Sigmund Freud is one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century who revolutionized the concept of the individual and his relationship with the society. His clinical experience and researches probed deep into the hitherto unknown recesses of human soul and shed light on neurosis or abnormal behavior. His view on human psychology and social problems are spread over his numerous works running into twenty-four volumes of which I have focused on New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933), Civilization and its Discontents (1930) and The Future of Illusions (1927).
The New Introductory Lectures are a sequel to Introductory Lectures; it is written for the laymen and therefore may be regarded as popular science. The first lectures (1915-17) dealing with the structure of the mind, anxiety, feminine psychology and the theory of instincts delves deep into the realm of meta-psychology. In the Civilization and Its Discontents Freud explores the nature of conflict between the demands of basic instincts and the restrictions imposed by civilization.
He interprets the aggressive and cruel behavior such as sadism as an expression of self-preservation instincts despite social disapproval. He also explains the emotion of ambivalence – the strange admixture of love and hate toward the same person. In the Future of an Illusions he shows how a few powerful individuals shape the course of civilization by imposing their ideas on the majority. In these works Freud examines how the individual and society interacts upon one another. But in studying Freud we cannot ignore his The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) which he regarded as his major contribution.
Sigmund Freud (1856- 1939) has contributed to modern human thinking in the same way as Charles Darwin has done to science. However, his task is much more difficult as psychology has to deal with the most mysterious phenomenon called the mind of man. As his findings cannot be demonstrated in the same way as physics and chemistry in the controlled environment, controversy continues to dog his theories. His ideas have impacted the world of art, literature, culture, religion, sociology and education. The new terms intorduced by him have infiltrated the language of common man.
His view on human psychology and social problems are spread over his numerous works of which I focus only on New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933), Civilization and its Discontents (1930) and The Future of Illusions (1927). The New Introductory Lectures is a sequel to Introductory Lectures which is written for the laymen and therefore may be regarded as popular science. The good work of Freud and his psychoanalytic school is seen in the works of Eric Berne who wrote popular books like A Layman’s Guide to Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry and Games People Play, and Ernest Jones.
Eminent writers like Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and Jean-Paul Sartre show considerable influence of Freud. As psychotherapy is a treatment of chronic mental illness carried on in close contact with the patient who lies in reclining couch and narrates his thoughts in “free association”, the knowledge that Freud acquired about human psychological problems is vast and varied. He discovered how the traumatic experiences of childhood embedded in the unconscious mind often plays havoc with adult life. Freud’s basic view of the individual:
According to Freud an individual’s personality is made up of the Id, the Ego and the Superego. The Id is the great unconscious consisting of the deep-seated instinctive drives, the great reservoir of libido. It serves as the hinterland of passions and instincts. It is governed by the desire for pleasure and therefore is unmoral, illogical and full of repressed desires. So every man has to shuttle between his baser parts, the Id, and his conscience, the Super Ego. His normal activities are controlled by the ego. And in everyday life there is always a tug-of-war between the good and the evil in the psyche.
The Id is self-centered and has no compunction for destroying the good. As his will power grows weaker when confronted by temptations, the Ego fails to return to his good self, and slips into the evil which no longer requires his volition. It is an act under compulsion of basic instincts. The Ego of the individual as a respectable member of society cannot gratify his secret, repressed desires. It is that part of personality which deals with the external world. But its lower part merges into the Id. While a part of it is seen on the surface, the conscious, its other part lies hidden the unconscious.
From it proceed the repressions, the holding in check of the superior strength of the Id. Just as instincts play a great role in the Id, so perception plays an important role in the case of the Ego. Only when the Superego or the conscience predominates that the base desires are sublimated into higher creative work. The Ego is plagued by three dangers: the external world, the libido of the Id and the severity of the Super-ego. An important function of the Ego is to induce the Id to modify or renounce some of its urges. In the perpetual conflicts between the Id and the Super-ego the ego plays the referee.
When the individual fails to resolve the Ego-Id conflicts, he or she develops neurosis. However, without the warfare of the Ego and the Id, life would be pretty dull and monotonous. Freud supplemented his vast clinical experience of psychoanalysis with his wide knowledge of world literature, religion and philosophy. His lectures and writings spanning over forty years throw light on how the individual endeavors to cope with the moral codes and conventions of society and what happens when there is a breakdown. The subsequent problems that arise from humans having to live together:
Civilization is a process that helps the individuals live in peace and harmony but it also demands that individuals renounce their instinctive urges for greater interest of society. Contemporary morality, therefore, induces repression and frustration which eventually lead to the practice of prostitution and masturbation. Both are associated with guilt and detrimental to human happiness. Actual neuroses are the result of frustration and transformed libido. He also points out the inherent contradiction in our civilization which expects the pleasure-seeking man to forego or curtail his hedonism.
Man also derives pain from the exposure to three sources – his body, the external world and “as a kind of gratuitous addition” (XXI. 77) his relations with others. So the individual in his private life remains a hedonist, but in his social life he aims to avoid pain at all costs. What pressures, needs, and conflicts does Freud think drive humans? Freud posed the question whether our civilization is worth sacrificing the pleasures and concluded that it should be judged from the point of view of those who suffer the discontents or malaise.
