All you need is love.
June 14, 2005 7:44 AM   Subscribe

The Art of Loving.
What is the problem with modern man? In 1956, psychologist Erich Fromm questioned Western society's ability to foster love: "If we speak about love in contemporary Western culture, we mean to ask whether the social structure of Western civilization and the spirit resulting from it are conductive to the development of love. To raise the question is to answer it in the negative."
Almost 50 years later, what can we say about our culture now? Valentine's Day spending totaled $13 billion this year, but it seems modern man has not yet found love. Instead he fills it with "entertainment" and forms of pseudo-love which ultimately alienate him from others. Media from dawn to dusk: Media consumption averages ten hours per person per day in America. What's more, Americans are “media multi-tasking”: using different media at the same time. Ritalin Sales have soared. Americans carry an average $8,562 in debt on their credit cards. Hummers. Bling bling. Crunk juice. Hooking up. Baby mamas. Tweens. Obesity. Binge Drinking. Depression.
posted by MarkO (61 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, civilization is crumbling. But it's been crumbling since it began, more or less. I just wish it would finish up already, so I can go binge drink crunk juice in my Hummer with my obese baby mama.
posted by jonmc at 7:51 AM on June 14, 2005


Instead he fills it with "entertainment" and forms of pseudo-love which ultimately alienate him from others.

There are so many invalid assumptions in just this single sentence that I am tempted to suggest that this belongs on the front page of a personal weblog rather than on the blue page of MetaFilter.
posted by gramschmidt at 7:57 AM on June 14, 2005


but it seems modern man has not yet found love

So sorry for you, MarkO, better luck in the future.

OK, more seriously, I don't see what you are getting at here, except compiling a list of things you don't like, which seem to be connected by--well, by the fact that you do not like them. What is the exact connection between, let's say Hummers, to the search for love? Or that love in modern America is less fulfilling than in any other historical period?

Survey results--which I personally take with a whole shaker of salt, but what other data do we have?--suggest that Americans are happier than they have ever been.
posted by LarryC at 8:00 AM on June 14, 2005


Good Morning you beautiful world!

Time to surf the beautiful waves....ahhhhhhh yesss!

What surf did you think I meant?

Beeatch!!
posted by Mr Bluesky at 8:02 AM on June 14, 2005


If we speak about love in contemporary Western American culture we mean to ask whether the social structure of Western American and the spirit resulting from it are conductive to the development of love?

MarkO, you need to get yourself a passport and see how the other half lives. Most, if not all of the items posted in your FPP, are uniquely American.
posted by three blind mice at 8:03 AM on June 14, 2005


I media-multitask, have no credit card debt, and have found love. But then again, I'm just a Canadian living in the US.

Also, the divorce rate is dropping. So modern man may be adapting to his new Hummer-centric world and learning to find love in a time of crunk.
posted by hammurderer at 8:08 AM on June 14, 2005


Most, if not all of the items posted in your FPP, are uniquely American.

That's a stretch. Europeans don't watch TV? Binge drink? have casual sex? Suffer depression? And "chav" culture tells me that Euros like their bling, too. Nice try, though.

I think the whole post smacks of "the sky is falling," and kitchen-sink cataloguing of various social "ills," myself, when the truth is, 'twas ever thus.
posted by jonmc at 8:10 AM on June 14, 2005


Easy there, three blind mice. That quote you "corrected" was made long ago by Erich Fromm. The rest of the stuff in the post has American mentioned all over it. It's pretty clear that he's talking about America.
posted by redteam at 8:11 AM on June 14, 2005


Argh ... to prevent angry responses:

Erich Fromm, a German, was probably talking about German stuff or maybe "MODERN MAN" in general, I don't know, exactly. I meant that it was clear that the poster was talking about American stuff in the second half of his post. You know, the part after the Erich Fromm quote that says America in it a few times.
posted by redteam at 8:16 AM on June 14, 2005


MarkO posted "it seems modern man has not yet found love"
I find it interesting that there's no link behind those words.

While it may be admirable on the one hand to raise such a perennially significant issue as this art called LOVE, I don't see how disparaging consumeristic and media habits proves any decline in the quality of the art. Were there not diversions in the 50's that influenced an individual's ability or disposition towards love? Are there statistics that demonstate a change in say divorce rates (normalizing for increased ease of dissolutions &c - which may thereafter justify a debate rather than being assumed as causative) or in any other relevant data?

You've raised an/some issue(s). OK. But it comes off as a mere plug for a book without a bit more profundity in the backup links.

