Civilization and Its Discontents
Civilization from the Perspectives of Freud and Sarmiento
Sigmund Freud’s essay, “Civilization and its Discontents”, and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s book, Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism, both make bold and thought-provoking statements about their respective societies and contemporary civilization. Although Freud’s and Sarmiento’s ideas appear similar at first, the split between their notions of civilization grows noticeably wider as their works are more closely compared. This is mostly due to the disparity in their motivations for studying civilizations. Sarmiento, an Argentine statesman and revolutionary, wants to educate his countrymen about the benefits of civilized, cultured life as opposed to the barbaric ways of the Argentine gauchos and caudillos. In contrast, Freud scientifically analyzes civilization for the sake of gaining an understanding of the human psychological makeup. Sarmiento’s claims about civilization appear to only serve his own political needs. They are based on false assumptions and contain numerous contradictions, which is especially evident when Sarmiento is compared to Freud, who bases his interpretations of human society solely on fundamental human instincts and clear logic. Thus, Freud’s arguments are more plausible and more firmly grounded than those put forth by Sarmiento.Freud explicitly defines civilization as “the whole sum of the achievements and the regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors and which serve two purposes-namely to protect men against nature and to adjust their mutual relations.” In essence, a civilization is a community of people that works together in order to create a sophisticated means for easier survival. This includes the study of the sciences, especially medicine, in order to allow for disease treatment and prevention. Also, in order for the community to function properly, rules or laws must be established to govern the relations between individuals. These concepts are echoed in Sarmiento’s writing. Although he never truly defines civilization, there are several concepts that Sarmiento continuously associates with civilized society. These are mentioned when he speaks of the decline of civilization due to the rule of the caudillos and gauchos: “In San Luis, for the past ten years there has been only one priest, and there is no school or even one person who wears a tailcoat.” He continues by outlining a similar situation in San Juan. “Only three young people are studying outside the province. There is only one doctor native to San Juan. There are not three young people who know English, or four who know French.” Apparently, Sarmiento sees civilization as a community in which education, medicine, religion, and European culture thrive. A group of people without these properties is considered barbaric. Both Freud and Sarmiento stress the importance of technological and cultural advancement in their definitions of civilization. The two authors describe civilization similarly, but Freud provides a much more rigorous and lucid account. On the other hand, Sarmiento, who uses vague language in comparison to Freud, essentially describes civilization as European society, which makes his definition narrower and less applicable.The ambiguous language that Sarmiento utilizes creates certain contradictions throughout his text. For example, in describing the history of the Argentine revolution, he states, “In the Argentine Republic before 1810, there were two distinct, rival, and incompatible societies, two diverse civilizations: one Spanish, European, cultured, and the other barbarous, American, almost indigenous.” Sarmiento certainly makes a clear distinction between the civilized and the barbaric. In fact, his description of the cultured, European society acts as a condensed version of his definition of civilization, which was discussed previously. However, he designates both cultured societies and barbaric societies as “civilizations.” This is a problem because throughout the remainder of his book, Sarmiento uses the word “civilization” to refer to educated, cultured societies. He refers to barbarism as simply a primitive way of life that is separate from civilization. As a result of this imprecise language, Sarmiento’s idea of civilization becomes blurred to the reader. It is entirely possible that the confusing wording is a product of the translation of the text into English. Nonetheless, it makes Sarmiento’s notions about civilization appear fuzzy and almost careless, especially when compared to Freud’s meticulous descriptions.Freud’s and Sarmiento’s ideas about civilization begin to differ in the discussion of what factors threaten civilization and where these factors originate. Freud emphasizes repeatedly that the greatest threat to human civilization is the aggressive nature of human beings. In other words, people are not naturally kind or generous, which guarantees conflicts when a group of individuals live closely together in a community. These often-violent confrontations have the potential to destroy civilization. In fact, Freud makes the point that one of the most important tasks in a successful society is the control of human aggressiveness and tendency towards violence. Sarmiento believes that the greatest threat to civilization is barbarism, which he essentially depicts as the opposite of civilization. Sarmiento describes the decline of Argentine cities towards barbarism by stating: “with the spirit, government, and civilization of the cities dominated, the final formation of the central, unitarist, despotic government of the rancher Don Juan Manuel Rosas, who sticks the gaucho’s knife into cultured Buenos Aires and destroys the work of centuries, of civilization, law, and liberty.” Sarmiento uses the name “Rosas” synonymously with “barbarism”, since Rosas was the leader of the caudillos and gauchos who held authoritarian control over Argentine cities throughout the early 19th century. Sarmiento gainfully utilizes the imagery of the gaucho’s knife in order to show the aggressive, violent, and barbaric methods employed by Rosas during his control of Argentina. While it first appears that Freud and Sarmiento have the same outlook on the threats to civilizations, their ideas are actually fundamentally different. They both believe that aggressiveness is the main threat, but Freud refers to internal aggressiveness while Sarmiento describes external aggressiveness as the menace to civilization. Freud makes it clear that every individual in society has a tendency towards violence, writing that “the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man.” These aggressive impulses, if not controlled or limited by society, can explode, leading to the destruction of civilization. On the other hand, Sarmiento believes that the threat to society lies in the violent ways of Rosas and his gaucho followers. He never acknowledges that cultured, European individuals have a natural tendency towards violence and destruction. Hence, while Freud and Sarmiento share in the belief that civilization is threatened by aggressiveness, their specific notions of this aggressiveness are quite different.The split between Freud’s and Sarmiento’s views on civilization continues to expand when both men express their ideas about the origins of aggressiveness. Freud takes the scientific viewpoint in describing these origins: throughout “Civilization and its Discontents”, Freud makes numerous references to Darwinian theory and its consequences. Thus, it is clear that he believes aggression in human beings to be an integral part of their survival. In other words, humans must be instinctually aggressive in order to compete for food, shelter, and sexual partners, as outlined in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Sarmiento has a completely different view of the origins of aggressiveness. He believes that aggressiveness, namely the gaucho way of life, arises due a lack of education, isolation, and poor discipline. While describing the early development of a gaucho in Facundo, Sarmiento makes the point that the gaucho participates in few relations or activities with other people. This creates a feeling of restlessness in the gauchos. They begin to roam the plains of Argentina looking for any sort of excitement or action. They partake in dangerous horse racing, knife fighting, and gambling, fostering the fiercely competitive and aggressive gaucho character. Since these men are often not forced to answer to any type of authority, their aggressive and violent ways become uncontrollable due to their lack of discipline. Furthermore, since gauchos are not formally schooled, they cannot be taught the civilized way to live. Sarmiento, a pioneering educator himself, continuously advocates the importance of education for the advancement of society and for preventing individuals from developing the barbaric gaucho personality. He describes the inhabitants of San Juan: “how much they could progress if the government would concern itself with fomenting education and culture, the only means of raising the level of a people.” Apparently, Sarmiento feels that individuals can be taught that violence is wrong and can be led towards a more civilized way of life. If people do not receive this type of education, they become violent and aggressive like the gauchos. In attempting to support his claim, he states that crime in San Juan declined when “moral precepts were inculcated in students with special diligence.” Sarmiento refuses to acknowledge that violence is a natural tendency in human beings, but instead argues that it is a product of the lack of education and discipline in barbaric societies. Nonetheless, Freud’s position on the origin of aggressiveness is much more cohesive than Sarmiento’s because Freud’s argument is built on scientific evidence and basic human instincts, while Sarmiento’s claims are, essentially, his own observations and judgments.Naturally, since Freud’s and Sarmiento’s ideas about civilization are so different, it is not surprising that their insights into prospects for future civilizations are also diverse. Although Freud is careful not to adopt a strong opinion on what future civilizations will be like, his notions of civilization throughout the book suggests his viewpoint on the future. Throughout “Civilization and its Discontents”, Freud explores the idea of the purpose of life and concludes, based on the pleasure principle, that happiness is the ambition for the majority of individuals. Hence, people created civilizations in order to bring about a more advanced society, which they thought would lead to greater happiness. However, as society became more advanced, the natural human instincts, namely aggressiveness and sexuality, became more repressed. Thus, Freud makes the point that people are less happy in advanced societies than they were in primitive societies. As a result, Freud implies that as civilization becomes even more advanced in the future, people will become less and less happy. Their stored and repressed aggressive instincts will come out through violence, and civilization will decline to a more primitive state.Sarmiento has the exact opposite view of civilization in the future. He believes that cultured society will eventually absorb the barbaric individuals of Argentina, namely the followers of Rosas, and civilization will flourish. Sarmiento describes Rosas’ control as, “an absurd, insupportable government that has not yet ceded to the impulse of the many forces that must, of necessity, bring its destruction.” Sarmiento implies that Rosas and his authoritarian system of control over Argentina is the only thing keeping the nation from becoming a great civilization. Once Rosas is defeated, Argentina can become a cultured, civilized society through widespread education and a democratic government. Although Sarmiento’s reasoning appears sound, there is one factor that he fails to consider. Sarmiento never considers whether a cultured, civilized society will lead to greater happiness than the primitive society embodied by the gaucho lifestyle. In fact, Sarmiento assumes that a more advanced society will lead to greater happiness, but this is not necessarily true as pointed out by Freud. For instance, since the gauchos enjoy their rural lifestyle, they see no appeal in an advanced civilization, since it does not bring them greater happiness. Sarmiento’s claims about the future of civilization therefore lack credibility because they are based on a faulty assumption.Sarmiento’s and Freud’s insights into civilization have contrary implications concerning politics and culture. Sarmiento looks forward to the day when Argentina will be controlled by a democratic political system. His views imply that, through a democratic government and high-quality education, the Argentine people will be able to create one of the most cultured and successful civilizations in the world. It is much more difficult to pinpoint what Freud’s arguments on civilization mean for politics. However, one can form an opinion by analyzing Freud’s view of communism: “In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, certainly a strong one, though certainly not the strongest; but we have in no way altered the differences in power and influence which are misused by aggressiveness.” Freud is a strong opponent of communism because he believes that it cannot change human nature. Although greed is eliminated, the tendency towards aggressiveness is still present. Hence, Freud implies that no type of government exists that that can truly govern well, because no government can change human nature. In essence, a political system only needs to control the innate aggressiveness of human beings to keep the civilization together. There is no purpose in attempting to eliminate greed or other such factors since they are intertwined in human nature.In comparing the two views of civilization, one realizes that Sarmiento’s ideas contain contradictions and depend on suppositions that are not generally accurate. These issues make his assertions about civilization seem careless and unimportant. On the other hand, Freud forms his views based on objective, scientific evidence and lucid logic. Sarmiento never explains how he formulated his understanding of civilization at all. He merely uses his own observations and unsupported opinions to create an image of civilization that will benefit him in gaining popular support to defeat Rosas, an impetus that stems from personal interests. Not only are Sarmiento’s ideas narrower and thus less useful than Freud’s, but they are also difficult to believe because the fundamental assumptions supporting them are inaccurate. In conclusion, the two authors differ in their ideas on civilizations because their motivations are dissimilar. Sarmiento formed his ideas with the sole purpose of demonstrating Rosas’s barbarism and malevolence, while Freud hoped to further society’s understanding of the human psyche. Therefore, Freud’s account is much more objective, precise, and reliable than Sarmiento’s.
