Civilization and Its Discontents

The following is an excerpt from Freud’s, Civilization and Its Discontents:

“During the last few generations mankind has made an extraordinary advance in the natural sciences and in their technical application and has established his control over nature in a way never before imagined. […] they seemed to have observed that this newly won power over space and time, this subjugation of the forces of nature, which is the fulfillment of a longing that goes back thousands of years, has not increased the amount of pleasurable satisfaction which they may expect from life and has not made them feel happier.  From the recognition of this fact we ought to be content to conclude that power over nature is not the only precondition of human happiness, just as it not the only goal of cultural endeavour; we ought not to infer form it that technical progress is without value for the economics of our happiness” (Freud 40)

Well, I guess Freud says it best – there is a desire for a power over nature so great that, while it is not the only way for humans to be happy, it’s a considerable part of it.

This kind of control which man has discovered he can have over nature creates a “pleasurable satisfaction”.  This kind of satisfaction, according to Freud, is necessary for human happiness through the domination or to have power over space, time and forces of nature. Power over nature is a considerable building block to the foundation of our human pleasure and contentedness. This kind of control has escalated from advances in natural sciences made fifty years ago, and the ones we have made in the last five. The power that human civilization searches for becomes exponentially greater as our society takes steps toward considerably more dangerous advances in the natural sciences, advances which threaten human life yet paradoxically bring satisfaction in having this kind of power. If we are to examine this quote by replacing “nature” with the word “woman” we can see how similar Freud’s observations about human nature’s ambitions to dominate nature, and man’s ambitions to dominate woman. Although man’s ultimately happiness is not determined solely by control of the other or unknown, there is a power dynamic to this control which satisfies a particular craving for power.


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