Continuing to come to grips with Racism that has played so prominent a role in American and European history, today’s meditation poses this question: How much of a role does sadism play in racial hatred and in hatred of the Earth?
According to psychologist Erich Fromm, the essence of sadism is the compulsion to control:
The core of sadism, common to all its manifestations, is the passion to have absolute and unrestricted control over a living being, whether an animal, a child, a man, or a woman.
And I might add, the Earth. Does sadism help to explain how people can commit to denying climate change?
This need for control has profound social as well as personal implications—the “authoritarian character” who is a sadomasochist exhibits “control of those below and submission to those above.” Apparently sadists make good followers as well as effective bullies.
Who is affected by this control compulsion?
Even those on lower social levels can have control over somebody who is subject to their power. There are always children, wives, or dogs available; or there are helpless people, such as inmates of prisons, patients in hospitals… pupils in schools.
Racism and religious bigotry flow from this kind of sadism.
Religious and racial minorities, as far as they are powerless, offer a vast opportunity for sadistic satisfaction for even the poorest members of the majority.
Fromm understands sadism to be a misuse of our generative powers when he observes that the sadist is afraid of creativity.
The sadistic character is afraid of everything that is not certain and predictable, that offers surprises which would force him to spontaneous and original reactions. For this reason, he is afraid of life. Life frightens him precisely because it is by its very nature unpredictable and uncertain. It is structured but it is not orderly.
This explains much of the dynamic among Inquisitorial figures in our day and previous times. Sadism derives from impotence. Sadism is “the transformation of impotence into the experience of omnipotence; it is the religion of psychical cripples.”
Sadism can be much more than a psychological condition—it can become baked into societal structures just as racism can be and indeed can carry on a racist impetus. I have seen sado-masochism at work, for example, in academia where a professor, himself abused as a student, turns around to commit to abusing the next generation when he/she gains power as a professor himself.
That is why a teacher who is cheerful and encouraging of students, while still demanding rigor, is such a gift to the younger generation.
Is sado-masochism part of the Wall Street vs. Main Street dynamic so foundational to our current capitalist system? Is it present in political parties that pursue power for power’s sake and winning at any cost and deny climate change, the suffering of Mother Earth and her creatures?
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 258f.
Banner Image: Drill ship in the Gulf of Mexico 120 miles off shore from Alabama. Photo by Extra Zebra on Flickr.
Queries for Contemplation
Do you see the compulsion to control as part of the explanation of the endurance of Racism? Of Economic injustice? Of the tolerating of Ecocide? How does that move your heart and move you to action?