Assess, more assess everywhere on television, in the street, on facebook, instagram, twitter, parties and our circle of friends. We have become to think about each other in terms of particularities, objects that are elevated to god-like unchangeable figures and the ‘Ass’ is one of them mainly objectified on the ‘second sex’. We have it or we don’t, or we want it and we don’t have it. But nobody asks what happens if we don’t have it? Can we still achieve it? Do we want to achieve it? and why do we want to achieve it? Oh the poverty of daily life! Poverty of thought is felt almost everywhere and the norm rules over our head. Questioning is the basis of everything and the fundamental to keep your heart warm and awakened: What is excluded then and what are its consequences? Who is excluded and why? Under what mechanisms and why is it so prevalent today? What does it do to us in our minds, bodies and our interactions with others and society? If we are aware of these things, how can we change them and what can we do about it? Well, too many questions but at least we are making them and that is a start. Lets begin the conversation:
The having mode has a lot of helpers that allow him to engender more frequent come backs. Their bellies are full yet their irresistible desire for more is insatiable and, like the movie La Grande Bouffe, their bellies don’t stop growing until the last bit of cake is swollen and their last breath is taken. Seen in this manner the having-mode is capable of harassing everything akin to a tornado gone crazy amidst the ocean, a caribbean hurricane swirling by the name of some macho capable of breaking the moulds of huts, edifices and poor neighbourhoods, and, most importantly, deadening the clamped legs standing amongst the last few. However, unlike the calmness felt after a storm, the end of a brutal fight, or the maturity of all walks of life there is no end, no tragedy but the immensity of pure destruction.
Their possessive helpers are everywhere to be found and their names come back with a terrible grunt and fearless distaste for what is accessible to all of us and enriching to our souls: the commons within an honest being-mode. They include the private use of names, nouns, utterances, and the violent designation over things and people. The dominion of language transgresses subjects, their feelings and their relation to things making them mere objects of contemplation, away from us, distant from our calls, and our vocal chords. Its strength relies on the fixity of things making them, and us, part and parcel of their world; categories of their own creation, disordered and then re-ordered, subjected to their own command in so many desperate ways. Our world then becomes unchangeable, unmovable and we start to treat others in a purely essentialist manner. As Fanon stated so firmly concerning his experience as a colonial subject, we become fixed as the negro, the woman, the chav, the lesbian, the disabled, the old, the fatty or the skinny. As such we are purely fixed by words, looks and others who stab us with their prejudices. The thoughts become entities in themselves venerated like the sun from a god like providence where questioning is forbidden to the depth of the poor soul of the Other. The Other then becomes objectified as pure, unchangeable, vanquished into the purely negative in contrast to the subtleness of the positive: white, male, bourgeois, hetero, abled bodied, young, and the perfect body of David (Michelangelo). The beast and the civilised. The bad and the good. The ugly and the beautiful. And so on until eternity.
In this particular having mode, our being becomes dissociated from ourselves possessed by the voyage of languid oceans of language matrices intertwined in a linear time condemned to have an expiry date- death, destruction, violence, genocides-. We become objectified beings under two doors, two windows and a roof over our heads, entrapped by it; habiting or dwelling in it. We are forced, intruded, penetrated and violated in our frameworks of thought and we start to think ourselves outside of our own, intransigent with love, solidarity, generosity and communal living. Many people call this maturing, a sense of toughness of life, but that is not exactly it. Instead, a more accurate word to define this particular having-form is created by a sense of possession within language; discourse.
Discourse is defined as the constitutive practice of language in giving meaning and practice to a given object, person, or institution in a political community. This not only refers to what can be spoken or not, but also what is excluded outside of language. So we have here a sense in which language defines things whilst excluding everything else and thus producing people within the symbolic framework of meaning and practice. That is, the power of language lives in a relational mode. So here we have, aside from the possessive form of language, a way of understanding language as a relational category where we are always dominating something (or someone) at the expense of excluding something else. For instance, when we see a ‘black’ person we compare this to a ‘white’ person with a given understanding of what each of these people mean in a racist society such as our own. Black here means dark, evil, criminal, etc whilst white means educated, well-mannered and honest…Racist discourse thus leaves aside everything else of what a black person could mean and leaves us with a black signifier that is ‘inferior’ always in relation to a white signifier that is ‘superior’.
In the having-mode the main discourse affecting the way we see the world and our reality is based on an mono idea of possession: this is my friend, my food, my parents, my house, my girlfriend or my boyfriend. Language is not innocent, it always belongs to someone. Language and possession become part of our discourse thus legitimating the having-mode and reinforcing its power over us. What this produces is – instead of freeing us into venturing other zones, ways of expression and relating to language – the violent exclusion of other discourses (losers, hippies, more critical ones etc) and a sense of entitlement of the few.
