Let’s take a look at Freud’s main premises. People are driven by destructive tendencies much more than society realizes. Freud refers to these as the death instinct. The urge to do bad things such as to kill, do violence, rape, and other anti-social behaviors create strong pleasures in individuals. People seek happiness, which says relates to the ego. Society gets in the way of that quest, by taking primacy. Collectivism takes precedence of individualism on a daily basis.
Think, for example, of the politically incorrect example of a drug addict bum, who wants nothing more than to hedonistically do street drugs, sex, and other traits which would qualify under the death instinct. Most people would not pursue such a lifestyle, since society ostracizes and punishes those who choose to lead such a life. So instead, the average person goes to school or to work. And the average person takes care of her family, and often goes to church. These are merely my somewhat inductive generalizations of how the average person is pressure to be altruistic rather than egoistic.
Individuals are driven by pleasure and avoidance of pain. Seeking pleasure is considered the primary urge of individuals. Society imposes restrictions on the individual. Such urges need to be suppressed since the violate other people’s civil, human, and Constitutional rights. This tension between what the individual really wants deep down (urges), and (+) what is best for society (rules and order), (=) results in how individual personalities are formed.
Let’s take a look at Freud’s main premises. People are driven by destructive tendencies much more than society realizes. Freud refers to these as the death instinct. The urge to do bad things such as to kill, do violence, rape, and other anti-social behaviors create strong pleasures in individuals. People seek happiness, which says relates to the ego. Society gets in the way of that quest, by taking primacy. Collectivism takes precedence of individualism on a daily basis. Think, for example, of the politically incorrect example of a drug addict bum, who wants nothing more than to hedonistically do street drugs, sex, and other traits which would qualify under the death instinct. Most people would not pursue such a lifestyle, since society ostracizes and punishes those who choose to lead such a life. So instead, the average person goes to school or to work. And the average person takes care of her family, and often goes to church. These are merely my somewhat inductive generalizations of how the average person is pressure to be altruistic rather than egoistic.
Next, individuals are driven by pleasure and avoidance of pain. Seeking pleasure is considered the primary urge of individuals. Society imposes restrictions on the individual. Such urges need to be suppressed since the violate other people’s civil, human, and Constitutional rights. This tension between what the individual really wants deep down (urges), and (+) what is best for society (rules and order), (=) results in how individual personalities are form.
Civilized society , as well as the development of the individual are molded by the tension from tug of war between what is good for society, and what is good for the individual. Freud considers what is good for society in terms of the word altruism, a term which has to do with self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. The idea of community is a result of subverted (oppressed) sexual libido in a roundabout way. Freud views community as a mass subversion of sexual libido. In other words, in a community a whole bunch of individuals give up facets of their personal sex and death drive in favor of other ideals that benefit the community. These ideals include beauty, reason, intelligence and other higher facets.
Civilized society has little concern with the happiness of the individual. Instead, society superimposes societal harmony as the top priority. As I said earlier, societal harmony can be thought of as a collection of repressed libido, in favor of higher facets. However, this results in what I would consider to be a mass dilution (watering down) of individual happiness, not unlike a Martini, with very little Vodka, but instead mostly composed of just ice, water, and an olive. He also points out the symmetry between how individuals develop through this tug of war between private desires of the individual and the mirroring of how society develops into a community through the same process. I believe this is a form of inductive reasoning).
Freud’s conclusion is that there is a tug of war between individuality and society at large as a community, in which society at large takes priority over the desires of the individual. This favors the healthy development of a society (or community) at the expense of personal happiness of the individual, who suffers neurosis (mental health problems) as a result of their oppressed urges.
In order to have a full understanding of how the premises add up to support the conclusion, I felt it was important to have a firm grasp on some of the key terms in the work, since they are the underpinnings of the supporting points. Therefor, I created a short glossary which briefly demonstrates my basic understanding of the key terms.
Eros – The life embracing instinct, eros, relates to life embracing urges of love, survival, sexual libido, and basic sensations such as hunger and thirst.
Society considers facets of eros in a positive light.
Death drive – This includes Urges the individual has that are pleasing to herself, but which are harmful to society. These include urges such as wanting to harm other people physically or sexually, or take their stuff. Many of these urges first became regulated by society early in pre-history, for example, the 10 Commandments mandate that no one should kill, steal, or covet their neighbors wife. In modernity, legal statute, Constitutional law, and societal norms regulate these anti-social tendencies of the individual. Society views the death drive urges in almost always negative light, with few exceptions, such as war. This concept of death drive is related to his concept of the ‘Id’, which is the primitive, animalistic element of the human personality.
