Independence Day, the Importance of Democracy
There is a long history of psychologists writing about Democracy and it's opposite, authoritarianism. For example Alfred Adler, one of the greats of the 20th century, discussed the importance of equality and social justice. Another great psychologist was Erich From whose most famous book was "Escape from Freedom. His point was that some people want to escape freedom into dictatorship because they believe it's easier to conform to what others dictate rather than being and embracing the independent individuals that they are.
As an example of Fromm's view of mankind, the biblical story of Adam and Eve teaches a lot about individuality. As most of us know Adam and Eve bit from the apple of the tree of knowledge. That was forbidden by God and, as a punishment, they were exiled from the Garden of Eden. Immediately after eating the apple they became of aware of their nakedness and felt ashamed. Then they understood that they committed a terrible sin. According to Fromm's interpretation of this story, after eating from the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve became conscious of themselves, their vulnerability and the fact that they would someday die. According to Fromm it is knowledge that gives people the ability to choose their path in life and to become separate, autonomous, equal and responsible individuals in society. In other words, if "ignorance is bliss," it is due to the fact that the lack of knowledge keeps us from knowing some very uncomfortable facts. At the very same time, as Fromm states, information allows us to choose to live useful and productive lives as a way of making up for our mortality.
This is where the issue of parenting comes in. Adler talked about different types of parenting and asserted that punitive and authoritarian parents produce children who are resentful but who grow up to be people who value dictatorship, prejudice and inequality. Baumrind and others discuss similar findings in their psychological research. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that, in a democracy, it is the parents who have a responsibility to raise children who value democratic principles and the concept of being an individual.
So, ultimately ignorance is not bliss. Knowledge and individuality allows us to respect others rather than choosing to live with hatred and prejudice against others. Knowledge helps us see the dignity in mankind and the importance of respect.
As we celebrate the July 4th holiday in America or July 24th in France or independence day in other nations at other times of the year, it's necessary to respect differing political views. It is also important to respect the rights of man and the value of all people regardless of race or religion.
Happy Independence Day.
Your comments are welcome.
Allan N. Schwartz, Ph.D.