Quote Book -[18]-International Civilisation (Society)

Page 159 It has been said that each generation must win its own struggle to be free. In our generation, thermonuclear war has made the risks of such struggles greater than ever. But the stakes are the same: the right to live in dignity according to the dictates of conscience and not according to the will of the state.
Page 37 We acknowledge, then, that a country has a high level of civilisation if we find that in it everything can assist man in his exploitation of the land and protect him against the forces of nature – everything, in short that is of use to him – is attended to and properly ordered.
Page 39 No feature, however, seems to us to characterise civilisation better than the appreciation and cultivation of the higher mental activities, of intellectual, scientific and artistic achievements, and the leading role accorded to idea in human life.
Page 42 It does not seem as though any influence can induce human beings to change their nature and become like termites; they will probably always defend their claim to individual freedom against the will of the mass. Much of mankind’s struggle is taken up with the task of finding a suitable, that is to say happy accommodation, between the claims of the individual and the mass claims of civilisation. One of the problems affecting the fate of mankind is whether such an accommodation can be achieved through particular moulding of civilisation or whether the conflict is irreconcilable.
Page 64 It is clearly not easy for people to forgo the satisfaction of their tendency to aggression. To do so makes them feel uneasy.   One should not belittle the advantage that is enjoyed by a fairly small cultural circle, which is that it allows the aggressive drive an outlet in the form of hostility to outsiders.   It is always possible to bind quite large numbers of people together in love, provided that others are left out as targets for aggression

I once discussed this phenomenon, the fact that it is precisely those communities that occupy contiguous territories and are otherwise closely related to each other – like the Spaniards and the Portuguese, the North Germans and the South Germans, the English and the Scots, etc . – that indulge in feuding and mutual mockery. I called this phenomenon ‘the narcissism of small differences’ – not that the name does much to explain it. It can be seen as a convenient and relatively innocuous way of satisfying the tendency to aggression and facilitating solidarity within the community.

Page 65 – 66 If civilisation imposes such great sacrifices not only on man’s sexuality, but also on his aggressiveity, we are in a better position to understand why it is so hard for him to feel happy in it. Primitive man was actually better off, because his drives were not restricted.   Yet this was counterbalanced by the fact that he had little certainty of enjoying this good fortune for long.   Civilised man had traded in portion of his chances of happiness for a certain measure of security. But let us not forget that in the primeval family only its head could give full rein to his drives; its other members lived in slavish suppression.

In that primordial era of civilisation there was therefore an extreme contrast between a minority who enjoyed it benefits and the majority to whom they were denied. As for today’s primitive peoples, more careful stuffy has shown that we have no reason whatsoever to envy them their instinctual life by reason of the freedom attaching to it; it is subject to restrictions of a different kind, which are perhaps even more severe than those imposed on modern civilised man,

Page 66 When we rightly reproach the present state of our civilisation with its inadequate response to our demand for a form of life that will make us happy, and with allowing so much suffering, which could probably be avoided – and when we strive, with unsparing criticism, to expose the roots of this inadequacy- we are exercising a legitimate right and certainly not revealing ourselves as enemies of civilisation. We may hope gradually to carry out such modifications in our civilisation as will better satisfy our needs and escape this criticism. But perhaps we shall also become familiar with the idea that there are some difficulties that are inherent in the nature of civilisation and will defy any attempt at reform. In addition to the tasks involved in restricting the drives – for which we are prepared – we are faced with the danger of a condition that we may call ‘the psychological misery of the mass’. This danger is most threatening where social bonding is produced mainly by the participation’s identification with on another, while individuals of leadership calibre do not acquire the importance that should be accorded to them in the formation of the mass.
Page 74 For the rest, I take the view that the tendency to aggression is an original, autonomous disposition in man, and I return to my earlier contention that it represents the greatest obstacle to civilisation. At one point in this investigation we were faced with the realisation that civilisation was a special process underdone by humanity, and we are still under the spell of this idea. We will now add that it is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to gather together individuals, then families and finally tribes, peoples and nations in one great unit – humanity. Why this has to happen we do not know: it is simple the work of Eros.   These multitudes of human beings are to be libidinallly bound to one another; necessity alone, the advantages of shared work, will not hold them together. However, this programme of civilisation is opposed to man’s natural aggressive drive, the hostility of each against all and all against each.   This aggressive drive it the descendent and principal representative of the death drive, which we found beside Eros and which rules the world jointly with him. And now, I think, the meaning of the development of civilisation is no longer obscure to us. This development must show us the struggle between Eros and death, between the life drive and the drive for destruction, as it is played out in the human race.   This struggle is the essential content of all life; hence, the development of civilisation may be described simply as humanity’s struggle for existence.
Page 105-106 For a variety of reasons I have no wish whatever to offer an evaluation of human civilisation. I have been careful to refrain from the enthusiastic prejudice that sees our civilisation as the most precious thing we posses or can acquire, and believes that its path will necessarily leads us to heights of perfection hitherto undreamt of. I can at least listen, without bridling, to the critic who thinks that, considering the goals of cultural endeavour and the means it employs, one is bound to conclude that the whole effort is not worth the trouble and can only result in a state of affairs that the individual is bound to find intolerable My impartiality is facilitated by my scant knowledge of such matters. There is only one thing that I know for certain: the value judgements of human beings are undoubtedly guided by their desire for happiness and thus amount to an attempt to back up their illusions with arguments. I should understand perfectly if someone were to stress the inevitability of human civilisation and maintain, for instance, that the tendency to restrict sexual life, or to promote the humanitarian ideal at the expense of natural selection, were trends that could not be averted or deflected and that it was best to yield to them as if they were naturally ordained. On the other hand, I am familiar with the objection that in the course of human history such strivings, which we consider insurmountable, have often been cast aside and replaced by others. I therefore dare not set myself up as a prophet vis-à-vis my fellow men, and I plead guilty to the reproach that I cannot bring them any consolation, which is fundamentally no less passionately than the most well-behaved and pious believers.

The fateful question for human race seems to be whether, and to what extent, the development of its civilisation will manage to overcome the disturbance of communal life caused by the human drive for aggression and self-destruction.   Perhaps in this context the present age is worthy of special interest. Human beings have made such strides in controlling the forces of nature that, with the help of these forces, they will have no difficulty in exterminating one another, down to the last man. They know this, and it is knowledge that accounts for much of their present disquiet, unhappiness and anxiety. And now it is to be expected that the other of the two ‘heavenly powers’, immortal Eros, will try to assert himself in the struggle with the equally immortal adversary. But who can foresee the outcome?

Source: Civilisation and its discontents – Sigmund Freud

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