Ameer Al Dagher December 7, 2010 PHIL 251 The Paradox of Humanity In every task of human life, we face difficulties that would strain the way we function and inhibit us from reaching our goals. Whether its money, love, or any kind of desire, we face the same problems every day. Despite the entire breakthrough in technology, human satisfaction remains insatiable. In Civilization and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud sheds the light on this dilemma’s aspects. Because of the brutal period of time, World War I, in which the book was written, we find the tone to be pessimistic.
Nevertheless, it comes so close to reality and breaks down the contradictory nature of humans. In this book, Freud argues the contradicting natures of civilization vs. the nature of human desires. He argues that it is hard to have an organized society and still act upon our human instincts to the fullest. By introducing the concept of happiness and how it can be achieved, Freud basically says cannot achieve happiness and still function in a civilized society. This is due to a variety of factors that shall be discussed.
As for the consequences of this unreal reality, it is constant dissatisfaction and not attaining the ultimate goal of life: happiness. To simplify this complex issue, Freud starts by defining the nature of human beings. Freud divides the human into three parts: super-ego, ego, and id. The super-ego is the voice of judgment, control and regulation. Guilt is one of the ways the super-ego punished a person, letting him know to be careful. The ego is the representation of one’s decisions, capacity and rational being.
It represents us throughout the day through what we say and do. The id is the part of us that is responsible for out desires and basic instincts. Looking the contradiction of these three natures, it is naturally expected to have trouble when it comes to dealing with yourself or the outside world. A constant fight goes on to satisfy each of these different parts. But what is satisfaction? “What do they demand of life and wish to achieve in it? The answer to this can be hardly in doubt. They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so. ( Freud – Page 42). This is the goal of every human being: happiness. According to Freud, happiness can only be achieved by satisfying your pleasures. However, the problem lies in the prolongation of this happiness. “When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution” (Freud Page 44).
The act of achieving happiness can be done by either avoiding pain or producing pleasure. However, in order for us to do that, taking into consideration our nature (i. e. super-ego, ego and id), we have to take into account internal and external factors: Macrocosm vs. Microcosm. And this causes frustration. To temporarily solve this problem, Freud talks of repression and referral being methods of getting over this reality. “But the most interesting methods of averting suffering are those which seek to influence our own organism.
In the last analysis, all suffering is nothing else than sensation; it only exists in so far as we feel it, and we only feel it in consequence of certain ways in which our organism is regulated. ” We experience unhappiness from our own bodies, the outside world, and our relation to other people. In order to make ourselves happy and protect ourselves from unpleasure, Freud says we should either isolate ourselves, join the human community, or influence our bodies in ways like intoxication.
In addition, sublimation is another defense mechanism using libido. However, these method are limited in effectiveness and only available to some people. One of the few methods to avert someone’s unhappiness while coping with the world is love. What we usually say we need to achieve happiness is love, but Freud says that this so-called love is the search of pleasure, we seek someone that represents our ideals, our ego-ideal and the super-ego is internalized prohibitions of the parents, all kind of authority figures and so, we repress our instincts.
As the community grows, and we strive toward civilization, we become more dependent on each other and seeking the acceptance and love of each other. However, in order to achieve civilization, we are obliged to alter our desires and place our true desires at the lowest level possible. This is where civilization crashes with our desires. The individual holds the origins of civilization. As soon as we are born in this world, we have and want to avoid pain. Take for example a crying baby that would never stop crying until getting what he wants. Thus, e can see that the bases of civilization are built on egoism. On one hand, we are in a constant fight against one another for happiness. On the other hand, we are trying to avoid all the pain we can. Individuals get together through their similarities and interests to form what we call today culture. They function under their own rules and traditions. This is how civilizations are formed. Those individuals are in constant relationship between them and they get closer. Although they get closer to each other, they are still different, and so they have to change some of their interests.
They have to change some aspects of their own ego interests to join with other people in creating these social institutions. This is where the super-ego steps in. The creation of this institution has dangers on it, because if you establish a society, you have to establish rules and limits, you have to have a way to control the people that belongs to that community, and that is what the super-ego does. Thus, the three sources from which our suffering comes is the superior power of nature, the weakness of our body, and the hardship we encounter when it comes to adjusting the mutual relationships of humans.
As for the last source, we can’t fathom or admit that the social regulations that we instituted would harm us. And yet, when we consider how unsuccessful we have been in precisely this field of prevention of suffering, a suspicion dawns on us that here, too, a piece of unconquerable nature may lie behind — this time a piece of our own psychical constitution. ” (Page 38). Freud argues that what we call civilization is profoundly responsible for our misery. As long as we have a contradiction between our nature and the structure of human interactions in civilization, we will never be totally satisfied.
According to Freud, this is a problem because we will not reach the internal goal we work hard for through our entire lives: happiness. Although this look is very pessimistic, Freud still sees civilization as one of the biggest accomplishment we live in. Thanks to the new inventions, Freud says that we don’t have to worry about our children travelling abroad because of the telephone, and we should also cherish other inventions like the camera where you can capture moments of your life. In the end, it is us who brought that upon ourselves, and in one way or another, we have to come in terms with it.