The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
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Uses the disciplines of psychology, anthropology, sociology and psychiatry to explain what makes people act the way they do.
own vital sense of self-expansion is secondary to a broken china plate, a soiled tablecloth, a smeared wall. If he is to expand and grow in such a world he has to replace his own authentic movement with a fictional framework of value. Even more directly, as Fromm insisted, the child’s life quest is acted out in a world of power-relations: he is inferior to powers that are tyrannical in many ways. No wonder the child fears castration, says Fromm: he learns to understand power as his independence
calling my doll ugly, I won’t come play over at your house tomorrow.” This is not a threat, but a plea for gentle handling, an enjoinder to exercise mutuality. Sociologists insist on the importance of early training in role-playing. The child plays at various adult roles and learns the proper lines for each part—husband, wife, policeman, robber. By the time he grows up, he is already skilled at assuming the identity of some of the major figures in the cultural plot. But there is a more subtle
societies may give their highest rewards to such people, as they do to the shaman whose social function it is to travel into the invisible world and cope with the spirits there. No matter that the shaman may be labelled “psychotic” by our standard psychiatric textbooks, his private experiences of trances, delusions, hallucinations can find a perfect place in tribal life, since all mysterious cause-and-effect, all vital power, lies in the dimension of the invisible. He is an admirable performer in
we feel we have the right to remain separate and aloof—in fact, the Anglo-Saxon may feel that the Italian or Greek is less than “civilized” for this very reason. We will have to signal as “queer” someone who submerges us with words and does not allow us to uphold our end of the conversation; or whose verbosity drowns out the interludes of silence so necessary to an impression of sustained meaning—as we saw in Chapter Nine. And we should at least have to avoid and exclude as much as we can those
American Sociological Review, Vol. 28, pp. 339-364. Stierlin, Helm (1959), “The Adaptation to the ‘Stronger’ Person’s Reality,” Psychiatry Vol. 29, pp. 143-152. Strauss, Anselm (1959), Mirrors and Masks: The Search for Identity (: Free Press). Szasz, T. S. (1970), The Manufacture of Madness (: Harper & Row). Traherne, Thomas (c. 1672), Centuries (: Clarendon Press, 1960 edition). Van Peursen, C. A. (1966), Body, Soul, Spirit, A Survey of the Body-Mind Problem (: Oxford University Press),