Pathology & Civilisation: Neurosis and Cruelty- Introduction

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Introduction to the topic of Pathology & Civilisation: Neurosis and Cruelty

Submitted: November 10, 2011

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Submitted: November 10, 2011




Human beings desire health rather than sickness and they value survival above death. It can also be stated that, albeit in a different sense, health and survival are the desired goals of a civilisation. The conflicts that form from interpersonal relationships underpin the state of health of a civilisation. In this context, the term pathology is used to encapsulate both the diagnosis of the individual and its culture, brought together under the term civilisation.

There have been political projects throughout history that intended to increase the health of civilisation. The Enlightenment and industrialisation of Western civilisation was driven by the project to emancipate humans from barbarity and oppression. However, with the onset of Modernity cruelty was not entirely replaced with its antithesis. As a direct response to reason, the human drives for control and domination over the other were pushed to the realms of the mind. Cruelty became something far more psychological. Why is it then that we still describe the progress of humanity in terms of civilisation, when it does not demonstrate the abolition of cruelty? This question is certainly not a new one, and the avoidance of cruelty is something that has concerned civilisation from its birth. However with the advent of new technologies civilisation continues to find, more sophisticated ways of inflicting cruelty. In the following paper I will provide an examination of sickness and cruelty in the relationship between civilisation and the human psyche. Analysis will be based on the theories of two masters in the realm of pathology and civilisation, Frederic Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).

Nietzsche and Freud both see the world is a bubbling cauldron of darkness and destruction at odds with the light. Society is in fact constituted by dark and destructive drives, underpinning human motivations and ultimately having significance in the development of civilisation. It may be prudent to ask, just why is it appropriate to talk about Nietzsche and Freud in the same paper. Nietzsche is generally considered a philosopher, and Freud is largely considered as a psychologist and social scientist. The response to this is that both theorists provide an important evaluation of Modernity that was in both cases misunderstood. Firstly, Nietzsche’s work was exploited by the Nazis in support of their utopian ideology in the lead up to and during World War Two. Secondly, during the 1930’s the US government exploited Freud’s observations on the aggressive and neurotic state of society and specifically the application of psychoanalytic theory.[1]

There are at least three main areas that give Nietzsche and Freud a joint intellectual heritage. Both men were continental thinkers (distinct from British Empiricists) and both study the state of Western civilisation and its psychology. Both were responsible for defining the modern ‘self’ and finally and most importantly, they both developed an understanding of the psychic mechanisms associated with mental ill health. As the below quote demonstrates there are notable similarities between Nietzsche and Freud’s account of the modern subject:

“Concepts of Nietzsche which are similar to those of Freud include (a) the concept of the unconscious mind; (b) the idea that repression pushes unacceptable feelings and thoughts into the unconscious and thus makes the individual emotionally more comfortable and effective; (c) the conception that repressed emotions and instinctual drives later are expressed in disguised ways (for example, hostile feelings and ideas may be expressed as altruistic sentiments and acts); (d) the concept of dreams as complex, symbolic "illusions of illusions" and dreaming itself as a cathartic process which has healthy properties; and (e) the suggestion that the projection of hostile, unconscious feelings onto others, who are then perceived as persecutors of the individual, is the basis of paranoid thinking.” [2]

Cruelty is an aspect of Nietzsche and Freud’s work that is less extensively studied. However, in this paper I will demonstrate that cruelty emerges in various guises for both theorists. I will show that cruelty can be found in the repressive foundation of civilisation and its relationship to the development of neurosis. Taking a more speculative historical view of civilisation, close attention will be paid to this causal relationship, which often reveals itself in the form of persecution and violence in Nietzsche and Freud’s work. I will now introduce the main areas of research in which the solution to the subject of neurosis and cruelty will be explored.

There are four main points with which I will support my overall argument that Nietzsche’s theory of the relationship of the psyche and civilisation is more progressive than the view presented by Freud. Firstly I will argue that Freud’s scheme of the psyche only provides adaptation to the internalisation of civilisation. Freud’s solution moulds the individual to better fit the requirements of civilisation rather than transforming it. Secondly I will argue that Freud’s application of sublimation has a repressive function. It requires the repression of destructive instincts, making Freud’s theory of sublimation incompatible with Nietzsche’s. Thirdly Nietzsche’s use of sublimation is essential in producing the power of transformation in the individual. I will therefore argue that sublimation has a non-repressive function in Nietzsche’s theory. Finally I will conclude that Nietzsche’s theory of civilisation and the psyche goes beyond Freud’s, as Freud is unable to provide a means of overcoming repression.

In order to examine the limitations in Freud’s critique, I will begin with a discussion of the similarities and differences between Nietzsche and Freud’s scheme of the psyche. From this I will show that Nietzsche presents a more critical vantage point in comparison to Freud’s more schematic and adaptive scheme. This examination will support the argument that Nietzsche’s scheme better reveals the illusion of individual identity, and allows for a more radical revaluation of the relationship of civilisation and the psyche.

