Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic model influe
Sigmund Freud
nces all his work. His thoughts on civilization are no exception. He explains the shortcomings of civilization by talking through what the interplay is among the id, the ego, and the super-ego. The systems put in place in order for people to live peacefully within society are restrictive to the pleasure seeking instinct of the id and the ego. The super-ego is molded early on by parental figures. Freud points out this is usually the father or somebody who takes on that role. As the person matures, the super-ego comes to act as the conscience to block the individual from acting in selfish ways that would risk the safety of others in the respective community. Guilt, conscience, and super-ego are used for similar meanings, however there are slight distinctions. Guilt comes before the super-ego is formed, existing as the fear of loss of love of the external authorities (most often the parents). Super-ego is formed in a gradual process of consistent, repetitive actions and responses to similar situations. Conscience follows, naturally, as the function of the super-ego when it works in opposition to the ego. Finally, remorse is the feeling of guilt after a wrongful act is carried out. Guilt is not only a reaction to a deed, but can exist simply toward a thought of the mind. Remorse leads to a return to aggressive commitment to the values of the super-ego.

Civilization forces us to give up instinctual pleasure for security in return. The tradeoff provides a balance by replacing traditional pleasure with relief from constant fear of others’ unchecked aggression. It saves the individual from the great displeasures. Civilization is the summation of technological advancements and regulations used to govern interpersonal relations. People living primitively today do not live enviable lives in comparison. Few, if given the opportunity, would choose to be placed in this situation. They live under restrictions of another breed with greater severity. It must be noted that civilizations try to shield the greater population from the most harmful, obvious displeasures. In so doing, new and often more subtle sufferings are introduced. The three sources for human suffering are laid out as “the superior power of nature, the feebleness of our own bodies and the inadequacy of the regulations which adjust the mutual relationships of human beings in the family, the state and society.”

With new technological advances brought about, new forms of suffering follow. One person may praise the telephone for its long distance communication capabilities when, at the same time, its utility would be unnecessary to appease the suffering of missing a loved one some distance away if not for the advancements of the rail system. Our own “wants and sensibilities” do not coincide with the conditions of a people of another time. This makes it hard to compare and contrast one culture of today with that of another time to try to say which is better off in terms of overall happiness.

Goals of Society
Civilization has four goals in mind. The first is to control nature. All of the inventions that have been passed on through the years have enabled humans to take on the role of “prosthetic god.” The way humans exploit the resources and shift the Earth around to mold it into a place we see fit and we can call ours is all an attempt to play ruler over nature. The second is to create order and efficiency, including aesthetics. That which is not necessary for utility is seen as beauty. Décor of any kind has value only because others can recognize it is work of an artist. It is the artist’s expression of power over nature. The third is to install values and an environment that fosters intellect. The fourth is to provide a system that regulates interpersonal conflicts. Without this final step, might is right: the strongest individual or collection of individuals wins. Values are a significant indication of a civilized society. It is within this final step that “cultural frustration” is created. Each society attempts to eliminate the causes of hostility which, in turn, suppress instinctual responses.

The Golden Rule
Freud makes the observation that civilization encourages the strengthening of bonds among people within a community. Our nature is to love those whom we identify with and those who embody ideals we admire. Society and religion counter by preaching to love everybody rather than make judgments. This is not a reasonable request to ask because it devalues the love of the individual. Those who feel they are deserving of a person’s love will receive the same as everybody else. Nobody is reinforced in their actions under this system. In reality, each person an individual has contact with is seen as competition and a threat to one’s beliefs and livelihood.

Humans are creatures of aggressiveness and need outlets for that aggression. There are small scale diversions set in place for aggressiveness to be dealt with civilly, but when civilizations are not in a stable state, cruelty is expressed in great magnitude. There are several examples of this throughout history, most notably the World Wars. A tendency towards aggression is an inarguable characteristic of humankind and will always require an outlet. Removing the sources for which aggression is aimed will not eliminate aggression because it is a precondition of human nature and not a result of anything manmade. Communists believe eliminating private property is the solution to human conflict, but it only shifts aggression heavily toward other outlets, namely sexual competition.

The Role of Guilt
Guilt comes before conscience or super-ego in the form of fear of external authority. It comes from the competition between authority’s love and instinctual satisfaction. As one matures, it becomes the anxiety that goes along with the fear of the super-ego, what the ego feels watching over it. The human being is conditioned in childhood to believe certain actions bring about punishment and others are rewarded. This is an artificial process in which the parents determine how to deal with each situation. When experiencing misfortune in adulthood, individuals return to living as they did under their parents’ authority - when they last were experiencing good fortune. As a child, one is punished or rewarded according to a parent’s value system. Acting according to these values puts a child in his parents’ good fortune and free from punishment or suffering. Entering the real world as an adult, this same individual may come to experience misfortune. Remembering what values and actions brought good fortune in childhood, the individual strengthens the commitment to the internalized voice of his or her parents, otherwise known as the super-ego. The hope is return of good fortune. No longer governed by the extraneous influence of parental reinforcement, society has developed a self-governing mechanism within the individual to get him or her to act in a way which allows that society to function most efficiently. The price of this mechanism is happiness.

Does Civilization point to happiness?
Civilization does not have an interest in bringing about personal happiness. The values of leaders who have brought a civilization power and success in the past become the value system of the collective which is then watched over by a larger cultural super-ego. Civilization progresses more and more towards security measures to ensure survival which decreases the number of outlets for appeasing instinctual urges. Instincts such as aggression are more and more turned inward against the self.

Works Cited
Freud, Sigmund, and James Strachey. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton, 1961. Print.