I open doors, I've learned where the clitoris is.....is there more? /sarcasm

on prev: hammurderer kills the divorce side.
posted by peacay at 8:17 AM on June 14, 2005


some vapid bitch was releasing doves at the MJ circus.
posted by quonsar at 8:25 AM on June 14, 2005


MetaFilter: Love in a time of crunk
posted by Scoo at 8:26 AM on June 14, 2005


I giggle when Europeans think they're so different than Americans. Has such a nice hand washing quality to it.

More on topic: our society could be more balanced, starting with treating humans as more important than money. But that just results in boring anti-capitalist arguments that will degrade into calling Chomsky an idiot.
posted by MillMan at 8:27 AM on June 14, 2005


some vapid bitch was releasing doves at the MJ circus.


Where are you when we need you, Oz?
posted by jonmc at 8:28 AM on June 14, 2005


I think modern man would settle for less love and more sex

second why does she have to be vapid ??
posted by Rubbstone at 8:36 AM on June 14, 2005


I think modern man would settle for less love and more sex

as would Ancient Man, Neanderthal Man, Cro-Magnon Man, and Medieval Man. Societal trappings change, human nature does not.
posted by jonmc at 8:41 AM on June 14, 2005


hey, i don't come here to have my lifestyle insulted this way!

actually, i get what you're trying to say, and i tend to agree with it. many of the problems we see today could be viewed as natural reactions to a technological speed-up that outpaces the natural evolution of our psychology and our society. some might say that we are becoming more individually isolated because our value, within the capitalist system, lies ever more within our membership in key demographics than in our humanity, and requires that we exist in a chronic state of dissatisfaction to maximize our potential as consumers.

i don't agree that love is as much the issue as the rise in the importance of status (or perceived status) absent a valid or even existing context, as communities have shifted from real to virtual.

it can keep you up nights if you let it, but in the end i've found it's easier to just say fuck it all and to value simple personal satisfaction within a limited network of intimate relationships. larger-scale society is too big for its britches and has no plans to downscale.

on preview: yeah, that dove thing totally reminded me of mars attacks!
posted by troybob at 8:47 AM on June 14, 2005


*pulls down society's oversize britches and laughs at the fact that it's wearing ladies underwear*
posted by jonmc at 8:52 AM on June 14, 2005


Home sick with baby yesterday I moticed that Brian Williams et al were falling all over themselves to let us know that it wasn't just a US media circus outdie the Jacko courthouse. Several times Williams mentioned that the BBC, the venerable Bee Bee See, had also pre-empted their regularly-scheduled programs to wait for the verdict to be read. They also pointed out at least twice in the 45 minutes I watched through running eyes and nose, that the "journalists" camped out there were from dozens of countries around the globe -- Japan, Ireland, Brazil, and so on. I half expected one of their "analysts" to pipe up with a "You forgot Poland!"
posted by Cassford at 8:57 AM on June 14, 2005


Cassford.
May as well this thread as any other.
posted by peacay at 9:22 AM on June 14, 2005


jonmc, isn't "society" 52% female these days? Shouldn't it be wearing female underwear?
posted by beth at 9:45 AM on June 14, 2005


Erich Fromm got it wrong, he didn't know that hey, you've got to hide you love away.
posted by funambulist at 9:49 AM on June 14, 2005


I think it is particularly notable that American culture fosters such large efforts toward "entertainment" as well as "religion". Entertainment can be an escape from a loveless existance, and religion can be an attempt to replace real personal love with either abstract godly love or diffuse communal love.

I think especially the controllers of mass entertainment and religion, wittingly or not, encourage an atmosphere of diminished interpersonal and self love in order to encourage the use of those love-substitution outlets. This is my critique of America *bow*
posted by sandking at 9:52 AM on June 14, 2005


i've found it's easier to just say fuck it all

Yeah, but the motivation for this post may be deeper than that. From MarkO's user page:
To get a feeling for my political attitude, try this site, and this page on that site.
The "this page" link goes to a page that includes the following:
A sickening, corrupt, unprincipled hypocrite, philanderer, and shameless, unrepentant liar, fresh from land and Savings and Loan swindles in Arkansas, Bill Clinton, like the Father of Lies, is gifted with savage and ruthless political instincts and a Satanic ability to ingratiate himself to voters and the "chattering classes."
This sort of rhetoric might, once again, tempt one to suggest that this FPP is coming from the same place from whence Jack Chick tracts spring: the land of hysterical, irrationally nostalgic evangelicalism, a hallmark of which is often a reactionary fear and distrust of anything occurring in the present.

But upon further inspection, it turns out that the guy who runs Friesian.com (the site MarkO links to in his user page) is a Libertarian and gives Ayn Rand a lot more analysis than she deserves (and quotes the Bible on the same page!).

