Summary of “Origins of Culture” by Sigmund Freud
“The Origins of Culture” by Sigmund Freud explains his findings on the evolutionary process in which humans become “civilized”. Freud begins saying that certain instincts are used up and replaced by a developed habit or character trait. Character traits of cleanliness and order become dominant although they are not a requirement to live, developing into an anal character trait. The development of civilization mirrors the sexual development of an individual in which other instincts are induced in place of what is required for the individual’s satisfaction. Instincts become subliminalized, forced to the background and repressed. What has created the civilized society then is the repression of strong instinct, which is what Freud also attributes the accomplishments of mankind to. Humans essentially fight their own instincts leading to a kind of cultural frustration.
Humans being social creatures discovered the value of a “fellow-worker”. Humans discovered how useful it was to work with other humans to achieve a more stable life losing their loner habits to form the habit of having families. A primitive family dynamic is established in which the man becomes permanently apart of the family. In nature the female would typically keep her young while the male would move on but when this primitive family was created he would keep his sexual objects near him. The sons of the family would succeed the father and find that working as a group could achieve more than their father, which led to them creating more restrictions on each other to keep a balance of power.
The foundation of human civilization can be attributed to two things, necessity of the satisfaction that comes with working to achieve something and love or the unwillingness to be deprived of those close to them. Civilization begins to establish means to dilute aggression in society. Laws are made outlawing aggression, which leads to humans internalizing their aggression directing it inward towards their own ego. The ego separates into a dominant portion and a subjective portion, the dominant portion becomes the “super ego” causing our sense of guilt at having not followed the rules also creating the need to punish ourselves. In a sense, civilization negates aggression making it impotent redirecting against the aggressor. The origins of guilt are fear of authority first followed by fear of the super-ego.
Cases of aggression carried out can be caused by the combination of an instinctual need gaining the strength of will to act despite the remorse imposed by the consciousness. Freud’s hypothesis states that the conscience is already in place before the dethroning of the father. As the father is succeeded by his sons, they feel the remorse from having killed their father. Overall, Civilization is caused partially by the internal erotic impulsion keeping close to others of their like while enforcing guilt that represses primal instinct.