Tracing the Origin of Morality/”Morality”
Friedrich Nietzsche’s “The Genealogy of Morals” and Sigmund Freud’s “Civilization and its Discontents,” have similar goals. Both men want to expose what they see as the impediments of society on the freedom of the individual. Both attack and condemn organized religion as a disguise for the helplessness that individuals feel in the face of society, and as an historically destructive force that has divorced men from their knowledge of their true selves and renders them impotent in their present lives. Both essays, at their core, struggle with the concept of morality, how it came to exist in society and how it came to govern our present. While the present is the subject of both essays, Nietzsche and Freud necessarily delve into the past of both society and the individual to explain their disparate definitions of morality and what these interpretations mean for their contemporaries. While Nietzsche sees morality as a concept developed by society, Freud instead sees morality as a natural process existing in the individual before he joins society, and in human relations before civilization. Nietzsche sees the past as an explanation for the continuing development of morality, whereas Freud sees the past as a direct continuum from the original existence of morality. Nietzsche does not believe that the origin of any past can be discovered from the present, or indeed that the origin itself exists in its pure form. In fact, his goal in “The Genealogy of Morals” is to counter the belief that moral values such as good and evil existed before men constructed them. He declares:everything that exists, no matter what its origin, is periodically interpreted by those in power in terns of fresh intentionsall processes in the organic world are processes ofreinterpretationin the course of which the earlier meaning and purpose are necessarily either obscured or lost. No matter how well we understand [any aspect of the self or society] we do not thereby understand anything of its origin” (Nietzsche, 209).The present, either individual or societal, is then simply a reinterpretation of the past that is the reinterpretation of another past. Whether discussing personal memory or communal or national history, the past that we see is nothing more than a present day interpretation, and no matter how far back we look all we see are past interpretations.Freud, on the other hand, believes that the origin of any present state, not only exists permanently within each of us but that it remains in its pure form within our minds. Using the example of the ancient city of Rome in, “Civilization and its Discontents,” Freud asserts that if the history of ancient Rome worked like the human memory, one would be able to see not simply the ruins of restorations, but the original buildings intact as they were in their original incarnation (Freud, 18). While he digresses somewhat when talking specifically about human memory, Freud comments that “it is rather the rule than the exception for the past to be preserved in mental life,” not simply as a reinterpretation, but in its original form (Freud, 20).Thus while both men agree that the morality we find in ourselves is a reaction to our natural instinct to be aggressive, to dominate both nature and other men, Nietzsche sees this morality entirely as a societal construct whereas Freud believes it can be traced to a distinct origin both within an individual and historically. Nietzsche believes that what we think of today as morality, is in fact a constant struggle by weak men to inhibit the aggressiveness and power of stronger men. He asserts that morality took shape in society when “slaves,” or those not in the top of the social hierarchy, realized that in order to valorize their own weakness they had to denote the strong as “bad.” He notes that in earlier societies the “wellborn” were happy in their lives, while the common elements of society were not: “the wellborn’ did not have to construct their happiness factitiously by looking at their enemies” (Nietzsche, 172). These noblemen were comfortable in their own lives and did not need any external principles to facilitate this happiness.Further, the cruelty they exhibited to those lower than themselves was part and parcel of being stronger. Nietzsche uses the example of birds and lambs to illustrate the “natural” state of this societal relationship that existed without moral construct. He posits that just because lambs do not enjoy being destroyed by birds of prey, does not make these bird bad: “to expect that strength will not manifest itself as strengthis every bit as absurd as to expect that weakness will manifest itself as strength” (Nietzsche, 178). However, unlike lambs and birds, humans have the ability to use their intellect to divorce this natural state from itself, to reinterpret strength as evil and weakness as good: “they assume the right of calling the bird of prey to account for being a bird of prey. We can hear the oppressed, downtrodden, violated whispering among themselves with the wily vengeance of the impotent, Let us be unlike those evil ones. Let us be good” (Nietzsche, 179). Thus, to Nietzsche, the “morality” which rules society and is imbued in every individual is nothing more than a reinterpretation of social relationships by the weak so that they might conquer the strong. The trappings of morality: altruism, guilt at wrongdoing, and punishment to inflict guilt are simply tools developed by the weak of an early age to gain power over the strong that have managed to disguise themselves since as the only way for a society to exist. However, society existed before these moral constructs were formed.Freud completely disagrees with the notion that morality is a social construct without innate origin. He believes that the development of civilization is modeled on the development of an individual which can in turn be traced back to a morality which existed before society codified it. Like Nietzsche, Freud believes that our natural instinct is to be aggressive. However, unlike Nietzsche, he also sees in the development of an individual the conflicting interests of aggressiveness and the need for love. Freud believes that the fear of a loss of love from the father instinctually curbs a baby’s aggressiveness: “his aggressiveness is introjected, internalized” (Freud, 84). A baby learns that anything that will stop his father from protecting him is bad: “at the beginning, therefore, what is bad is whatever causes one to be threatened with a loss of love” (Freud, 85). Thus, the moral oppositions of good and bad are in fact established in the individual in infancy, they are innate responses to the need for love and the instinct to aggression. Furthermore, once internalized, the mind or “ego” develops an internal authority or “super ego” which instructs the ego as to what acts are good and what acts are bad.Freud, unlike Nietzsche, believes that concepts of morality both exist within each of us as a natural reaction to our instinct of aggression, and also existed historically before society developed. He believes that the moral notions of personal guilt or remorse come from the “primordial ambivalence of feeling toward the father.” At some distinct time before society formed, primal sons in fact allowed their aggressive hatred for their father to override their love, they in fact killed him: “after their hatred had been satisfied by their act of aggression, their love came to the fore in their remorse for the deed” (Freud, 95). Thus, the guilt or remorse that individuals feel regardless of whether they have actually committed a bad act or simply consider doing it, is the internalized guilt that resulted from this original following of the aggressive instinct.Freud sees throughout the past the reification of this original act and the guilt that came with it. The morality imposed by society in the form of punishment is simply a mimesis of the self-punishment inflicted by the super ego when the ego desires to be aggressive. The effect that this original act of aggressiveness had on individuals who existed pre-civilization has the exact same effect on those living within society and thus we naturally incorporate these notions of morality into society. Nietzsche, however, believes that the natural instinct of man is to be cruel, to be aggressive, and that personal remorse, or societal punishment are simply the instruments of the weak to divorce the strong from their natural inclinations. The connection between aggression and punishment are societal constructs, not natural states. In fact, this connection can be directly traced to the relationship of creditor/debtor in the same way that the notions of good and evil can be traced to the relationship of strong and weak. He believes that before morality was constructed, it was the distinct pleasure of the creditor to extract pain as repayment of debt. Given our natural tendency to aggression: “to make someone suffer was an extreme pleasure” (Nietzsche, 197). Thus, there was a direct economic relationship between material gain and suffering. The same relationship between punishment and pleasure then could be applied to an offense against the community, or a crime. Nietzsche asserts that before “justice” existed as a system of laws it existed as a direct reaction to the amount of suffering caused. In other words, if someone were to steal money from another, that person would have the right not only to get his money back, but to gain in pleasure from punishing the guilty. But since morality was created by the weak, and the debtor is necessarily weaker than the creditor, the laws which govern post-morally constructed society ignored this natural relationship of pleasure in pain and protected the debtor or criminal from his creditors or accusers: “justice, which began by setting a price on everything and making everyone strictly accountable, ends by blinking at the defaulter and letting him go scot free” (Nietzsche, 205). The “moral” concepts of guilt and punishment were constructed by the same societal relations which constructed the moral concepts of good and bad.While it seems that Nietzsche has a far more pessimistic interpretation of individuals than Freud, his theory in fact develops into a far more positive view of the ability of a person to wrench himself from historical misunderstandings. Since morality itself is a construct of society aimed at divorcing man from his relationship to his own nature, we have the ability to break free from both historical and societal chains and reestablish the freedom we as individuals had before society constructed morality. In “The Genealogy of Morals” this possibility manifests itself as an incredibly classist (and racist) appeal to the strong or “noble” to reclaim their instincts, it can also be seen on a larger scale as the belief that we have agency in the present that no amount of history can erase.On the other hand, Freud’s belief that morality existed before society and exists in each individual before they connect to society imprisons us in a never-ending cycle of inactivity. If we cannot revise our image of the past or conceive that past individuals had any agency in the way they acted, then we cannot possibly hope to revolutionize our own lives. While Freud claims that happiness is what we all seek, he does not seem to be able to find a search for happiness that discovers its treasure. If we can never make up for the original sin of our primordial fathers then we can never be free of guilt or pain. And if the past is simply a direct line from the origin of morality to the present, we cannot possibly use history to better the present or strive for the future.
