Bob Schwartz

Tag: Sigmund Freud

Trump Effect: Ids Gone Wild

 

Let’s let Freud describe the id, one of the three elements of his structural model of the psyche:

It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the dreamwork and of course the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. …It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.
Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis

Along with the id, this “cauldron full of seething excitations”, the super-ego criticizes and moralizes, and the ego organizes these two into a healthy functioning identity. We are born, according to this model, all id.

We don’t say everything we think, we don’t do everything we think of doing. At least relatively  healthy, balanced people don’t, if they wish to occasionally get along with other people they might care about, or if they want to occasionally contribute to a working society.

Some people don’t seem to follow this. Children, especially young children, seem to require at least a little bit of outside guidance to help them get this. Some adults seem also to be frequently or solely driven by their gut, their instincts, their “seething excitations”.

That would describe our current president. And all those others who have been barely holding their own demons inside who now have high-level permission to let it all out. All of it.

Note: The latest racist and anti-Semitic tweet from Roseanne Barr, which just resulted in the cancellation of her hit TV show, was the impetus for this post. It was only the latest in a long series of outrageous tweets from Barr, a big fan of Trump. And only one of many expressions of uncontrolled indecency we are daily experiencing, but should never get used to.

Freud and Freund

Sigmund Freud

Some dreams are literal or nearly so. Sometimes riding a roller coast is just riding a roller coaster. Some dreams, if you take a symbolic and analytical approach, mean more and say more than the action they depict. That roller coaster might be the story of your day or your life.

The rarest kind are wholly, or at least momentarily, conceptual and intellectual. That is, they are like reading a text or listening to a lecture, wherein an item is dictated or a point is announced.

Last night, a dream asked me to play a word game, to relate two words. It wasn’t quite a request, it was more like a reveal, as in “Look, don’t you see?”

The words were Freud and Freund (the German word for friend). I did not take this to mean that Freud is my friend. I took it to mean that analysis and investigation, which Freud is famous or infamous for, is/can be/may be near the heart of friendship. Friends may not want this or like this, we may not want to do this or complicate the joyful simplicity of a relationship, but it does happen.

Of course, Freud might find the dream and my interpretation of it…interesting. He might expect me to delve more deeply into why he made it into the dream at all, even if only as a name, and why in my dream I was playing word games instead of, say, riding a roller coaster or something equally thrilling. But then, I might ask him, as my freund, to kindly shut up and let me get back to sleep.

Passover and Freud

Moses and the Ten Commandments

What does Freud want? He might not want people attending a Passover seder, offering prayers to a God who isn’t there. But things are not that simple.

Sigmund Freud was a Jew by birth, an atheist by belief. He abstracted and analyzed religion as a powerful manifestation of powerful forces at work. But near the end of his career, he considered whether there was something in God that was more than a mere reflection of psychic need and dynamics.

In his final book, Moses and Monotheism, he suggests that while there is no God, the positing of one had forced the Jews—and all who followed on that spiritual path—to think and act differently. The gift of the idea of God was the imperative to transcend instinct and old ways, to make new and positive sense of the insensible, and to act accordingly.

Those in the Jewish communities will retell some version of the Moses story this Passover. But only some of those will have completely read the biblical account in the Book of Exodus. Even fewer will have looked beyond the popular stories to see what generations of historians and commentators have to offer.

One of those who does have something to offer is Freud. In Moses and Monotheism, he made a jump, if not a giant leap. Here is part of what Freud wrote (emphasis added):

How we who have little belief envy those who are convinced of the existence of a Supreme Power, for whom the world holds no problems because He Himself has created all its institutions!…We can only regret it if certain experiences of life and observations of nature have made it impossible to accept the hypothesis of such a Supreme Being. As if the world had not enough problems, we are confronted with the task of finding out how those who have faith in a Divine Being could have acquired it, and whence this belief derives the enormous power that enables it to overwhelm Reason and Science.

. . .

