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Freud– Civilization and its Discontents

I’ll begin by saying that although I don’t often read the introductions to our texts (shamelessly, I skim through them at best) there was no way of avoiding reading this one. I’m quite fond of Christopher Hitchens, and keep meaning to read a book of his, though I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Some of his opinions on religion are a little too aggressive for me to wholeheartedly agree with (that’d be the Canadian in me), but I definitely think he’s an intelligent man with more than a few points to be taken note of. Anyway, point being, I read the introduction and found it quite helpful. He brought up Plato’s Republic and Oedipus Rex, and although the later is frequently associated with Freud, the former was a less expected connection for me. All-in-all it was a nice transition into the text, and I especially liked the quotes he brought up, such as the one by Ernest Jones. He said that “Human happiness, therefore, does not seem to be the purpose of the universe”. Surprise surprise.

Getting into the text itself, I found myself entering it with many preconceived notions about Freud. Mostly I knew that he put quite a lot of emphasis on sex and sexual desire. Then of course I knew about the id, ego, and superego, terms which he coined himself. I put a small note at the front of my book, however, as I had to keep reminding myself about the meanings of each. Got it all down pat though now. I learned a little about him in grade 11 for a class on psychology, sociology and anthropology. I don’t think knowing about him and his theories beforehand hindered my reading in any way though, as it was mostly just helpful to recognize a few ideas throughout the text. I was frequently reminded of Rousseau and Hobbes as read through “Civilization And Its Discontents”. For one thing I held a wary eye as I saw him criticizing civilization for much unhappiness in humanity, and was waiting for him to propose “going back to nature” in some form. However, he quickly surprised me by criticizing the vary people who believe this. On the second page of chapter 3, he says its “astonishing” that people would take up “this strange attitude of hostility” toward civilization. Though he doesn’t believe things should stay exactly as they are, he doesn’t believe we should abandon it completely. He later makes a point Rousseau would wholeheartedly agree with by saying (on page 73) that we should not believe that civilization is synonymous with perfecting. This also brings up Frankenstein, and the belief that pursuing science too aggressively is not necessarily “progress”.

I also felt hints of Hobbes’ Leviathan at certain parts as he mentioned that civilization requires the removal individual power in exchange for communal power, a power “bigger” than the individual. Though he is not an advocate for the civilization that Hobbes wants us all to believe in, Freud saw some truth in this understanding of it.

Though I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about some of his arguments, I found this to be a text I enjoyed. He’s certainly interesting and I didn’t frequently find my self lost, as I have with many of the past texts.

Looking forward to the lecture, hope everyone had a great weekend!

2 thoughts on “Freud– Civilization and its Discontents

  1. When you say “I didn’t frequently find my self lost, as I have with many of the past texts” were you referring to Nietzsche? 😀 Anyway, I completely agree with you that he’s much more interesting than the other philosophical texts we had to read about. He has ideas that we’ve encountered in the past and I’m glad that we read Freud last. His ideas really are a combination of the other philosophers we’ve read about, so it’s like reading a conclusion to our philosophy component in Arts One.

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