Marx and Freud: Human Happiness and Human Nature
At the root of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud’s differences regarding the nature of human happiness are their almost diametrically opposed models of human nature. Freud describes human nature in terms of universal, instinctive drives, the fulfillment of which constitutes happiness in its most basic form; Marx believes humans to be the only creatures capable of expressing themselves through labor, and posits that this distinctly human self-expression is fundamental to true human happiness. At their most fundamental level, Freud and Marx can be separated by a single assumption: the idea that humans are essentially different from animals. Marx embraces it, seeming to relish the idea of human exceptionalism and dismissing animalistic pleasures as a means of happiness for man; Freud, with the influence of Charles Darwin weighing heavily on his thinking, refrains from making such a distinction, instead understanding man as simply another product of natural selection.Freud explains human nature through a universal system of unconscious drives, which compel humans to engage in activities such as reproducing, eating and committing aggressive acts. These drives – which presumably stem from the Darwinian process of natural selection, and therefore have (or had, in the evolutionary environment) some adaptive value toward the ends of survival and procreation – are common to all human beings, regardless of their external surroundings.Marx’s concept of human nature is more ambiguous. Unlike Freud, Marx does not hold instincts like aggressiveness as inherent human qualities; rather, he explains violence and greed as byproducts of a flawed social and political system. Under Marx’s theory, the defining characteristic of man is his consciousness, both on the individual and social levels. At the individual level, man’s consciousness is manifested in his capacity to change nature through some form of labor, and to express himself in the product of that labor.While animals are also capable of changing nature, often in a seemingly beautiful or expressive fashion, Marx separates the human activity of labor from the actions of animals by defining labor as a conscious rather than an instinctive act. Because the product of human labor arises from the individual’s thoughts, it is an “objectification” – the expression or transformation into an object – of the laborer’s very self:A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labor-process we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the laborer at its commencement.Under this theory of human nature, self-realization through free and productive labor is the essence of individual human happiness. Note that Marx consistently places the highest value on activities and behaviors that are exclusive to humans; any pleasurable activity that an animal is capable of experiencing cannot bring man true happiness. In a description of the effects on a worker from alienation of labor (that is, coerced labor whose product is not an expression of the laborer himself), Marx portrays simple pleasurable activities as subhuman:As a result, therefore, man (the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions – eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal… Certainly eating, drinking, procreating, etc., are also genuinely human functions. But in the abstraction which separates them from the sphere of all other human activity and turns them into sole and ultimate ends, they are animal.Marx’s basic model of human nature and happiness, then, is inherently incompatible with Freud’s. While Marx insists that men can only achieve satisfaction by striving to express themselves in ways that remove them as far as possible from animals, Freud considers human happiness nothing more than the fulfillment of animalistic desires and the avoidance of pain.Due to the nature of physical urges, human happiness in Freud’s model is difficult to maintain. His description of the pleasure principle is suggestive of a substance addiction:One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be “happy” is not included in the plan of “Creation”. What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment.Freud’s use of “scare quotes” around the word “Creation” suggests that he believes the human desire and satisfaction mechanisms are a product of natural selection, passed to the human species from a primate ancestor, and ultimately from a much simpler organism. Indeed, the influence of Darwin’s The Origins of Species is felt throughout the book, as Freud depicts human behavior without the exceptionalism that Marx and other writers display.In fact, one of the only essential differences Freud describes between man and animal is that the latter lacks the “…struggle between Eros and Death, between the instincts of life and the instincts of destruction.” He does not offer an explanation for what he perceives as the lack of a death drive in animals. However, it is worth noting that contemporary research in the field of evolutionary psychology, if available to Freud, may have allowed him to better understand the Darwinian logic behind these drives, likely guiding him toward the conclusion that humans are driven by instincts no different from those an animal experiences. For example, what Freud understands as a “death drive” – a self-destructive instinct that, in Darwinian terms, seems unlikely to be adaptive – may actually be a misunderstanding of the aggressive instincts that compel humans to seek status. Still, even considering this slight ambiguity, Freud’s portrayal of human nature indicates a belief that man is little more than a highly intelligent animal.In addition, when Freud notes that man does not seem to be designed for happiness, he predicts an important claim of modern evolutionary psychology: that a capacity for prolonged contentment without need for stimulation would not be adaptive. Humans who crave sexual activity and material wealth may never be truly satisfied, but they do propagate their genes.A comparison between Marx and Freud’s views on the nature of human happiness can be further illuminated by an examination of the roles society plays in each of their analyses. Both philosophers describe modern society as generally harmful to human happiness, but for different reasons, and with different normative conclusions.Marx views capitalism as destructive to laborers. His complaints about the capitalist system are myriad, but as they relate to the topic at hand, his foremost grievances are labor alienation (in which workers, exchanging their labor for sustenance-level wages, manufacture products that are not of their own design and therefore do not reflect their selves) and private ownership of property. Marx, describing what he believes to be the “essential connection between private property, greed, the separation of Labor… etc,” suggests that man’s social ills are not facts of human nature, but products of the political-economic system.Marx’s analysis of human nature allows for a profound optimism regarding the prospect of a utopian society. For example, his belief that humans have the unique capacity for collective identification – for an awareness of their nature as part of a larger species – is characteristic of Marx’s understanding of human nature, and central to his belief in the possibility of a successful communism:Man is a species being, not only because in practice and in theory he adopts the species as his object (his own as well as those of other things), but – and this is only another way of expressing it – but also because he treats himself as the actual, living species; because he treats himself as a universal and therefore a free being.Because man is capable of adopting the species as his object, Marx believes, a suitable socio-economic system would allow him to exist without ego, greed or envy. The “species-being” concept, then, is inextricably linked with the idea of a perfectly selfless collectivism.Freud, on the other hand, grants humanity no such favor. While he believes as well that modern society is psychologically harmful, he leaves little room for improvement. In his reasoning, most of man’s undesirable characteristics are inherent and therefore cannot be prevented by a new social system; likewise, the problems that societies bring upon humans are not specific to any society, but intrinsic to civilization itself.Freud’s analysis of the conflict between human nature and society, in essence, is that the demands of social life force man to deny his primitive desires, causing frustration, anxiety and neurosis. This model is clearly irreconcilable with Marx’s, as Freud demonstrates when he rejects Marx’s criticism of private property:…I am able to recognize that the psychological premises on which [communism] is based are an untenable illusion. In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments… but we have in no way altered the differences in power and influence which are misused by aggressiveness, nor have we altered anything in its nature. Aggressiveness was not created by property… If we do away with personal rights over material wealth, there still remains prerogative in the field of sexual relationships…Because he holds aggressiveness and competitiveness to be constants, inherent to human beings, Freud dismisses the idea that the abolition of private property could eliminate these problems. Again, his argument is supported by anthropology and evolutionary science; the drive for status, it is widely held, is inherent in all humans as well as many animals. Chimpanzees, whose societies feature none of the characteristics that Marx bemoans in ours, regardless display a predilection for aggression and domination, with the “alpha-male” enjoying the greatest sexual access to females. Marx’s idea of a collectivist utopia is difficult to reconcile with the Darwinist understanding of human nature; while some amount of altruism is certainly possible (as in kin selection, for example, or nonzero-sum reciprocity), true species-wide collectivism simply could not be adaptive on the individual level.In recent decades, the humanist theories of both Marx and Freud have been subject to various claims of refutation. Marx, in light of the worldwide collapse of socialism, is said by many to have fundamentally misunderstood human nature; Freud’s psychological theories have been disputed by the contemporary evidence of neurobiological processes. But Freud’s analyses of human happiness and human nature, however flawed they may be, demonstrate a greater understanding of their evolutionary origins and functions.
Freud: The Impact of Psychology on Our Understanding of Civilization
Sigmund Freud, author of Civilization and Its Discontents, is widely regarded as the father and originator of modern psychology. Through the formation of his now-famous four divisions of the human brainthe ego, the id, the libido, and the super-egoFreud changed the way man views himself and his actions forever. How, then, could such a great psychologist also write a work that questioned and explained western civilization? Through his discovery (or invention) of those four divisions of the human brain, Freud was able to better understand the formation and existence of western civilization as it is now. Freud begins his work by explaining the formation of the “ego,” that “division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thought and behavior, and is most in touch with external reality.” By the time a human is adult, the lines of demarcation between it and the rest of the world are strong and definitewith the exception of one case, in which a person in love considers himself and the person with whom he is in love to be one. These definite lines take time to develop, however, and Freud points out that an infant learns this slowly; that there are outside factors over which he has no control, while there are immediate responsesfrom limbs and organs of the infant himselffrom which impulses are constantly being retrieved and reported. So while at first the infant¹s ego includes everything around him, it slowly learns to be more exclusive, and demarcate between himself and objects around him. This exclusivity continues as the infant develops until the strong, definite lines between the ego and everything else that adults have exist.Interestingly, Freud also believes that forgetting something does not automatically mean the destruction of that within one¹s mind. Instead, he compares the phenomenon to that of an archeological dig: if one regresses long enough, everything can eventually be seen. Just as an archaeologist simply needs to know where to look and what for, one performing a regression on a patient can find anything, any memory, if he simply knows where to look, and what for. This translates eventually into the first need for religion. Freud holds that a feeling can only energize when it is the embodiment of a serious needan infant needs his father just as an adult feels a need for religion as a remembered remnant of that prior need.Freud then examines the reason that man so zealously protects his own life and what he hopes to achieve in it. His answer is simple: man strives for happiness; “to become happy and to remain so” (Freud, 25). In fact, the original and strongest way in which humans strive for happiness is through love. Freud argues that part of that attraction, part of what makes love so perfectly happy, is that when a person is in love, he is completely defenseless against suffering, and when he loses the object of his love, he is helplessly upset. So it is vulnerability that makes one so intoxicatingly happy when in love. Humans strive for such happiness as part of the “pleasure principle,” an instinctual impulse that drives man to gratify immediate needs and avoid pain. However, a man¹s ability to make himself happy when living out the pleasure principle is limited by everything around him, including his libido, “the psychic and emotional energy associated with instinctual biological drives.” After explaining his psychological analysis of mankind, Freud moves on to the tough question of man¹s psychological relationship to society, or civilization. It is a strange relationship; society allows man to improve his own life, especially through the acquisition and distribution of technology meant to ease life, yet his own happiness is rarely thought to empirically improve. In fact, neuroses are thought to develop in some humans because of the many frustrations which society places on them.Interestingly, the construct of civilization itself is one of the limiting factors on man¹s libidowhere once he felt no restrictions on his freedom, man has now entered into a pact of sorts with other men to reduce such liberty for all. Strangely, the freedom which man now gives up had no value when civilization did not exist; it is only now that it has been taken away that man feels the need, or has the ability, to defend it. Thus, the “replacement of the power of the individual by the power of a community constitutes the decisive step of civilization” (Freud, 49) because man “will always defend his claim to individual liberty against the will of the group” (Freud, 50). Most importantly, though, and perhaps most confusing, “the urge for freedomis directed against particular forms and demands of civilization or against civilization altogether” (Freud, 50).Despite this conflict, though, Freud claims that a founding concept of civilization is, in fact, love. There are two types: sensual and “aim-inhibited.” The first is entirely sexual, the second, love between, for instance, a brother and sister. Even though love is a building block of society as a whole, “on the one hand love comes into opposition to the interests of civilization; on the other, civilization threatens love with substantial restriction” (Freud, 58). Because of this, Freud does not support a communist system:In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, certainly a strong one, though certainly not the strongest; but we have in no way altered the differences in power and influence which are misused by aggressiveness, nor have we altered anything in its nature (Freud, 71).This natural aggression of which Freud speaks comes from the ego and the separation from the rest of the world that it fosters; humans are naturally intolerant of all others, especially those different from themselves”the existence of this inclination to aggressionis the factor which disturbs our relations with our neighbor and which forces civilization into such a high expenditure of energy” (Freud, 69). In fact, “in consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration” (Freud, 69).Where does this aggression go, especially if different structures of society, such as communism, cannot get rid of it? Through the development of the super-egothe division of the unconscious that is formed through the internalization of moral standards of parents and society, and that censors and restrains the ego man takes his aggression towards others and society as a whole and forces it on his own ego. It is this eternally internal struggle that is called by most “guilt.”Thus Freud lays out his argument for the invention and continued practice of civilization, especially western civilization. Despite his training as a psychologist, Freud has taught man more about his civilization, and especially why it exists as it does, than perhaps any other philosopher or writer. Because of his understanding of the ego and super-ego, we can now understand how we fit into the society around us and how we fit in relation to others within the society as well.
