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  1. A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World
  2. Lawrencian Echoes in Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents
  3. See a Problem?
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  5. Civilization and Its Discontents

People tell themselves an elaborate fairy tale about an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful Father above who loves them so much he hears their prayers and will protect them from all harm. In his theory of evolution, the famous English biologist Charles Darwin —82 explains all creatures in nature—from bacteria to human beings—are driven by a powerful urge to live, at least long enough to reproduce and ensure their genes' propagation.

Freud sees an analogous drive in the human mind, or psyche. Eros, he calls it, and although Freud sometimes uses the term to refer specifically to the sex drive, his conception of Eros is broader. He frequently talks about Eros as a person's drive to love and be loved. On some occasions Freud writes about Eros in an even more expansive sense, as a person's drive to live. Eros is a fundamental concept in Freud's psychoanalytic system, one he wrote about frequently prior to Civilization and Its Discontents.

But during the same period Freud remained relatively quiet about a new idea he was exploring: the psychological concept he calls the death drive. Although he never uses the term Thanatos for this "new" drive, it's now known by this name. Both terms, Eros and Thanatos, are taken from ancient Greek mythology: Eros is the god of love, and Thanatos is the messenger of death. Freud understands "death drive" is not the best name for Thanatos, although even today it is frequently misunderstood to mean that. In psychologically healthy people, there is no tug-of-war between a desire to live and a desire to die.

Freud hastens to explain it is more accurate to think of Thanatos as humankind's innate aggressive impulse. As such, it is not necessarily at odds with Eros.

A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World

Actually, Eros and Thanatos often work together. Eros fuels a person's desire to find a mate, secure the love of a parent, or acquire power and money. Thanatos—the spirit of aggression—is directed outward toward other people to help individuals get what they want. Eros and Thanatos often work in concert for self-protection. This is especially true when talking not about a single individual but about a group.

It is easy to see how Thanatos explains hostility and even violent conflict between groups such as tribes and nations. In Freud's view this is how civilization uses Thanatos against its members. Civilization encourages this aggressive drive to destroy its enemies—whether on a real battlefield or in the court of public opinion.

And whenever individual members threaten to upset society's rules and regulations, civilization urges them to turn Thanatos against themselves. Again, this does not mean society is encouraging suicide. Freud believes aggression turned inward is at the heart of much psychological distress. Mental disturbances such as depression and anxiety are a kind of civil war between Thanatos and the individual's superego. Freud was not a political theorist, but his psychoanalytic view of the trade-off individuals make to share in the benefits of civilization is similar to social contract theory.

They all believed individuals make a conscious and rational decision to trade away some of the freedoms they enjoy living alone for the safety and security of life in a group.

Lawrencian Echoes in Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents

Freud doesn't believe human beings are as rational as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau make them out to be. In Freud's view the unconscious id is far more powerful than people realize. Although he differs on these points, Freud agrees people band together in groups. But they do so for deep-seated psychological reasons.

It is easier to find a mate and build a family in a group than alone in the wilderness, so Eros—the drive for sex and love—propels people in this direction. Eros also seeks protection from the ever-present danger of losing those things once acquired. Therefore the ego, or self, is willing to accept the prospect of giving up some things to prevent that. The superego, or conscience, readily internalizes civilization's rules and dictates them to the ego. But Freud says there is a third part of the mind, the id, or unconscious—and it is not at all happy about this arrangement.

Driven by the pleasure principle, the id is frustrated when it can't get what it wants the moment it wants it. Eventually the strict restrictions placed upon individuals, especially in terms of their sexual behavior, lead even the ego to rebel. Blum : Originally religious attitudes, faith in a supreme being comes from the early parent relationship. The parents who help the child towards self regulation, towards self control, the parent who teaches the child that certain impulses, like the scratch, bite, kick and so forth are not to be expressed and have to be controlled.

The child's sense of what is right and wrong, what's acceptable and unacceptable, in Freud's terms comes from what the parent approves of or disapproves of. But those relationships for Freud become internalized, so eventually the voice of conscience is from within.

What's evil within us, then, is not the devil.

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The devil are the primitive passions and impulses within ourselves which threaten us from within, not from without. When we say "get thee behind me, Satan," what is really meant, in following Freud's thought, is I will not allow these passions to rule me, I will be master of my own passions. Freud : It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressions.

When once the apostle Paul had posited universal love between men as the foundation of his Christian community, extreme intolerance on the part of Christendom towards those who remained outside it became the inevitable consequence. Ana-Maria Rizzuto : Freud saw his destiny to rescue human beings from their self deceptions Narrator : But there was another category of human misery not created by people and against which there was no defense.

In the great flu epidemic that followed in the wake of the first World War, Freud lost his daughter, Sophie.


She was 23 years old and pregnant with her third child. Freud : It was a senseless, brutal act of fate, which has robbed us of our Sophie. Tomorrow she will be cremated, our Sunday child. I do not know whether cheerfulness will ever call on us again. My poor wife has been hit too hard. Indeed, a mother is not to be consoled; and, as I am now discovering nor is a father.

Narrator : Three years later, Sophie's 4-year-old son Heinele also died. Freud : He was an enchanting fellow.

Civilization and Its Discontents

And I know that I have hardly ever loved a human being, certainly never a child, as much as him. I find this loss very hard to bear. I don't think I ever experienced such grief. He meant the future to me and thus has taken the future away with him. As the deepest of unbelievers I have no one to accuse and I know there is no place where one can lodge an accusation. Rizzuto : He said that there are other people that can be consoled by religion, but he doesn't have that available to him.

And once more he resorts to the same stance in relation to himself.

Eros And Civilization (A Love Story) - Final Cut

He's going to hold himself up, he's going to tolerate the pain, he's going to tolerate the suffering without consolation. And that is what he has accepted. Life is hard and he will take it.