Thursday, September 26, 2013

Civilization and its Discontents

Civilization and its Discontent
Sigmundd Freud

To me the derivation of religious needs from the helplessness of the child and a longing for its father seems irrefutable, especially as this feeling is not only prolonged from the days of childhood, but constantly sustained by a a fear of superior power of fate. ...  The origin of the religious temperament can be traced in clear outline to the child's feeling of helplessness.

The life imposed on us is too hard for us to bear: it brings too much pains, too many disappointments, too many insoluble problems. If we are to endure it, we cannot do without palliative measures. Of such measures, there are perhaps three kinds: powerful distractions which causes us to make light of our misery, substitutive satisfactions, which diminish it, and intoxicants, which anesthetize us to it. 

Any prolongation of a situation desired by the pleasure principle produces only a feeling of lukewarm comfort; we are so constituted that we can gain intense pleasure only from the contrast, and only very little from the condition itself.

On the aim and purpose of our lives:
The answer can scarcely be in doubt: they strive for happiness, they want to become happy and remain so. The striving has two goals, one negative and one positive: on the one hand it aims at an absence of pain and unpleasurable experience, on the other at strong feelings of pleasure.  

The religions of mankind too must be described as examples of mass delusion. Of course, no one who still shares a delusion will ever recognize it as such.

Three sources of our suffering : the superior power of nature, the frailty of our bodies, and the inadequacy of the institutions that regulate people's relations with one another in the family, the state and society. 

We ought to be content to infer from this observation that power over nature is not the sole condition of human happiness, just as it is not the sole aim of cultural endeavors, rather than to conclude that technical progress is of no value in the economy of happiness. 

On rejecting Utilitarianism:
The fact that civilization is not concerned solely with utility is demonstrated by the the example of beauty, which we insist on including among the interests of civilization.  The usefulness of order is quite patent; as for cleanliness, we must bear in mind that it is also required by hygiene, and we may presume that people were not entirely unaware of this connection even before the age of scientific prophylaxis. Yet utility does not wholly explain the striving for cleanliness: something else may be involved too. 

Communal life becomes possible only when a majority comes together that is stronger than any individual and presents a united front against every individual.

Individual liberty is not an asset of civilization. It was greatest before there was any civilization, though admittedly even then it was largely worthless, because the individual was hardly in a position to defend it. 

Sublimation of the drives is a particularly striking feature of cultural development, which makes it possible for higher mental activities -- scientific, artistic and ideological to play such a significant role in civilized life. 

.... And this seems the most important point -- it is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built on renunciation, how much it presupposes the non-satisfaction of powerful drives -- by suppression, repression or some other means. 

The reality behind all this, which many would deny, is that human beings are not gentle creatures in need of love, at most able to defend themselves if attacked; on the contrary, they can count a powerful share of aggression among their instinctual endowments.  .... Man is a wolf to man. 

With the abolition of private property the human love of aggression is robbed of one of its tools, a strong one no doubt, but certainly not the strongest. No change has been made in the disparities of power and influence that aggression exploits in pursuit of its ends, or in nature. Aggression was not created by property, it prevailed with almost no restrictions in primitive times, when property was scanty. 

Primitive man was actually better off, because his drives were not restricted. Yet this was counterbalanced by the fact that he had little certainty of enjoying this good fortune for long. Civilized man has traded in a portion of his chances of happiness for a certain measure of security. 

I take the view hat the tendency to aggression is an original, autonomous disposition in man, and I return to my earlier contention that it represents the greatest obstacle to civilization. 

It is curious how differently primitive man behaves. Having met with misfortune, he puts the blame not on himself, but on the fetish which has clearly not done its duty, and whips it instead of pubishing himself.
We thus know of two origins of the sense of guilt: one is fear of authority; the other, which came later, is fear of the super-ego. 

... the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of civilization and to show how the price we pay for cultural progress is a loss of happiness, arising from a heightened sense of guilt. 

The development of the individual seems to be a product of the interaction of two trends -- the striving for happiness, which we commonly call 'egoistic', and the striving for fellowship within the community, which we call 'altrusitc'. 

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