I believe Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents is the last philosophical text in our reading list for Arts One this year. Hopefully I’m right- if I am, then the fact that I’m done with philosophy (at least for this school year) is a fact worth celebrating!
Alright, back to business. Civilization and its Discontents is probably the most enjoyable philosophical text I’ve read since September. I hated Plato’s Republic, Hobbe’s Leviathan, Rousseau’s A Discourse on Inequality, and I especially hated Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. Freud didn’t even stir my dislike. Maybe after Nietzsche, Freud seemed much easier to handle. During Caroline William’s lecture on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, she mentioned Freud a number of times. I can see why she did. In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud talks about how people have created society, only to have society limit our personal happiness by repressing our natural instincts. Isn’t that what happened to Dr Jekyll? He cared too much about his reputation and society’s expectations of him that he made the drug to turn him into Mr Hyde, so that he could indulge in his less socially approved of desires. Freud would say that Dr Jekyll’s so-called “evil” desires by society are, in fact, natural. He had no need to create a Mr Hyde! Freud thinks the more civilization we have the less human we are becoming.
Prior to taking Arts One, the conventional belief was that humans are very different from animals. Humans were supposed to be viewed as this very intelligent figure that could control their emotions and think logically. Animals, on the other hand, thought simply of things: They eat, they sleep, they reproduce, and they die. They don’t strive for Nobel Prizes, or compete for grades to get into Harvard. I think Freud thinks that in reality, the “real” human is supposed to be something like an animal. No jealousy, no corruption, just someone who eats/sleeps/reproduces/dies. What has happened is that we have formed civilization (with good intentions- to protect ourselves from murder!) but civilization came at a huge cost. We have gradually lost our humanity. We think that our natural, unconscious desires are bad, disgusting and evil so we repress them. We have come up with a solution only to have our problems multiplied. Now we hate ourselves because the “natural human” in us is being repressed and hidden away from the public eye. We’ve become walking zombies while our real selves are locked in a dungeon somewhere in ourselves. At first, I thought Freud was a great deal like Rousseau. Now that I think of it, he’s not quite like Rousseau. Rousseau thinks that nascent man has long since been extinguished and that there’s no going back to nascent times. While Freud agrees that we can’t go back to the primitive state, he does think that our “natural self” is still in us- hence, unconscious desires that may surface in dreams. Our “natural state of self” is still there and haunts us. What we do is play “ghost-busters” and try to drive that natural state out of us. Do we succeed? Probably not, it’s still there.