“The most beautiful as well as the most ugly inclinations of man are not part of a fixed and biologically given human nature, but result from the social process which creates man. In other words, society has not only a suppressing function—although it has that too—but it has also a creative function. Man’s nature, his passions, and anxieties are a cultural product; as a matter of fact, man himself is the most important creation and achievement of the continuous human effort, the record of which we call history.”
In this episode of Made You Think, Nat and Neil are joined by Paul Millerd to discuss their key takeaways from Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm. In this book, Fromm makes a connection between the rise of capitalism to the beginning of man’s conflict with the modern sense of freedom.
In this episode of Made You Think, we cover a wide range of topics including:
0:34 Today we are joined by Paul Millerd, long-time MYT listener and author of The Pathless Path. Paul touches on the ideas of negative freedom and positive freedom that were discussed in the book, and shares how those ideas have fit into his story over the past few years.
4:19 A lot of what we think that we want is not what we actually want. Paul shares the underlying reasons of why he left his high-paying job years ago upon reflecting on the principles that were most important to him.
“All our energy is spent for the purpose of getting what we want, and most people never question the premise of this activity: that they know their true wants. They do not stop to think whether the aims they are pursuing are something they themselves want.”
Many people go through their life going through the motions without actually reflecting on what is most important to them.
11:06 Nat talks about his experience living off of passive income in South America. While complete freedom from obligation sounds attractive, there’s an importance in having something meaningful to work towards.
16:45 “Capitalism not only freed man from traditional bonds, but it also contributed tremendously to the positive freedom, to the growth of an active, critical, and responsible self.”
In Fromm’s time, your job was your primary identity. With the growth of business and capitalism, more options are created on what you can be. Some people cling onto what they know because it’s stable and secure, and the idea of having so many options in front of them creates fear.
Others lean into that freedom of having more possibilities and transcend their status in life.
20:29 Insecurity coming from a loss of identity and place in the world. When you separate yourself from your regular job, it can be challenging to understand your identity. People tend to ask more questions to those who aren’t in a typical job but rather control their own schedule.
25:27 Having individuals or influences in your life. These days many people find these influences through media. It’s helpful to have examples out there of people who have taken a path less traveled and strayed from norms.
Nat, Neil, and Paul discuss another one of Fromm’s Books: The Art of Loving. Love is what we’re all aiming for, and there are many ways we can arrive at love. One way is work. It gives us a connectedness to self and the world.
29:29 When you find things that bring you meaning, double down on those. Lean into those things that bring you meaning and embrace it.
While there is much less toil now than when the book was written, we must recognize the gap that leaves. Your mind has so much time to think, and too much time to think can lead you to feel empty.
31:20 Fromm begins to hit on mindfulness.
“Man misses the only satisfaction that can give him real happiness—the experience of the activity of the present moment—and chases after a phantom that leaves him disappointed as soon as he believes he has caught it—the illusory happiness called success.”
Finding things that are internally motivating that resonates with you vs. doing things that are thrust upon you by others or society. Living in the present moment, not living for the future state. It can be hard to overcome our compulsion to immediately fill gaps in our day with our phones or other stimulation.
34:29 How the economic system is impacting our psychology. Fromm calls on people to be aware of it. As humans, we take in as much information as we can all the time, it’s hard to turn it off. There’s reward in being online and having your presence online, but it also consumes your time.
Your psychology mixed with the psychology you get from the system is evolving together, this can be a barrier to leaning into the positive vision of freedom.
38:11 Neil talks about the connection with Finite and Infinite Games. Whether it’s the self-employment game, crypto, or other, there’s so many “games” you can play. Where you get caught is if you start thinking that game is reality. If you remember that it’s a game, then that’s all it is. It can still add meaning and enjoyment to your life.
42:30 The alternate path of being a creator isn’t always the best option for everyone. Pseudo-freedom. Not everyone is wired the same way.
The development of remote work in the past decade. It provides a new way to relate to your work and for some, is more comfortable and less restricting.
46:53 Is there an alternative metric to tracking work aside from tracking hours? How to measure outcomes at work.
“Life has ceased to be lived in a closed world the center of which was man; the world has become limitless and the same time threatening. By losing his fixed place in a closed world man loses the answer to the meaning of his life; the result is that doubt has befallen him concerning himself and the aim of life.”
49:58 The world has changed so much in the past 150 years from many different standpoints, including technology and what the average day-to-day looks like. Even within the past few decades along, there has been so much change. Will things continue to evolve rapidly or will it level out?
54:40 When things change, how is it decided what will change? We may think the world will change in one way but it’s unpredictable the way it would actually go.
1:00:15 When comparing yourself to others, you have to remember to play your own game. What others do may fit them better than it will fit you. Even those who you compare yourself to surely has someone that they compare themselves to.
1:05:01 It’s impossible to be good at everything, and to have it all. There are some things you can’t have simultaneously. Do you truly want all these things or are you just conditioned to want it?
1:08:16 The pursuit of power, and the two-fold approach.
1:12:22 When the reality we want in our mind isn’t the story that’s actively happening, it can bring us anxiety. Deciding if what you want is worth the costs you pay to get there.
1:16:19 Thank you for listening! Make sure to pick up a copy of Dictator’s Handbook and King, Warrior, Magician, Lover to follow along before our next episodes.
If you enjoyed this episode, let us know by leaving a review on iTunes and tell a friend. As always, let us know if you have any book recommendations! You can say hi to us on Twitter @TheRealNeilS and @nateliason and share your thoughts on this episode.
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Thanks for listening. See you next time!