Please, MarkO, explain further. The FPP smacks of irrational nostalgia. The only pages to which you link to help explain your "political attitude" are frenzied and contradictory.

Clarification, please.
posted by gramschmidt at 9:53 AM on June 14, 2005


jonmc, isn't "society" 52% female these days? Shouldn't it be wearing female underwear?

Beth, see a doctor about that defective humor gland, please. It's a joke, it dosen't have to be mathematically accurate.
posted by jonmc at 10:00 AM on June 14, 2005


Isn't it possible, though, that Hollywood (or other Western societies, I don't know - or the post-Industrial Revolution English novel) created the idea, or mass-promoted the idea that love is proletarian or accessible to all and that we shouldn't really settle for a helpmate, but should aim high, for love?
posted by faux ami at 10:05 AM on June 14, 2005


Hmm, Ayn Rand, that notorious prophetess of love against capitalism?
I also think we have a contradiction here...
posted by funambulist at 10:08 AM on June 14, 2005


The point is, jonmc, society doesn't like you and you should leave it alone.

faux ami, that's what Fromm is proposing. But I doubt Fromm could've imagined the modern moment. If you're Hollywood you don't really want people to find love. You're not really interested in a society where there are tight interpersonal bonds in the forms of families, churches, etc. You wouldn't really want people to sit around for hours just talking to one another. You'd much prefer a more atomic society, where people identify more with celebrities, brands and the media than with each other. So you'd like to harness love, yeah, but ultimately you'd like to see it gone. At the end of the day it's probably your chief competitor, in the same sense bars compete with television.
posted by nixerman at 10:27 AM on June 14, 2005


WWARD? Well, for starters, she would have no objection to Hummers or Crunk Juice. She wouldn't hop on the Fromm bandwagon, though. That's for sure.
posted by kozad at 10:27 AM on June 14, 2005


*pokes society with a stick*
posted by jonmc at 10:39 AM on June 14, 2005


If everyone would just agree to reject their decadent capitalist western ways and join my secular rationalist socialist collective utopia, none of these problems would exist.
posted by Decani at 10:44 AM on June 14, 2005


"I think modern man would settle for less love and more sex"

*raises hand* Yeah, I'll go for that!

Seems like the way it's working out lately anyway. Love is really hard to find, from my experience.

Then again I'm probably not all that lovable.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:44 AM on June 14, 2005


posted by LarryC: What is the exact connection between, let's say Hummers, to the search for love?

I know I made a big leap in the fpp; the connection is made more clearly in the book. First of all, Fromm argues that capitalistic society demands a "marketing orientation" of its members, or at least most of them, so that our bureaucratized society can function smoothly:
Modern capitalism needs men who cooperate smoothly and in large numbers; who want to consume more and more; and whose tastes are standardized and can be easily influenced and anticipated. It needs men who feel free and independent...--yet willing to be commanded, to do what is expected of them, to fit into the social machine without friction; who can be guided without force, led without leaders, prompted without aim--except the one to make good, to be on the move, to function, to go ahead. What is the outcome? Modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature.
Thus, we expect love to come from a favorable exchange, rather than by our own activity:
Automatons cannot love; they can exchange their "personality packages" and hope for a fair bargain. One of the most significant expressions of love... is the idea of the "team." In any number of articles on happy marriage, the ideal described is that of the smoothly functioning team. This description is not too different from the idea of a smoothly functioning employee...
For the man an attractive girl--and for the woman an attractive man--are the prizes they are after. "Attractive" usually means a nice package of qualities which are popular and sought after on the personality market... During the twenties, a drinking and smoking girl, tough and sexy, was attractive; today the fashion demands more domesticity and coyness.
I'm not sure what passes for attractive these days, but most porn today depicts women as submissive, men as dominant, both hairless. Which brings me to the second part of the problem, which is man's desire to remain a child, to regress back to the womb:
Man's happiness today consists in "having fun." Having fun lies in the satisfaction of consuming and "taking in" commodities, sights, food, drinks, cigarettes, people, lectures, books, movies--all are consumed, swallowed. The worlds is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones--and the eternally disappointed ones. Our character is geared to exchange and to receive, to barter and to consume; everything, spiritual as well as material objects, becomes an object of exchange and of consumption.
With a narcissistic orientation that is not unlike that of an infant, we do not see the value in actively creating love in others. Ironically we spend countless hours, dollars, and effort on acquiring features we think make us "lovable" (attractiveness, Hummers, status) and so little effort on improving our capacity to love. Why is this? For one thing we become attention-deficient, and competition for our attention is at an all time high. Meanwhile, patience is at a low, at least from what I can see standing in line at the airport.

