Freud may be a return to our theme of society opposing our instinctive drives, but I rather enjoyed Civilization and It’s Discontents. Freud’s ideas are interesting to consider. Some of them are sexual of course, such as the libido’s unconscious effect on our actions, and the infamous Oedipal complex makes a quick cameo. But some questions are actually pretty enticing and philosophical. What is the origin of beauty? What good is it to us? What conceptualizes and defines it? Why do we obey the “Golden Rule”? Is it realistic or are we fooling our real emotions?
The central idea of Civilization and It’s Discontents is the idea of self-repression and guilt. This is somewhat of a callback to Nietzsche, but Freud is more insightful and clear on the matter. Where does guilt come from? Freud believes that civilization and the literal embodiment of the superego; Religion, are the two definitive culprits. Freud explains this with psychoanalysis, but his rationalizing appears more similar to operate conditioning. Mankind is taught and punished by authority figures within society and religious hierarchy to hate the actions that are most lustful and indulging. Sooner or later, after the dog has been kicked around long enough, it begins to question and hate himself without actual physical punishment present. Man now feels shame and self-loathing all on its own! But Freud doesn’t object against the punishments placed by society. He rationalizes Law’s foundation and purpose to mankind, despite any natural reasoning behind it. His largest concern is how Law’s side effects of implemented guilt effect the everyday man, ailing his ego. He’s not Rousseau whining about the “crime” of society and law, Freud only wants to remedy the after effects.
Just think about it. You’re walking down the street, you see a pretty girl walk by you and before you know it your mind is wandering. Suddenly an “inappropriate” thought enters your mind, and you abruptly stop yourself. You may question your thoughts, and feel some shame, or worse, reflect that you already have a girlfriend. Before you know it, you are lamenting and chastising yourself for ultimately a very natural occurring response to the opposite sex. Your mind and body are meant to take notice of attractive women! But churches, synagogues and mosques would tell you differently. Freud would especially validate this idea since it links back to the idea of marriage and permanent kinship as unnatural, but it is more on a basis of unnecessary guilt. Freud uses the rather confusing Oedipal complex to explain his thoughts, but he acknowledges that no good can come of that form of self-hatred. What’s the point of getting mad at yourself when you’ve done nothing physically wrong! It’s not like you somehow sexually assaulted her with your mind.
Although the book doesn’t present any answers to the dilemma of unnecessary guilt, the text begins a snowballing effect towards a solution. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory was infamous because it defied all cultural taboo of the late 19th Century. Talks about erotic dreams, sex and homosexuality were off the table. By writing about and openly addressing sexuality; bringing it to popular culture, these “evil” thoughts didn’t appear so sinful and unnatural after all. Freud took psychology and his therapy to the human race back to the basic of its purpose. Simply talking openly about the difficult and uncomfortable things. His intervention leaped us forward to the sexually open society we have today. Thanks Freud!
And with that my weekend begins!