Nietzsche once asked, “what does your conscience tell you?” to point to Ethics of man [woman]. Thinking about that, I am reminded of Erich Fromm’s thesis on the very notion of “conscience” in Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics. A book he wrote back in 1947. I find many of Fromm’s ideas and theoretical treatments of the human condition relevant to the planetary conditions of the 21st century. Is our collective conscience a dependent of the voices of authority (i.e., physicians, politicians, ministers, priests, cops, generals, CEO’s, etc.)?
Fromm divides the human conscience (human’s recall to him or herself) into two types (a bit simplistic, but appropriate for the sake of this discussion, I think). These are “authoritarian conscience” and “humanistic conscience.” People who operate with the authoritarian conscience have internalized the messages delivered to them from infancy to adulthood from different sources of authority such as their parents, teachers, ministers and priests [i.e., God], government leaders, other experts, and today for many, the most powerful of all authorities, the collective juggernaut known as the corporate media. Authority is singular in its power, one could argue in this context.
Fromm writes, “One particularly important aspect of the uniqueness of the authority is the privilege of being the only one who does not follow another’s will, but who himself wills; who is not a means but an end in himself; who creates and is not created.”
So, it follows that those who submit to authority, those who live in what Marcuse warned in his seminal book, a society of One Dimensional Man will have rigid tendencies to develop authoritarian consciences.
But of course, in open societies the authorities (e.g., the corporate-controlled media) do not possess (collectively or individually) absolute power to construct the citizen’s conscience. Do they?