I, Socrates, have only questions for the author of Civilization and Its Discontents, Dr. Sigmund Freud. It surprises me greatly that Dr. Freud should so misread the great tragedy of Oedipus Tyrannos by my fellow Athenian, the poet Sophocles. Does Freud really believe the motivations of Oedipus to be some sort of universal constitutent of human behavior? As my distinguished colleague Frederick Crews (Professor Emeritus of English at U.C. Berkeley, which remains even to this day a hotbed of Socratic-style impieties, if I do say so myself) has noted about Dr. Freud's work, it frequently makes the claim of scientific discovery without any actual reference to the empirical verifications of the scientific method: in other words, it is made up out of whole cloth.
I mention this because even in Civilization and its Discontents, your strange Dr. Freud considers his notion of the "Oedipus complex" to be absolutely central to describing the psychological framework of the individual, and thus in some larger sense to be reflected in culture as well. This strikes me as obvious nonsense. Even though Freud wrote after Darwin and after Gregor Mendel, he shows very little interest in any actual scientific analysis of the origins of human behavior. Yet a quick Google search -- for yes, here in the Elysian Fields, Aristotle himself has taught me how to use Google, and with Aristotle as my tutor I have learned to stride through knowledge as confidently as Alexander took Persia -- reveals something called "genetic sexual attraction" or "G.S.A.," a phenomenon in which long-separated parents and siblings are overwhelmed with sexual attraction upon being reunited. The simple explanation for the process is that human mate selection is biologically based on the perception of likeness in the facial features of the potential mate, and is amply explained by scientific principles that pre-date Freud. It also reveals that stories like that of Oedipus occur with disquieting regularity, but only under these circumstances (it would seem). This calls into question Freud's first principle -- which underlies so much of his argument in this strange book. When we consider that Freud suggests in Chapter I that the feeling of "oceanic" connectedness with some larger reality -- a feeling which characterizes religious experience, and which Freud confesses he himself has never experienced personally -- is in fact due to the "derivation of religious needs from the infant's helplessness and the longing for the father aroused by it" which, says Freud, "seems to me incontrovertible." Freud then notes "I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection" (Freud 19). At this point, I am tempted to gently inquire of "Viennese wizard" (as my colleague Vladimir Nabokov likes to call Dr. Freud) if he really thinks that any infant is capable of longing for a father rather than a mother at such an early developmental stage, or if the need for a father's protection is really so much stronger than the need for a mother's nutrition. But then the whole of Freud's Chapter Four is subsumed in a fictive attempt to write the so-called "Oedipus complex" as a kind of foundational myth for humanity. Freud's argument in Chapter Four is worth considering in some detail, merely to appreciate its weird implausibility. It starts with the invention of social bonds out of a self-interested survey of adaptation strategies, which again seems like plain nonsense: this sort of thing may appeal to philosophers who wish to maintain a sense of the overwhelming importance of the individual, but even the slightest acquaintance with a century's worth of anthropological and ethological study after Freud has revealed that human behavior can hardly have evolved to produce a self-conscious and fully-aware individual who then enters a sort of social contract out of a sense of self-preservation. Clearly social behavior is a collective adaptation of the human species. But Doctor Freud is off on a frolic of his own in Chapter Four, and is clearly bound and determined to prove that the incestuous motivations which he think course through everyone's most basic psychological make-up are, in fact, writ large as the building blocks of society. He makes it sound like collaborative social endeavors (like a group hunting expedition) were constructed out of rational self-interest, as though guided by Adam Smith's invisible hand, and that the irrationality expressed is due to some magical process that Freud calls "repression." I must say that I don't understand where this notion of repression comes from, and what Freud's proof is for it. This is perhaps the element of Freud's view in this book that has most enraged Frederick Crews, leading him to call Civilization and its Discontents "the most overrated book ever written": the Freudian notion of repression does not match up, once again, with a century of legitimate scientific investigation into the actual biological functioning processes of memory. Freud has invited us to fantasize that troublesome or traumatic experiences can be "repressed," which is to say wholly forgotten. It seems to me that he has confused the desire for such an ability (especially in the wake of such a trauma) or the resolution to act in contradiction to the facts with an actual psychodynamic process that does not exist, but which permitted a lot of kooky Freud-inspired charlatans in the 1980s and 1990s to give the green light to lurid "recovered memories" in which outright fantasizing (about sexual abuse and Satanic sacrifice) was presented as the "repressed content." If Freud's method was to result half a century later in such ludicrous results, then we must not expect to much from his own lurid fantasies about the "repressive" mechanism of culture.
I must say I find Freud's view of sexuality on the whole repellent. Readers may recall my own views, which were crystallized by my dialogue with the great Diotima, recounted by my pupil Plato in the Symposium -- to me, certainly the base and fleshly element of sexual love was (tautologically enough) both base and fleshly. The point of the process was that it mimicked the soul's own progress from the created and concrete things of this world towards the eternal Forms which represent the eternal and timeless content of those sublunary things. Freud replaces this with a dynamic of repression and sublimation, which means that all great achievement is in some way based on willfull human ignorance about the heart's own desires. I think it possible to be dishonest about those desires, but not ignorant -- after all, I, Socrates, followed the Delphic oracle's advice to "know thyself" and preaching in the agora that "the unexamined life is not worth living." Apparently for Freud, the lived life is not worth examining except in the presence of a poker-faced and silent charlatan who charges upwards of three hundred drachmas for a fifty-minute hour.
I, Doctor Sigmund Freud, recently had occasion to read the New Testament -- I found them to be absolutely gripping, and I must say I was curious to read to the end to see how the plot turned out. I gather that this Jesus Christ, who is the main character in the book, is regarded as a rather distinguished Jewish ethicist like myself. I also gather that he had a problematic relationship with his own Judaism, also like myself -- I would refer to myself, as readers will recall, as a "Jewish atheist." Christ himself seems to have endured a much more severe Oedipal reckoning with his own Jewish mother, and has allowed the Oedipus complex to be revealed as an hysterical delusion that he is, in fact, the son of Jehovah himself. I can only respond that, if Jehovah had approached me in fin-de-siecle Vienna and asked me to have a look at his son, then I…
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Freud's Writing by Socrates and Socrates' Writing by Freud
Socrates Commenting on Freud's Civilization and its Discontents
Sigmund Freud presents a very interesting set of principles in his work Civilization and its Discontents. Here, he describes his belief in the true identity of the nature of man. More than anything else, man is aggressive. This aggression is essentially caused out of the tension and conflict between innate primal desires and the