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 Civilization and Its Discontent Study Guide (Choose to Continue)

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Civilization and Its Discontent : Chapter 5

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Summary of Chapter V

Neurosis is a frustration of the sexual life. The neurotic has to create substitute satisfactions that create even more problems for him or her. Freud sees that if society were composed of couples in love who had that as a primary tie and then engaged in common work for society on the side, no sexual energy would have to be inhibited or diverted to society. This ideal, however, has never happened. Instead, society ties its members to itself using the libido or pleasure rewards so the members identify with society instead of with families, lovers, and their own needs. Why does society use such a disturbing mechanism? Supposedly, forcing people to love the whole group instead of merely a few others prevents aggression. Freud shows that it doesn't. It just creates resentment.

Freud criticizes the Christian ideal of loving all the strangers around one equally, for instance, because they are not all equally lovable. Such high ethics, he contends, puts a premium on being bad, for the Christian is obliged to excuse bad behavior. Freud does not embrace an ideal of human nature; humans are cruel and aggressive. This behavior threatens civilization.  He points out the satisfaction that many groups get in persecuting other groups.

 

Commentary on Chapter V

Freud cautions we must give up illusions about our fellow citizens. Violence is not errant behavior; it is the norm, because people are instinctively violent. They cannot be controlled through false bonding. He speaks of crusaders, supposedly pious Christians, persecuting Jews in Jerusalem during the crusades. This point is a prophetic warning about the persecution of Jews during World War II. German Jews identified themselves as German citizens, but the Nazis separated them as undesirable. The Germans were not living according to their Christian ethics, Freud would say, because these ethics were too idealistic. Aggression against Jews or other groups is inherently more satisfying, but somehow this aggression has to be contained or civilization will be destroyed. Certainly, World War II bore out Freud's observations in this case.




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