When one envisions civilization, they likely see images of culture, infrastructure, human perseverance, and innovation. However, would one say the same of governments? It could be argued that governments are symbolic of the order and justice which accompanies civilization, on one hand. On the other, governments could be the embodiment of repression and corruption. In Sigmund Freud’s “Civilization and its Discontent,” he argues that any form of government is repressive of human nature. Is this true? I definitely think it could be argued so.
Freud defines civilization as humanity’s means of protection from nature and the sum of all of humanity’s achievements which separates humankind from animals. This could be seen as beneficial at first glance as civilization, in this sense, serves as a means of survival, resilience, and innovation. Humans were able to triumph over nature by creating innovations by which they could lessen the limitations of their body, such as through boats and microscopes. With each step, humankind inched closer to what Freud referred to as a “prosthetic God” because humankind has “civilized” to a point of being able to manipulate much of the earth in their favor. At this point, happiness was achieved through freedom and a lack of restriction. This lack of restriction allowed human nature to flourish. Unfortunately, this interaction is two-fold.
As humankind continues to evolve, so does its desire to search for new, more enjoyable utilizations of the world around them to the point of only chasing pursuits which reap enjoyment and display a level of novelty. In other words, there is a persisting desire that is innate to humankind: constantly growing and searching for the next thing. Unless there is structure, then this curiosity has no limits, for better or worse. The governments of civilization exist to stand as the center of the structure needed to keep society and human desire stable and address the worse components of human desire through law and restriction. As a natural consequence, human desire is stifled for the sake of order and restrictions become more prevalent as humans have less of a need to focus on survival and more of a need to focus on their existence and seeking new forms of novelty. As a consequence, humankind is pushed to grapple their unhappiness with being unable to express themselves and their inability satiate their endless need for novelty. Every individual risks the threat of not being able to properly conform to society’s expectations.
I would make the argument that all of this is true and additionally, prevalent in the world today. When thinking sociologically, it brings to mind the concept of cultural assimilation. Cultural assimilation refers to when a cultural minority adopts the appearance, cultural beliefs and practices, and values of the cultural majority. Often, when individuals in eastern societies migrate to western societies, like the United States, they perceive there to be an ascribed level of survival and happiness in their new place of living that they were not able to achieve prior to moving. They enjoy the novelty of a new area, new cultures, and new innovations which they may not have had access to. However, once arriving, these individuals have to surrender components of their own culture, practices, and values to fit into what the local government has deemed to be acceptable for them. To survive, they have to sacrifice the things which make them happy, such as their cultural norms and practices, to escape the consequences of not abiding by the restrictions set in place to maintain order. This forced conformity, which is essential for the survival of these individuals, stifles their growth as individuals in a new space while stifling the growth of the individuals around them who would benefit from receiving information and cultural practices outside of their own.
Though not explicitly mentioned, Freud’s view of repressive governments could relate directly to oppression as it is known in the modern day. When unequal and unable to be oneself, it seems inevitable that a lack of happiness would follow.
Pontificator, Overthinker, Lover of Witty Banter.
Is this thing on?