Freud’s “Anna O” and the Meaning of Private Theater
In the case history of Anna O., Freud’s coworker Breuer makes no mention of when Anna coins the phrase “private theatre.” The abstraction reveals in itself two distinct personalities, and thus a notable self-awareness. It cannot be that in the midst of a daydream, she described the experience, as then she would no longer be daydreaming. Nor does the thought seem haphazard. It is a most refined abstraction revealing at least a partial understanding of the nature of her fantasiesif not the nature of her disease. It is coherent and artful German, the product of intelligent reflection. It is a wonder both that she was capable of this level of understanding after three pages, and that Breuerand Freud’s invisible handnever tell us exactly how far they had traveled in order to arrive there.Since the case history hides the context, the only way to make sense of the phrase is by trusting Breuer’s explanation. He writes:”The girl, who was bubbling over with intellectual vitality, led an extremely monotonous existence in her puritanically-minded family. She embellished her life in a manner which probably influenced her decisively in the direction of her illness, by indulging in systematic day-dreaming, which she described as her private theatre.’ While everyone thought she was attending, she was living through fairy tales in her imagination… She pursued this activity almost continuously while she was engaged on her household duties, which she discharged unexceptionally…”The long quotation is the best path to understanding the relationship of the phrase to the patient. What emerges first is a world of opposites: “intellectual vitality” pitted against a “monotonous existence”; “fairy tales” against “attending”; “activity” against “household duties.” Thus “private theatre” is more than simply “day-daydreaming.” It is an escape from a specific setting, a fortress buttressed against her “puritanically minded family.” Yet her “household duties” are still “discharged.” Unlike the final “direction of her illness,” daydreaming is a silent and unnoticeable rebellion. At this point early on, the patient is “always on the spot when she was spoken to.” Daydreaming is so tempered an activity, shows such restraint, that Breuer calls it a mere “embellishing” of life, a game of solitaire played for the same purpose. Only later will she act as “naughty” as she “hallucinate[s].” For now, the affliction is artistic, not violent. Hence the phrase “private theatre,” as opposed to the public nuisance that it will become.Still, the phrase has not yielded up all of its meaning. Breuer likens the plays to “fairy tales,” an analogy that strips the phrase of its realism by emphasizing vividness: a play is subject to rules that a fairy tale is not. Exact parody of real life is just as inessential, but a play is condemned to a stage whereon characters must move just as we do. Magic is possible, but dependent on the audience’s ability to abstract. On a stage, a frog cannot actually morph into a prince. In that sense, “private theatre” foreshadows the actual symptoms of Anna’s hysteria. This is a hint then that she daydreams of “throw[ing] the cushions at people,” of “tear[ing] buttons off her bedclothes,” since, of course, she cannot assume a supernatural prowess.If we put more pressure on the idea, we find that it is not clear whether Anna is the author or the audienceor, as is likelyboth. Indeed, she scripted the work in her unconscious and watches it in peak awareness. With her “great poetic and imaginative gifts,” Anna crafts plays that exist in some impossible realm, since a play is by definition public. It is a spectacle for everyone’s enjoyment. Thus a “private theatre” is an oxymoron as confusing as a “public diary.” This contradiction is perhaps the subtext of any work of art that the artist creates only for himself. In the case of a hysteric, however, the seats of the theatre must fill up. Like the suicide note that Dora hides in her desk for her father to find, the characters must speak their lines to someone, even if the delivery is so muddled that only a psychoanalyst can be a fair critic.Hysteria then is the means of making public that private theatre. Anna was visited by a compulsive need to act out her own characters. The curtain of her psyche was slowly raised and out came the fits, the coughing, the squinting, and the whole cast of symptoms no longer content to toil for the director’s eyes only. As Breuer says in his conclusion, “day-dreaming… prepared the ground upon which the affect of anxiety and dread was able to establish itself.” This implies that the greater the tension between the play and the reality, the greater the tendency to hysteria. Dora likewise suffers from the tyranny of the kitchen. “She was,” Freud writes, “on very bad terms with her mother, who was bent upon drawing her into taking a share in the work of the house.” She attended “lectures for women” in order to run away, it appears, from the call of the dishrag. Again, the two worlds are too far apart to cohere. From thence the hypnoid states take their cue. Now that the plays are for our viewing, the stories capture our attention. No longer does Anna “attend.” Instead she falls prey to “deafness brought on by being shaken” or by “fright at a noise.” Both plots have “origins” in Anna’s past. Both are reenactments. Dora too plays out events that had transpired years before, either in fact or fantasy. Thus if hysteria is theater, then only histories are on the playbill. “Hysterics,” Freud and Breuer teach us in their “Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena,” “suffer mainly from reminiscences.”Accordingly, the cure must establish a clear relationship between the memory and the rememberer, between the play and the playwright. Just as an artist may say of his most disturbing work, “I didn’t really write that” so too does a hysteric appeal to the unconscious principle,. “I didn’t really experience that.” Implicit in “private theatre” is Anna’s impossible belief that she has no part in the productions; theater is put on, always in the passive voice. The psychoanalytic method demands the absolute attribution of authorship, in daydreams, night dreams, and their physical expression, hysterical “scenes.”The means to that end is speech. Anna “talk[s] away” her hysteria. Exactly as her “poetic vein dr[ied] up” as a result of unfurling her stores, her symptoms disappeared after she explained their origin. The work of Freud and Breuer was to enable Anna to understand what each symptom represented, to explain the workings of the play to its creator. Needless to say, authors are notoriously resistant to criticism.There is, however, a catch to drawing out Anna’s metaphor as much as I have. How exactly is the concept of abreaction reconcilable to the model of private theater gone public? It would seem here that the director/playwright suddenly dissolves into his main character; the stage folds itself up; the audience is a part of the dialogue. “The particular symptom,” writes Breuer of Anna, “emerged with greater force while she was discussing it.” No longer does the memory prance about on the set, as the abreaction is by its nature a proportional reaction to the original occurrence. It is not so easy as to say this is merely the climax of the show, because abreaction is not a show.This problem is not simply the difficulty of achieving a literary trick. If Anna’s clever phrase is an apt description of her state as Breuer indicates, then we must be able to trace its application across the whole logic of hysteria. In “Mechanism,” Freud and Breuer argue that “if hypnoid states of this kind [e.g. private theater] are already present before the onset of the manifest illness, they provide the soil in which the affect plants the pathogenic memory.” If the “consequent somatic phenomena” were not analogous to a grown plant, then this particular conception of the mechanism of hysteria needs severe revision. Likewise, abreaction cannot undo our understanding of the theater of hysteria, or else Breuer is one more draft short of perfection.Is it fitting that the culmination of the treatment circumvents Anna’s metaphor? I believe the answer is in the question. The abreaction itself is entirely normal; it is, so to speak, a symptom of health. It is a reaction to the cause itself, as opposed to the twisted, unconscious memory of that cause. Thus it is not, nor should it be, on the stage of our psyche. At the end of treatment, the need to differentiate audience from actor from director vanishes, because the “talking cure” did away with the need to represent. “We may regard it as a second and theoretical aim to repair all the damages to the patient’s memory,” writes Freud. Thus psychoanalysis has reincorporated the story of the play into consciousness, thereby burning up the curtain.It might be argued that the hysteric retreats to “private theatre” exactly like the daydreamer since the language in both cases is private, whereas I have claimed that hysteria is the exteriorization of that intimate world. This is a semantic argument, rooted in the ambiguity of the word “public.” A quick reworking of the terminology clears up the confusion immediately. An escape into “private theatre” is, in all cases, a dress rehearsal.
Freud’s Dream Symbols and Jung’s Viewpoint
Actually – and I confess this to you with a struggle – I have a boundless admiration for you both as a man and a researcher, and I bear you no conscious grudge… My veneration for you has something of a “religious” crush.–Carl Jung, in a letter to Freud, 28 October 1907A transference on a religious basis would strike me as most disastrous; it could end only in apostasy, thanks to the universal human tendency to keep making new prints of the cliches we bear within us. I shall do my best to show you that I am unfit to be an object of worship.–Freud to Jung, 15 November 1907Sigmund Freud wrote copiously, though inconsistently, on the question of dream-symbolism. Picking his ideas apart will reveal their uncanny similarity to Jung’s work on the collective unconscious in dreaming. In that context, how might we understand the two thinkers in relation to another? But first, Freud’s use of the term symbol must be made clear.The manifest content is the stand-in for the latent content of a dream. Interpretation consists merely in replacing any manifest image by its determiner. Free association is the primary means of accomplishing this feat. This necessarily implies that any given dream object acts as the representative of an idea that the censorship has carefully blocked from consciousness. Following this logic, a reader ought to have little trouble calling any dream image a symbol.* The very first image Freud analyses lends itself to this all-embracing characterization:”The hall – numerous guests whom we were receiving. We were spending that summer at Bellevue, a house on one of the hills adjoining the Kahlenberg…On the previous day [before the dream] my wife had told me that she expected that a number of friends, including Irma, would be coming out to visit us on her birthday. My dream was thus anticipating this occasion.”In the dream itself there are no explicit references to Freud’s wife or to Bellevue. The hall calls up this group of ideas by association alone. The disparity between what is meant and what Freud actually sees in his sleep resolves itself easily enough into a formula: the hall is symbolic of the birthday party.This quick formula, however, seems to put a great deal of pressure on the idea of symbolism. The tension arises at first because a birthday party seems to be of so little importance. A symbol must, we tend to feel, designate some great event, a profound fraternity, a deep relationship; a cross, a flag, a lover’s lock of hair are the stuff of symbols. But this strict definition is too restrictive for psychoanalysis, which is in part the science of determining what exactly is important. Any page of Freud illustrates the insignificance of the concept of insignificance. Since a birthday party may weigh more heavily on a psyche than the Apocalypse, it is clear that a Freudian model of symbolism cannot reject a possible symbol on the grounds that it does not appear to matter enough to us. Freud himself might contend that the hall does not pass his litmus test for a symbol because it is not sexual in nature (though a hall certainly could be). Summarizing Section E (“Representation by Symbols”) of the chapter on the dream-work in the Interpretation of Dreams, he writes in On Dreams that there is only one method by which a dream which expresses erotic wishes can succeed in appearing innocently nonsexual in its manifest content…Unlike other forms of indirect representation, that which is employed in dreams must not be immediately intelligible. The modes of representation which fulfill these conditions are usually described as “symbols” of the things which they represent. This standard is inconsistent with his use of the term. In The Interpretation of Dreams, he points to luggage as symbolic of “a load of sin,” and earlier claims that Wilhelm Stekel has elucidated our understanding of the “symbolism of death.” According to Freud’s definition, the phrase “symbolism of death” is utterly incomprehensible, as all symbols are supposedly sexual. The other point Freud makes above, namely that symbols must “not be immediately intelligible,” is unintelligible itself in the context of his method. Some of the associations Freud makes are terrifically obscure at first glance. The “preparation of propionic acid,” does not prima facie suggest itself as symbolic of Freud’s “great prudence;” a great chain of associations is required before the dreamer is allowed to make that connection. Freud confesses that such a link may be the result of a “far-fetched and senseless chain of thought.” Therefore neither sexuality nor unintelligibility suffices to distinguish a symbol from any meaningful (representative) object in a dream.The last conceivable objection to the notion of the “symbolic hall” as featured in the Dream of Irma’s Injection is that this particular representation is not common enough to qualify as a symbol. Everyone knows what the Cross symbolizes, whereas only Freud knows the meaning of the hall. Indeed, the commonality or sheer popularity of a representation is what Freud assumes makes a symbol a symbol – despite his explicit writing to the contrary. There is no other possible explanation for the assertion that “rooms represent women” and “staircases or going upstairs represent sexual intercourse,” while the “propionic acid” achieves only the rank of a “substitution,” other than the fact that staircases and rooms work their magic on an almost universal scale.Freud, however, tries to make perfectly clear that some “symbols [are] constructed by an individual out of his own ideational material.” Still, examples of this sort in the