LANDINGIN: Freud’s ideas can be implemented today
Opinions Column: A Sophisticated Tho(ugh)t
With the rising tensions brought by the incoming Donald J. Trump presidency and the United States’ imminent impact on the rest of the world due to the hyper-connectivity of globalization, it is not a surprise that scholars are looking at many ways to fully understand what the hell is and isn't about to happen in the world we live in today.
Many folks in academia look into critical race theory and postcolonial criticisms, among many other lenses of critiques. While referencing Sigmund Freud may seem passé and tends to overvalue sex and sexuality, his psychoanalytic work provides a fascinating perspective on today’s society. In his book "Civilization and Its Discontents," Freud looks into the friction between civilization and the individual, such as how civilization creates restrictions on human instincts to maintain order and community. He argues that the nature of civilization contributes to human discontentment towards society. He introduces his conception of Eros, which is originally the sensual love that civilization modulates into an aim-inhibited love for family, friendships and even enemy. Such as the Christian command of “Love thy neighbor and enemy.” He concludes that this command is based on the attempt to counter man’s aggressive instincts, which he describes as “the derivative and main representative of the death instinct which we have found alongside of Eros and which shares world-dominion with it.”
Sharing a space in civilization, Eros and the death instincts (popularly known as the death drive), contributes to the precocity of civilization. In the book, he comments, “The present cultural state of America would give us a good opportunity for studying the damage to civilization which is thus to be feared.” Published in 1930, Freud had an idea about the United States that colored my thinking about the present state of the country. Freud’s description of how civilization tames human instincts in order to maintain social order is still present in today’s American society. He says, “Present-day civilization make it plain that it will only permit sexual relationships on the basis of a solitary, indissoluble bond between one man and one woman, and that it does not like sexuality as a source of pleasure in its own right and is only prepared to tolerate it because there is so far no substitute for it as a means of propagating the human race.” What he describes is the dominant order for heteronormative monogamy, sexual repression and the bio-political reasoning for sex, as a means of maintaining this type of civilization we live in, still holds strong political influence in the United States. It was only a year ago when marriage equality was made legal in all 50 states. Nonetheless, it’s a way of normalizing a potentially subversive community via the institution of marriage. Thus, creating a homonormative norm or ideal with the queer community. And reproductive justice remains a place of political contention in American governing of women’s bodies. With the growing incline of violent racial hostility among many other aggressions towards marginalized communities, Freud’s critique of civilization’s composition of Eros and the death drive such as, “The advantage which is comparatively small cultural group offers of allowing this instinct an outlet in the form of hostility against intruders is not to be despised,” gives insight that argues against the justification that people who voted for Trump were just angry at the establishment and the state of the American economy.
This exposes how this aggression is funneled towards the queer community, immigrants and people of color, who are coded as intruders and illegal aliens. He analogically describes the death drive as a result of a band of brothers wanting to both kill and love their father, but instead funnels that inwards and outwards.
I believe that in a patriarchal society, this father concept is put across as an unreachable and unstoppable God, limiting people from seeing God as a socio-historical construction of man. What happens is that people are given no choice but to punish themselves in a system that functions on the dichotomy of love and the death drive.
Freud’s analysis of human existence isn’t perfect. It lacks the comprehensive understanding of patriarchal capitalism and the influence of puritanism that remains today in the form of cultural norms and law. His phallic fixation may have obscured him from thinking that the human love of aggression could be an obsession with control and power rooted in patriarchal thinking. By using Rome as the jumping point of Western Civilization, he describes and analyzes the psyche of this type of civilization well, but lacks the knowledge of de-colonial thinking rooted within marginalized communities that may provide solutions to the propagated affliction of Western Civilization. One thing is for sure: The system that we currently live in is not sustainable and is driving itself to death. The question is, do we go down with it? And if not, are we capable of digging ourselves out of these trenches made by civilization and cultivating a loving and sustainable global community?
Rae Landingin is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with minors in art history and digital, communication, information and media. Her column, “A Sophisticated Tho(ugh)t,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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