Ground-Truthing: Awareness of Causes and Effects Thought Experiment 2.4.3
Erich Fromm argues that the essential requirement of choice is awareness. In Stanley Milgram’s psychology experiment that we just thought about, were the subjects aware that they could choose not to participate or that they could stop? What did they think they were doing? If they thought the experiment was worthwhile, did they think that electric shocks were an appropriate means to getting to the result? Were they coerced by some external or internal force or personal wish? Once they started, did they feel that they must go on, that they had no choice? Being aware of the possibility of various choices is certainly not sufficient if the subject of the experiment doesn’t have the personal will to act. However, the subject’s actions may cause him or her to suffer from “failure” or rejection or from the sarcasm or disappointment of the “authorities.”
According to Fromm, awareness includes many steps: 1. Awareness of what final result is better or worse, right or wrong – as well as which means to the end are better or worse; 2. Awareness of which concrete action in the specific situation is an appropriate means to the desired end; 3. Awareness of the forces behind one’s apparent wishes, including unconscious desires; 4. Awareness of the real possible choices; 5. Awareness of the consequences of each choice; 6. Awareness of the fact that awareness is not effective without the will to act and the willingness to suffer the frustration of effort.
How does one learn these things? Think of an ordinary family, school, or work situation when you had to make a specific choice that affected someone else or several others. How did you decide whether what you did was right or wrong? Were there authorities in the background who recommended or required certain actions? Did the result that you wanted justify any means? In that specific situation, were you aware of a line that you would not cross? Were some choices that you might have considered just not possible for you? Were the consequences what you expected? Did you recognize what the consequences would be in advance? Did you have to “suffer” for your choice in some way?
Without Words We Cannot Think
“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.” Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)