two quotes i couldn't pass up since, well, i deal with rocks. so does poetpiet who has provided rock links, quotes, streamofrock thoughts (please provide some illuminating poeticity here piet!). secondly, investigating this train of thought leads to good meals and other hyperstitional topics (The strategy of morphologic manipulations is to elaborate an appetizingly digestible light meal that everyone can afford ... [DUST]
The superstitious attribute their successes or failures to their fidelity to a talisman or a ritual (Freud was surely right that there is a strong relationship between the behaviours of obsessional neurotics and those of the religious, or superstitious, believer; in observing a ritual, the superstitious person is effectively propiating a god). [HYPERSTITION/ SUPERSTITION]
Think part of the concrete method issue is sheer anthropology - Steven Pinker (in his IMHO brilliant 'The Blank Slate') suggests moral pontification is a natural human propensity, along with the associated tendencies to partisan organization (psychological test subjects divided into groups by coin-tossing quickly began to develop strong partisan loyalty to their 'tribe,' attributing all kinds of superior moral virues to it (over against 'the abominable tails' - i extrapolate)). Point is, we can either tolerate a degree of this human nonsense or try to stamp it out. Seems to me, best policy is tolerance without letting it get in the way of more important work. </em>[Hyperstitional Method II]
Seven Theories of Religion introduces a sequence of "classic" attempts to explain religion scientifically, presenting each in brief outline and in non-technical language. It considers first the views of E.B. Tylor and James Frazer, two Victorian pioneers in anthropology and the comparative study of religion. It explores the controversial "reductionist" approaches of Freud, Marx, and Emile Durkheim, then explains the program of their most outspoken opponent, the Romanian-American scholar Mircea Eliade. Further on, it examines certain newer methods and ideas advanced by the English ethnographer E.E. Evans-Pritchard and by the American Clifford Geertz, two of the present century's most celebrated names in fieldwork anthropology. Each chapter offers biographical background, exposition of the theory, comparative analysis, and critical assessment. Easily accessible to students in introductory religion courses, Seven Theories of Religion is an enlightening treatment of this controversial and fascinating subject.
Following the childhood pattern, religious belief projects onto the external world a God, who through his power dispels the terrors of nature, gives us comfort in the face of death, and rewards us for accepting the moral restrictions imposed by civilization. Religious belief claims that "over each one of us there watches a benevolent providence which . . . will not suffer us to become a plaything of the overmighty and pitiless forces of nature."
The best word we can use to describe such beliefs, Freud contends, is "illusion." By this he means something quite specific. An illusion for him is a belief whose main characteristic is that we very much want it to be true. My belief that I am destined for greatness would be a case in point. It could turn out someday to be true, but that is not why I hold it. I hold it because I strongly wish it to be true. An illusion is not the same as a delusion, which is something I may also want to be true but which everyone else knows is not, and perhaps never could be so. If I were to claim that I will one day be 8 feet tall (which, being now fully grown, I most certainly will not), I would be holding to a delusion. Rather shrewdly, Freud claims that he is nowhere calling belief in God as Father a delusion; in fact, he insists otherwise: "To assess the truth-value of religious doctrines does not lie within the scope of the present enquiry. It is enough for us that we have recognized them as being, in their psychological nature, illusions."
Religious teachings, therefore, are not truths revealed by God, nor are they logical conclusions based on scientifically confirmed evidence. They are, on the contrary, ideas whose main feature is that we dearly want them to be true. They are "fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind. The secret of their strength lies in the strength of those wishes."
We should notice here that, though it may be helpful for some, for Freud himself this distinction between "illusion" and "delusion" comes to very little. In his view, it hardly makes a difference which term we use, because even if they cannot be absolutely proved to be such, religious beliefs are in the end delusions; they are teachings we have no right to believe because they cannot pass the test of the scientific method, which is the only way we have of reliably telling us what is true and what is not. It is the habit of believers to draw on nothing more than personal feelings and intuitions, and these are notorious for being often mistaken. Hence, we ought never to put our trust in religion, even if its teachings can be shown to have provided certain services for humanity in the past. Freud concedes that, at times, religious beliefs may have been of some small assistance in the growth of civilization. Certainly the early totem made a contribution through its role in the denunciation of murder and incest, and later religion did its part when these and similar crimes were discouraged by presenting them as offenses deserving of punishment in Hell. But civilization is now mature and established. We would no more want to build today's society on such superstition and repression than we would want to force grown men and women to obey the rules of behavior we lay down for children.
