Freud’s Not Completely Wrong, But He’s Not Right Either

In Freud’s “Civilizations and Its Discontents” he lays out a long, drawn out argument that any form of government is ultimately repressive of human nature. Although Freud used a lot of twists and turns to finally reach his main argument, I was able to follow it and decide that everything he was saying was not entirely wrong. As a psych major who has learned about Freud’s ideas for years now, not that he is the only person I have studied, I understand his perspective. Freud’s main idea is that the drive behind all human behavior is to satisfy some sort of urge or need. This drive is called libido, often referred to as libidinal energy. These urges and needs come from the id, one of 3 structures of the personality. The id consists of untamed impulses that are ruled by the need to reduce tension, avoid pain, and gain pleasure. Overall, the point is that Freud viewed us as beings who had instinctual, animal urges that need to be satisfied, and the need to satisfy these urges drives how we act.

How does that relate to government repressing human nature? The answer is simple. Civilizations have governments who have many jobs. One of the most important jobs governments have is to make and enforce laws. Laws, in their purest form, are a long list of things we aren’t allowed to do. In order to live in a civilized society, laws are a necessity. Although I’d like to be optimistic and say that we could live in a world without laws I know that this isn’t true. Without laws, a lot of people would do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted regardless of how it may affect other people. I mean, there are people who do act this way with laws in place so imagine a society without laws. This is Freud’s point. Our nature as humans, as animals with instincts, is to do whatever we want, whenever we want. This would require complete freedom that we can’t have with government in place. Thus, we must sit and wait or find a more appropriate way to satisfy our urges. This creates tension within ourselves and is why Freud argues that with the advancement of civilization, humans aren’t happy.

Do I personally believe this sentiment? To believe that Freud is right is to agree that human nature is only to satisfy instinctual urges. While I do believe that is part of our nature since we need to satisfy those urges for survival reasons, I think that human nature has changed as society has developed. As civilizations grew, there were new needs that needed to be met. We aren’t in “survival mode” like how our ancestors were, although it may feel that way sometimes. I think that because of these developments, it isn’t right to say that human nature is only to do what we want when we want. I think it is human nature to look out for others and consider others when making decisions and I’d like to think that that’s why governments and laws were established in the first place. As communal creatures we need one another for survival so it makes sense that we would put laws in place to protect ourselves and those around us, regardless of our own urges. While I do think governments have the capacity to be oppressive to the people they are supposed to protect, I don’t see them as oppressive to human nature.

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