The Contradiction of Civilization
In Civilization and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud provides meaning to human nature and our unhappiness. He proposes that mankind is in constant struggle with instinctive violent and sexual behaviors. Civilization has created boundaries to regulate our behavior. Freud believes that these boundaries repress our natural instincts and ultimately lead to unhappiness. Civilization is created to protect mankind and establish a functional society, but it is in our aggressive nature to destroy it. “The existence of this inclination 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 neighbor and which forces civilization into such a high expenditure. In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration. The interest of work in common would not hold it together; instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests. Civilization has to use its utmost efforts in order to set limits to man's aggressive instincts and to hold the manifestations of them in check by psychical reaction-formations.” (pg. 95) Freud’s concepts and theories will forever be influential to us. He was thought to “agitate the sleep of mankind.” (pg. 151) He can hold our attention and provide a deeper interpretation of the human mind. The enlightenment age developed the need for reason and it was especially important that Freud could give meaning to our actions. I believe a major motivation for Freud to write this book was to help himself as well as others cope with the devastation of World War I. Many people were highly supportive at the start of the war. With death looming, guilt was hanging overhead in the aftermath of the destruction. That feeling of guilt is later explained as the most problematic source of unhappiness. This book was providing an explanation for the uncontrollable dynamics of human nature. It was in our violent nature to have created so much destruction. He describes ego and super-ego as the workings of the human mind. Ego is defined as the thoughts and behaviors of the conscious self. Super-ego is the control of actions based on these thoughts and behaviors. The super-ego can put demands on the individual that cannot be realistically met which leads to unhappiness. This means that sometimes happiness is not always under our own control. Freud considers our happiness to be based upon sex and violence. Civilization is a necessity regarding this theory of man’s instinctual behaviors. The civilizing process is described as a creation of civilization to protect mankind and prevent unhappiness. It provides protection to individuals from the fear of superiority of nature, mortality, and relationships with the external world. Nature and mortality are not always controllable sources of suffering. Advances in technology gives us some power over nature but Freud argues that technology does not necessarily improve our lives. Social interactions are in human control but cause the most displeasure. He claims the worst threat to man’s ego is the loss of love. The basis of civilization provides protection from others. Civilization is in place to restrain our aggressive instincts. Regulations allow men to moderate themselves and preserve a functioning society. This forms the reality principle in which we act socially appropriate. Individuals feel less guilt by following rules of society. Human nature originated civilization to escape pain and gain pleasure. Although civilizations intentions are pure, it is partly responsible for our misery. A civilized life suppresses our sexual and aggressive impulses which causes us to be discontent. We are denied many of our sexual impulses that are pleasurable. These limitations on sexual behavior leave men feeling unfulfilled with life. Aggression takes form when laws deprive us as individuals. Personal...
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