Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves...people are mistaken in taking as “their” decisions what in effect is submission to convention, duty or simple pressure.
Erich Fromm (1942)
When buying a pair of shoes we may be very conscious of the pressures from
those around us,
Pressures which may be entirely positive.
as no doubt these women are. But sociologists and psychologists since Fromm’s time have taught us those pressures are far wider than we ever wish to countenance. The structure of ideas which need to link shoes to history.
He pioneered the argument that such pressures are what lead us to readily follow rhetoricians like Johnson or Trump. Fromm was searching for explanations On the difficulties of explanation.
of that great catastrophe - the Second World War - during which he was writing. He pinpoints the fertile ground for the persuasive oratory of dictators in a country’s history, and in the pressures of peers. We lose ourselves, and wish to be lost, among others. There is a vital basis in our lives by which we can get lost with others. Then, as lost sheep, we follow those who offer an apparent lead, A warning about the way sheep (and other analogies) creep into arguments. believing it is we who are deciding to follow and not the pressure of our culture’s conventions, nor the social duties we owe, nor external pressures such as those that a Capitalist society exerts. Dictators slip in on our unctuous subservience to the subconscious.
Fromm’s first book Escape from Freedom (In UK Fear of Freedom) was published while he was living in New York after his escape from Germany in 1933 - having Jewish ancestry. He seeks to trace the complex of relationships between historical roots, the current social conditions, and individual psychological processes in the rise of Nazism and the persecution of the Jews. The quote is from pages 172/3 of the 1960 Routledge paper back edition.
Shoe buying in the Old Quarter of Hà Nội. The heat is shown by a fan (foreground right) helping to cool, but not curtail, customers’ pressured decision making.
Above, hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.