Pathology & Civilisation: Neurosis and Cruelty- Conclusion

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Conclusion to research

Submitted: November 10, 2011

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Submitted: November 10, 2011




By returning to earlier examples I will demonstrate how the internalisation of civilisation and the production of cruelty. I will argue that Nietzsche’s solution provides the individual with a way to be free from mental cruelty. I will contend that Nietzsche has a solution whereas Freud only provides a coping mechanism with which to make the individual fitter for society.

This paper has demonstrated that both Nietzsche and Freud explored the interactivity of the psyche in self-other relationships with the external forces of civilisation extensively. Furthermore I have demonstrated that acts of cruelty are not always observable and apparent in the relationship between the psyche and the external world. By initially setting out Nietzsche and Freud’s scheme of the psyche I have observed that Freud’s construction of the Id, ego and super ego is more schematic than Nietzsche’s. Freud’s tripartite scheme is set and hierarchical in contrast with Nietzsche’s scheme, which is more rounded. I have pointed out that Nietzsche considered the ‘I’ as an illusion and not the true home of identity. For Nietzsche the authentic origin of the self is more primal. It comes from the unrepressed instincts of the ‘it’.

I have presented the idea that Nietzsche and Freud have differing critical vantage points. Nietzsche provides a macro perspective beginning his genealogical analysis with civilisation looking inwardly to the psyche. This enables him to show the repressive effect that civilisation has on the development of the human psyche. In contrast Freud develops his critical theory of civilisation from the vantage point of the psyche. This is why we see correlation and comparable observations being made by Nietzsche and Freud. They meet each other through their similar but inverse genealogical analysis of the relationship of the psyche and civilisation.

For both Nietzsche and Freud it was the conflicts brought about by the forces life and death, of creation and destruction that brought about civilisation. With these conflicting forces came the pathological symptoms we later subscribe to neurosis and cruelty. I have explored Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the pathology of civilisation by looking at his narrative use of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. We have seen how Dionysus represents the creative yet destructive forces of both life and death. This is put in conflict with the more cerebral Apollonian values associated with ascetic civilisation. Freud also used narrative and mythology to describe this opposition and its psychical connection to civilisation through the concepts of Eros and Thanatos. By synthesising the Apollonian and Dionysian Nietzsche sought to overcome the conflict between them. However, Freud continued his more dualistic perspective of life and death, creation and destruction.

By exploring Nietzsche’s genealogical analysis of the morality I have shown how the early development of civilisation brought about cruelty. Nietzsche’s example of the slave and the creditor and debtor narrative shows how the mechanisms of guilt and indebtedness operate in the production of ‘bad conscience’. The aggressive drives, which are unable to be expressed outwardly due to the prohibiting structure of society, are then internalised producing cruelty. I have shown how neurosis is exploited by the institution of religion for both Nietzsche and Freud and that this has been instumental in promoting sickness and cruelty. For both Nietzsche and Freud the internalisation of the authority of religion has produced illusion, which further propagates unhealthy dependencies on its authority. For Nietzsche this has created the morality of modernity and distanced man from his true earthly potential to go beyond the moral concepts such as good and evil.

In the case of sublimation I have shown that Freud’s application requires the repression of drives. The instincts can be guided back to a non-emancipatory object, or away from the intended aim of the instinct. This means that sublimation for Freud serves to mould the individual to suit society. For Nietzsche sublimation is a way to overcome ‘Resentment’ and therefore the sickness of the herd. Sublimation for Nietzsche does not require the repression of drives; it enables the reorganisation of the drives into a more powerful form of expression. This demonstrates that Nietzsche’s use of sublimation allows instincts to be liberated through the cooperation of the drives. Instead of weaker drives becoming repressed or further weakened they become absorbed and contribute to the empowerment of the individual. I have used Nietzsche’s ‘Amor Fati’ to highlight an attitude to that requires overcoming one’s resentments. I have shown that Nietzsche’s concept of ‘will’ and the ‘Ubermesch’ are examples of a non-repressive use of sublimation.

I have presented these aspects to Nietzsche and Freud’s thought to demonstrate similarities in their methodology and diagnosis. I have shown that both Nietzsche and Freud see civilisation as regressive due its pathology. However I have argued that Freud did not modify his application of sublimation after the introduced the ‘death drives’. He thus centralises Eros to role of sublimation, making it a regressive and pathological tendency of the individual that can only be repressed.

What conclusions can be made?

What both Nietzsche and Freud shown us is that what actually matters is the physical mental wellbeing and authentic representation of values by social institutions. In this sense their theories have been essential in showing that the deception and illusion used by social intuitions are both the cause and effect of cruelty. By doing so they have shown the contrary belief that the relief of social discontent or servitude cannot come from the external world i.e. civilisation itself. The deceptions described by Nietzsche over a century ago seem relevant today, and Intellectualism has yet to free us from the subjugation processes of civilsation. This is demonstrated by Freud’s attempt to remedy the suffering of the individual through the idea of a self-controlled by unconscious forces. However, Freud’s psychology and social theories have been exploited and used to further the control human nature by civilisation.

