The first part of each blogpost will be an insight into the wisdom of Erich Fromm; the second part will be a recirculation of facts about the life of the current prime-minister of the UK, Boris Johnson. My aim is to set up a creative tension between the psychotherapeutic verities of one of the great minds of the 20th century and the biographical details of a disturbingly damaged and harmful man whose ruthless ambition has helped take him to the top of the greasy pole of political power.
|Detail from the image on the front cover of 'Boris Johnson: The Best of Brexit: A Study in Depravity' by Heathcote Williams (2016)|
I should explain that when I was an undergraduate at St Catherine's, Oxford in 1968, I did read Fromm's 'The Art of Loving' (1956) in a paperback edition well enough to realise this was a profoundly important book. The way I have lived my life at its best has, thank goodness, been shaped by Fromm's wisdom. Half-a-century later, I have returned to reading his seminal work with a tangible sense of excitement. Here's just the briefest of biographical detail for Erich Fromm (1900-80):
Born the only child of Orthodox Jewish parents in Germany, his doctorate in 1922 was in sociology. He then studied as a psychoanalyst completing his training in 1930. After the Nazis came to power in
Germany, Fromm emigrated to the USA setting up his own schools of psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and psychology. He held various professorships in Mexico City, Michigan, and New York from 1949 to 1974, when he retired to Switzerland. He described his views on matters religious and spiritual as "nontheistic mysticism".
|Erich Fromm in 1974 - in his mid-seventies|
My recirculation of facts about the current UK prime-minister has been made possible by my recent purchase of the reprint of Heathcote Williams's Boris Johnson: the Beast of Brexit A Study in Depravity (2016). To quote from the back cover: 'Drawing on biographies by Sonia Purnell and Andrew Gimson, a great many newspaper articles, and Johnson's own journalism and TV appearances, Williams assembles a blistering charge sheet: climate change denial, dishonesty, hypocrisy, incompetence, racism, violence, 'remorseless self-promotion', ' a ruthless and often cruel ambition together with an elitism and a ferocious temper when challenged'.
Heathcote Williams (1941-2017) was an English poet, actor, political activist and dramatist. He, like Boris Johnson, was educated at Eton.
|Heathcote Williams in his study|
Now to the wisdom of Erich Fromm as shown in the pages of The Art of Loving:
- Most people think about love the wrong way round - they want to know how they can be loved. Instead, they should focus on how to develop the capacity to love.
- Loving is simple, most people say; what's difficult is finding the right person to love or be loved by. But the way we live today has helped shape this false way of seeing and being in the world.
- In our modern society our love partner has to be 'attractive'; we have to be 'attractive'. Our culture is rooted in the conventions of the market and what makes a product 'saleable'. We have become blind to the critical difference between falling in love and being in love. To fall in love is an instinct; to be in love is an art.
|The Art of Loving - not quite fully mastered.|
- 'Loving' is an art that has to be learned and a wisdom gained. When we focus on this art of loving we satisfy the deepest needs of humanity - the need to overcome separateness; the need to find at-onement. All ages and all cultures face the same needs.
- One way of escaping separateness lies in various orgiastic states (sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, one might say). The sexual orgasm can produce a state similar to the one produced by a drug. Of course, to some extent, the sexual orgasm is a natural and normal form of overcoming separateness and is part of the answer to the problem of isolation. But in many individuals the search for sexual orgasm serves a purpose similar to alcoholism and drug addiction - and will never truly satisfy.
- The sex act without love produces an ever-deepening sense of isolation and separation. The gap between two human beings is never bridged, except momentarily at best.
|A lust for power too|
- In a Vanity Fair profile (2008), the writer Michael Wolff tailed Johnson for a day or two and listened to his speeches. He commented: 'It's all riff - anti-political correctness, anti-personal regulation, pro the verities of English life (hunting and smoking and smacking).' Depending on your point of view Johnson's beloved English 'verities' can equally be described as animal torture, self-harm and child abuse.
- Johnson's propensity for violence goes back to his school-days. His school newspaper, the Eton Chronicle, echoed the anti-Vietnam war chant when noting the violence which Alexander Boris Johnson employed when playing the Eton Wall Game: 'Hey! Hey! ABJ! How many Oppidians did you kill today?' [Oppidians are the fee-paying Eton students who live in boarding houses in the town of Eton - as distinct from the Eton scholars who live in the college buildings. The Wall Game is often played between Oppidians and Scholars who wear gowns and are known as 'Tugs', being short for togati or gown-wearers. Johnson was a 'tug'.]
- On Johnson's departure the college Leaving Book was found to contain 'a large photograph of himself, with two scarves and a machine gun, together with an inscription about his determination to achieve "more notches on my phallocratic phallus"'.
- Johnson's penchant for an almost sexualised violence would soon find a further outlet in the initiation rites of Oxford's Bullingdon club and later excesses. At one club meal in 1987, attended by both Johnson and Cameron (UK's PM from 2010-2016), someone threw a large plant pot through the restaurant window. The Oxford police were called and six of the group, including Johnson but not Cameron who managed to escape, spent the night at Cowley police station. By his own account, Johnson was reduced to 'a gibbering namby-pamby'. The bully caught out usually proves a coward.