Jun 21, 2017

Freud on Freedom From Delusion

Psychoanalysis Unmasks Blind Belief
And the Emotional Basis of Ignorance

Carlos Cardoso Aveline

 Freud (1856-1939) in his office

Sigmund Freud wrote about the wrong methods by which people try to avoid suffering and obtain happiness.

As soon as one’s dreams start getting destroyed by reality, there emerges a variety of possible ways to escape from the conscious perception of pain.

Spiritual delusions are one possibility. The intensive use of television and drug-addiction are two other choices. Political and religious ideologies also offer many self-delusional possibilities.

The common ground to all escapes from reality is that they postpone the unavoidable task of combining a process of self-knowledge and self-transformation with altruistic practices, and a feeling of unconditional respect for all beings.

Speaking of one’s disillusionment with the world, Freud explains:   

“The hermit turns his back on this world; he will have nothing to do with it. But one can do more than that; one can try to re-create it, try to build up another instead, from which the most unbearable features are eliminated and replaced by others corresponding to one’s own wishes.”

The founder of Psychoanalysis proceeds:

“He who in his despair and defiance sets out on this path will not as a rule get very far; reality will be too strong for him. He becomes a madman and usually finds no one to help him in carrying through his delusion. It is said, however, that each one of us behaves in some respect like the paranoiac, substituting a wish-fulfilment for some aspect of the world which is unbearable to him, and carrying this delusion through into reality.”

What if people’s unrealistic dreams about reality are shared by others?

“When a large number of people make this attempt together and try to obtain assurance of happiness and protection from suffering by a delusional transformation of reality, it acquires special significance. The religions of humanity, too, must be classified as mass-delusions of this kind. Needless to say, no one who shares a delusion recognizes it as such.” [1]

Conventional religions usually ignore the presence of a common truth in the different mystical traditions, and deny the existence of a universal wisdom that transcends sectarian forms of religiosity.

Though using different words and concepts, both Psychoanalysis and the original teachings of modern Theosophy make an effective unmasking of the superficial and authoritarian character of most conventional creeds.

Russian philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev (1874-1948) helps in the same task.  

“Ethics has not paid sufficient attention to the monstrously big part played by falsehood in man’s moral and spiritual life”, he says. “What is meant here is not the falsehood which is regarded as an expression of wickedness, but falsehood which is morally sanctioned as good. People do not believe that the good may be preserved and established without the aid of falsehood.  The good is the end, the lies are the means. (…) The religious life of mankind, and perhaps of Christendom in particular, is permeated with falsity.”

And Berdyaev goes on:

“There is a kind of falsity which is considered a moral and religious duty, and those who reject it are said to be rebels. There exist social accumulations of falsity which have become part of the established order of things.  This is connected with the essential character of moral perception and judgment - with the absence of what I call first-hand moral acts.  Conventional, as it were, socially organized falsity clusters round all social groupings, such as the family, the class, the party, the church, the nation, the state. Such conventional falsity is a means of self-preservation for these institutions; truth might lead to their break up. The conventional falsity of socially organized groups (I include among them schools of thought and ideological tendencies) deprives man of the freedom of moral perception and moral judgment.” [2]

The attitude is widely adopted in various degrees in politics and every aspect of social life.  In order to show the ridiculous violence implicit in the conventional idea of good manners, Freud quoted these ironical words by Heine:

“Mine is the most peaceable disposition. My wishes are a humble dwelling with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, milk and butter of the freshest, flowers at my windows, some fine tall trees before my door; and if the good God wants to make me completely happy, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from these trees. With my heart full of deep emotion I shall forgive them before they die all the wrong they did me in their lifetime - true, one must forgive one’s enemies, but not until they are brought to execution.” [3]

When during the 19th century the influence of materialism expanded in our civilization, Marxism became popular as a philosophy. Left-wing thinkers dreamed that human beings don’t need to purify themselves, learn some wisdom and ethics or undergo an inner transformation. They thought it was enough to “change the world” and above all “change the others”, for “when everyone thinks like us, humanity will be happy at last”.

More than one church and sect tends to nurture similar thoughts.

Well-intentioned social-liberals and left-wing citizens often think of themselves as true angels of peace. Their views have one or two fundamental points in common with classic Marxism, in that they see no need for human beings to improve themselves. The psychological diseases of selfishness, envy, hatred and aggression deserve no attention. Economic capitalism is the sole problem: all that people need in order to be eternally happy is a change in economy. 

Speaking of the left and its approach to the problem of hatred and violence, Freud says:

“The Communists believe they have found a way of delivering us from this evil. Man is whole-heartedly good and friendly to his neighbour, they say, but the system of private property has corrupted his nature. The possession of private property gives power to the individual and thence the temptation arises to ill-treat his neighbour; the man who is excluded from the possession of property is obliged to rebel in hostility against the oppressor. If private property were abolished, all valuables held in common and all allowed to share in the enjoyment of them, ill-will and enmity would disappear from among men. Since all needs would be satisfied, none would have any reason to regard another as an enemy; all would willingly undertake the work which is necessary.”

