To Have or to Be? The Nature of the Psyche | Erich Fromm

Summary of: To Have or to Be? The Nature of the Psyche
By: Erich Fromm


In ‘To Have or to Be? The Nature of the Psyche,’ Erich Fromm explores the consequences of our society’s ongoing pursuit of material pleasure and wealth, and how a shift from the ‘having mode’ to the ‘being mode’ could lead to a more fulfilling existence. In this summary, we delve into the societal pressures that fuel our constant cravings for accumulation, while examining the damaging impact to both individuals and the wider world. Through powerful examples, Fromm illustrates the benefits of embracing a ‘being mode,’ promoting self-awareness, connections with others, and responsible consumption.

Beyond Consumerism

The pursuit of happiness through unbridled consumption has led to anxiety, depression, and addictions. Greed and selfishness drive society to consolidate wealth, leaving little room for solidarity, sharing, and contentment. Capitalism and communism fail to curb consumption, but drastic social and economic changes are necessary to reshape society for the benefit of the majority.

Having vs. Being

Do we view people and love as possessions to acquire? Are our opinions pieces of our identity that we cling to? In “Having vs. Being,” the author argues that society’s emphasis on accumulating possessions objectifies our relationships and restrains us from becoming our authentic selves. Escaping the “having” mode allows us to engage with the world honestly, embrace change, and find fulfillment in our genuine needs. It’s a choice between two competing mindsets, and adopting the “being” mode may lead us to deeper and more meaningful lives, according to the author and philosophers like Buddha, Jesus, and Marx.

The Cycle of Selfishness

The book discusses how the “having mode” of society leads to self-centeredness and a lack of social responsibility. Leaders in power act in their own interests rather than the general public’s, while citizens focus solely on their own personal concerns. This cycle creates a growing rift separating those with power and money from those without, leaving two groups: the exploiters and the exploited. The only route to change is a social revolution towards a society built on “being,” which would lead to positive effects such as improved foreign relations and peace. The having mode also breeds selfishness and hostility between humans and nature.

Our Arrogant Plunder of Nature

Before the Industrial Revolution, humanity considered itself a part of nature, but now we dominate it. Our exploitation of natural resources like water and forests poses an existential threat, as ecological damage and meteorological change could result in global famine. To avert catastrophe, we need a new ethic and radical transformation.

In the past, humans understood the interdependence between nature and survival. However, in pursuit of ever-increasing profits, we now exploit the planet to our advantage. This greed is dangerous and foolish, as it endangers not only the planet’s survival but also our own. Even as nature fights back against our arrogance, we arrogantly press on with the belief that we are invincible. We have developed technologies like mechanical and nuclear energy that can cause mass destruction, further heightening our belief that we are gods and nature is insignificant.

The current industrial model is unsustainable and disrespectful to the environment. Humankind’s poisoning of the earth and plundering of its resources will result in ecological damage and meteorological change that could ultimately cause global famine or annihilation. The only solution is a shift in ideology toward a new ethic that values nature and demands radical transformation. It is time to realize that nature is the most powerful force and respect it accordingly.

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