And without patience and concentration, Fromm argues, man stands little chance of succeeding in the practice of love: brotherly, erotic, or even self-love.
Even more than self-discipline, concentration is rare in our culture. On the contrary, our culture leads to an unconcentrated and diffused mode of life, hardly paralleled anywhere else... This lack of concentration is clearly shown in our difficulty in being alone with ourselves. To sit still, without talking, smoking, reading, drinking, is impossible for most people. They become nervous and fidgety, and must do something with their mouth or their hands. (Smoking is one of the symptoms of this lack of concentration; it occupies hand, mouth, eye and nose.)
It could be argued that in the last few decades we have traded off one oral fixation for another, but it's still clearly there.
posted by MarkO at 10:49 AM on June 14, 2005


*waits to see if society wakes up, darts in to steal society's wallet, spends money on King Cobra Malt Liquor and spinning gold teeth, makes a baby with a mamma, wilds out on ritalin, crashes the hummer, squints at MarkO, writes love sonnet in own blood, sleeps, dreams, kisses everyone and returns to dust*
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:49 AM on June 14, 2005


The FPP smacks of irrational nostalgia

Or just plain irrationality. I have no idea what it's supposed to be about, except that MarkO doesn't like much of anything. And jonmc is dead on: 'twas ever thus.
posted by languagehat at 10:49 AM on June 14, 2005


peacay, I was responding to the side conversation about these phenomena being "uniquely American" and the mention of a dove being released at the MJ trial. It looks completely non sequitur in hindsight, but made sense at the time to me. Thanks, Actifed!
posted by Cassford at 10:51 AM on June 14, 2005


Man's happiness today consists in "having fun." Having fun lies in the satisfaction of consuming and "taking in" commodities, sights, food, drinks, cigarettes, people, lectures, books, movies--all are consumed, swallowed. The worlds is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones--and the eternally disappointed ones. Our character is geared to exchange and to receive, to barter and to consume; everything, spiritual as well as material objects, becomes an object of exchange and of consumption.

Man I sure do long for the days when we all proved the strength of our hearts by sitting still and not doing anything at all. When was that, around the 1820's?

MarkO, with all due respect, I think this feller turns a phrase, but I'm not finding more than turned phrases, maybe it's something that has to be read in greater depth?
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:58 AM on June 14, 2005


I know I made a big leap in the fpp

Big leap? You're in Evel Keneivel territory, my man.
posted by jonmc at 11:07 AM on June 14, 2005


if there are problems primarily american, is it because compared to europeans we are fairly new at existing as smaller entities in a (perceived) larger scale? my impression is that europeans have traditionally been comfortable viewing themselves as a small part within a much larger whole--the scale being history; americans don't have the same sense or depth of history, but the last century has seen a technological drive to create larger communities such that the primary plane of cultural awareness has moved from family to community to local to regional to national, at a rather fast pace; when as individuals we become smaller parts of the perceived whole, and thus feel society has diminished our value as human beings, is that when we start to lose our humanity such that we direct our frustrations inward via the self-destructive behaviors listed above? is this uniquely american, or is it some kind of generally evolving protection of the overall social structure? are we to be somehow grateful that drug addicts and bulemics turn this inward rather than against society via murder or terrorism?
posted by troybob at 11:15 AM on June 14, 2005


Also see Francesco Alberoni's book "Falling in Love" which covers this very well (free download)
posted by Lanark at 11:28 AM on June 14, 2005


Having read the Erich Fromm book (I picked it up at random from the for-sale rack at a Dallas public library), I have to say that I think it's well worth reading. In fact, since it was written in the 1950s, it provides good evidence against the nostalgic view that the 1950s were a golden age and that today's social problems can be blamed on the 1960s.

Fromm argues that we (Western society) place too much emphasis on material well-being. Not that this isn't important, especially if you're starving; but once we've attained a state of well-being, as most people in the West have, what comes next? What's the purpose of life? It can't be simple well-being, because we all age and die. Fromm argues that love is important, but we're not very good at it, because love is not a commodity that can be bought or sold, unlike most things in our day-to-day life (food, shelter, clothing, entertainment); it's an art, and like all arts, it requires hard work, discipline, and experience. It requires considerable effort to love a crying baby at 3 in the morning.

Here's a similar argument against materialism from Solzhenitsyn: "[We] embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense."

