The Real Question: When was Freud ever right?

Sigmund Freud, a famous yet controversial psychologist, wrote Civilization and its Discontents in an attempt to explain why people are not satisfied with the society they are living in despite many social, technological, and scientific advancements that gave humans what he describes as “Godlike character.” It is a thought-provoking answer, and there can be a multitude of responses or assertions to be made, but what Freud claims is the ultimate reason is because civilization was built upon repressing human’s impulses and desires, like their natural aggressiveness and their sexuality. Making these characteristics taboo, or enforcing laws that restrict humans to act upon them, makes people feel trapped, meaning that they are not truly free. While this argument seems valid on the surface, the way Freud proves it completely threw me off.

First, there is no solid evidence to even supplement the claims that he is making. He is basing this on mostly anecdotes, or what he calls “psycho-analytic work” (which he fails to provide details on), and that is mostly unreliable. Second, on sexual desires, he says that love was made as a concept only because “man [was] unwilling to be deprived of his sexual object – the woman – and the woman [was] unwilling to be deprived of the part of herself which had been separated off from her – her child.” To assume that families are all nuclear in setup and the only reason why a couple stays with each other in the first place is solely due to their sexual desires is absurd. Additionally, his patriarchal mindset on gender roles are clearly sexist.

To further maintain his point, he displayed a thought exercise with the biblical phrase “love thy neighbor,” claiming that one’s innate desire is to not love them at all since they either of no use to them, are not attractive enough to be their sexual object, and have the potential to hurt them. But, because civilization is set up on phrases like these to impose on society, people are forced to adhere to these rules, leading to discontent and unhappiness. I’m not too convinced on this argument either, because I’m 100% sure when a new neighbor moves into my neighborhood my first thoughts aren’t how I’m able to exploit them to my benefit. I’m not too keen on how Freud suggests that humans have little free will in our lives, and our “innate thoughts” and “unconscious mind” (whatever that even means) dictate our actions whether we like it or not.

In general, I would’ve heard Freud out if he actually made good points, but I can’t side with a person who makes outrageous and unsupported claims such as these. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be on Freud’s side in the first place so I’m not surprised.

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