To Have or to Be?
What defines you? Is it the things you have? Your home? Your clothes or body? Your car or your stuff? Is it your lack of stuff? In this interview based on his book To Have or to Be, psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm cuts straight to the heart of why we latch onto things for our identity in general, and, more specifically why our consumer behavior is so out of control–that our stuff, the things we buy and possess, is used as proof of our existence.
He logically explains the pitfalls of this strategy: that when the stuff is gone, when the house has burnt, the electronics outdated, the fashion out of style, the body old and flabby, the nation fallen–that we, as “havers,” are lost. We cease to exist.
He also explains the alternative: the path of being, where our personal expressions, our “verbs”–to love, give, empathize, etc–are the defining characteristics of who we are. He explains how this path is more resilient, how–barring brain damage–our being can never be taken away.