My favorite book on this subject (what's the purpose of life?) is M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. Some similarities to Stoic philosophy on dealing with adversity; the first sentence of the book is, "Life is difficult."
posted by russilwvong at 11:30 AM on June 14, 2005


Big leap? You're in Evel Keneivel territory, my man

Yeah, and remember what happened to him at Caesar's Palace?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:33 AM on June 14, 2005


Yeah, and remember what happened to him at Caesar's Palace?

Did he hit it big on Keno and then totally go balls out on $2.99 prime rib and Zombies? Cause I did that and it was r-o-u-g-h.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:53 AM on June 14, 2005


It requires considerable effort to love a crying baby at 3 in the morning.
True, but it requires a whole lot more effort (and faith, and courage) for a mother to let her growing child become independent. If she fails in doing this, the child may become anxious and neurotic.
posted by MarkO at 11:59 AM on June 14, 2005


Ever had to deal with a crying baby at 3 in the morning, MarkO? :-)
posted by russilwvong at 12:04 PM on June 14, 2005


Ever had to deal a baby while morning for 3..huh..well..have ya?!
posted by Mr Bluesky at 12:33 PM on June 14, 2005


Ever had to deal with a dead baby at 3 in the morning?
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 12:35 PM on June 14, 2005


ever dealt babies at 3 in the morning? The demand skyrockets after midnight, and it's a seller's market, baby.
posted by jonmc at 12:38 PM on June 14, 2005


jonmc:
Well, that is generally how I deal with the dead ones, although they don't fetch quite the same price.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 12:58 PM on June 14, 2005


It requires considerable effort to love a crying baby at 3 in the morning.

no, not really ... (and yes, i speak from experience)

and larryc's link was something else ... 55% of the american people are "very happy"? ... 58% very satisfied?

why do i find this scary?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:08 PM on June 14, 2005


Being introduced to co-workers, many years ago:

X: "Y doesn't like children very much."

Y: "Oh, they're not bad with a little ketchup."
posted by russilwvong at 1:08 PM on June 14, 2005


Tangent-Those Friesian folks are deep thinks and this leads them down some darks paths. The same page on Rand, which praises her eagerness to help the House Committee on Un-American Acitivies in that, "Rand's only complaint was that they didn't let her testify enough." One only has to go past the Rand portion to the leftover Left to see why. Rand is not held in awe though. I've been reading parts of the site for years now. It's good to see other points of view sometimes.

End Tangent


It's hard to argue that society isn't getting faster, especially after reading Faster by James Gleick. Impatience and increased choice could frustrate the ability of love to grow. Commitment has decreased because of choice, but I doubt our capacity to feel love has. It might not last, but it's out there.
posted by john at 1:32 PM on June 14, 2005


"What is the problem with modern man?" :

Well our thumbs, for one thing. Then, there's our brains. Those two, in concert, have led to high density population clusters.

Then, we have this propensity for worshipping sky gods....

Plus, we're very good at convincing ourselves of our own stories.
But that might be subsumed under the sky god objection.
posted by troutfishing at 3:15 PM on June 14, 2005


Well our thumbs, for one thing....led to high density population clusters.

Well, the opposable thumb is great for something that can help avoid overpopulation. Just sayin'.
posted by jonmc at 5:08 PM on June 14, 2005


LarryC: What is the exact connection between, let's say Hummers, to the search for love?


Well, girls who really like to give them are beloved in life, myth, and bedroom.
posted by dejah420 at 5:44 PM on June 14, 2005


*Pleased that this thread has devolved into a sex conversation*

What's the difference between a pile of dead babies and an SUV?
posted by MarkO at 6:30 PM on June 14, 2005


Dead babies don't guzzle gas and you can see around them?
posted by jonmc at 7:04 PM on June 14, 2005


If everyone would just agree to reject their decadent capitalist western ways and join my secular rationalist socialist collective utopia, none of these problems would exist.

*packs bags*

*waits patiently for the shuttle to Decani's utopia*

The shuttle's coming soon, right? Because there are these weird irrational people all over the place praying to Michael Jackson and some bizarre militarized version of Christ, and I'd like to move on. They make me afeard. Ta.
posted by jokeefe at 7:12 PM on June 14, 2005


Well, girls who really like to give them are beloved in life, myth, and bedroom.

Hah! When the vehicle first came out I was floored, thinking, why don't they just name it the Fellatiator or something? But as no one reacted, I began to wonder if "hummer" had the slang meaning to the rest of the country.
posted by LarryC at 7:57 PM on June 14, 2005


I am not the proud owner of an SUV.
posted by MarkO at 8:22 PM on June 14, 2005


Who needs love when we have PlayStation?
posted by deusdiabolus at 1:30 AM on June 15, 2005


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