Every human being is therefore essentially an angel according to Marxism.

No need of self-reform: it is enough to eliminate the system of private property of means of production for humanity to attain the celestial heights. Western social-liberals of course reject communism. They sincerely rephrase the same idea in more modest ways, and say that all we need is better salaries everywhere.

However, Freud continues:

“I have no concern with any economic criticisms of the communistic system; I cannot enquire into whether the abolition of private property is advantageous and expedient. But I am able to recognize that psychologically it is founded on an untenable illusion. By abolishing private property one deprives the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, a strong one undoubtedly, but assuredly not the strongest. It in no way alters the individual differences in power and influence which are turned by aggressiveness to its own use, nor does it change the nature of the instinct in any way. This instinct did not arise as the result of property; it reigned almost supreme in primitive times when possessions were still extremely scanty; it shows itself already in the nursery when possessions have hardly grown out of their original anal shape; it is at the bottom of all the relations of affection and love between human beings - possibly with the single exception of that of a mother to her male child. Suppose that personal rights to material goods are done away with, there still remain prerogatives in sexual relationships, which must arouse the strongest rancour and most violent enmity among men and women who are otherwise equal. Let us suppose this were also to be removed by instituting complete liberty in sexual life so that the family, the germ-cell of culture, ceased to exist; one could not, it is true, foresee the new paths on which cultural development might then proceed, but one thing one would be bound to expect and that is that the ineffaceable feature of human nature would follow wherever it led.” [4]

It is easy to see in our century that indulgence in personal habits and the destruction or fragility of family do not pave the way to heaven and to harmony in social relations.

Yet in self-indulgence and similar matters the political Left is far from being the sole responsible for human mistakes and social decay. Politically conservative thinking suffers from its own varieties of delusion. One of them is money-worship, a religion whose priests are bankers, and which has many a politician as its employee.

A significant right-wing delusion is in the idea that poor people and millions of honest workers can be treated with disrespect, paid low salaries or kept in unemployment while the financial elite behaves in irresponsible ways. Self-indulgence in financial crimes, big and small, and deliberate falsehood in political life are familiar to both “liberals” and “conservatives” around the world.

Of course millions of decent citizens support a variety of political parties around the world, and religious organizations of all kinds.

Still the way to heaven is not in joining narrow-minded religious sects, or attempting to make the reform of the world through conventional politics, war, or social movements.

The path to celestial heights is within.

The temple is invisible. It exists in one’s soul. Living in harmony with the sky begins with understanding the neurotic mechanisms of mutual hatred and ignorance.

It is worse than useless to project onto others the responsibility for our own psychic suffering, or the duty of making us happy. A firm sense of self-reliance and the decision to keep free from the habit of blaming others are two helpful factors along the way to heaven.

Freud says that “it is always possible to unite considerable numbers of men in love towards one another, so long as there are still some [men] remaining as objects for aggressive manifestations”. 

In other words, humans are fond of using other humans as scapegoats, and such negative feelings are often mutual. In the Middle East and around the world, however, this sort of neurotic competition does not have to take place through murder, war or terror.

Once anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, Islamic terror and similar hatred-based ideologies are defeated, hopefully once and for all, there are more convenient forms of satisfaction for human aggressive tendencies.

Sports is but one of them.  

Freud once interested himself “in the peculiar fact that peoples whose territories are adjacent, and are otherwise closely related, are always at feud with and ridiculing each other, as for instance, the Spaniards and the Portuguese, the North and South Germans, the English and the Scotch, and so on.”[5]

The Psychoanalyst then added that this is a comparatively harmless way to deal with the problem of collective aggressiveness.

Freud was right, and perhaps he was prophetic. In a future that one probably ought to keep unspecified, moderate jokes and respectful ridicule hopefully will turn out to be the densest forms of conflict among human individuals and social groups.  Laughing at our own mistakes is also a healthy thing to do, and perhaps more useful than laughing at our neighbours.


[1] “Civilization and Its Discontents”, by Sigmund Freud, part II. See “The Major Works of Sigmund Freud”, Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 884 pp., 1952, p. 774.

[2] “The Destiny of Man”, Nicolas Berdyaev, Harper Torchbooks, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1960, 310 pp., see pp. 160-161. The book is available in our associated websites.

[3] “Civilization and Its Discontents”, by Sigmund Freud, part III. See “The Major Works of Sigmund Freud”, Great Books of the Western World, p. 786.

[4] “Civilization and Its Discontents”, by Sigmund Freud, part III. See “The Major Works of Sigmund Freud”, Great Books of the Western World, pp. 787-788.

[5] “Civilization and Its Discontents”, by Sigmund Freud, part III. See “The Major Works of Sigmund Freud”, p. 788.


The above text was first published on 10 April 2017 in our blog atThe Times of Israel”.


Read also in our associated websites the article “A Psychoanalysis of Religions”.


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