Free Freud’s Civilization And Its Discontents And Human Civilizations Essay Sample
Sigmund Freud was one of the first scholars to portray the human psyche as conflicted between fundamentally polarized tendencies. This conception that human nature was at war with itself undergirds the social psychology that Freud expounded, as he viewed the individual as being both evil and social at the same time (Roazen 1). Thus, Freud contended that extremely powerful natural instincts drive human beings that render a satisfying social life incompatible. The “cultural frustration” that stems from this discordance “dominatessocial relationships between human beingsit is the cause of the hostility against which all civilizations has to struggle” (Freud 34). Thus, Freud asserts, great efforts must be taken in order to set limits on and curtail the aggressive instincts of man (49). Beyond these erotic instincts, Freud also postulates that there is a “constitutional inclination in human beings to be aggressive towards one another” (79) which he believes represents the “greatest impediment to civilization” (59). Thus, there is a fundamental need to curtail human aggression or channel it through some outlet, which explains why human beings develop hegemonies within their civilizations that target, exclude, and oppress subaltern groups. Ellie Wiesel and Malcolm X have both proffered memoirs that reveal how throughout human history, humans have channeled their intrinsic aggression towards denying justice to others and thus are intrinsically incapable of creating egalitarian societies.
Societies establish hegemonies by oppressing certain groups because the intrinsic aggression of humans drives them to break social bonds, thereby eschewing the assertion that people are naturally good. The natural tendency of human nature renders civilization precarious and can never be eliminated, which is why egalitarian societies will never material in the course of human history. Indeed, Freud argues that men “are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness” (Freud 48). Rather, man views his neighbors and cohorts both as facilitators as well as “some who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him” (48). Human beings are mutually hostile towards one another, which is why social bonds are perpetually threatened, and civilization is needed in order to weaken and disarm the “dangerous desire for aggression” by “setting up an agency within him to watch over it” but can never be eradicated (57-61). Nationalism is one example of how powerful and often nefarious urges can be channeled in a beneficial way, cultivating community cohesion while eschewing the “narcissism of minor differences” that often persists in communities (51). Unfortunately, this human aggression is often “internalized” and is reoriented towards the original source, thereby reducing the need for repressing human aggression (60). Men naturally pursue pleasure and happiness, and they want to sustain the happiness once they procure it (25). This so-called pleasure principle becomes threatened by “relations to other men,” which is the most searing pain of all (26). Indeed, this suffering emanates from guilt, or the super-ego, which is fortified by the hegemonic ethical and moral values within a certain society and thus makes sense in the context of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement in the United States (101). Thus, human societies and civilizations will always retain a precarious nature because of this dialectic that can never be eradicated. Intrinsic destructive forces pitting aggression against repression undergird the destruction of social bonds, resulting in the barbarism witnessed in past revolutions and modern-day genocides.
Indeed, Freud speculated about whether Thanatos (death) or Eros would prevail in the future, a foreboding sentiment in light of the death camps that Adolf Hitler and his Nazi machine deployed against the Jews during the Jewish Holocaust. Nazi disdain towards the Jews emanated out of the belief that their significant presence in German living space presented a serious threat to the purity of ethnic German blood; as a result, they faced harsh discrimination and violence that became systemized through Nazi law. The Nazi agenda to systematically eliminate the Jews dictated the brutal violence, hardship as well as the mass murder that Jews such as Ellie Wiesel faced and witnessed once the Final Solution came into effect in 1941. Claudia Koonz’s notion of the Nazi conscience—or the development of a morality that shifted how Germans viewed those outside of the ethnic German national community—justified the horrific acts the Nazi state enacted against the sub-human Jews (Koonz 3). The construction of both concentration camps and extermination camps that gassed Jewish inmates developed during the Final Solution to rectify the messiness of such prior Nazi tactics.
In the aftermath of World War II and the devastating effects of the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cohorts, Ellie Wiesel has become one of the most famous World War II survivors who had endured great suffering and abuse at Auschwitz and other labor and concentration camps. Wiesel penned his memoir entitled Night in 1960, and he meticulously provided chilling details about his experiences. In spring of 1944, Germany invaded Hungary, which then grafted the Jews in Sighet into Hitler’s agenda. Two makeshift Jewish ghettoes were quickly formed and functioned as a conduit through which the Jews were sent to the death camp at Auschwitz. Through his gripping personal accounts, Wiesel recounts the implacable process of Hitler’s Final Solution and the mass murder this plan entailed. He juxtaposes gripping stories of death with tales about those who survived and the denigration of their own humanity as a result of what they witnessed and endured. One vivid and poignant description of Auschwitz is Madame Schachter’s use of fire as a symbol for the death camp itself. She exclaimed: “Jews, listen to me! I can see a fire!It is a furnace!” Indeed, many of those sent to Auschwitz never left, as they met their fate and were cremated in the pews of Auschwitz. Wiesel’s sister and mother were both murdered and cremated there, which leads Wiesel to question his own religious faith (Wiesel).
