[Note:  After speaking with my professor last night (15 June 2017), I realize I was extremely harsh with Fromm’s text, and it may be something I should revisit in the future.  Additionally, I apparently made sweeping generalizations that have no basis in the text, so when you read this, please keep that in mind.  I wrote this paper a little too rushed and I shouldn’t have.  Thank you. — Michael.]



Social systems, the social configurations that we are forced to live in within the larger community and the smaller communities and groups we choose to be a part of, are difficult to separate from political systems, financial systems, even bureaucratic systems that we live under.  Each is separate, and yet, together, they are so intertwined that some of us cannot see the trees within the forest.  Fromm’s social system, “productive orientation” and productive love” (Fromm, 2002) result from his experiences within WWII and its aftermath.  The Dalai Lama’s social system, “happiness” and “compassion” result from his studies of Tibetan Buddhism, a spiritual or meditation practice that predates Western Europe and Capitalism by several hundred years.  The two systems present a contrast in philosophy as well as time.  Both will be analyzed and critiqued within the context of each text as well as within an alternative social system (anarchist) that will be proposed.

Productive Orientation versus Happiness

Fromm (1955) asks, seriously, whether or not we in Western society are sane at all.  The buildup is a description that results in a rhetorical inquiry that isn’t entirely true or false, but nowhere does he propose any alternatives to the one we are living in. He wonders if we are clinically sane, individually and collectively, by psychiatric standards.  He might as well ask if we as a society are civilized.  The viewpoint and the definitions employed depend upon one’s perspective.  If one were to define sane as existing in a society to mutually benefit one another rather than allowing corporations and government to exploit the masses, then we are clearly not sane at all.  The same assessment could be made for civilization, ours versus one that the Western perspective would classify as primitive, yet those primitive societies exist for the mutual benefit of every member, nobody starves, and gender assignments are personal, not political.

Throughout, Fromm (1955) wonders if human beings are sane or perhaps suffering some form of collective patterned defect or individual neurosis.  He does note the high incidence of suicidal and homicidal acts in Western Europe, especially Northern Europe (The statistics date from the early 1950’s.). While the United States is high on the list, the data does not reflect the increased isolation and industrialization that has occurred in the United States and other countries since or the evolutionary political and social changes in quality of life in Northern Europe over the last sixty years.  Fromm’s assessment makes the connection between suicide and mental health but sees no link between the violence and increasing isolation and industrialization (in Fromm, read: boredom), some of what is looked upon to determine quality or lack of quality of life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  While he sites writings and research throughout, the questions surrounding his readings give one the impression that these are merely rhetorical inquiries.  His ideas of collective neurosis read entirely the same as the results of a concentrated, embedded and long-term collective propaganda campaign, though Fromm only equates propaganda to Socialist and Fascist-style societies, not “free” Western societies and rarely discusses it within the text.  At the time of this writing (1955), Fromm saw the Western model as the only viable one based on his experiences, yet he indicates the dangers of such a model throughout.  While it was the dominant model, then and now, there were and are others that he should have been aware of, besides the Fascist, Socialist, and Western “democratic” models (see below).

The Dalai Lama (1999), like Fromm, still accepts the premise that present Western society (since he is obviously writing to an English-speaking audience) is acceptable.  While he is a relative latecomer to the modern world, as he admits, he accepts Western society tacitly as an absolute that requires a band-aid rather than offering any alternatives just as Fromm offers no alternatives.  While this acceptance in Fromm on some level may be tolerated, there were and are existing alternatives that he should be aware of, with the Dalai Lama it is not, because he has lived in some of these alternative societies. Thus, he chooses to accept the dominant political system of the West that is designed to support exploitative industrialization, government, and bureaucracy that calls itself “democratic,” yet only supports a small minority of industrial and capitalist corporate exploiters.  What is also disturbing is his assessment that, while he sees the value in scientific progress, he also equates it to a Western religion that we are in danger of being subsumed by.  While for some this may be the case, it is not for all.

The Dalai Lama also questions the collective sincerity of individuals in alternative societies, those in Northern India and Tibet that he is most familiar with, those poverty-stricken areas where people have collaborated with one another. While survival is key and may play a part, what he doesn’t consider is the culture of those areas as one of collaborative effort between communities and individuals versus the culture of greed and individual selfish pursuit that we as a society have been conditioned into in the West. He also does not consider the outliers in both societies who are rebellious in nature and battle and campaign against the stereotype. He also does not consider this in light of his concept of dependent origination (that he discusses a little later) that all entities are connected and all entities rely on the whole rather than act independently.  We all need each other to thrive, to survive, to evolve.  Is this a Dalai Lama that lives too much in the West or a cynicism acquired while visiting the West that has rubbed off on him?