Interpretation of Dreams are nonexistent. If a symbol could emerge from a dreamer’s personal “ideational material,” symbolism would no longer be an expedient for the interpretation of dreams or “popular myths, legends, linguistic idioms, proverbial wisdom [or] current jokes.” And above all, symbolism is an expedient, a trick, a ready-made explication. In the opening passages of “Representation by Symbols,” Freud offers us an explanation of our own dreams without demanding that we sit ourselves down on his couch to fight against resistant associations. Symbols “fill the gap,” as it were, when “the dreamer’s free associations leave us in the lurch.” This presents a problem. For if Freud would have us believe that a symbol can transcend the associations of the dreamer, then does he not therefore suggest that the formation of a symbol is fundamentally different from the formation of a non-symbolic dream object, such as the propionic acid? Freud’s recommendation of a “combined technique” which attacks the latent content by relying on both the “dreamer’s associations” and the “interpreter’s knowledge of symbols” begs this question. Inasmuch as he assumes that one can analyze a given portion of a dream without reference to the dreamer’s associations, he posits the difficult idea that a dream’s content can in part be determined by something other than the dreamer’s experience. In short, does the existence of symbols (in the sense that Freud actually uses the term) require that there be some kind of “collective unconscious” floating about in some transcendental psychic realm?The first time Freud addresses the question of the formation of symbols, in his “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” he makes reference to such an odd and seemingly unscientific abstraction:”[T]here has been an occurrence which consisted of B+A. A was an incidental circumstance; B was appropriate for producing the lasting effect. The reproduction of this event in memory has now taken a form of such a kind that it as though A had stepped into B’s place. A has become a substitute, a symbol for B.”The mechanism is as individual as digestion. A is associated in the mind with the more important B by “incidental circumstance,” and therefore A represents B. This simple, almost Pavlovian model anticipates Freud’s later explanation of our need to mask erotic/traumatic content specifically: it is certainly of a more “lasting effect,” as he puts it. But if we follow the model to the letter, we find ourselves once again having to label personal dream images like propionic acid as symbols. Hence this early attempt to explain the mechanism of symbol-formation, though to some degree prophetic, is not particularly useful. There is no hint of the uniformity across personal boundaries that comes to define symbolism.Is it possible, however, to expand this model such that it can account for uniformity? If A were to occur to everyone who experiences B, then we might easily dispense with the discomforting idea of a “collective unconscious” or an “inherent meaning.” Freud indeed suggests something along these lines in explaining why it is a staircase – one example out of a hundred – comes to denote intercourse. He writes in his essay “Future Prospects of Psycho-analysis” that “the rhythmical pattern of copulation,” i.e. B in the model, “is reproduced in going upstairs,” i.e. A. The linguistic explanation for staircase symbolism fits the model in the same way. All Germans “incidentally” associate climbing stairs, or mounting (“steigen”) with the sexual mounter (“Steiger”), so to speak. In English, the relationship is roughly analogous: in slang, we do “mount,” or climb aboard. Common experience seen in this light is neither profound nor confusing. It is merely the sum of personal experiences, linguistic or physical. Symbolism-formation is therefore restored to the individual.This easy explanation, however, does not jive with one striking claim that Freud makes, alluded to earlier by the phrase “combined technique,” namely that the symbols the dream-work makes use of are entirely unknown to the dreamer. Such meaning must be unknown or else there is no reason for the dreamer’s associations, or lack thereof, to leave an interpretation “in the lurch.” The B+A model necessarily implies that the dreamer could come to understand the meaning of any symbol by a basic associative chain: A staircase – rhythm of footsteps – rhythm of the body – up, up, up – intercourse. Resistance is not blocking the revelation here, because one can only resist unconscious knowledge. Here there is no knowledge, in the conventional sense of the term. The dreamer does not know in any way that staircases are sex. And yet they are.Thus there is a basic contradiction. It is impossible that the dreamer is completely unaware of the equation that he is in fact using. He must know it somehow. We are stuck. The road out of this quagmire is, indeed, that otherworldly demon, the questionable prehistory of the psyche, the collective unconscious, as Jung would later term it. Now utterly impersonal knowledge is possible. For here, as Freud writes in his essay “An Outline of Psychoanalysis,” published posthumously, certain “material” is accessible which cannot have originated either from the dreamer’s adult life or from his forgotten childhood. We are obliged to regard it as part of the archaic heritage which a child brings with him into the world, before any experience of his own, influenced by the experiences of his ancestors…Thus dreams constitute a source of human prehistory which is not to be despised. It is no coincidence that Freud wrote this stunning, and perhaps anti-Freudian, passage at the very end of his career. He had only hinted at this bizarre idea in the Interpretation of Dreams, writing that those “things that are symbolically connected today were probably united in prehistoric times by conceptual and linguistic identity.” But this confusing sentence does not demand that we accept the borderline mystical idea of knowledge before experience. Our ancestors might have simply walked up the same staircases that we do today. In 1900, a Freudian could still hold fast to the lovely A+B model. By 1940, the astonishing frequency with which the same symbol had visited unrelated dreamers, often “extend[ing] further than a use of a common language,” suggested to Freud something deeper than a mere pattern of experience. If Vienna’s Dora and Genesis’ Jacob can dream up such a similar picture, then there must be a “human prehistory.” All of a sudden, Freud looks like a Jungian.Indeed, the similarities between the late Freud and his greatest dissenter Jung are striking. Jung defines the collective unconscious as the “store of latent memory traces inherited from man’s ancestral past, a past that includes not only the racial history of man as a separate species but his pre-human or animal ancestry as well.” Freud’s “archaic history” and Jung’s “ancestral past” differ in diction, not essence. Both presuppose that a child can somehow inherit memories and experiences. The unbeliever might try to reconcile such a notion to conventional scientific (or Freudian) thinking by arguing that we have inherited only the predisposition to represent ideas the way our ancestors did, much in the same way that we probably tend to like similar types of foods. This reply sidesteps the problem only because it does not address it; unconscious “material” and “memory traces” are hardly predispositions.Yet the two thinkers differed dramatically on dream theory. Jung had the advantage of basing his most innovative work on the “personal unconscious” on what he knew of the collective unconscious, whereas Freud focused his energies on common, perhaps universal, childhood stories. Thus Jung can see a dream of ladders or staircases as symbolic of a drama that is rooted in a land far more fertile than the narrow swamp of our unfulfilled sexual longings. In his essay, “Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy,” wherein he attempts to locate a particular individual’s unconscious in relation to the collective, Jung analyses the following dream: “A dangerous walk with Father and Mother, up and down many ladders.” We know immediately what Freud would make of it. A ladder is “analogous” to a staircase and hence serves the same symbolic function – copulation. He would see the “danger” as a manifestation of the fear of incest, the “up and down” as the fulfillment of the infantile wish. As to the supposedly bisexual element of the dream (“Father and Mother”), Freud certainly would posit volumes of conjecture. Jung is a hair more poetic:”Regression [in this case, to the mother and father] spells disintegration into our historical and hereditary determinants, and it is only with the greatest effort that we can free ourselves from their embrace. Our psychic prehistory is in truth the spirit of gravity, which needs steps and ladders because, unlike the disembodied airy intellect, it cannot fly at will.”If we accept the collective unconscious, there is absolutely no reason not to follow Jung in seeing “regression” as potentially a regression back into our primordial roots, as “every man, in a sense, represents the whole of humanity and its history.” Why stop at childhood, when before childhood there lurks another important developmental stage? The Freud who wrote the Interpretation of Dreams would undoubtedly see this Jungian analysis as mystical fluff, not as regression to a psychic prehistory but instead “to the technique of interpretation used by the ancients, to whom dream interpretation was identical with interpretation by means of symbols.” One can follow Freud a few steps in this hypothetical criticism. The question of proof certainly does loom over Jung’s complicated analysis. How does he know that a ladder stands for the vicissitudes of the individual unconscious as it struggles to escape its “hereditary determinants”? At least Freud can substantiate his formulas by pointing to, say, an experiment by Betlheim and Hartmann (1924), in which Korsakoff patients who were told “grossly sexual” stories substituted staircases (or shootings or stabbings) for intercourse when they reproduced those stories. Jung instead relies completely on context – the widest conceivable context. “Scientific knowledge,” he rightly argues, “only satisfies the little tip of personality that is contemporaneous with ourselves, not the collective psyche.” He must always convince us on the preponderance of the evidence, while Freud may cite scientific papers.Jung, however, can claim consistency. He integrates the collective unconscious and even telepathy into his theory of dreams. Freud’s last minute revision condemns him to incongruity, as he never refers to pre-life experience in analyzing any dream in the Interpretation of Dreams. The fact that in Korsakoff patients staircases emerge as a symbol of fornication does not necessarily mean that a staircase is only a fornication symbol. In the same way that the dream-work constructs a double story, reflective both of the present organization of events and the remnants of childhood, the dream-work might very well construct a triple story in which the “archaic heritage” finds it expression. One could detect that third story in a dream only if one assumes beforehand that it does, in fact, exist. Literary analysis works much the same way, insofar as a critic assumes a framework. Here, then, is a staircase dream from Pushkin’s play Boris Godunov. The speaker is the protagonist, Grigory, a monk who is wondering if he should give free reign to his ambition to become the Czar.I dreamed that a steep staircaseLed me up a tower; from the topAll of Moscow appeared to me like an anthill;Below, people were swarming in the squareAnd pointing up at me, laughing;And I became ashamed and frightened – And, falling headlong I awoke…Michael Katz, in his book Dreams and the Unconscious in Nineteenth Century Russian Fiction, makes the obvious suggestion that the dream is a “subconscious warning.” Grigory will indeed make his way up the “steep staircase” of politics to the castle: he will become the Czar. Katz sees the beginnings of the “downfall” foreshadowed in the last scene of the play.* This is one possible story.A Freudian analysis might equate the “steep staircase” with “falling headlong.” By climbing up alone, the celibate Grigory effectively masturbates, releasing his long built-up excitation. For a monk, such a pleasure would indeed imply a Fall (and hence “shame”), a tenuous connection that Freud readily makes in The Interpretation of Dreams. That he awakes immediately after falling stamps this as an anxiety dream, one that “represent[s] a repressed wish, but do[es] so with insufficient or no disguise.” Grigory’s perspective allows him the superiority he craves, while the ridiculing crowd offers him the pleasure of punishment. All in all, Freud could make a great deal of sense out of this trifling passage, but only because he sees it already within a certain symbolical framework.An ambitious Jungian approach might throw light on Grigory’s universalistic desire to be closer to heaven. As a monk, Grigory may be more likely than the rest of us to reflect this particular aspect of the “gray mists of antiquity,” the collective unconscious. The ancient Egyptians, for example, had a notion – symbolized by a ladder – of an “ascent through the seven spheres of the planets,” which dramatizes the “return of the soul to the sun-god from whom it originated.” The fall in the dream leads us to the daunting question of whether the “standpoint of morality, handed down through the ages, is itself meaningful or meaningless.” That “standpoint” might be reflected in Grigory’s superior perspective. The “swarming,” ant-like people at the foot of the tower can stand for our “animal ancestry,” from which the monk is trying to separate himself. This framework, though more obscure, is not without its appeal. Furthermore, the interpretation is not hindered by Grigory’s personal predicament, since it admits from the first that a dream’s material may outstrip its dreamer. Once one assumes this towering perspective, this supra-personal viewpoint, one can convincingly imbue a dream with all kinds of insights.Jung cracks open that primordial safe. He speculates beautifully. Freud’s chronology saves him from such artful conjecture. He never works out the implications of the collective unconscious on his dream theory. He does not say anywhere in The Interpretation of Dreams that there must in fact be a collective unconscious to explain how it is that the dreamer’s associations sometimes fail. A guess as to why Freud himself failed us in the regard is that the collective unconscious smacks of fantasy, not science. Jung, however, was wise enough to admit he was plunging into a new realm “somewhere between earth and heaven,” as Hamlet puts it. From there, Freudians must look like ants “swarming in the square.”
Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents: A Pragmatic Work?
Civilization and its Discontents, is, in great part, a philosophical treatise, in which Freud tries to replace a metaphysical, idealistic framework with a psychological one. He does so by using a performative, therapeutic style of argumentation, in which he encourages the reader to analyze philosophical problems in the context of his daily life, and realize that Freud’s psychoanalytic explanations fit more closely with his own experience than metaphysical constructions. By examining the problems in this way, Freud wishes to show that nothing can be learned about man by appealing to abstraction, and that this type of thinking is not only illogical, but one of the main problems with civilization, keeping men from attaining greater happiness. However, Freud also asserts that certain metaphysical constructions are necessary for men to remain happy and bound together in society. So by exposing the root of every appeal to man’s higher nature, it seems that psychoanalysis is being destructiveóif people were to accept what he says, to make everything unconscious conscious, how would they deal with the problems of civilization?Civilization and its Discontents is the most philosophical of Freud’s works. He combines many of his previous ideas to produce a commentary on civilization and life in general, normally the realm of philosophers. Freud’s past works hinted at and even addressed some philosophical problems, but here he offers an overview of life based on his extensive psychoanalytic findings. Because Freud wants to address philosophical and existential problems, the book sounds like a work of philosophy. He discusses such issues as religion, aesthetics, ethics, the purpose of life, civilization versus a state of nature, and problems with civilization. Freud uses some logic, makes reference to Schiller, and uses the term Fate in some of his explanations, such as when he expands the notion that an infant is dependant on the father into the idea that the feeling of helplessness is “permanently sustained by fear of the superior power of Fate” (20).Thus there is no doubt that Freud wishes to address the plight of mankind, and is not adverse to using logic, literature, poetry, or romantic language to convey his ideas. However Freud wishes to distinguish himself from past theologians, philosophers, poets, novelists, and leaders who may have used similar language in framing their arguments. He brings up philosophical problems as stated by these philosophers in order to address them differently from many of these past thinkers. Freud’s style of argumentation, in keeping with his ideas, avoids appeal to abstract logic and ideals, man’s higher nature, the soul, God, and the perfectability of manóthat is, everything that separates man from animal, general metaphysical claims. Instead, his style of argumentation stands in relation to metaphysical argumentation much as Wittgenstein’s does. Wittgenstein, in order to make sense of philosophical problems, looks at the words on which the problems are centered as they are used in everyday language, not as they are idealized and pushed into abstraction by philosophical reasoning. Wittgenstein appeals to the reader to analyze words as they use them in their daily lives, and in that way make sense of philosophical problems surrounding their use. Freud uses a similar method which I will characterize as performative and therapeutic. He does not examine behavior, institutions, culture or civilization in an abstract or ideal light, but as they exist in reality. The text is performative because he asks the reader to appeal to his own commonsense, past experience, and emotional and behavioral patterns in addressing philosophical questions, and it is therapeutic because he asks them to analyze themselves in the process. For example, he questions the order “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” He proposes that the reader: adopt a naïve attitude towards it, as though we were hearing it for the first time; we shall be unable then to suppress a feeling of surprise and bewilderment. Why should we do it? What good will it do us? But above all, how shall we achieve it? How can it be possible? My love is something valuable to me which I ought not to throw away without reflection. It imposes duties on me for whose fulfillment I must be ready to make sacrifices. If I love someone, he must deserve it in some wayÖ (65-66)He then expands the idea to explain why, from a psychoanalytic standpoint, this feeling of surprise is in fact validated by psychology. (we only love someone because they represent our ego or ego-ideal). He continues to use this method when he tells the reader that “the instinct to aggression, which we can detect in ourselves and justly assume to be present in others, is the factor which disturbs our relations with our neighbourÖ” (69) He then goes on to give examples throughout history in which this instinct was manifest. He attempts to further validate and broaden this method by stating at the beginning of two chapters that what he had just argued was simply common knowledge, and that he had wasted paper and ink. This was probably not entirely true, but it serves to strengthen the reader’s convictions that what he has read was intuitive.Thus Freud uses a performative, therapeutic method because it is particularly appropriate for a psychological framework. He wishes to show people that his psychoanalytic observations stem from real-life, commonsense situations. However, he also argues in this way in order to bring philosophy down to earth, to get rid of metaphysical constructions and abstract reasoning in order to discover what is “really” happening. His work is a fairly blatant critique of religion and certain types of philosophy, such as works by Descartes or Rousseau, political ideology, and metaphysics. He delivers a sharp attack on philosophy when he states that:The question of the purpose of human life has been raised countless times; it has never yet received a satisfactory answer and perhaps does not admit of oneÖIt looks, on the contrary as though on had a right to dismiss the question, for it seems to derive from the human presumptuousness, other manifestations of which are already familiar to us. Nobody talks about the purpose of the life of animalsÖOnce again, only religion can answer the question of the purpose of life. One can hardly be wrong in concluding that the idea of life having a purpose stands and falls with the religious system (24).Although he characterizes the idea as religious, we can surely expand it to the realm of philosophers and metaphysicists, who are also concerned with this problem. But Freud dismisses it, not entertaining for one moment the idea that humans are essentially different from animals. His answer to the “less ambitious question of what men themselves show by their behaviour to be the purpose and intention of their lives” is, of course, the pursuit of happiness. This claim nicely summarizes Freud’s method of argumentation, his solution to the problem framed with “The answer can hardly be in doubt,” and the reader intuitively agreeing. He also criticizes political idealism, especially communism, which rely on the idea of man’s basic goodness and ignore the instinct toward aggression. He states that “Aggressiveness was not created by property. It reigned without limit in primitive timesÖand it already shows itself in the nursery almost before property has given up its primal, anal form” (70-71).Freud criticizes the use of metaphysics and idealism to explain psychological phenomena, even those which seem more mysterious, a psychological explanation not so obvious or intuitive. For example, he begins by dislodging the very feeling of spirituality (that oceanic feeling) by denying its divine origin. He explains that the feeling comes from an incomplete separation of the self from the rest of the world, left over from infancy when one does not understand that the ego is separate from it’s objects. Furthermore, on page 22 he criticizes the notion of God as an “enormously exalted father,” and religion as being “patently infantile and “foreign to reality.” He reduces love to the search for pleasure in a longstanding sexual relationship, and spiritual love as the love for someone who represents your ego-ideal. Even the superego, which Freud utilized in an earlier work to prove that psychoanalysis recognized man’s higher nature, his greater capacity for good, is here revealed as nothing more than the internalized prohibitions of the parents and authority figures and the aggressive instinct turned inwards. Finally, he characterizes art and intellectual work as sublimations of sexual energy. Going even farther, he remarks that “such satisfactions seem ëfiner and higher.’ But their intensity is mild as compared with that derived from the sating of crude and primary instinctual impulses; it does not convulse our physical being” (30).Thus he attempts to turn our current mode of thought on its head, associating what are normally considered the most worthwhile activities with lower modes of pleasure, and those things usually considered more base, less inwardly rewarding, with the highest degree of satisfaction possible. He does so in order to make the statement that although humans may feel the need to look to higher forces in order to explain life, this only does humanity a disservice. We continue to believe that there must be something more, that we must look higher in order to discover the “truth.” However, Freud believes that this is put to us by an overly demanding superego which tells us that we must separate ourselves from animals and look beyond ourselves for meaning. He believes that the constant appeal to the perfectability of man and necessity to strive for a psychologically constructed ideal keeps men particularly unhappy and repressed, their superego overly aggressive and demanding. According to Freud, if we could conquer the tendency towards “faint-heartedness” and be willing to accept the true, psychoanalytic origin of behavior, we might not blame ourselves so harshly for less than pure impulses, and live a happier, more natural life.However, it seems that this appeal can only go so far. If we wish to remain in civilization, Freud suggests that some metaphysical, higher order constructions are necessary. For Freud does not suggest that we go back to a state of nature, although “the feeling of happiness derived from the satisfaction of a wild instinctual impulse untamed by the ego is incomparably more intense than that derived from sating an instinct that has been tamed” (29), because in this state only a chosen few would be able to experience this type of happiness (the rest presumably miserable and oppressed), and no one would feel secure (73). In order to retain this civilization, Freud almost suggests that we must accept the illusion that he spends so much time disproving and even deriding. For,No feature, however, seems better to characterize civilization than its esteem and encouragement of man’s higher mental activitiesóhis intellectual, scientific and artistic achievementsóand the leading role that it assigns to ideas in human life. Foremost among those ideas are the religious systemsÖNext come the speculations of philosophy; and finally what might be called man’s ëideals’óhis ideas of a possible perfection of individuals, or of peoples or of the whole of humanity (47).These ideas, although they stem from repression and sublimation of instinct, are apparently inseparable from society. Indeed, Freud has often made references to repression as being the main vehicle of society, almost coinciding with it, without which it would be impossible.Thus it seems that within society, we need metaphysical constructions for two reasons: first, to bind people together and keep them harmonious within the society, and secondly, to allow for a greater degree of happiness in a situation where instincts are repressed. The most obvious example of the first case is the superego. Although this is not, in itself, a metaphysical construction, it is responsible for creating and upholding moral codes, and through repression, causes the need for sublimation of instinct. It is this construction that gives rise to commandments like “love thy neighbor,” and “love thy enemy.” Freud characterizes the superego as a sense of guilt, which originally arose out of fear of loss of love from parent-figures, and then, later in life, changes to an internalization of the parents’ demands. This sense of guilt, or conscience, keeps us from giving voice to instincts which are considered incompatible with society. People engage in such activities as art, music, and intellectual work as a substitute for satisfaction of an instinct which the superego prohibits. It seems that without this sense of guilt, people would feel no moral obligation without fear of punishment. However, the superego ensures that people believe that the moral obligation stems from man’s “higher” nature, and that intellectual activities are objectively better than instinctual ones.In addition, the idea of justice, that there exists a right of the community over the individual, stems from the attempt to exercise control over the individual, so that no one person can have free reign of their instincts, and exert power over others through “brute force.” This is an important prerequisite for civilization, and it is articulated in terms of a democratic ideal, a societal moral (49). Finally, the notion that we should love and respect those around us comes from society’s constant need to bind its members together with aim-inhibited libido, in order to combat the aggressive instinct which threatens to pull people apart. This is even the reason for sexual prohibitionsósociety needs to take libidinal energy that would normally go towards individual sexual satisfaction and redirect it to society as a whole (69).In the second case, metaphysical constructions, or “illusions,” often help people cope in a society where powerful instincts must be repressed. He states that “each one of us behaves in some one respect like a paranoic, corrects some aspect of the world which is unbearable to him by the construction of a wish and introduces this delusion into realityÖThe religions of mankind must be classed among the mass-delusions of this kind” (32). He includes art among these illusions, and of course religion. He talks about how religion ensures against suffering by “imposing equally on everyone its own path to the acquistion of happiness and protection from suffering” and “succeeds in sparing many people an individual neurosis” (36).Thus, in many cases, Freud shows the need for constructions of higher ideals immediately after proving these ideals delusional–such as when he shows the absurdity of “loving thy neighbor,” and feeling an indiscriminate love for mankind, and then goes on to discuss the necessity of this libidinal tie for combating the death instinct. So it seems that although Freud is committed to exposing the roots of metaphysical claims, and revealing the social origins of supposed absolutes, he also sees the necessity for upholding certain delusions and substitutions. Although these types of claims disregard the true origin of human motivation, they are indispensable for the harmony of societal live. Thus, Freud is left with a dilemma: as a scientist and a philosopher, he is committed to uncovering truths and condemning illusion. But as