In the earlier history of humanity, "the times of its ignorance and intellectual weakness," religion was inescapable, like an episode of neurosis that individuals pass through in their childhood. However, when there is a failure to overcome the traumas and repressions of earlier life and the neurosis persists into adulthood, then psychoanalysis knows that the personality is in disorder. The same is true for the growth of civilization. Religion that persists into the present age of human history can only be a sign of illness; to begin to leave it behind is the first signal of health. In Freud's words:
"Religion would thus be the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity; like the obsessional neuroses of children, it arose out of the Oedipus Complex, out of the relation to the father. If this view is right, it is to be supposed that a turning-away from religion is bound to occur with the fatal inevitability of a process of growth, and that we find ourselves at this very juncture in the middle of that phase of development."
...Totem and Taboo explored only one element, though it was deeply concealed, of what goes into religion. That was the two-sided feeling of both love for and fear of the father, who ruled the primeval horde. The present book, he says, explores "the other, less deeply concealed part"--the realization of adults that in the face of nature's crushing power, they will always be as weak as children and in need of a loving Father to defend them. Freud does not address the puzzling fact that while God is presented in the first book as a figure about whom human beings have very mixed emotions, in the second He is the Father who only loves--and is only loved in return. Still, whatever the motives, the result in Freud's eyes is always the same. The God whom people call upon in prayer is not a being who belongs to reality; he is an image, an illusion projected outward from the self and onto the external world out of the deep need to overcome our guilt or allay our fears.
Psychoanalytic theory has clearly demonstrated that cases of personal neurosis follow a familiar pattern. They start, often in early childhood, with a traumatic, disturbing event that is pushed out of memory for a time. There follows a period of "latency," when nothing shows; all seems normal. Then at a later point--often at the onset of puberty or in early adulthood--the irrational behavior which is the sign of neurosis suddenly makes its appearance. We find that there is a "return of the repressed." Now if these stages are indeed identifiable, Freud suggests that we can compare them with the sequences discovered in the history of Judaism. And as we do, he adds, let us recall as well the points made in the earlier books about ambivalent emotions, tribal murder, and religion as childlike desire for the figure of a father. Do they not fit with an almost uncanny accuracy? The message of monotheism spoke to the Jews' natural human longing for a divine father. The powerful personality of Moses, whom the people may even have identified with his God, recalled the imposing figure of the first father in the primeval horde. His death in a desert rebellion was more than a mere historical accident; it can be read as a reenactment of the primeval murder of the great father, an event no less traumatic for the Jews than the first murder was for the sons and brothers in the prehistoric human community. Fittingly, once the murder had been committed, the community, in an act of collective repression, sought to relieve its guilt by striving to erase the entire memory of Moses--both the monotheism and the murder--frorn community life, thus allowing the crude Yahweh religion of the second Moses to take its place. For the true Mosaic religion, this was the period of its latency, a long period when it lay submerged and almost forgotten in the communal Hebrew mind. And yet the law of neurosis is clear: Whatever is repressed must return.
AT THE BROADEST AND most general level, Freud’s nineteenth-century biologism drew its scientific authority from Darwin’s theory of natural selection. But it was by no means a purely scientific phenomenon. For one of the major cultural functions of Darwin’s evolutionary theory had been that of legitimating the nineteenth-century doctrine of inevitable progress, and making this doctrine seem as though it were merely an expression of natural laws. Although it is widely held that ‘Social Darwinism’ was based on a corrupted version of Darwin’s theories, almost all the doctrines associated with it can be traced back to Darwin himself. It is quite true that Charles Darwin once wrote, in the form of a reminder to himself, ‘Never use the words higher and lower.’ Yet, after he had written these words, Darwin himself admitted that he was in a ‘muddle’ about teleology and he repeatedly failed to heed his own most subversive principle. Instead he consistently portrayed evolution as a competitive struggle for ascendancy and he himself wrote in the closing pages of The Descent of Man, to cite but one example, of how ‘man’ had ‘risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale’ and also spoke of the possibility of ‘a still higher destiny in the future’.
