Civilization and Its Discontent : Chapter 3
Summary of Chapter III
Freud summarizes again the three sources of suffering. 1) Nature is overpowering, and 2) the body is weak and decays. The worst suffering, however, comes from 3) what humans themselves have created as a defense: civilization, or the relations with other people. Neurosis comes from frustration with society. We may have been better off living in a primitive state. Science and mastery of nature have not brought happiness. Civilization was invented not only to protect humans from nature, but also from each other. Humans have almost become the gods they envisioned in myth with tools extending their organs and abilities. We have been able to turn our attention to higher mental activity to create beauty in culture.
Our original personality has not been tamed by civilization, however. That is because civilizationdevelops as a human psyche does. The primitive remains are there side by side with the more advanced progress. At any time, the primitive, which is repressed in the unconscious, can erupt and disrupt individual and social life. Civilization does not represent human perfection. It is merely the renunciation of instinct; therefore, civilization will always cause cultural frustration in the citizens.
Commentary on Chapter III
Freud teaches the opposite of what we have come to believe about our advances in civilization. Humans have been proud of their artistic and scientific achievements as demonstrations of human intelligence and creativity. We feel godlike in what we have done over thousands of years, beginning as cavemen with fire, and advancing to great architecture, art, and inventions to make life easier. Electricity, for instance, banished the fearful dark, and modern communication instantly connects people all over the globe. Civilization also includes the relationships between people, and some have celebrated the advances in law, government, and religion, leading to greater tolerance and acceptance of others. Even today, however, one finds the same shocking evidence of violence in every culture—sexual abuse, social inequality, and ethnic conflict—that Freud noted. We may have tamed nature, but not our own instincts. Instinct for Freud is the animal-like substrate of human nature. We have tried to free ourselves from the wildness of animals. This has not made us happy, nor has it been successful.