Civilization and its Discontents

When we look at the relation between the process of human civilization and the development or educative process of individual human beings, we shall conclude without much hesitation that the two are very similar in nature, if not the very same process applied to different kinds of objects. The process of civilization of the human species is, of course, an abstraction of a higher order than is the development of the individual and it is therefore harder to apprehend in concrete terms, nor should we pursue analogies to an obsessional extreme; but in view of the aims of the two processes--in the one case the integration of a separate individual into a human group, and in the other case the creation of a unified group out of many individuals--we cannot be surprised at the similarity between the means employed and the resultant phenomena.

In view of its exceptional importance, we must not long postpone the mention of one feature which distinguishes between the two processes. In the development process of the individual, the program of the pleasure principle, which consists of finding the satisfaction of happiness, is retained as the main aim. Integration in, or adaptation to, a human community appears as a scarcely avoidable condition which must be fulfilled before the aim of happiness can be achieved. If it could be done without that condition, it would perhaps be preferable. To put it in other words,the development of the individual seems to us to be product of the interaction beaten two urges, the urge towards happiness, which we shall call "egoistic," and the urge towards union with others in the community, which we call "altruistic." Neither of these descriptions goes much below the surface. In the process of individual development, as we have said, the main accent falls mostly on egoistic urge (or the urge towards happiness); while the other urge, which may be describes as a cultural one,is usually content with the role of imposing restrictions. But in the process of civilization things are different. Here by far the most important thing is the aim of creating a unity out of the individual human beings. It is true that the aim of happiness is still there, but it is pushed into the background. It almost seems as if the creation of a great human community would be most successful if no attention had to be paid to the happiness of the individual. The developmental process of the individual can thus be expected to have special features of its own which are not reproduced in the process of human civilization. It is only in so far as the first of the processes has union with the community as its aim that it need coincide with the second process. Just as a planet revolves around a central body as well as rotating on its own axis, so the human individual takes part in the course of the development of mankind at the same time as he pursues his own path in life. But to our dull eyes the play of forces in the heavens seems fixed in a never-changing order; in the field of organic life we can still see how the forces contend with one another, and how the effects of the conflict are continually changing. So. also, the two urges, the one towards personal happiness and the other towards union with the other human beings must struggle with each other in every individual; and so also the two processes of individual and of cultural development must stand in hostile opposition to each other and mutually dispute the ground.