Let us return to the more modest problem that has occupied us so far. We set out to explain whence comes the peculiar character of the Jewish people which in all probability is what has enabled that people to survive until today. We found that the man Moses created their character by giving to them a religion which heightened their self-confidence to such a degree that they believed themselves to be superior to all other peoples. They survived by keeping aloof from the others. Admixture of blood made little difference, since what kept them together was something ideal the possession they had in common of certain intellectual and emotional values. The Mosaic religion had this effect because (1) it allowed the people to share in the grandeur of its new conception of God, (2) because it maintained that the people had been “chosen” by this great God and was destined to enjoy the proofs of his special favor, and (3) because it forced upon the people a progress in spirituality which, significant enough in itself, further opened the way to respect for intellectual work and to further instinctual renunciations.

. . .

In a new transport of moral asceticism the Jews imposed on themselves constantly increasing instinctual renunciation, and thereby reached at least in doctrine and precepts ethical heights that had remained inaccessible to the other peoples of antiquity. Many Jews regard these aspirations as the second main characteristic, and the second great achievement, of their religion….

It was this “respect for intellectual work” that Freud so appreciated. Freud may have seen himself as a sort of Moses, leading civilization from benighted antiquity to a new light and new heights. Just as religious innovation led Jews from the old ways to a new land, so he and psychoanalysis would lead to even further self-awareness and progress—without God, of course.

Whether or not you believe in God, Moses, or Freud, whether or not you will be sitting at a seder table this Passover, it can be a good time to consider old ways in a new light. According to Freud, the gifts of Moses are the tools to renounce instincts and move beyond mere legacy. If we are trapped as man or mankind, psychoanalysis and, yes, even a certain religious perspective might be able to liberate us.

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is one of the most popular movies in America right now. Even with the film’s creative liberties, many of the faithful take the movie as cinematic validation of a biblical tale, just as The Ten Commandments was for an earlier generation. But some others of the faithful are bothered, as they should be, by a sense that there is something subversive going on.

Of course there is. Any retelling of our received stories can be subversive, if we are willing to investigate and recreate. In the passage above, Freud could not be clearer that for him the conventional belief in God stands in the way of reason and science. But he then begrudgingly admits that in the right circumstances, some good may and has come from it.

Do Republicans Have A Death Wish?

Sigmund Freud
In the first episode of Mad Men, psychologist Dr. Greta Guttman explains how the health dangers of cigarettes might be used to the advertiser’s advantage:

“I believe my most recent surveys have provided a solution. We can still suggest that cigarettes are “part of American life,” or “Too good to give up,” and most appealing “an assertion of independence”….Before the war, when I studied with Adler in Vienna, we postulated that what Freud called “the Death Wish” is as powerful a drive as those for sexual reproduction and physical sustenance.”

Even though this seems preposterous, account executive Pete Campbell tries it out later at a client meeting:

“At Sterling Cooper, we’ve been pioneering the burgeoning field of research. And our analysis shows that the health risks associated with your products is not the end of the world. People get in their cars everyday to go to work, and some of them die. Cars are dangerous. There’s nothing you can do about it. You still have to get where you’re going. Cigarettes are exactly the same. Why don’t we simply say, “So what if cigarettes are dangerous?” You’re a man. The world is dangerous. Smoke your cigarette—You still have to get where you’re going.”

To which the patriarch of the tobacco company replies:

“Is that your slogan? “You’re going to die anyway. Die with us.””

The Republican Party does not, as far as we know, have a psychoanalyst. And Freud’s so-called “death drive” remains one of his most controversial principles.

But there is no question that individuals and institutions exhibit behavior that surpasses our understanding of what is rational and adaptive. From the outside, it looks like a path that leads nowhere good. Sometimes it is our own shortcoming in not being able to see the complex and sophisticated strategy underneath. Sometimes people are too clever for their own good. And sometimes, there is no conclusion left other than a Freudian one, that there is an instinct not just to fail or epic fail, but to go all the way down. “You’re going to die anyway. Die with us.”