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Saturday, October 31, 2015

True Confessions: How I Came to Read Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom

Thomas Farrell, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, asked me earlier today about what I had studied of Erich Fromm and existentialism when I was a student at the City College of New York in the mid-1960s (Tom and I had previously exchanged email about Fromm):

Here is my reply -

When I was an undergraduate at City College (1963-1967), I was a Psychology Major. I was taking a psych course - I don't recall the name - and I had a paper due on the last day of class (the day the final exam was given). I came into class, took the exam, but didn't have the final paper. I told the professor I had left it home, and could he give me a three hour extension (the time it would take me to go from City College in Manhattan and back to my home in the Bronx to retrieve my nonexistent paper). The professor agreed. Instead of going home, I went to the school library. Escape from Freedom was one of a dozen books which was eligible as a subject of our paper (15 handwritten pages). I spent two hours reading as much of the book as I could, the next hour furiously writing the paper, and rushed over to the professor's office. I got an "A" in the course. I finished reading the book, and have always considered it one of the wisest books I ever have read.

Turns out I had already told Tom this true story, in our previous email - he was one of the privileged few.  But I thought it was time to share that deep dark secret with the world.

Actually, I don't really consider it so dark - as I tell my writing classes at Fordham University, all that really counts is the written text, not how you produce it.   Do a hundred drafts over weeks or months, or hand in your first draft written in less than an hour - I don't care, it's what the words say that counts.

And, by the way, Escape from Freedom is a masterpiece.  Its disconcerting thesis that people accept dictatorships of all sorts because in their hearts they want to remain children, and don't want the responsibility of making decisions for themselves, explains the rise not only of totalitarian states, but the workings of democracies, and why a free people might vote for candidates and ideologies that limit their freedom.   Something to think about, especially here in the United States, as we move into full swing for our upcoming Presidential election.

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