He says, “…it is understandable that the suppressed people should develop hostility towards the culture whose existence they make possible by their work, but in whose wealth they have too small a share…” (XXI. 12) It is this dissatisfaction that drives a large number of people to revolt against the authority. In Civilization and its Discontents Freud raised the question whether it is possible to build a society based on human love and held together by mutual sexual attraction, common work and common interests.
But he also writes about identification with a group as a social tie which influences the members to think, feel and behave like others. He also believes that human civilization can be saved only by controlling aggression. It can be regulated by intensifying a communal feeling and attachment to a leader; but it has the disadvantage of strengthening of intolerance of everyone outside the community. Another way of reducing the aggression is to “abolish or to attenuate the institutions of nationhood and property. ” (XXI.
143) He also suggests that aggression of the individual can be internalized or sublimated by the Super-ego — in other words the replacement of instinct by intellect. In the New Introductory Lectures as well as in his letters to Einstein he envisioned the “dictatorship of reason” as the principles of future society. How do you think she would respond to your explanation? For a new comer understanding the ideas of Freud explicated in three volumes of hundreds of pages into a compressed eight-page dossier may pose a problem. Only after reading the books she would be able to comprehend this compact expository essay.
As Freud never attempted to formulate a systematic theory, the books written over a decade may not be easily grasped. The cultural gap between the Europe and the Asia may also be a mild hindrance. But if she is motivated to absorb the ideas of the leading psychologist of the twentieth century, the barriers would melt away. What questions and problems would be generated by your discussion? The most interesting questions raised by Freud’s works are how the individual psyche is molded by the pressures of the society he lives in.
Freud’s observations on the bond between the individual and his community and group have been vindicated. The evil effect of communal feeling is demonstrated in the violent terror attack by one religious group on another. Thousands of innocent lives have been lost because of fanaticism of some religious groups. Nervous or psychic disorder of an individual can be better understood in this light and the affected person(s) can be treated with sympathy. We learn about the importance of the unconscious mind eight-ninths of which lies submerged like an iceberg.
Beneath the surface lie the motives which an individual hides not only to others but also to himself. So he learns to regard the neuroses as the expression of disagreeable memories and frustrated wishes of childhood. We tend to believe that our mental activities are the result of conscious efforts. But Freud teaches us that sometimes the blind ruthless part called Id takes charge for the gratification of pleasures and desires without caring for the consequences. The dark activities of Mr. Hyde is a good example of such behavior in Stevenson’s Dr. Jackyll and Mr. Hyde. There are problems for the Freudians.
They may become unnecessarily introspective and suspect simple activities of everyday life as “oedipus complex”, “libido”, “repression” etc. We may be convinced ourselves but we cannot convince others about the validity of Freudian psychology. We are not sure of the success of the psychoanalysis as only 300 out of 4000 psychiatrists practice it. Most of the mental disorders are cured through medicine and other therapies. Moreover, we must remember that Freud overemphasizes the role of libido which is basically sexual energy. His disciples Jung and Adler disagreed with Freud in this respect and developed their own schools of psychology.
So Freud may be an interesting genius, but his ideas are not foolproof. Does Freud make sense of the place of the individual in modern society? . In The Future of an Illusion he probes the nature of conflict between the individual and society and hopes, “In the long run nothing can withstand reason and experience. ” (XXI. 54) But he was not sure when ultimately reason will prevail. Like the socialist he believes in the equal distribution of wealth for the satisfaction of human needs, but considers the Russian revolution as premature.
All human beings – from the revolutionaries to the virtuous believers – seek consolation of some kind which he is unable to offer. In the final analysis Freud is a rationalist, but not an optimist. What summary evaluations of this perspective would you both make? From Freud we get to know the psychological implications of our social behavior. This knowledge not only enriches our mind but also help us to make rational decisions in our private and public life. Instinctual wishes in the Id like incest, cannibalism and lust for killing have to be curbed through prohibitions. Art provides a satisfaction at a higher level.
Though unreal and often wish fulfillment, religion has helped to tame anti-social instincts and provided a sense of security from helplessness. Religion grew out of need to defend oneself from the forces of nature and rectify the defects of civilization. Religious doctrines are psychological illusions derived from and sustained by human wishes. But the large numbers of uneducated and oppressed people who do not reap the benefits of civilization are prone to become its enemies. It is high time we realized the importance of replacing religious teachings by rational operation of the intellect.
The violence of the religious fanatics can be cured only by scientific education. Freud prefers the predominantly erotic man who values his emotional relationships to other people to the narcissistic man, who is self-sufficient and seeks satisfactions in his internal mental processes; the man of action uses the external world to try out his strength. From The Interpretation of Dreams we have a deeper understanding of our dreams which provide clues to the disguised fulfillment of our desires. They often bring our unresolved conflicts and tensions to the surface. In case of mental disturbance we may seek timely help of the psychoanalyst.
There are critics who have castigated Freud as the greatest spoilsport who views the simple human jokes and slips as dark repressions and interpreted filial affections as desire for incest. They tend to overlook the fact that his theories of sexual repression are the result of treating thousands of neurotic patients. Finally, we may conclude that even if we don’t believe every word of Freud he is still worth studying.
Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological of Sigmund Freud. (eds. ) James Strachey, Ana Freud. Volumes 1-24. Hogarth Press/Vingtage. London. 1953-74.