a psychologist, he is concerned with human happiness and the betterment of society. But even from the point of view of a psychologist, Freud knows that the happiness of the individual would be greatly increased if he were able to undo the repression of society and give voice to his instinctsóhowever, he might also suffer from lack of protecting illusions. And if everyone were to act in this manner, the fabric of society would fall apart.So how is Freud to conduct his practice? If psychoanalysis is concerned with making all that is unconscious conscious, how will Freud uphold certain societal restrictions which he views as necessary repression in the individual? Does he maintain certain delusions in his patients? For “Integration in, or adaptation to, a human community appears as a scarcely avoidable condition which must be fulfilled before this aim of happiness can be achieved. If it could done without that condition, it would perhaps be preferable.” However, Freud also states that in a community, “the aim of happiness is still there, but it is pushed into the background” (105). But as a psychologist, Freud is devoted to increasing this happiness as much as possible. Thus it seems that his aim, increasing individual happiness, is inherently divergent from that of a community, but that, in the long run, civilization is a necessary evil for the greater good.So “the two urges, the one towards personal happiness and the other towards union with other human beings must struggle with each other in every individual” (106). Where does Freud stand in this struggle? He devotes most of the book to revealing the falsity of societal appeals to the “higher” nature of man, a vehicle by which we ultimately encourage man to act altruistically rather than egoistically. Freud is devoted to exposing this type of illusion, but reluctantly concedes that it may be necessary for the human community. Indeed, it seems that he is greatly in favor of society when he states that civilization represents the eternal struggle between Eros and Thanatos, with society attempting to utilize Eros in order to save the human species from the destruction of the aggressive instinct (112).However, Freud’s constant criticism of philosophical appeals to the perfectability of man and his capacity for morality shows that he is greatly conflicted about the aims of society. Freud’s assertion that “it is very far from my intention to express an opinion upon the value of human civilization” (110), does not ring true. Although he wavers on these judgements of value, they are quite evident. Often it seems that Freud wishes to dispense with society, and even takes a Nietzschean stance at times, like when he states that “Only the weaklings have submitted to such an extensive encroachment upon their sexual freedom, and stronger natures have only done so subject to a compensatory condition” (61). These prohibitions on sexual freedom, which Freud admits may be necessary for the redirection of libido to societal aims, are here dismissed as unjust. It seems that in this passage Freud is glorifying the man who ignores society’s decrees and lives by his instinct, stronger natures implicitly defined as those who engage in bodily, instinctual activities rather than sublimated ones.Freud admits that ” I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow-men as a prophet, and I bow to their reproach that I can offer them no consolation.” However, immediately preceding this statement he notes that “the objection can be madeÖto the effect that in the history of mankind, trends such as these, which were considered insurmountable, have often been thrown aside and replaced by other trends.” He is referring to the “tendencies to a restriction of sexual life” and the “institution of a humanitarian ideal” (111). Thus, in announcing his lack of courage, Freud is saying that although he dislikes appeal to man’s higher nature, he is afraid to dispense with it altogether. But it seems that this is what he wants to do: throughout the book he concentrates on exposing the illusion of such a framework. And now he states that perhaps such an illusion is not necessary for the continuance of civilization–perhaps we can replace these constructions with different, less oppressive ones. But again, Freud is left with a dilemma. Any new construction would necessarily involve the restriction of some instincts and the shift from an egoistic mode of life to an altruistic one, for how else could humans live harmoniously together in a society?Thus, in Civilization and its Discontents, Freud presents himself with the problem of how far psychoanalysis is to go. On one hand, it aims at removing the oppressive influence of the superego, absolving people from a sense of guilt. It operates from the assumption that everything in our mental life is determined, and does not pass moral judgement. But how far is Freud justified in going in releasing people from the demands of the superego? Freud knows that our animalistic instincts are natural and should be allowed voice, if not free reign, for maximum individual happinessóthat is, we should stop fooling ourselves about the roots of our motivation. However, he is also unsure what would become of civilization if we got rid of metaphysical constructions. Would we build new, better ones, or would the glue that is holding together the tenuous fabric of society deteriorate, and Thanatos finally destroy the human species?
The Human Pursuit of Happiness
A recurring theme throughout the novel, Civilization and Its Discontents, is the dogged mission of mankind attempting to achieve happiness, but always falling short. “Life, as we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks” (Freud 41). Many live out their lives seeking happiness through their gods, families, and by striving to maintain satisfaction throughout the different facets of their lives. They ultimately learn that the satisfaction is only temporary and that the displeasures in life always build up and diminish their state of happiness. “The contention holds that what we call our civilization is largely responsible for our misery, and that we should be much happier if we gave it up and returned to primitive conditions” (Freud 58). While this is believed by many, it is not a valid statement. Although our current civilization has its own set of unique problems created by the advances in technology and the ideas of the current inhabitants of Earth, earlier civilizations also had a specific set of problems that deterred them from their ideal state of happiness. Many extremely diverse societies over a long period of time have tried to overcome this issue of unhappiness with no success. No matter the type of civilization, man will always want more and have the desire to come out on top of his competition: his neighbors. The goal of all civilizations is to achieve a lasting happiness; however, mankind will never be able to truly maintain this happiness because of the complexities of life and nature as well as the way that humans interact with one another when placed in society.
The Communist movement had a goal to achieve and maintain a lasting happiness by creating an ideal society where everyone was seen as equal, but as one can determine, they did not pass the test of time as they are not currently in power in most of the world. The Communists believed that they had found the recipe for solving the unhappiness of mankind though the abolition of private property: “If private property were abolished, all wealth held in common, and everyone allowed to share in the enjoyment of it, ill-will and hostility would disappear among men” (Freud 97). Their movement was able to gain momentum quickly because, instead of the minority revolting, the working class, which was the majority of the population, now wanted this change. Their proposal, however, did not last long and fell short of this goal of complete happiness based on the fact that humans are wired to be competitive and aggressive with one another.
“Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, baron and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in one word, oppressor and oppressed, standing constantly in opposition to each other, carried on an uninterrupted warfare, now open, now concealed; a warfare which always ended either in a revolutionary transformation of the whole of society or in the common ruin of the contending classes” (Marx & Engels 126).
Since property and all items that determined class were shared among the citizens of the Communist party, the Communists determined that there would no longer be social classes. The competition that came in the form of social ranks of the citizens would apparently just disappear because everyone would have the means to survive. This theory is also incorrect because, although it may work for a short period of time, it is human nature to be greedy and have the desire to be one step ahead of one’s neighbors. “We wish only to suppress the miserable character of this appropriation, by which the worker only lives in order to increase capital, and only lives so long as the interests of the ruling class demand it” (Marx & Engels 137). The “other” that Freud famously refers to in his book, Civilization and its Discontents, relates to the ruling class that Marx and Engels refer to in their manifesto. This idea of all of the different types of citizens uniting to face this ominous “other” would keep everyone together in a happy, productive society for a while. It would not last forever though because eventually, when they defeat the “other”, the human characteristics of competition would show once again and there would no longer be an enemy uniting them all for a single cause. The citizens, especially the previous upper class citizens who yearned for capital gain, would retaliate and find ways to gain just the slightest advantage over their peers. This would eventually cause the demise of the Communist nation because the happiness temporarily gained by working for the good of the state and not having to worry about providing the basic means of survival for one’s own family would crumble as select citizens became more powerful over others as they gained the slight advantage from natural competition and greed.
In the novel, Reading Lolita in Tehran, the regime attempted to create a society that displayed their views of a perfect world in order to achieve happiness, but they had failed. “In the first photograph, standing there in our black robes and scarves, we are as we had been shaped by someone else’s dreams. In the second, we appear as we imagined ourselves” (Nafisi 24). The first picture represents a dream that the official ayatollah had come to make a reality when he came to rule and tried to make his perfect world. This society oppressed women and made it required by law that they wear the veil. Although it was once a symbol to represent one’s devotion to her religion, peace, and happiness, it was now an oppressive symbol, created from the dream of a man who had no reverence for women. This oppressive society fails at creating happiness because, although a majority of the male citizens were happy and thrived in this system, all women citizens had to live in fear and did not have even the slightest possibility to be happy. “The revolution has emptied their heads of any form or thought, and our own intelligentsia, the cream of the crop, is no better” (Nafisi 200). The new revolutionized society made most of its citizens blind to the fact that they were truly unhappy and persuaded them to believe that they had it good and were lucky. It taught them that outside nations, such as the United States of America, were very immoral, awful places to live and should be destroyed so that they may not influence the citizens of this new society. “Living in the Islamic Republic is like having sex with a man you loathe” (Nafisi 329): Nafisi is placing the act of living in this constricting society on the same disgusting level as rape. This shows just how unhappy and controlled the minorities are in this twisted society created by the ayatollah. Men had free reign and could do basically whatever made them happy. They could have multiple wives, control every major decision their wives made, and even beat them when they were unhappy with them. This type of society and the happiness it brought to a select few, of course, could not last forever; those who felt as if they were being oppressed would eventually take action and little by little take back the society they once knew in order to attempt to find their fleeting happiness and destroy the tasteless happiness of their oppressors.
Many societies have come and gone, but the one thing that could relate every single one of them is their never-ending struggle for eternal happiness. Some have turned to different gods, societal structures, and even the oppression of different groups of people to find this happiness, but it is always temporary. The Communists tried to achieve happiness by setting the playing field equal for all contenders in life, while the Islamic Republic went about this task by raising up the men and looking down on women and other countries. While there was happiness for a short period of time, it eventually died out when human nature kicked in. People slowly started to have urges to get ahead of their neighbors and be aggressive with one another. These urges led to people who were discontent with life and wanted serious change. For these reasons, as hard as people try to achieve a lasting happiness, they will never be able to fully grasp this because of the way they were wired when they were created; they will always be looking for the next greatest thing to save them from the harsh reality of life, but to no avail because, no matter what they turn to, it will always fail to provide them with eternal happiness.
Freud’s Impact on 1984
In his treatise Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud makes an interesting statement about advanced society. He argues that “the price of progress in civilization is paid in forfeiting happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt,” to defend his argument that guilt is becoming an issue in modern cultures (Civilization 35). In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the party uses Freudian concepts involving guilt, repressed instincts, and physical pain in order to control its members.
One of the very first Freudian concepts that we see in 1984 involveds guilt. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud briefly discusses the three parts of the mind – the ego, id, and superego. According to Freud, the id represents a person’s natural instincts and desires, for example, the desire to have sex or be a more independent being. However, Freud argues that the id is an unconscious part of the mind, so that many people are not aware of these urges that they naturally have. On the other hand, the superego is partially conscious, and is what controls guilt. The superego a person has depends on the society he or she lives in, because society and culture determine what someone might think is right or wrong, making it easy to see what the superego is – a conscience. The ego is somewhere in the middle. It determines the choices you make each day by finding a compromise between the instincts of the id and the guilt of the superego. For all societies, Freud argues that there are going to be disagreements between the id and the superego that the ego can’t handle, causing unhappiness for some people.
