How brainwashing works now
Erich Fromm (Die Furcht vor der Freiheit) excerpt
The first mechanism of escape from freedom is the tendency to give up the independence and to fuse one’s self with somebody outside in order to acquire the strength which is lacking. The more distinct forms of this mechanism are found in the striving for submission and domination. The most frequent forms of masochistic striving is feelings of inferiority, powerlessness, individual insignificance. The analysis of masochists shows that, while they consciously complain, unconscious power drives them to feel inferior or insignificant. These persons show a tendency to belittle themselves, to make themselves weak, and not to master things. Quite regularly these people show a marked dependence on powers outside, on other people, or institutions, or nature.
Besides these masochistic trends, the very opposite of them, sadistic tendencies, are regularly to be found in the same kind of characters. It is to make others dependent on oneself and to have absolute and unrestricted power over them. Not only to rule over others in this absolute fashion, but also to exploit them, to use them. The masochistic person’s dependence is obvious. And yet close analysis shows that sadist also needs the person over whom he rules and he needs him very badly.
Both the masochistic and sadistic strivings tend to help the individual to escape his unbearable feeling of loneliness and powerlessness. The masochist is saved from making decisions, saved from the final responsibility for the fate of his self. He is also saved from the doubt of what the meaning of his life is.
All the different forms of sadism which we can observe go back to one essential impulse to have complete mastery over another person, to become his God. The most radical aim is to make him suffer, since there is no greater power over another person than that of inflicting pain on him. Returning now the authoritarian character, the most important feature to be mentioned is its attitude towards power. For him there exist, so to speak, two sexes: the powerful ones and the powerless ones. His love, admiration and readiness for submission are automatically aroused by power, whether of a person or of an institution.
Just as his “love” is automatically aroused by power, so powerless people or institutions automatically arouse his contempt. In authoritarian philosophy the concept of equality does not exist. For him the world is composed of superior ones and inferior ones.
Sado-masochistic strivings and the authoritarian character refers to extreme forms of escaping from helplessness and to the symbiotic relationship to the object of worship or domination.
The individual ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns; and he therefore becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be.
We can have thoughts, feelings, wishes, and even sensual sensations which we subjectively feel to be ours, but they have been put into us from the outside and are basically alien.
Contents of our thinking, feeling, willing, that induced from the outside – our pseudo selves exist to an extent of a rule, while the genuine mental acts are the exceptions.
The same phenomenon can be observed if we study people’s opinions about certain subjects, for instance, politics. Ask an average newspaper reader what he thinks about a certain political question. He will give you as “his” opinion a more or less exact account of what he has read, and he believes that what he is saying is the result of his own thinking. The same phenomenon is to be found in aesthetic judgments. The average person who goes to a museum and looks at a picture by a famous painter, say Rembrandt, judges it to be a beautiful picture. He thinks it is beautiful because he knows that he is supposed to think so.
For many people an experience which they have had becomes real to them only after they have read about it in the newspaper.
Most people are convinced that their decisions are theirs. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves.
A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside.
The loss of the self and substitution by a pseudo self leave the individual in an intense state of insecurity. He is obsessed by doubt since, being a reflex of other people’s expectation, he has lost his identity. He is compelled to conform, to seek his identity by continuous approval. Thus, he is ready to submit to new authorities which offer him security and relief from doubt.
The Nazi ideology was ardently greeted by the lower strata of the middle class. For them the Nazi ideology-its spirit of blind obedience to a leader and of hatred against racial and political minorities, its craving for conquest and domination, its exaltation of the German people and the “Nordic Race” had a tremendous emotional appeal.
Certain features were characteristic for this the middle class throughout its history: their love of the strong, hatred of the weak, their pettiness, hostility, thriftiness with feelings as well as with money. Their outlook on life was narrow, they suspected and hated the stranger.
While the “leaders” are the ones to enjoy power in the first place, the masses are by no means deprived of sadistic satisfaction. Racial and political minorities and eventually other nations which are described as weak or decaying are the objects of sadism upon which the masses are fed.