Psychology Civilization and Its Discontents Term Paper

Pages: 9 (2605 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Psychology


[. . .] This is also done in the hope of redirecting these instinctual and libidinous urges into socially acceptable pursuits and amusements. Freud reaffirms his belief in sexual gratification as being the primary force behind all forms of individual happiness and, as many sexual acts are perceived as anti-social and opposing the interests of civil society, there must be alternative outlets made available. A primary function of civil society, therefore, is the continual struggle to divert the individual away from seeking private sexual gratification, and into communal and socially acceptable activities. The substitute gratification that civil society creates in order to replace sexual happiness includes alcohol, drugs and tobacco as physical substitutes, and art, religion, and science as intellectual alternatives.

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Another consequence to arise from the individual's enforced sacrificing of instinctual urges for the benefit of civil society is increasing use of, and reliance on, fantasy and imagination. Within the individual's psyche, and free of the repressive limitations of society and the Reality Principle, free reign can be given to all manner of instinctual urges and desires. Freud's belief that these fantasies and products of the imagination, such as great works of art, were the most satisfactory of the substitute gratification appears to be supported, and reinforced, by the present day popularity (even obsession) with activities that involve virtual reality, computer interaction (including cyber sex), and TV/movie entertainment. All of these substitutes allow the individual to satisfy sexual and aggressive urges, but in a generally socially acceptable and passive manner. Also, the rapid growth of pornography into a multimillion dollar, globalized industry would further suggest that there is merit in the theories put forward by Freud.

Term Paper on Psychology Civilization and Its Discontents Assignment

Yet, in Civilization, and its Discontents, Freud also questions why individuals are willing to make such sacrifices and to accept lesser substitutes for the instinctual and deeply intense satisfaction provided by the sexual and aggressive instincts. He attempts to explain the great paradox of why so many humans, despite the intensity of instinctual urges, reject the active pursuit of sexual love in order to gain ultimate happiness, instead preferring to resign themselves to accepting substitutes and using fantasy. His claim that, "We are never so defenseless as when we are in love" suggests, that in his opinion, the potential root of an individual's ultimate satisfaction may also be the cause of the greatest misery. According to Freud, the state of 'being in love' causes the Ego to lose one of its primary functions; the ability to distinguish between physical reality and psychical reality. Therefore, Ego of an individual 'in love' is obstructed in carrying out the functions of perceiving reality, and of protecting the individual against emotional pain and suffering. The result, within civil society, is that sexual happiness is sacrificed in favor of the available substitutes. Freud, however, adds a concerning footnote to this suggestion that sexuality is not the path to individual happiness within civilization. He speculates that, with its increasing renunciation in favor of passive substitutes, the sexual activity of humans become susceptible to the process of biological involution. Therefore, in similar fashion to teeth, hair and other superfluous human components, humankind's sexual activity would no longer be necessary, and gradually become discarded by the evolutionary law of Natural Selection. Again, this claim has support as, when comparing the sex life of modern, civilized humans to that of ancient and primitive peoples, there appears to be marked impairment, and the capacity for sexual pleasure has greatly diminished. Taken to its most extreme conclusion, this theory may be perceived as confirming the success of civil society in repressing the instinctual sexual urges of its individuals, but also heralds the potentially catastrophic consequences for the fate of civilization and of humankind.

Ironically, the most effective form of repressing instinctual urges and of encouraging the sacrificing of desires does not come directly from the coercive or punishing power of society. Rather, it is the individual's own super-ego, with its ability to act as a powerful censor, that is the ultimate weapon for civil society in its quest to maintain civilization. Freud argues that the wide spread tendency of people willing to violate social and cultural rules if they are certain of not being caught or punished, is strong evidence to support the argument that our deference to the power of civilization is tenuous and fragile. However, the super-ego, unlike the agencies of social control, cannot be deceived or outran. Therefore, since the super-ego internalizes society's rules and communal regulations, it can be utilized by society to use the powerful inhibitor of guilt, in order to control, repress, and punish. It is the position of the super-ego as the individual's harshest critic, and most effective moral and social enforcer, that allows civil society to persuade the individual to police him or herself, and to ensure socially acceptable behavior. Even more successful, however, is to reinforce the individual super-ego with the development and maintenance of a societal super-ego, which ensures wider acceptance of communal values and beliefs (85).

Yet, despite his investigation into these areas, and the many ideas that he proposes, Freud appears vague, even contradictory, about his conclusions. Throughout Civilization, and its Discontents he appears to have difficulty in reaching any firm conclusions, preferring to develop the discussion in the direction of further questions. He does, however, suggest that the price of civilization and civil society is individual suffering and the repression of instinctual drives towards personal satisfaction. He also generally asserts that civil society asks too much from individuals, thus causing a great deal of unhappiness and frustration for many individuals. Ultimately, this issue comes down to a simple choice for individuals: between living within civil society and accepting its limitations in return for protection and security, or returning to a 'state of nature' with its personal freedoms and obvious dangers. The only certainty to arise from Freud's work is the complexity of the issue, which suggests that there is very little likelihood of humankind creating a perfect balance between the needs and desires of the individual and those of civilization. For civilization to continue to exist without chaos or anarchy ensuing, it will necessarily require to socialize the individual into accepting communal values, beliefs, and behaviors. In turn, individuals will never have the freedom to indulge all instinctual desires and urges in pursuit of ultimate satisfaction and happiness. Just as today, some individuals will always be happier than others will, depending on their desires, their position within society, and the society within which they live.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. Trans. And… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Psychology Civilization and Its Discontents.  (2003, March 30).  Retrieved February 24, 2020, from

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"Psychology Civilization and Its Discontents."  30 March 2003.  Web.  24 February 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Psychology Civilization and Its Discontents."  March 30, 2003.  Accessed February 24, 2020.