Other aiders of the having-mode are the bodily desire to live and strive to immortality. The bodily desire to live is not a problem, insofar as the having-mode doesn’t become a translucent and only goal in life. However, as Fromm narrates, if we conceive ourselves as mortal, which gives us fear, we attempt to disallow ourselves to live a more fulfilling live while we are still here. So instead of blockading this thought with more desire to live and potentialise ourselves, we indulge in an insistence to strive to become immortal beings, by leaving things, acting to become heroes or leaving a lasting legacy based on materials ways beyond our framework of endurance. We tend to leave a house, an artefact, some works, etc which we own and pass to later generations, which if not regulated under some rubric based on being and fulfilment, this might endanger itself whilst transforming into an all-encompassing having mode filled with ego-centrism and property corruption. If this desire becomes stagnant it becomes a quasi-religious belief that we might live forever in the future just by merely leaving things in our way even after we die. Thus leaving us, X, a thing as our own remembrance and making that our own leitmotiv prevents us to live a more fulfilling life.
Concerning the relation individuals have with things and a matter of things understood as possessions, Fromm makes here a comparison with Freud’s idea of the anal-erotic phase. Individuals facing this phase, which astonishingly represent many of them, signify the character of a person whose main energy in life is directed towards having, saving and hoarding money and material things. Moreover, under the anal-erotic phase we can identify ideas about possessiveness as feelings, gestures, words and energy congruent with todays hetero-patriarchy capitalist societies. In terms of its character we can diagnose these strange individuals as stingy persons and is usually connected with such traits as orderliness, punctuality and stubbornness.
This type of pathology is felt in today’s consumption world and it is deeply imbricated in society, the individual and its material possessions. Fromm’s critique of the hoards of power in bourgeois society bring to mind an excellent comparison where money and faeces meet in an individual’s life making them enter the anal-erotic phase and maintaining them grasped in this mode of living. For the author, this is where individuals are transformed into neurotic and mentally sick people.
For some people who strive to live a bit better in today’s cultural capitalism, it has been popular to take a leap and become ascetics up in a far away mountain by themselves with no materials, except themselves. This was common practice amongst the alienated middle classes from the late 60s mainly transforming themselves into quasi religious entities where Goa trance, drugs and psychedelic overtones united all of them with the One. Some still rely on this kind of venturous life but are mainly joined by nomadic hipster type, white, bourgeois groups attempting to ‘find themselves’ and returning to live a normal, alienated life as a banker most probably. As Fromm tells us, asceticism is not a solution either because it deprives people of strong desires for having and consuming,which are still recurrent amongst the mind that is not freed. To put it in simple terms, if you go up a mountain and decide to live only within yourself as an escape mode, the desire to have things is still prevalent in you and consumption is very much still part of your being. Moreover, considering the side turns that the mainstreaming of the working poor, hipster life and hippiesm takes, it is important to take into account that asceticism and escaping route provides us with little social change towards living the good life with others.
In the economic and political field we can find the same logics working towards reinforcing this idea about having and possession. We find this in myriad ways even amongst the so called ‘left’. Equality of income as demanded by socialist states and some ‘progressive’ groups will not destroy the having mode and merely help to hide the real motivation of individuals brought up to feel envy, selfishness and comparison. While eradicating luxury, poverty, and class is of utmost importance, it is the ideas and quasi-religious thoughts of the social character of our own being that ought to be eliminated; that aspect between us that makes us feel selfish, accumulate more money and feel superior and feel envy in interrelations with others. A transformation towards a better society would have to come from the soul, from our ways of relating with each other and towards things. The demand for basic income in this context should attempt to do away with the differentiation of experiences of life from different groups produced by capital. Thus making us build a more creative, spontaneous and fulfilling experience for all where inequality does not imped the free development of all in equal terms. This does not mean that experiences ought to become homogenised but that social injustices should be eliminated, and in particular, the experience of feeling denigrated and misrecognised. In short, a transformation of social life towards a more enriching being-mode that allows us to make compatible important values such as equality and liberty is something we should strive for.
Of course there is always going to be the smart guy who attempts to point out that being without having is impossible and ultimately ‘unrealistic’ because existential having is inherent in all of us. I would not be too inclined to perceive these people as congruent because their beliefs tend to be ahistorical, poorly reflective, individualised and reductionist to say the least. They lack a sense of what social relations of power mean and how inequalities are built. I do agree however with the idea that we do need basic materials to live to become free and survive. Even so, human existence does not require us to possess things in order to be. We can be without having and possessing and live a better live by doing so with others, by being with them and being with access to basic material goods. Things like sleep, food, water, housing, health care and education are important things for our basic existential needs and that is why privatising them and making them available to a few prevents others from being.
To ponder on the idea about the having mode and its aiders is distressing to say the least. The reinforcement of its destructive aspects in a possessive environment such as the capitalistic one may well be detrimental to the soul of the many and beneficial to the pockets of the few, but being aware of them to combat them and arrange, think, feel, and laugh with others in a better mode may be worthwhile task.