Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents, Parts III-VIII



















In the final sections of Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud runs quickly through his general ideas of how the id/libido, ego, and superego operate. Including the rise of technology in his assessments, he sees civilization as a struggle between individual wants and group needs. He speaks also of love and beauty, with a nod to St. Francis of Assisi. "On the one hand love comes into opposition to the interests of civilization; on the other hand, civilization threatens love with substantial restrictions."

One of his biggest ideas is to posit that human beings and their civilizations are at constant warfare with themselves and each other in a struggle between life-affirming Eros and an aggressive death drive:

[M]en are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satsify their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and kill him." He goes on to list various acts of barbarism, many committed under the banner of organized religion (and some of which Robin listed in a recent comment), examples of which "reveals man as a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien."

Though Freud makes other striking points, I'll end with these, with our world now engulfed in a seemingly permanent state of global mayhem:

In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration. The interest of work in common would not hold it together; instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests.

Lucky us.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is that the iceberg the Titanic hit? Now there's a great movie. All about naturalism. Forces beyond our control and over which we are powerless. We are neither lucky nor unlucky to mother nature because she just doesn't give a shit.

Sheila said...

There are too many ism's nowadays...

JR's Thumbprints said...

Civilized society is a thing of the past alright. People are no longer loyal to their jobs because they've seen how companies treat their employees. The only loyalty is one of selfishness, of "How can I make it into a power position myself?" and "Let m stick it to the man." Unfortunately, "the man" is anyone who gets in the way. We're like crabs in a bucket, trying to climb out.