3 May 2017

The Responsibilities Of Freedom. Humans, Freaks Of The Universe

Living With Freedom

If human beings cannot live with the dangers and responsibilities of being free, wrote the philosopher Erich Fromm in his book, Escape From Freedom, then they inevitably escape from freedom and turn to authoritarianism. If the rise of democracy set some people free, it also gave birth to a society in which the individual feels alienated and dehumanized.

Our times do not push me into argument, they challenge me to think and be aware of what I think and what I believe. That, I see, is a gift.

Humans are the world's most complex creatures, writes Fromm.

We have reduced the average working hours to less than half of what they were a hundred years ago. We have more free time than our forebears even imagined. But what has happened? Do we know how to use the newly gained free time, or do we waste and try to kill the time we have saved. We are glad when another day is over.

Are we happier than people used to be, even people who died young and lived hard lives?

We are the only creature on the planet who knows what we are, or that we will die. Self-awareness, reason and imagination disrupt the "harmony" that characterizes the existence of animals, and that compels me to live with them and study them. Man's consciousness has made him into an anomaly, the freak of the universe.

We do not live in harmony, not with nature, or quite often, with one another. We are the only species that kills for no reason.

We are part of nature, subject to its physical laws and unable to alter them, but at the same time we transcend nature. Humans, writes Fromm, "are homeless, yet chained to the home he shares with all creatures. Cast into this world at an accidental place and time, he is forced out of it, again accidentally."

Being aware of himself, he realizes his powerlessness and the limitations of his existence. He visualizes his own end: death. He cannot rid himself of his mind and he cannot rid himself of his body, which insists that he remain alive.

Reason, the great blessing of humankind, is also its great curse, it forces us to cope with the insoluble task of understanding our own life. In this respect, human existence is different from that of all other organisms, it exists in a state of constant and unavoidable disequilibrium.

Man's life cannot "be lived" by simply repeating the pattern of his species, like other animals; he must live. Man is the only animal that can be bored, that can be evicted from paradise. He cannot go back to the pre-human state of harmony with nature; he must proceed to develop his reason until he becomes the master of nature, and of himself.

Man is adrift, writes Fromm, he has lost his original home, nature – and he can never return to it, can never become an animal again. There is only one path for him to take: to emerge fully from his natural home, to find a new home – one which he creates, by making the world a human one and by becoming truly human himself. This drama is unique in the animal world.

It is not easy to be a human being. It is not easy to be free, freedom is a painful, even awesome responsibility. Many people run from it.

Fromm spent much of his life studying why it is that people have so often chosen totalitarian forms of government over the freedom they think they want and say they want. Fascism, Naziism and Stalinism all have one thing in common, he found. The offered the atomized individual a new refuge and security.

These systems, he found, were the result of alienation, not politics.

The individual is made to feel powerless and insignificant, but also taught to project all of his human powers and goals onto the figure of a leader, or the state, or a fatherland, to whom he has to submit and whom he must and does worship. He choses to escape from the burdens and challenges of freedom into a new kind of worship, a new kind of idolatry.

Almost all of the achievements of reason and individuality, from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, are sacrificed on the altars of new idols, says Fromm.

"All human beings," he wrote, "whatever their position in society, are suffering from the process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egos, they feel insecure, lonely and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society."

There is a lot for me to think on in that, because I believe in reflects my own life, even if I was rarely conscious of it.

Man is afraid of freedom, writes Fromm, so he built new and sometimes evil systems to replace it.

These new systems of the 20th century, all enemies of freedom, even responses to it, were built on shameless and even flagrant lies, both with regard to the programs and their goals and to their leaders. In their speeches and promises, their leaders claimed to practice a kind of Socialism – great jobs for everyone, wonderful health care and opportunity, the purging of outsiders – when what they were really doing was the destruction of everything that is part of the socialist or democratic tradition.

Mussolini, a cowardly braggart, presented himself as a symbol of manliness and courage. Hitler, an evil prophet of doom, was universally praised as the builder of a prosperous and powerful new state. Stalin a cold-blood, murderous schemer, called himself the loving father of his people.

So there is this pattern in the world, writes Fromm, of working people embracing their very own exploitation and destruction, because freedom by its very nature is insecure and unpredictable and vulnerable.

These countries are different from ours, according to the historians. Those countries were weak and powerless, with no real history or commitment to freedom. Those peoples never had the chance to commit themselves to the challenges and responsibilities of freedom, which we are struggling with here.

When people escape from the challenge of freedom, writes Fromm, it is because the individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence on society. But he does not accept this dependence, or see it as a positive thing, as a natural tie, or as a protective force. Rather, he he sees society as a natural threat to his rights, or even to his economic existence and well being.

Freedom them becomes an enemy, not a sacred goal.

I think my responsibility as a citizen is to practice my values, rather than argue them. To devote myself in some measure to society.  I need to know history and remember its lessons, without becoming a prisoner of them. I need to be aware of what is happening around me, but not submit myself to the tyranny of continuous and disturbing news.

Fromm argues that as long as the individual  has adjusted to his society, he is a sane and healthy citizen. The creators of democracy had a concept of man who was essentially spiritual and religious. Moral men.

Man, wrote Fromm, is the end, and must never be used as the means. The aim of life is the liberation and unfolding of our creative powers. The aim of government is justice and truth, not the pursuit of wealth and power.

