhuman because they have violated the sanctity of private property. The point is not that they have hurt him economically, or that they even threaten his economic interests realistically; the point is that they threaten a vital ideal.

…each society determines which thoughts and feelings shall be permitted to arrive at the level of awareness and which have to remain unconscious. Just as there is a social character, there is also a “social unconscious.”

…ideologies are impressed on the people from childhood on by their parents, by the schools, churches, movies, television, newspapers, and they take hold of men’s minds as if they were the result of the men’s own thinking or observation. If this process takes place in societies opposed to ours, we call it “brain washing,” and, in its less extreme forms, “indoctrination” or “propaganda”; in ours, we call it “education” and “information.”

There is almost nothing a man will not believe — or repress — when he is threatened with the explicit or implicit threat of ostracism.

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  1. g.
    Posted 11 October 2009 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Laborit explained that as well, should put that up one day. He used arguments from biology and physics/thermodynamics to show where that fear of ostracism should come from.

  2. Posted 11 October 2009 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Cool stuff, as usual, Keyvan! You should be doing my course – you’d love it! 😛

  3. Posted 11 October 2009 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    g.: Yes, you should post it up! 🙂

    Jyoti: Thanks. It keeps me sane reading his stuff. One day maybe I’ll move on to studying a more interesting course. 🙂

  4. g.
    Posted 28 November 2009 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Now posted it on, still hope to improve the layout and readability in the coming years!

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