Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents and Benedict’s Patterns of Culture were both published in the 1930s and reflect differing social theories of that volatile era. Write an essay that compares and contrasts how Freud and Benedict dealt with the following topics:
- The relationship between the individual and culture (or, in Freud’s term, “civilization”).
- What is human nature?
An overarching thesis should guide your discussion.
This task call for a close textual analysis of the works.
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Freud's Civilization and its Discontents (1929) and Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture (1934), though published around the same time, depict differing images of the interaction between an individual and his society/culture or civilization. How human nature is incorporated in the culture and whether this incorporation is harmonious or inharmonious is the question these two pieces attempt to explain. A good thesis for this comparison would then be "Compatibility between an individual and culture in light of human nature" and we can discuss whether it is harmonious or not.
Freud suggests that a culture or civilization counter-programs an individual by forcing the suppression of natural instincts. It is human nature to crave the gratification of some basic instincts and actions are governed by the pleasure principle (instincts to kill and achieve sexual gratification). However, a civilization cannot function if the individuals are allowed the expression or freedom of these instincts and thus acts as a higher body to control and suppress these desires. Thus civilization acts as a deterrent to the expressions that define human nature.
Benedict, on the other hand, through her study of various cultures, demonstrated that different cultures perceive the world differently and it is the cultural conformity that drives the actions of an individual and not only the primal instincts. She provided examples of distinct cultures where excess is the main aim, and others where skepticism drives people's lives. She also argues that much of human behavior is socially ingrained and not biologically pre-decided.
While Freud's work suggests the primitive side of human nature (biologically decided) as the main driving force of human nature, Benedict's claim is that upbringing and culture drive human nature and are more dominant than biological determinants.
Hope this helps.