Nonetheless, beyond a story marked by quotidian tragedies and human aggression inflicted on others, Wiesel also presents a narrative of triumph, as those who escaped death during the random selection process forged an imagined community in order to make it out alive. Unfortunately, the pangs of hunger and daily suffering prompted some prisoners to resort to savage and uncivilized behavior. Wiesel recounts an incident in which a young boy steals food from his own father, an act that Wiesel articulates his utter shock and disdain toward. Wiesel later witnesses the murder of his own father. One of Wiesel’s fellow prisoners described the ethics of the death camps as a place where every man was forced to fight for himself in order to survive. Kinship bonds were broken, and each prisoner was alone and must do what he or she could to survive by any means necessary. Indeed, such experiences reflect Freud’s contentions that social bonds in civilizations are precarious as a result of human aggression and impulses.
Once liberated, Wiesel looks at his own reflection in the mirror and describes himself as a walking corpse whose “look in his eyeshas never left me” (Wiesel 89). Wiesel’s gripping memoir highlights the lived experiences of a person who survived one of the most nefarious political mass murders and example of oppression in human history. Indeed, this memoir provides a valuable contribution to a growing series literature that depicts the art of barbarity and human bestiality as well as how suffering often forces people to glorify and often confuse fantasy over reality in order to escape the bodily pain they feel in the present inflicted on them by fellow humans. It is natural for Wiesel to question his faith in God as a result of the death and destruction he witnessed and the nefarious capacity of the human being to exact violence on their fellow man. Nonetheless, Wiesel’s scintillating account provides a poignant example of Freud’s view of civilization and the dialectic between aggression and repression.
In a slight disparate fashion, black militant Malcolm X reflects on his experiences as a an oppressed African American living in the United States and discriminated against because the U.S. was built on white hegemony that rendered non-whites subaltern. Indeed, Malcolm X faced institutional and structural racism throughout his life, and was the victim of racially-motivated violence. The Ku Klux Klan burned down his house where he was a child; his father was murdered by white mobs two years after; and his mother was forced to go into the mental healthcare system. Indeed, as a black teenager Malcolm X became involved in a life of street crime and violence that landed him in jail, where he underwent a vast transformation as he turned to Muslim faith and dedicated his life towards fighting the oppression of hegemonic white society against African Americans. Indeed, his vision proffered an alternative way of achieving equality for blacks from the non-violent approach taken by Martin Luther King based on the notion that civil rights must be given to the blacks by whites who were in change and enlightened. This dominant attitude, Malcolm X believed, merely perpetuated the unequal power relations and would never enable the hegemonic white power structure to be dismantled in order to reconstruct an egalitarian society. Indeed, the race relations problems that plagued America were actually a “white problem.” Black Americans were being denied their basic human rights, not just their civil rights and thus must be fought for “by any means necessary.”
As such, it can be inferred that Malcolm X staunchly advocated for the use of violence in a Freudian vein in order to attain the principle of pleasure. Malcolm X believed that those who chafed against the oppressive social and political systems by any means necessary could not be considered criminals because they sought to secure the basic human rights that were theirs. Such a revolutionary notion threatened the white structure and thus prompted them to preserve their own happiness by eliminating him as the antagonist. Indeed, Malcolm X predicted his imminent death towards the end of his memoir while also commentating on how he would be portrayed post mortem: “He [the white man] will made use of me dead, as he has made use of me alive, as a convenient symbol of ‘hatred’—and that will help him escape facing the truth that all I have been doing is holding up a mirror to reflect, to show, the history of unspeakable crimes that his race has committed against my race” (Malcolm X and Haley 388).
Such sentiments make it clear that the happiness principle that Freud expounded is critical for understanding why hegemonies and oppression by one segment of society against another continues to hamper various civilizations. As such, a truly egalitarian society will never materialize unless the human condition and human nature is fundamentally altered. The debate in public discourses regarding human rights over whether genocide can be prevented or not is a resounding no due to modern contingencies in which humanitarian concerns have yet to supersede selfish, political concerns of countries who prioritize their own problems over humanitarian issues that are global in nature. Indeed, the Freudian principle of pleasure and satisfaction is unequivocally embedded in both the American and global imaginations.
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton, 1962. Print.
Koonz, Claudia. The Nazi Conscience. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 2003. Print.
Roazen, Paul. Freud: Political and Social Thought. New York, 1998. Print.
Wiesel, Elie, and Marion Wiesel. Night. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, a Division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Print.
X, Malcolm, and Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine, 1992. Print.