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Freud Civilization And Its Discontents Summary

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Sandra Watson
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Civilization and Its Discontents – Summary
In the introductory paragraphs, Freud attempts to understand the
spiritual phenomenon of a so-called “oceanic” feeling – ‹ the sense of
boundlessness and oneness felt between the ego and the outside world.
This feeling is “a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith.” It does
not betoken an allegiance to a specific religion, but instead points to the
source of religious sentiment in human beings. Churches and religious
institutions are adept at channeling this sentiment into particular belief
systems, but they do not themselves create it.
In general, the ego perceives itself as maintaining “sharp and clear lines
of demarcation” with the outside world. This distinction between inside
and outside is a crucial part of the process of psychological
development, allowing the ego to recognize a “reality” separate from
itself. After summarizing his previous research, Freud returns to the
question of “oceanic” feeling, finding it unconvincing as an explanation
of the source of religious sentiment in human beings. Instead, according
to Freud, it is a longing for paternal protection in childhood that
continues into adult life as a sustained “fear of the superior power of
Fate.”
In Future of an Illusion, Freud lamented the common man’s
preoccupation with the “enormously exalted father” embodied by God.
The idea of placating a supposedly higher being for future recompense
seems utterly infantile and absurd. The reality is, however, that masses
of men persist in this illusion for the duration of their lives. According
to Freud, men exhibit three main coping mechanisms to counter their
experience of suffering in the world: 1) deflection of pain and
disappointment (through planned distractions); 2) substitutive
satisfactions (mainly through the replacement of reality by art); 3)
intoxicating substances. Freud concludes that religion cannot be clearly
categorized within this schema.

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Freud Civilization And Its Discontents Summary

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