The Dalai Lama (1999) calls for a spiritual revolution, but I have to question why he excludes atheism from such a revolution when Buddhism is not a religion but a meditation practice in much the same way as yoga is, where one can be both Christian and Buddhist, Jewish and Buddhist, Pagan and Buddhist, and even Atheist and Buddhist.  There is no exclusion and yet he excludes.  Happiness, on the other hand, is relative and a matter of personal definition.  And while it may be material goods for some, I have to wonder how deeply those few believe that happiness lies in acquiring stuff.  Here the Dalai Lama states what is abundantly obvious regarding empty and hollow existences and the pursuit of material goods as a form of happiness.  Happiness for the Dalai Lama is something ethereal. It is even beyond the pursuit of music and arts, sensory pursuit, which in logical-philosophical terms I can understand, but in spiritual terms, I cannot; given that music envelops my existence and is, in a very real sense for many, spiritual.  In this society that is ever pursuing industrialization and financial domination, music is one of the few pursuits that is clearly available to the high and low in a variety of forms, whatever station in life they may be, whatever their financial status.  Given the existence of Tibetan meditation music; I find it difficult to understand why the Dalai Lama would dismiss such a thing as indulging the senses in this way.


Productive Love versus Compassion

Fromm sees simple union as something that is sought from need, perhaps crudely spiritual, but definitely reproductive, definitely survival, and definitely basic.  It is more clinical, fulfilling base needs rather than compassionate, from physical rather than intellectual or romantic needs. To move beyond that requires something more, what he calls “productive love,” the need to unite oneself with the external world and to retain “the separateness and integrity of one’s own self.” (Fromm, 1955).  While there are additional elements that augment his ideas of productive love, his whole idea of this reads like a crude construction of a hierarchy of needs with a mild dose of Freud and his mother fixation.  This crude hierarchy of needs was supplanted by Maslow (1968) at least a decade earlier who has since been replaced as well.  However, he makes a good argument that at the level of productive love, we need the companionship of others, whether friends, lovers, children, or others.  unless we can get past the attachment of such connections as Buddhism and the Dalai Lama explore via compassion for all beings. Fromm breaks this down into “brotherly love,” among equals, “erotic love,” or attachment and union with one other person.

The Dalai Lama’s (1999) compassionate love lies at the opposite end of the spectrum of Fromm’s which appears to be based on a need, Fromm’s explanations to the contrary notwithstanding.  According to the Dalai Lama, in one form or another, we are compassionate by nature, whether it is only between particular individuals or family members.  However, he never adequately explains the reasoning behind the cruel and destructively sadistic actions of Hitler, Stalin, Mao whom he states he once admired, Pol Pot, a serial killer, or even a school bully.  While he implies that compassion and nurturing are naturally existing traits within every human being, he neither explains this variety of non-consensual sadism, nor does he explain individuals who have been raised in a loving and nurturing environment who still grow up and develop abhorrent natures to what we are supposed to be at our core.  We can develop compassionate and empathetic natures consciously as the Dalai Lama indicates, but humans, being very suggestible, necessarily require family and community leaders, and there are so few of those that when one appears, media propaganda outlets raise them to a pedestal to gawk at them as a rarity.  Rather, wouldn’t it be more effective to teach critical thinking, empathy, and compassion by instruction and example to young and old instead, since, like common sense, what the Dalai Lama insists exists within us all is still far from common?


The Healthy Self within Societies

Mental health is dependent upon factors that are heavily influenced by environment and leaders whether family, community, media, and government that impact society overall.  While somewhat rhetorical, I have to wonder what the incidence of depression and emotional instability was in pre- and nascent industrial society and prior to the collection of humanity in urban boxes or cages, depending on the city size.  As I have indicated, one’s conception of mental health depends relatively upon one’s definitional perception, but Fromm (1955) doesn’t discuss this phenomenon beyond its introduction.  Fromm returns to his crude hierarchy of needs and admits that physiological needs are easily met, yet society has still not figured out the psychological.  A personal anecdote give me pause to actually question the veracity of meeting  physiological needs from a 1955 publication. Several years ago, a friend of mine who was raised here but born in Ghana, related a story regarding a government official in a West African country where someone approached them to offer a solution to the water shortage crisis in certain areas, and the government official declined, explaining that the government would not be able to suppress and control the people if they had the means to flourish and thrive on their own.  Fromm addresses several peripheral issues related to psychological health, including connectedness to other human beings, collectives, and attachment to others, but he does nothing to address the compacting of humanity into city centers that probably does affect the mental health of everything and everyone.  It is almost as if he has been contracted to determine effective half-measures that may help a vocal minority but not a majority of people.  Through his text, he seems just as entrenched as a majority of the population that is unable to see the morbidity through the haze of collective delusion.