Nietzsche viewed civilisation critically as a static state with delusions of progressiveness, yet his foresight on how it should be progressive were a precursor to the idea of postmodern socio-political and humanistic thought. Progression is important as Nietzsche assumes progression should be the function of civilisation, and this is central to his solution for freeing man form his pathological slumber. In Chapter 3 I will examine how Nietzsche and Freud analyse pre-industrial Western civilisation, specifically ancient Greek culture, employing their narratives and metaphors to express the formations of pathology. I will show how this emphasis reveals the repression of the human will from authentic progress and freedom. Neurosis for both thinkers comes from the interaction of the psyche in self-other relationships, and with the external forces of culture and society. Freud’s approach is similar to Nietzsche’s in that he demonstrates the civilisation does not produce a world of equality, of reason and rationality. However, I will show that Nietzsche’s analysis of the conflicting forces of civilisation supports a solution to neurosis. I will then argue that Freud is unable to develop a solution to this conflict, as he does not move extensively enough away from his central theory of ‘Eros’, the force of life.

In Chapter three I will explore in detail Nietzsche’s critique of morality and civilisation by looking at the production of neurosis. Specifically neurosis brought about by the development of social institution and Christianity. The psychological impact of notions of guilt and debt will be used to demonstrate how cruelty is inflicted on the individual by the moral codes of civilisation. This will further support the argument that Freud’s study of similar topics does not sufficiently revalue them or provide a solution to neurosis. This will be examined through Freud’s definition of civilisation by its pursuit of domination and control i.e. power, partly for increasing contentment and pleasure, and partly for the perpetuation of the species. I will also closely examine Nietzsche’s theories of ‘ill will’ and ‘bad conscience’ along side Freud’s ‘pleasure principle’ to establish a correlation with the study of the healthy and pathological conditions of civilisation. Further attention will be drawn to Freud’s more mature writings in The Future of an Illusion and his last work Civilization and its Discontents. This later work expresses his more philosophical analysis of the human condition, and its relationship with civilisation. The precise significance of these texts will become apparent, but they represent a critical chronological development in Freud’s thinking in relation to the alignment of Nietzschean and Freudian theories. Set against Nietzsche’s philosophical doctrines, Twilight of the Idols, The Genealogy of Morals, and Beyond Good and Evil, I will diagnose the birth of institutional repression and the spread of pathological symptoms.

In Chapter 4 I will show that acts of cruelty are not always observable and apparent in the relationship between the psyche and the external world. I will demonstrate that the internalisation of morality results in neurosis for the individual. I will also demonstrate a darker side to this neurosis explored by both Nietzsche and Freud, which is crucial for the analysis of cruelty. The intention of the individual can also be the satisfaction of aggressive drives by the attainment of power and control. I will show that inflicting cruelty upon the other can be a gratifying aim in satisfying these aggressive human impulses, and ultimately bring about pleasure. I will then lead onto a second darker realisation made by Nietzsche and Freud that these aggressive impulses do not only occur outwardly towards fellow humans. Cruelty is also inflicted against the self. As will be explored, this issue extends more profoundly into two fundamental operations of cruelty, sadism and masochism.

In the final chapter I will examine both Nietzsche and Freud’s use of sublimation. I will demonstrate that Freud’s use of sublimation is limited by its repressive function. I will achieve this by contrasting it with Nietzsche’s non-repressive application, which allows for the individual to overcome neurosis. This research aim’s to demonstrate how Freud’s theories may come into conflict with Nietzsche’s critic of transcendental consciousness. There will be a focus on the significance of Freud’s lack of clarity on the relationship between sublimation, repression, and pathological symptoms. This will be set against Nietzsche’s more definitive account of these functions in the defence of pathological symptoms and repression. Modern theorists see such symptoms as deviations from ideal norms, from the normalised value structures of a society. It therefore seems appropriate to inquire about the drives that manifest themselves in such investments of pleasure, pain, and cruelty. For both Freud and Nietzsche, the non-satisfaction of these drives can be resolved or utilised through the sublimating processes. This will play a key role in the premises of the following paper specific to the relative operations of power and cruelty.

The following paper will demonstrate that in their quest to deconstruct and expose the delusions of social being, Nietzsche and Feud also reveal cruelty, which is often disguised and normalised. Both thinkers viewed Civilisation and the human condition as a destructive yet creative force inextricably linked to cruelty and completion. However, as will be expressed in what follows Nietzsche considered this competition a vital and creative aspect of life, inevitably leading to acts of cruelty. In Nietzsche’s view everything new must be replaced by the death of the old, and so destruction is vital for creation. This logic represents the eternal conflict of life and for Nietzsche the truest representation of the inseparability of these conflicting forces. This paper will highlight this elemental conflict in contrast to Freud’s psychodynamic analysis of cruelty. Both thinkers demonstrate a number of different ways of capturing in words the idea of conflict, and it is these different descriptions that will now be introduced and examined.

[1] See the case of Edward Bernays

[2] The influence of Nietzsche on Freud's ideas, AH Chapman and M Chapman-Santana, The British Journal of Psychiatry 166: 251-253 (1995), The Royal College of Psychiatrists

© Copyright 2017 Stuart Wray. All rights reserved.

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