Civilization and its Discontents is a book by Sigmund Freud that raises a number of very interesting topics, such as the role of religion in human lives, the human nature and the role in development of civilizations. Freud argues that although civilization was created by human beings in order to satisfy the needs of individuals, in fact, civilizations are not able to do that. This analysis argues that the basic need of everyone, which is happiness, cannot be satisfied within the civilization.
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The main idea that Sigmund Freud developed in his book Civilization and its Discontents is the basic need of human beings for pleasure. The author emphasized the need of an individual to distance oneself from all the misery and suffering that exist in the world. According to Freud, human beings form their egos, when they face all the negative aspects of reality, and use this “ego” in order to separate themselves from them. In future ego is used not only to protect a person from the negative impacts of the reality, but also to achieve the most happiness in the existing conditions. Therefore, the author claims that the greatest desire within human nature is to achieve the biggest amount of happiness possible. Freud (1962) defines the “pleasure principle” (p. 23) as a purpose of life of all human beings. At the same time, as human beings cannot fully satisfy their need for pleasure due to the needs of other people and other circumstances, he develops the “reality principle” (Freud, 1962, p. 24), which states that everything that decreases the level of satisfaction should be avoided.
According to Freud (1962), there are the three main sources of unhappiness: human body, external world, and relationships built with other people (p. 24). The third source is the one that leads to the further Freud’s focus on the civilization, its development and future. According to the author, civilization was firstly created from one’s egoistic need for protection from the sources of suffering. Therefore, at first men initiated the creation of civilization in order to achieve higher levels of happiness and satisfaction. By establishing a union among human beings, and thus, giving away a part of one’s ego interests in order to create common institutions, people were able to decrease the influence of the two first sources of unhappiness.
The author notes that currently many people are dissatisfied with the civilization and tries to define the reasons for these attitudes. Therefore, Freud questions if civilization is, in fact, able to provide people with more happiness. Civilization and its Discontents argues that within a civilization human beings decrease their levels of happiness. The author states that living in a society one starts to give away some basic needs and instincts, such as the desire to be loved is replaced with a need to love. Communities are held together by love in a form of “aim-inhibited affection” (Freud, 1962, p. 49). The civilization begins to demand from human beings much more than it actually gives. Moreover, Freud believes that those requests made by civilization are not necessary for its survival and existence. Taking into consideration the struggle between the individual needs and deep instincts and the rules constituted by civilization, Freud believes that it will never be possible to strike a balance between the two. The sense of guilt, which constantly develops in civilizations and is an integrant inevitable element of any of them leads to the loss of happiness of individuals (Freud, 1962, p. 81). He does not believe in the possibility of the creation of a harmonious society that can, at the same time, satisfy the basic needs of individuals and follow the set of the cultural rules.
Sigmund Freud defines all the problems of the civilization and explains why people cannot live happily, while being a part of one. Still, the author does not propose any solution, because he believes that it is impossible to establish a “perfect civilization”. Therefore, Civilization and its Discontents is a book that presents a problem and gives each reader a possibility to look for his or her own solutions.
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