Physiological Approach for the People Sacrificing Freedom

Book Review Series – 2
April 30, 2018
The Future of Political Violence and Terrorism Studies: An Interview with Marc Sageman
May 20, 2018

Physiological Approach for the People Sacrificing Freedom

Meryem Irem Demir*

Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm, a social scientist, divides obedience into internal and external obedience. The internal obedience is to obey one’s own mind or belief. This is not a submission but self-efficacy and intentional acceptance. In this case, there is no forced obedience. A person does his/her own decisions. He exists in his own life as himself. His developing conscience constitutes his inner discipline. He does the right without fear and does not make any compromise even in the place where no one can see him.

The external (autonomous) obedience is that a person is judged by a foreign power and accepts his/her will. In external obedience, one gives up his/her own will and surrenders himself to someone else’s will.

In such situation, the person fully obeys to any person, institution or power without initial acceptance or will. The individual has no right to choose no matter what his decision is. He can’t be creative or productive, as he neither has the right to speak, nor think freely. He only obeys. In this case, the individual forced to be passive by an authority who makes decisions for him; thus, the individual thinks that he can’t overcome a problem, since he believes his mind is incompetent.

He chooses an easy and effortless life with the fear of making mistakes and failures that may end up taking responsibility and making his own decisions.

People who want to be a part of greater community that are strong enough place themselves in a position of obligation towards more powerful individual in the certain community.

Individuals who do not obey the authority are considered traitors by the society. For this reason, the individual prefers to locate himself in a safe place. Such a security is paid by giving up his own mind and will. The society excluding the individual from the decision-making process embraces the role and lifestyle that sees fit for the individual. The individual, therefore, believes that when he rebels against the authority and disobeys, the authority will punish him.

People with the same political views, like the same sport-team supporters, have similar thoughts and behaviors. Even if we do not realize, our brain has such attributes. The left side of the brain is designed for thinking activities where more thinking increases the brain’s cognitive workload. The brain wants to skip increased workload as much as possible and prefers to focus the next issue. For this reason, individuals skip personal judgment by accepting the common rules of society and thus decreasing the cognitive workload.

Almost all of the social beings adapt to the community. Large groups such as insects, contain stricter rules. For example, a worker bee never tries to be queen, but unconditionally obey to the rules of the society. There is more flexibility in small groups such as worms where leadership might pass around in such groups. People can organize small and large groups. Individuals can join multiple groups and be happy, when they are supported by other group members. The individual’s brain releases dopamine when getting support in society and has a motivation for repeated actions. In fact, this motivation may increase tendency to violence.  There were communities such as Ku Klux Clan and Hitler’s organization that show how such motivation could turned into a violence leading people to feel ashamed of their history.

How do the leaders come to power in communities? First of all, they seek the support of the weak people in the community. They gradually break the powers of the strong members, and they establish their sovereignty. Then they want to protect their power. The easiest way for this is to place a colony obeying their power. Because the colonies are loyal.

The colonies threaten the natives in terms of housing and the use-of-natural sources. Threatened locals survive without being unaware of each other. Some early settlers and natives stay in silence in order not to give up their interests and to continue to get the social benefits. Moreover, the powered leader is merciless to punish anyone who doesn’t obey his rules. By the heavy penalties, the ruler labels his opponents as guilty publicly and thus, prevents them from taking revenge. The colonies who have never experienced freedom before is easier for the ruler to be kept under authority. But it is difficult for rulers to dominate societies that have received freedom before. Because such communities still seek opportunities to turn around. For these communities, the ruler has only limited options; destroying the entire community, settling with new colonies that obey his rule without questioning or convincing. Especially in the communities that tasted democracy and freedom in the past, the ruler is to convince the society by propaganda and mass media. Thus, the ruler should control communication channels to convince the society that he works only for their interest in this world.


Fromm, E. (2001). İtaatsizlik Üzerine. (Translated by A. Sayin.).

İstanbul: Kariyer Publications. Machiavelli, N. (1910). The Prince. USA:Dover Publications


*Medical student at the Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey. 

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