Ananke-ty – Ananke was originally an ancient Greek Goddess, who was actually worshipped in an ancient temple, because she superimposed constraint and necessity upon humanity. In terms of Freudian thought, she is yet another reflection of how the demands of society takes precedence over the needs of the individual.
Egotism- The ego is a somewhat complex concept. It has to do with the sense of self, which relates to reason and order. The ego an be thought of as doing what is best for oneself in a more general long-term view (going to school and working, for example) is diametrically juxtaposed, in contradiction, against the chaotic traits of the death drive and the id.
Altruism- The opposite of egotism, since it relates to the individual relegating herself to a lower role, by putting the needs of her family or her community ahead of her own personal gain. According to Freud, this includes the total suppression of urge of sexual satisfaction, in favor of love or some higher facet. Altruism and egotism are clashing tendencies with the individual. For example, when you love your boyfriend, the urge to love and care for him is a conflicting urge from the desire to sexually gain pleasure from him. Freud elaborated more on these concepts in [paragraph 12 of A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. 1920. Part Three: General Theory of the Neuroses XXVI. The Libido Theory and Narcism].
Collectivism- Emphasizes cohesion and how people fit together into a society.
Freud is correct about the importance of the death drive. His argument that the average person naturally has more (selfish) destructive tendencies as basic instincts than constructive, responsible tendencies is true. History has shown that in a state of nature, absent law enforcement, society and the individual break down into primitive, violent clans. We see this in social riots such as the Michael Brown case, and also in Charlottesville, where right wing protesters drove someone over. Today we see this chaos in such places as Syria and Somalia, where the state has failed and it is every man for himself as a result. Freud is right (along with Hobbes and Locke) that human nature is brutish and nasty. Rousseau was wrong about mankind, he is not lazy and peaceful, nor content. Anthropology has shown that early man-kind’s relatives were carnivorous and violent, some even hunting each other. History is fraught with warfare, which reflects the death drive. Early pre-historic warfare, such as ancient Roman warfare included looting, pillaging , and enslavement of the opposition and their wives.
Freud was onto something, but was only partially right when he further asserted that the individual’s ego is crushed by the demands of society (collectivism). Much of what Freud had to work with was generalizations. The problem with that, is that we now have the benefit of over a hundred years of medical advancements, as well as perfect hindsight. Back in Freud’s time there was much less social mobility than there is now. People didn’t have to worry about what job they would take as much back then as they do in modernity. They generally worked in the family trade and didn’t have as many options. Therefor, people shouldn’t have suffered as much depression back then from working (what we today might consider) menial or crummy jobs, since that was much more common back than. The truth is that brain chemistry, often based on hereditary factors, are the main cause of depression, and other common neurosis, which was Freud’s job to treat back then.* Freud did not have the benefit of MRI machines, CAT scans, and the like. Since medical science was still not very advanced in his time, he did not understand the importance of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, nor the imbalances in the brain which result from shortage or too much of one or the other.
Freud is correct that the pleasure/pain paradigm shapes daily behavior to a large extent. And he is right, as I have already covered, that laws and law enforcement are necessary to impose order, since the death drive instinct is prime. However, he is overestimates the effect of society being overly strict and not liberal towards personal freedom upon the formation of individual personality. Modern science has proved that genetics, including brain chemistry, as well as the environment one is raised in (parenting), are really what causes people to have personality traits. Freud did cover parenting slightly in terms of potty-training analysis, but he over-analyzed that part of parenting, while underestimating many other elements of parenting, which effect the environment youngsters are raised in.
Freud is wrong about the formation of civilized society. Civilization did not result from a tug of war between collectivism and the needs of the individual. Rather, it started almost exclusively from collectivism, under the main influences of primal clans, and religion. The part that Freud did get right in this regard is that collectivism did come about as a means of protection from the death drive. When we look back to pre-history and the dawn of civilization, religion is always there at the center of everything. Going back to ancient Egypt and Israel, into the Old Testament, we get a list of the family history of everyone, and evidence that family life and religion dominated over individualism. People identified by their ethnic and religious clan. Moving onto ancient Greece, people worshipped their ancestors, with a family hearth, which had to be kept lit at all times. the walls between homes also had religious significance. People didn’t have to worry about fitting in or not, or about their personal needs being satisfied. There was very little concern in pre-history about the personal satisfaction of the individual. In fact, peasants were happy to simply not be killed by opposing armies, or to simply not be totally enslaved. Whole people’s such as the Slavs were essentially enslaved in the Dark Ages. The feudal system came about as a way for the lower classes to have some form of protection from the king and the knights.
