Wednesday 20 May 2020


The conjunction 'AND' is vital in the title - this is not a blogpost detailing the art of loving the dark side of the prime-minister. I do recommend reading Parts One and Two in this series first, before gathering the fruits of this third part.

Here is the link for Part One - just press.

And here is the link for Part Two - just press.

In Part Two, I outlined Erich Fromm's understanding of the active nature of real love for other people. Such authentic loving always has these four characteristics: we care; we respect; we recognise our responsibilities in the relationship; we seek to understand that person and empathise with what has shaped them.

Love is …..

In 'The Art of Loving', Fromm develops his argument further as he examines the love between parent and child; brotherly love (by which Fromm means love for neighbour in a biblical sense - the masculine gender is a token of the decade in which the book was written); motherly love; erotic love; self-love; and love of God. Fromm then moves on to consider what he sees as the disintegration of love in western society.

Fromm is clear about the economic and social reasons for such  a collapse of love:

"Modern capitalism needs men who co-operate smoothly and in large numbers; who want to consume
more and more; and whose tastes are standardized and can be easily influenced and anticipated … What is the outcome? Modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under exiting market conditions. Human relations are essentially those of alienated automatons, each basing his security on staying close to the herd …. Automatons cannot love …. in [the modern] concept of love and marriage the main emphasis is on finding a refuge from an otherwise unbearable sense of loneliness …. one forms an alliance of two against the world, and this egoism a deux is mistaken for love and intimacy.'

But what was the question?

Grim stuff. But when you realise that the relaxation of divorce legislation over a decade after Fromm wrote has led to between a third and a half of all marriages in the UK collapsing, you sense he was on to something.

I will explore in more depth Fromm's thoughts about contemporary problems with the love of God when I produce my blog-post about the singular and wonderful American poet, Robert Lax (1915-2000). For now, my focus is on what more Fromm has to say about the practice of love.

Maybe needs a little more unpacking - Erich Fromm-style.

The practice of any art has certain general requirements, whether it be the art of carpentry, medicine, or the art of love. Discipline is required; so too concentration; and patience - and above all, a supreme concern with the mastery of the art. If it is not of overriding importance, the practitioner will fail.

Discipline is not to be seen as something painful in the way our culture has shaped us to understand the concept. We need to see discipline through the eyes of eastern cultures, through the filter of Buddhism for instance, and recognise that that which is good for us - discipline - must also be agreeable.

Concentration requires that we learn to be able to be alone with ourselves. If I am attached to a person because I am afraid of being alone, that other person may be a lifesaver, but the relationship is not one of love. To be concentrated in relation to others means primarily to be able to listen. To be concentrated means to live fully in the present - not to be thinking of the next thing to be done, while I am doing something right now.

Patience is vital to concentration - and one cannot learn to concentrate without becoming sensitive to oneself. Fromm uses the analogy of the car driver to make his point: the person behind the wheel is not thinking about all that must be taken into account in the act of driving; their mind is in a state of relaxed alertness, open to all relevant changes in the situation on which he or she is concentrating.

Love still needs more unpacking than this.

At this point, Fromm sums up his position on the nature of love thus:

The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one's own narcissism 


Best to leave Erich Fromm at that critical juncture - I will return in my concluding part next week. However, the idea has been revealed; the genie is out of the flask. The biggest obstacle to love is our own narcissism. And that brings us to our necessary but painful focus on the narcissist resident in No 10 Downing Street - Boris Johnson.

There is an infamous Bullingdon club photograph that includes both Cameron and Johnson - and a close friend of Johnson: Darius Guppy, best man to Princess Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, at Spencer's first wedding in 1989.  

Guppy ringed above - Johnson ringed below

Shortly after graduating from Oxford, Guppy embarked upon a criminal career in the course of which he is widely suspected to have led Johnson himself - given Johnson's toleration of violence - into criminality. Guppy was angry that his father has lost much of his fortune through a Lloyds insurance implosion in 1989. In revenge against Lloyds, in 1990 he planned an elaborate insurance fraud. Guppy arranged to have himself and his business partner, Ben Marsh, tied up in a room in the Halloran House Hotel in New York - the world's largest gem centre - and to make it appear as if they had been robbed of jewels worth £1.8 million.

Guppy recruited Peter Risdon, a surveillance salesman who had boasted of his criminal connections, to play the part of the robber. Risdon tied them both up in the hotel room and fired a bullet into Guppy's pillow for good measure. But the New York police became suspicious. And Risdon too now became anxious about Guppy, fearing that he, Risdon, was going to be left carrying the can for the crime whilst Guppy and Marsh would cheat justice and escape to South America. Risdon therefore took the precaution of tapping into Guppy's telephone and recording his conversations.

Around the same time, a News of the World journalist, Stuart Collier, had been making some inquiries about Guppy and alarmingly passing on information about him to the New York police. Guppy and Marsh were now back in England having got away with the fraud. Guppy had no intention of losing his advantage. He turned to his old friend, Boris Johnson, a fellow Old Etonian and Oxford Bullingdon club member, for help.  

Guppy decided a touch of intimidation was in order. The summer of 1990 tape recording of the call between Guppy and Johnson reveals Guppy informing Johnson that he's either going to beat Collier up himself or that he will hire some heavies to do it. Guppy asks Johnson to find out Collier's address. You might think that our future prime-minister would seek to discourage his friend from such a violent course of action. Unfortunately for both Guppy and Johnson, the 21-minute call was recorded; Johnson can be heard discussing how badly the journalist will be beaten up and agreeing to use his journalistic contacts in order to supply Guppy with Collier's address and phone number. It becomes clear that this is not the only conversation they have had on this matter.

The camera rarely lies.

Johnson is at pains to impress upon Guppy that his, Johnson's, complicity must be concealed. If it had come out he would have been an 'accessory before the fact' and criminally liable. In the end, Collier was either knocked to the ground by Guppy himself and covered in manure or set upon and badly beaten. No definitive statement is possible. In due course, Guppy was charged for his fraud, found guilty, and sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Eventually, Peter Risdon decided to go public with the tape and expose at least one duplicitous politician, Boris Johnson. The tape was aired for the first time in April 2009 on a Dispatches TV programme called 'The Trouble with Boris'. Johnson adopted what has become his standard response: 'It was all a bit of a joke. It was all rather harmless. It was just Darry [Guppy's nickname].' Rather like we still hear from Johnson's friends: 'It's just Boris'.

However, now this self-serving narcissist has to account for the lives of tens of thousands of UK citizens who have died on his watch - as a consequence of both his actions and deliberate inaction.        

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