That the fundamental idea which lay behind all nineteenth-century theories of evolutionary progress was a moral and religious one is perhaps indicated most clearly in some words written by Havelock Ellis: ‘It has been well said that purity – which in the last analysis is physical clearness – is the final result after which Nature is ever striving.’ It was this crypto-theological notion of evolution as an ever-upward progress away from earlier forms of animal life and towards spiritual and social perfection which came to be inseparable from the way Darwinian biology was received and interpreted.
Freud frequently expressed scepticism about the more facile manifestations of this conception of biological progress. Yet for all the pessimism with which he tempered his own philosophy, he never succeeded in escaping from the Zeitgeist of evolutionary progressivism. At the very heart of all his theorising about sexual development and human history is a passionate, culturally orthodox belief, derived ultimately from Judaeo-Christian apocalyptic, that human beings are fulfilling their historic destiny by progressively leaving behind their animal origins and developing a more rational and sublimated consciousness. To put the matter in traditional religious terms, Freud saw human history as a difficult upward progress from the realm of the flesh towards the realm of the spirit. While not sharing the optimism of those rationalists who held that future progress towards an even higher spiritual level was inevitable, his hierarchy of values never ceased to be shaped by the traditional view. He once told a patient that ‘the moral self was the conscious, the evil self was the unconscious.’ In describing the underlying aspiration of psychoanalytic treatment, he wrote the following words which have been quoted already in the Introduction:
[We] liberate sexuality through our treatment, not in order that man may from now on be dominated by sexuality, but in order to make a suppression possible – a rejection of the instincts under the guidance of a higher agency ... We try to replace the pathological process with rejection.
As these words themselves suggest, there is a constant tension in Freud’s writings between the desire to explore the animal origins of human beings, together with their instinctual heritage, and the impulse to transcend this animality. But there is never ultimately any question that the path of transcendence – or ‘sublimation’ -represents the ideal. ‘We have no other means of controlling our instinctual nature but our intelligence,’ he wrote, ‘... the psychological ideal [is] ... the primacy of the intelligence.’
... Freud’s ‘scientific’ enterprise followed almost exactly the same pattern as many earlier attempts to revive the doctrine of Original Sin. Freud, no less than Swift or Wesley, offered a view of the personality which saw human nature as radically divided against itself. The animal impulses and appetites which he located in the self were characterised in predominantly negative terms. The most obscene levels of the sexual imagination were not, according to Freud, to be affirmed or incorporated into the whole identity and liberated as part of the riches of the self. Rather they were to be intellectually acknowledged and then controlled and sublimated through the power of reason.
Freud himself was not averse to using the traditional rhetoric of Judaeo-Christian moralism in order to express this aspect of his vision. Although his attitude towards sexual ‘perversion’ was benign in comparison to that of the most repressive Victorian commentators, he continued to employ the concept and sometimes came close to endorsing conventional views, as when he compared ‘perverts’ to ‘the grotesque monsters painted by Breughel for the temptation of St Anthony’, and characterised their sexual practices as ‘abominable’. He used similar demonological imagery to describe the wishes behind dreams. These were, he once wrote, the ‘manifestations of an unbridled and ruthless egotism ... These censored wishes appear to rise up out of a positive Hell ...’ Elsewhere Freud sometimes actually employs the term ‘evil’ in order to describe the Unconscious. As we have already seen, he refers at one point to the contrast between the moral self and the ‘evil’ self – equating the latter with the Unconscious.
In A Short Account of Psychoanalysis he writes that the ‘impulses ... subjected to repression are those of selfishness and cruelty, which can be summed up in general as evil, but above all sexual wishful impulses, often of the crudest and most forbidden kind.’ In a discussion of group psychology, he suggests that the individual tends to lose his repressions when he becomes part of the mass: ‘The apparently new characteristics he then displays are in fact the manifestations of this unconscious, in which all that is evil in the human mind is contained as a predisposition’ (italics added). That Freud sees it as desirable to suppress and control this ‘evil’ part of the mind is made quite clear: ‘Our mind ...’ he writes, ‘is no peacefully self-contained unity. It is rather to be compared with a modern State in which a mob, eager for enjoyment and destruction, has to be held down forcibly by a prudent superior class.’