Moreover, Freud somewhat misallocates the concept of altruism towards religion and the like. Religion and restrictions upon killing, stealing, and sexual wrong doings are actually much more beneficial to the individual than he realized in terms of reward/punishment. Killing another person would always result in a blood feud if not for the law. So the killer would then be hunted by the family of the victim. This would be bad psychologically for the killer, on top of the guilt (super-ego). Stealing would have similar ramifications. And sexual liberality outside of marriage also has its obvious downsides, including angry baby-mamas, lots of pregnancy downtime, std’s, guilt, and other psychological implications.
The concept that community and religion resulted from oppressed sexual libido in favor of higher ideals such as beauty, reason, intelligence and so forth, is partly true. While it is true that the Reformation and the Enlightenment did hold up these ideals, and that virtuous goals are what individuals are taught to seek, it does not follow necessarily that this is all a result of sexual oppression. Take a look at modern day San Francisco. It has not only a huge surplus of reason and intelligence, fueling the tech industry, but it simultaneously has an extremely liberal sexual atmosphere, highlighted by gay rights parades and the like. What did community and religion result from, if not sexual oppression (as Freud posits)? I would side more with Nietzsche here, and somewhat with Machiavelli, that religion and community result from the will to power. In other words, kings want to rule, religious leaders want to lead, and order is established as a result. People who want to lead or rule are guided by their desire to have power. Once they have power they impose rules, in order to keep the power.
Freud is also correct that society has little concern with the happiness of the individual and that society imposes societal harmony as the top priority.
On an average day you will get bills in the mail, duties at work or school, duties and responsibilities with church or family. Rarely will you get a phone call from a private business or government official with the overriding concern of how you are feeling that day. Most societal interactions concern economic exchanges these days, and societal harmony is more-so determined by what Adam Smith termed the ‘invisible hand’ of economics and such, and less by how people are ‘feeling’.
Overall, while Freud was into something about the conflict between individualism and collectivism being significant in the development of personal and societal traits, he overestimated the importance of such factors. Meanwhile, due to having formulated his theories so far before the advancements of modern science and medicine , he understandably underestimated the importance of genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors (such as good parenting) upon personal development. He also was somewhat off on his analysis of public life (community and religion), by not understanding that these were determined by power politics and the personal desire for power. Finally, I would add that Freud misunderstood religion so conservative as being anti-sexual, when there are actually numerous examples of sexuality throughout the Bible and other major religions, as well. The bible contains numerous examples of cheating, incest, polygamy, just to name a few examples.
Please allow me to explain how I arrived at my conclusions. I did so rather simply:
The main differences of opinion I have with Freud are twofold. The first being that Freud could not have known the importance of genetics and hereditary factors, simply due to being so early in his field (before many advancements in medical science and brain chemistry). Therefor he was forced to work with fitting his observations of clients who had neurosis into a paradigm overly dependent on generalizations. His work was brilliant for its time, yet much of it doesn’t quite stand the test of time.
Second, since I see things from a Hobessian/Nietzschean/Machiavellian perspective, I look at things through the lens of power structures, and the pursuit of personal gain, even more than Freud does. I do not see civilization or personal development having organically developed in a tug of war the way Freud did. I see things having come about under a more rigid power structure imposed by the ruler. There is almost always a leader or ruler, whether in the family unity, the church , or in society (government). This will to power of the ruler, the leader, is not a result of suppression of the sexual libido as Freud suggested, rather it is actually an extension of the libido. The more power a person has, the more empowered she in terms of her libido and her death drive. Look at how kings (King David before he reformed), queens (Cleopatra) and emperors (Nero) were known for sexual proclivity, as well as violence. Even today, we see leaders such as Bill Clinton and Donald Trump constantly dealing with sex scandals. Religion and public life are simply not anti-sexual, as Freud posited.
*Example of an article about genetics and personality traits: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201302/can-happiness-be-genetic