Psychology

Assessment Civilizations and it Discontents by Sigmund Freud



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In "Civilization and its Discontents," Freud attempts to explore the different factors which influence the human being's inclination to establish civilizations. He identifies three major aspects of the human psyche: the id, the ego and the superego. The id refers to instinctual behavior; the ego refers to man's awareness of his conscious self, which tends to suppress the desires of the id; and the superego is the "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 is a complex creature with superior intelligence, which drives him to change his environment in order to suit his needs. The main purpose of man to establish civilization is to escape pain and maximize pleasure, according to Freud's concept of the "pleasure principle." However, man cannot completely alter the order of things around him so as to please all his desires, because everything is bound by the natural preconditions of the universe, and man is forced to implement those preconditions in his process of establishing civilization. Since civilization's main purpose is to avoid suffering, mankind is inclined to setting up a system governed by a sense of order, aimed at being fair for every individual.

However, since man initially used to be governed mainly by his libidinal instincts, civilization forces him to minimize the influence of the libido on his life in three major ways: forcing man into repressing his libido, creating certain conditions which in turn suppress the libido and forcing man into sublimating his libidinal energy into other forms, such as investing the energy into working and creating structures and objects of beauty. Libido can also be sublimated into more acceptable emotions such as aim-inhibited love, both erotic and non-erotic, which helps keep families, friends and communities together, hence creating a sense of security. In cases where libidinal energy is excessively suppressed, a state of neurosis can arise.

However, Freud points out that in spite of all man's attempts to escape suffering through civilization, he can still not rid himself of his death instinct. Man has the need to love and create, but simultaneously nurtures a desire to destroy. Although civilization seems to help mankind escape suffering, man only ends up indulging in self-inflicted pain. Civilization seeks to suppress human nature, considering it to be unethical, and the ethics imposed on man by civilization eventually cause him unnecessary suffering. Therefore, one can conclude that the purpose of civilization is paradoxical, because civilization exists to protect man from one kind of suffering, but eventually gives man a different kind of suffering.

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