Freud genuinely believed that, by invoking evolutionary biology in the manner that he did, he was using science to sweep away superstition and introduce a new view of human nature. His real achievement in creating psychoanalysis, however, was to hide superstition beneath the rhetoric of reason, and by doing this succeed in reintroducing a very old view of human nature. By portraying the unconscious or the ‘id’ as a seething mass of unclean impulses, and seeing men and women as driven by dark sexual and sadistic impulses and a secret love of excrement which was associated with a compulsion to hoard money, Freud in effect recreated Swift’s Christian vision of ‘unregenerate man’ as a Yahoo. By casting his intense moral vision in an ostensibly technical form he had, it would seem, succeeded in reinventing for a modern scientific age the traditional Christian doctrine of Original Sin.
What is a totem: It is as a rule an animal (whether edible and harmless or dangerous and feared) and more rarely a plant or a natural phenomenon (such as rain or water), which stands in a peculiar relation to the whole clan.
In the first place, the totem is the common ancestor of the clan; at the same time it is their guardian spirit and helper, which sends them oracles and, if dangerous to others, recognises and spares its own children.
Conversely, the clansmen are under a sacred obligation (subject to automatic sanctions) not to kill or destroy their totem and to avoid eating its flesh (or deriving benefit from it in other ways).
The totemic character is inherent not in some individual animal or entity, but in all individuals of a given class. from time to time festivals are celebrated at which the clansmen represent or initiate the motions and attributes of their totem in ceremonial dances.
Spirits and demons, as I have shown in the last essay, are only projections of man's own emotional impulses. He turns his emotional cathexes into persons, he peoples the world with them and meets his internal mental processes again outside himself...
William Robertson Smith...put forward the hypothesis that a peculiar ceremony known as the `totem meal` had from the very first formed an integral part of the totemic system.
But why is this binding force attributed to eating and drinking together? In primitive societies there was only one kind of bond which was absolute and inviolable - that of kinship. The solidarity of such a fellowship was complete. 'A kin was a group of persons whose lives were so bound up together, in what must be called a physical unity, that they could be treated as parts of one common life ... In a case of homicide Arabian tribesmen do not say, "The blood of M. or N. has been spilt", naming the man; they say, "Our blood has been spilt". In Hebrew the phrase by which one claims kinship is "I am your bone and your flesh".' Thus kinship implies participation in a common substance. It is therefore natural that it is not merely based on the fact that a man is a part of his mother's substance, having been born of her and having been nourished by her milk, but that it can be acquired and strengthened by food which a man eats later and with which his body is renewed. If a man shared a meal with his god he was expressing a conviction that they were of one substance; and he would never share a meal with one whom he regarded as a stranger.
If, now, we bring together the psychoanalytic translation of the totem with the fact of the totem meal and with Darwin's theories of the earliest state of human society, the possibility of a deeper understanding emerges - a glimpse of a hypothesis which may seem fantastic but which offers the advantage of establishing an unsuspected correlation between groups of phenomena that have hitherto been disconnected.
There is, of course, no place for the beginnings of totemism in Darwin's primal horde. All that we find there is a violent and jealous father who keeps all the females for himself and drives away his sons as they grow up. The earliest state of society has never been an object of observation. The most primitive kind of organisation that we actually come across - and one that is in force to this day in certain tribes - consists of bands of males; these bands are composed of members with equal rights and are subject to the restrictions of the totemic system, including inheritance through the mother. Can this form of organisation have developed out of the other one? and if so along what lines?
If we call the celebration of the totem meal to our help, we shall be able to find an answer. One day the brothers who had been driven out came together, killed and devoured their father and so made an end of the patriarchal horde. United, they had the courage to do and succeed in doing what would have been impossible for them individually. (Some cultural advance, perhaps, command over some new weapon, had given them a sense of superior strength). Cannibal savages as they were, it goes without saying that they devoured their victim as well as killing him. The violent primal father had doubtless been the feared and envied model of each one of the company of brothers: and in the act of devouring him they accomplished their identification with him, and each one acquired a portion of his strength. The totem meal, which is perhaps mankind's earliest festival, would thus be a repetition and a commemoration of this memorable and criminal deed, which was the beginning of so many things - or social organisation, of moral restrictions and of religion.