However, Orwell takes this setup a step further, creating a society where there is a strong disagreement between the superego and the id. The party in 1984 creates a strong superego in its members, starting from a very young age. It encourages children to abstain from sex, many even deciding to join groups like the Junior Anti-Sex League: “In an indirect way it was rubbed into every party member from childhood onwards. There were even organizations such as the Junior Anti-Sex League, which advocated complete celibacy for both sexes” (1984 65). This society also encourages children to repress their id desires to love and protect their families, by rewarding them for turning over family members to the police for acts like thoughtcrime, and making them feel guilty for not doing so. However, guilt on its own can only go so far. If someone decides that the party’s morals are wrong, that person could break the rules and not have enough guilt to have any reason to stop. Because of this risk, the party adds another level of control to the superego – the telescreens. The telescreens were installed almost everywhere, even in people’s houses. These devices gave the party a way to keep an eye on its members and make sure nobody was giving into rebellious instincts and desires. If someone were caught, that person would be punished, depending on the severity of the crime, with torture or sometimes death:
“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were. . . within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide” (1984 62).
If that wasn’t extreme enough, the party made sure people couldn’t get away with anything at all by creating a special type of crime – thoughtcrime. According to Winston, “Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death” (1984 28). Thoughtcrime was punished in the same way as a normal crime, through either torture or death. With thoughtcrime, the party made sure that people would not only refrain from committing crimes, but also that they would refrain from even thinking about them at all. This tactic was incredibly important for the goal of complete control. When Winston points out to O’Brien that the party is unable to control things like matter, gravity, climate, and disease, O’Brien responds that the party “[controls] matter because [it controls] the mind. Reality is inside the skull” (1984 264-265).
Although the party already had quite a bit of control over its members with telescreens and thoughtcrime, it also understood that it couldn’t repress people’s desires entirely – since that would lead to a revolt in no time. As Freud said, “even in so-called normal people the power of controlling the id cannot be increased beyond certain limits. If one asks more of them, one produces revolt or neurosis in individuals or makes them unhappy” (Civilization 39). Instead, the party decided to use those instincts and desires to its advantage. The “two minutes hate” was a short event that the party organized each day: the party members would all gather in one room and have a chance to let out their aggression towards a variety of images on a screen representing enemies of Oceania. At the end of the two minutes, a picture of Big Brother, the leader of the party, would show up on the screen, calming everyone down. Because of this process, party members would learn to subconsciously connect the party and Big Brother to feelings of safety and love, while connecting any enemies to feelings of anxiety and anger. Because of such manipulative pacification, people are less likely to think about turning on the party, since they’d rather feel safe and secure. Another time that this idea of compliance was put into action was when Winston was being tortured near the end of the novel. He “had the feeling that O’Brien was his protector, that the pain was something that came from outside, from some other source, and that it was O’Brien who would save him from it” (1984 250); what he is doing to himself is exactly the same as what the party was doing to its members in creating aura of loyalty and dependency.
Orwell used physical pain a few times throughout the novel as one of the party’s methods of control. For example, when he was first taken to his cell, Winston was imagining the pain that he might feel later: “He felt the smash of truncheons on his elbows and iron-shod boots on his shins; he saw himself groveling on the floor, screaming for mercy through broken teeth” (1984 228). Despite how much he thought he loved Julia, and how much he wanted to hate the party, the pain was so bad that he was willing to do anything to get out of it. Freud mentioned this a little bit in his essay, discussing the pleasure-principle. This principle says that the id will do anything to get a person out of pain or a painful situation, and instead go look for pleasure. The party used this factor to its advantage, giving the id an escape from pain in the form of betrayal of Julia and loyalty to the party, which Winston took in response to being exposed to his greatest fear – the rats.
Throughout 1984, Orwell used many of Freud’s concepts regarding civilization, like the superego and the id, repressed aggression and sexual desire, and physical pain, in order to show how the party gained so much control over most of its members. This group of overpowered individuals, sadly, included Winston himself at the end.
Freud’s and Nietzsche’s Views on Human Morality
Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud offer bold critiques of human morality that greatly differ from the commonly accepted views of virtue and ethics. Both reject the idea of morality as an instinctive or natural element of human life. Rather, they contend that morality has been created in reaction to the realities of human existence. Although Freud and Nietzsche both claim that morality is a reactive creation, they greatly differ in their accounts of the value of morality. Nietzsche claims that reactive morality is “bad air” to humans and has prevented humanity from flourishing. Freud, however, argues that morality is a necessary aspect of civilization and has enabled humans to peacefully live together. The disagreement between Freud and Nietzsche over the value of morality in human existence is a function of the different motivations that drive their critiques of morality. While Nietzsche’s critique seeks to explore the effect of morality on the individual, Freud’s critique seeks to outline the function of morality in society as a whole.In his book On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche attempts to explore the “value of [human] values” (7) by investigating the origins of morality through a number of hypothetical narratives. One such narrative that is critical in understanding Nietzsche’s account of morality is his metaphor of a powerless lamb that is constantly preyed upon by a powerful bird of prey. The lamb, powerless to stop the bird from preying, labels the bird as evil for preying upon the lamb. Furthermore, the lamb declares itself as good because it is nothing like the bird. In this reaction to the bird, the lamb compensates for its ressentiment at its powerlessness by becoming the stronger moral being despite the fact that it is physically weaker. The lamb’s reaction to the bird is the result of the lamb’s will to power. The will to power is every individual’s drive “for an optimum of favorable conditions in which to fully release [its] power” (76). To create conditions that enable the lamb to release its power, the lamb invents an alternative criterion of strength — moral strength, virtue, and goodness — that it can use to make its weakness powerful. In Nietzsche’s view, morality thus springs from and compensates for powerlessness.Nietzsche uses the metaphor of the powerless lamb to explore the reactive tendencies of all powerless beings. Like the powerless lamb, powerless humans have reacted to their lack of power by labeling weakness as morally good. Actions that are a result of a lack of power — weakness, timidity, submission, or cowardice — are revalued by powerless beings as moral. Weakness is thus revalued as accomplishment, timidity as humility, submission as obedience, and cowardice as patience. Meanwhile, the actions of powerful humans — dominance, physicality, or the accumulation of wealth — are revalued as evil. As a result, the power relationship between the powerful and the powerless is translated into a moral relationship.An important part of Nietzsche’s critique of morality is his argument that reactive “slave” morality is bad for the individual and has “obstructed human flourishing” (5). There are many aspects of reactive morality that Nietzsche finds problematic. One factor is the aspect of deception that morality involves. Morality labels the powerless beings as morally better than the powerful beings. However, Nietzsche argues that these powerless beings are not better than the powerful beings. In fact, he claims that powerless beings “want to be powerful one day” (29). Morality thus requires powerless beings to deceive themselves into believing that being weak and “moral” is better and more desirable than being strong and “evil.” Another problem Nietzsche identifies with human morality is that it is merely a reaction to powerlessness. He argues that this reactivity is unhealthy for the individual as it causes the powerless individual to become “rankled by poisonous and hostile feelings” (21) toward those who are powerful. The individual comes to define him or herself by his or her powerlessness and thus becomes deeply invested in his or her own impotence. As a result, the individual is unable to act or flourish; powerlessness becomes the foundation of the individual’s existence.Freud’s account of human morality shares many similarities with Nietzsche’s account. Like Nietzsche, Freud argues that human morality has been created in reaction to the realities of human existence. Unlike Nietzsche, however, Freud claims that human morality has been created by civilization as a reaction to the aggressive instincts of human beings. He states that human morality takes form in the individual through the superego. The superego is the voice inside the individual that tells the individual “no.” It constrains the individual to morality and goodness, and that tells him or her how he or she “should” behave. The superego internalizes the parental voice of childhood and prevents the expression of our destructive aggressive instincts in the same way that parents prevent the expression of these instincts as children. Freud’s critique of the superego suggests that he believes that human morality is a necessary aspect of existence. He claims that the superego is civilization’s greatest invention in dealing with aggression. Through the superego, aggressivity is “introjected, internalized, and sent back to where it came from… directed towards [one’s] own ego” (Civilization and Its Discontents 756). The superego reroutes human aggressivity away from other human beings and instead directs it inward. Civilization requires this “internalization of the aggressive impulses” (214). Without the superego, humans would always give in to their aggressive impulses, leading to chaos and the complete breakdown of society. Although Freud admits that the superego exacts a psychic toll on the individual by punishing the individual’s ego for its desires, he nevertheless remains supportive of the demands of civilization. He contends, “We owe to the process of [civilization] the best of what we have become, as well as a good part of what we suffer from” (215). Freud’s critique of the superego suggests that he sees human morality as a necessary — if somewhat damaging — aspect of existence if humans are to live peacefully together.Freud’s conception of human morality shares many similarities with Nietzsche’s critical approach. Both Freud and Nietzsche claim that morality is a creation and is not a natural or instinctive aspect of existence. Furthermore, both argue that morality is primarily a reaction to the realities of human life. Despite these critical similarities, Freud and Nietzsche reach very different conclusions as to the overall value of morality. This disagreement is a function of the different motivations that drive their critiques. Nietzsche’s critique is extremely concerned with the impact of human morality on the individual. He begins On the Genealogy of Morality by claiming that humans need “a critique of moral values” and an examination of “the value of [our] values” (7). Throughout his critique, Nietzsche makes constant reference to the effect of morality on the individual. He explores how reactive morality can negatively define an individual’s existence and prevent personal growth. Nietzsche’s conception of the origins of morality demonstrates his individual-centric approach to morality. He essentially claims that morality is a creation of powerless individuals in response to powerful individuals. Nietzsche’s critique of morality is thus distinctly indifferent to society. When Nietzsche claims that morality might have obstructed human flourishing, he is primarily concerned with how morality has prevented the individual from maximizing his or her capacities for originality, expression, and personal progress. In contrast, Freud’s critique of morality is primarily interested in how human morality functions within society as a whole. Unlike Nietzsche, Freud argues that human morality is not a human creation. Rather, he claims that morality has been created by civilization in response to human aggression. When Freud explores morality and the superego, he emphasizes how these structures enable humans to peacefully coexist. Although Freud does recognize that morality exacts a psychic toll on the individual, his primary concern is that of society as a whole. Freud’s critique suggests that he believes that the individual costs of morality are necessary for civilization to function. In essence, Freud is supportive of the demands of civilization. Freud would definitively reject Nietzsche’s claim that morality has prevented human flourishing. On the contrary, Freud would claim that morality has enabled human flourishing.Freud and Nietzsche both offer compelling critiques of human morality that provide fresh perspectives on an extremely complicated aspect of existence. Although Freud and Nietzsche conceptualize morality in a similar manner, their critical approaches to morality are driven by much different motivations. While Freud seeks to outline the function of morality in society and civilization, Nietzsche attempts to explore the effects of morality on the individual. As a result of these different motivations, Freud and Nietzsche reach dramatically different conclusions regarding the value of human morality in our world.