The Dalai Lama (1999) states that in the past, families and small communities could exist more or less independently of one another unless they chose to assist their neighbors in one form or another. But in fact, it is difficult to determine at which time in the past families and small communities had no need to rely upon one another.  The statement is puzzling on several levels when my reading of history (and a recent internship on a farm in Carrollton, GA) has shown me that in the distant and recent past as well as the present everyone and everything is so interconnected that to be completely and utterly independent is a foolish assumption that resulted in and results in worsening conditions, extreme poverty, or death.  Before the advent of hard currency, what led to eventual currency exchange, communities, groups, families, and traders, exchanged one or a few line of goods for others.  Some were artisans of one trade, whereas others were not.  Some specialized in growing a few crops better than others, and what were they to do?  Eat only what they grew without interacting with community, neighbors, or neighboring communities?  While some communities and individuals may rely entirely upon themselves for all of their sustainable needs and investments, they may be rare, and I haven’t encountered any.

Even in wider industrial society, collaboration exists in pockets, in neighborhoods, in groups, in cities, everywhere.  People collaborate, assist, sell, trade, and negotiate. The Dalai Lama’s pleas are sincere, but they are misguided and misinformed.  Fromm (1955) indicates that people need other people to thrive and to function.  Human nature confirms it.  We’re not perfect at it, but the Dalai Lama (1999) naively questions it exists at all so he can plea for its return.


Towards a Conclusion:  Making Sense of It All:  Assessing the Meaning of a Healthy Self

Both the Dalai Lama (1999) and Fromm (1955) are systems thinkers.  They propose no theories, no alternatives, no solutions, and only make occasional suggestions.  They point to issues, dilemmas, and problems, and they frequently and conveniently ignore the historical record, contemporary theorists of their time that have addressed the issues they discuss, and historical and contemporary alternatives that may or may not be ideal in large societies.  Both Fromm and the Dalai Lama contradict themselves at times, pining over something they believe is lost that never really was lost, and offer options that already exist. They only contradict each other through one’s reliance on secular methods and the other’s spiritual approach.  Neither’s ideas seem plausible and both seem to offer lamentations and suggestions for what is wrong and never any real options.  Thus, neither’s ideas really seem viable in reality.  Additionally, neither challenges the status quo of State Corporate Capitalism and Government as part of the problem and conveniently discuss the problems arising from both without acknowledging the issue directly.


A Look to the Future:  The Paradigm Shifts Within Proposed Alternative Social Systems

There are other options that have been written about and experimented with on smaller and medium scales recently and for centuries.  Some of these alternatives are ideal for smaller communities and incorporate the ideals that both Fromm and the Dalai Lama lament that we have “lost”. Alternatives that, in pure form, aren’t exploitative as it is in its State “democratic” institutionalized form.  These are micro-social systems that separate from the larger society, operating on their owned defined terms, semi-insulated within their created communities, yet they also interact with the larger community and other smaller semi-insulated communities for goods and services in exchange for other goods, services, and / or currency. Some of these alternatives are practical for smaller communities and incorporate the ideals that both lament that we have lost.

One alternative in question is communitarian anarchism, the concept and formation of community, not the institutionalized form that is created by a bureaucratic structure but naturally by community attachments, be they personal, familial, common interests, or the like that occur, “through an open, attentive, and caring relationship to the concrete human and natural realities it encounters within and around itself.” (Clark, 2013).  Various examples of this alternative exist throughout the United States, North America, and internationally (Wikipedia, 2017),  While there are many resources available to research the local occurrences of communitarianism and communitarian anarchism, the most thorough resource is Fellowship for Intentional Community (http://www.ic.org/) where intentional communities are listed with environmental as well as political philosophies, the format of each, as well as the availability of space and the financial and labor contributions required of each member.

Note that these are voluntary associations, not city and state constructed bureaucracies that each member chooses to become a part of, rather than being forced upon each member of the community as is the case with the latter.  While these are not new, having a recent history as “hippie communes” (Wikipedia, 2017), the forming of such communities’ dates back hundreds of years (Wikipedia, 2017).  Depending on the views of the members or the charters, communities can be either completely insular, completely sustaining, or trade, communicate, and engage in commercial activities with the outer and surrounding community.  That such communities exist and are forming isn’t a revolutionary paradigm shift on the scale of Thomas Kuhn (1997) because this shift has been an alternative for many years, but that they exist as an antidote to the State Government and Corporate Capitalistic apparatus, is a paradigm shift in thinking that is becoming more and more prevalent in the world.



Clark, J. P. (2013). The impossible community: Realizing communitarian anarchism. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Commune. (2017, March 29). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commune

Dalai Lama, H. H. (1999). Ethics for the new millennium. New York, NY: Harper Perennial: 1993.

Fromm, E. (2002). The sane society: With introduction by David Ingleby  (2nd ed.). London, England: Routledge.

Kuhn, T.S. (1997). The structure of scientific revolutions (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Intentional community. (2017, March 26). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_community

Maslow, Abraham H. (1968). Toward a psychology of being. Ontario, CA: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company Inc.