Posted in General

The Bedlam Farm Barn Fairy Comes Of Age


Nikoline, the Bedlam Farm Barn Fairy, is going to be ten this Saturday, and she came by with her mother and father today to help clean Lulu's abscess up.  She is a striking young woman, intelligent, warm and filled with courage and confidence. It has been a joy to see  her grow up, I will always remember when she showed up in the barn in her Barn Fairy costume with a wand, and the chickens went nuts.

She and Fate seem to think alike, the two of them ran around the Pole Barn. This time, Nikoline did not jump on the donkeys' backs and ride. It is a pleasure to know this amazing woman, and a joy to watch her continue to come of age.

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Ken Norman: Finding Lulu’s Abscess

Finding Lulu's Abscess

Lulu has been limping for several days and over the years, we've learned about this problem. With donkeys, this is almost always an abscess in the hoof or a twist or strain. I used to call the vet, but that usually meant a $250 bill and an armload of medicines and syringes.

Abscesses are sores or infections in the hoof caused by stones or sticks or sharp objects, they are painful but almost always break of their own accord, although they can become infected if not treated. And sprains and twists always heal, you just have to be patient and willing to watch your animal limp for a bit.

Lulu was limping for three days, so we called Ken Norman, our friend and farrier and he came by tonight. Three days is my limit.

He scraped Lulu's hoof, saw the abscess, helped to drain it, Lulu is already walking better. Ken will be back to trim the donkey's hooves during our Spring Open House, June 10-11, 11 to 4 p.m.  He said the abscess was beginning to break naturally, but he put some balm on it and wrapped it.

We feel better about going to Connecticut tomorrow for a book talk.

I've learned that there are times to call the large animal vet, and times not to call them.  Vets don't know much about donkeys, farriers do.

While it's always hard to see an animal in pain, there are a number of problems that they can work out themselves. And the less expensive animals are to maintain, the more animals we can have and care for.

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Treasures Arrive From India: The Humble Potholder Speaks Of Freedom

Treasures From India

On Maria's trip to India, she visited a group called House Of Hearts in West Bengal and taught the women there how to make potholders. They listened carefully, and yesterday, a box stuffed full of potholders Maria inspired arrived, Maria and I will sell them on her blog and at our Open  Houses.

She is delighted by them.

Maria especially loves the beauty and color of these potholders, by the color and feeling.   They have real emotion. There are 100 of them.

We are excited to  have them here and to help sell them. The potholders were made by women in an Indian village who are working to find safe and meaningful ways to make a living. Maria said teaching them was one of the most powerful experiences in  her creative life, and she is going to be working with House of Hearts to sell potholders and also some other things the group will be making.

I think this means another trip to India at some point,  for her, and perhaps for me. The potholders will be sold on her site, she hasn't figured out the price yet, the money will go to support House of Hearts and the women seeking to control their own lives.

For women in India, that often means having a trade. This is exciting for both of us, and we were both delighted by these potholders. You can see them and buy them on Maria's website in a day or so. Maria's potholders have a life and identity all of their own, they are truly going global.

She has taken the humble potholder and turned it into a statement of empowerment and affirmation. The potholder has now gone global. You can e-mail Maria at maria@fullmoonfiberart.com if you have any questions.

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Rolling Along: The Book Tour On Wednesday. Back On The Radio?

The Book Tour

A busy book tour day, I went to Albany to be interviewed for one hour by Joe Donahue of WAMC, Northeast Public Radio based in Albany, connected to 21 different stations in the Northeast.

You can hear the interview on wamc.org. Joe and I used to partner to do a regular broadcast called "Dog Talk" and we are both talking about starting the show up again. I liked the questions and the callers, I irked some animal rights people, as usual, by questioning the Stalinist assault on farmers, including the use of secret informers and wanton raids on private property.

I talked about the need for a wiser and more mystical understanding of animals and my own ideas about communicating with them. Joe and I are mulling returning to our "Dog Talk" format, just chatter at this point but I like the idea. And I'm going to Albany regularly anyway to visit with RISSE and the refugees and immigrants in the program.

The day felt good, the book is landing in many of the homes of people who pre-ordered it. Tomorrow, Maria and Red and I head for Mystic, Conn., where I will be speaking at the Connecticut Library Association (CLA) at the Mystic Marriott at 4 p.m. We've been invited to have dinner with some librarians, and then Friday we'll head home.

Saturday, I'm speaking at the Chatham, N.Y.,  Public Library at 3:30 p.m. Maria and Red are coming (the two stars).

On the parallel but no less important front, we've raised enough money for two RISSE soccer team birthday parties, and I believe (haven't counted it yet) that we have also raised enough money to buy Connie a portable air conditioner so that she can have enough energy to return to her knitting work.

Thanks so much. If there is any overage, and with your permission, I'll use any overage to buy some cooling posts for some of the other residents. The Mansion is not air conditioned, and it can get awfully hot there on warm days. Your generosity is boundless, you are doing staggering amounts of good. Thank you.

Connie's birthday is Friday, and when we return from Connecticut Friday I can tell her the happy news. She will be able to work again next week. The Mansion maintenance staff will install the portable conditioner. This is the model I've chosen to buy for Connie's room, it will cost about $400 with duct and clamps, both necessary for the conditioner to work in Connie's room. It's a Honeywell, and the no.1 portable condition according to Consumer Reports, it is a 10,000 BTU air conditioner, the perfect size and strength for Connie's room.

For those who didn't know, Connie has had to stop knitting because of the warmer temperatures. She struggles to breathe in the heat, and cannot expend the energy necessary for knitting when the temperatures climb, she is breathing oxygen through special tubes.



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