As the below quote from R.D. Laing demonstrates, a Nietzschean Freudian tone was still very much alive in a discussion of the nature of social reality in the late 1960’s:

“There is little conjunction of truth and social 'reality'. Around us are pseudo-events, to which we adjust with a false consciousness adapted to see these events as true and real, and even as beautiful. In the society of men the truth resides now less in what things are than in what they are not. Our social realities are so ugly if seen in the light of exiled truth, and beauty is almost no longer possible if it is not a lie.” [1]

From the above perspective Nietzsche and Freud’s theories have not had a radical effect on the health and authenticity of social reality. There is cause to question how appropriate it is to model society on the features of individuals. In this respect both Nietzsche and Freud’s methodologies could be wrong, or have serious shortcomings. Freud fails to synthesise the forces of Eros and Thanatos in the same way that Nietzsche combines the forces of creation and destruction in Dionysus and the conflict with the Apollonian in the ‘will to power’. Freud is therefore unable to provide a progressive solution for civilisation as he does not provide a non-repressive way of sublimating the fundamental conflicts of reality. For Nietzsche cruelty is necessary for the strength and health and vital for civilisation. For Freud it is necessary to defend against it. As we have seen drives cannot always be satisfied through the cultural outlets of a society, and they are therefore internalised. It is not possible for Freud to fully overcome this self-directed cruelty through his application of a non-repressive sublimation. Freud’s psychoanalysis does radically re-value the fundamental illusions of civilisation. However Freud’s civilisation remains repressive and he wants to adapt the individual to a society where control is necessary.

As I have demonstrated Freud initially states that individuals are striving to be free from neuroses. However, he also identifies that it is easer to be unhappy when we are confronted with the cruelty of reality. Unhappiness is more likely to be the outcome for Freud and so pleasure is transformed into the ‘reality principle’. Reality is necessary to bring suffering under control, which puts further limitation on Freud’s theory of civilisation. Again this demonstrates Freud’s repressive use of sublimation set against Nietzsche’s optimistic embrace of the cruelty that must be suffered to become ‘Ubermensch’.

For Freud some relief comes from the satisfaction of intellectual impulses, which are untamed by the ego. But he acknowledges that this in itself has to be repressed to the expectations of society.Freud refers to these mechanisms as phantasy instincts, as instead of living out repressed desires individuals sublimate them through phantasm in art and science. Most human activities remain sublimated un-satisfied repressed desires coming from an Id and ego confronted with reality. In the examples set out by this paper we have seen that Freud considers religion a mass delusion, as reality is not sufficiently registered. However I argue that Freud’s application of sublimation does not escape the same problems presented by the sublimating function of religion. Freud only presents a way to cope with neuroses caused by the cruelty that comes with human relations. However for Nietzsche human beings may have been happier in a sate of nature where cruelty is openly expressed, rather than in the case of modernity which has led to its internalization.

Nietzsche’s use of sublimation better enables the concept of overcoming neurosis as an attitude for civilisation, to improve our quality of life and overcome social pathology. Freud’s lack of clarity on the role of sublimation creates shortfalls in its application as a tool for overcoming. In fact if we take the Nietzschean genealogical tool and apply it to Freud’s psychoanalytic model we may diagnose it with the metaphysical mysticism of a secular religion. In the same way that Marxism is sometimes considered an ideology in secular societies, psychoanalytic theory has this same potential. As has been suggested, Freud’s theories have been misunderstood exploited by capitalist Western societies in this way.

As we have seen Nietzsche considers altruism as damaging to the health and vitality of the human race. However the power to manipulate can result in the promotion of the ‘instincts turned against themselves’ which Nietzsche and Freud both identify as problematic. It can be argued then that it is unclear how a civilisation based on Nietzsche’s ‘Ubermensch’ would function. How can all humans be ‘Ubermensch’ without complete annihilation? We must therefore conclude that Nietzsche’s version of the ‘Ubermensch’ is constantly revaluating and progressing in competition with others. This would then create the vitality and authenticity that Nietzsche requires for humanity to continue overcoming and evolving. The ‘Ubermensch’ is not an end solution, but a way of being continually in motion. For Nietzsche the ‘Ubermensch’ is the remedy for the sickness of humanity, but the sickness must be continually overcome psychologically, not simply adapted to or desensitised. In contrast Freud only provides a coping mechanism in his application of psychoanalysis for the conflict of the individual with Civilisation. Psychoanalysis does provide some form of release and the attribute of critical self-reflection. But this is overshadowed by the radical revaluation required to reach the affirmation of the ‘Ubermensch’. This affirmation goes beyond simply adapting to the herd, or coping with the cruelty of the psyche. Nietzsche provides expansive solutions to cruelty where Freud’s is reductive of human progress in comparison.

Nietzsche highlighted repressive misconceptions towards the irrational through his poetic aphorisms. He also shows that anarchy is destructive to convention, but vital for the transformation of sickness into strength and vitality. Freud however diagnosed the irrational as dangerous and sought a rational scientific solution to neurosis. He wanted to order irrationality to the advantage of human civilization, to Freud irrationality was an object of scientific study. This perhaps gives Freud’s critical theory a dehumanising quality, which is in contrast to Nietzsche’s more human treatment of the condition. Nevertheless human behavior, steered by the irrational forces of the psyche, was an idea that challenged the conventions of the Enlightenment with the same impact as Nietzsche's notion that ‘God is dead’. What we see is Nietzsche embracing humanity, the sick animal inflicted by cruelty, trying to protect it from the barbarism he saw so deeply infecting the whole of existence.

[1] R.D. Laing, The Politics Of Experience (1967)

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