The burden of modern society

In Civilization and its social Discontents Freud proclaims that the sexual repression of society causes nervous illness: “Anyone qualified to investigate the conditioning factors of nervous illness will soon be convinced that the increase of nervous disorders in our society is due to the greater restrictions placed on sexual activity.”(p. 96). I am aware that all of this was written in the Victorian Age and that we have become better at “liberating” ourselves since then. But this does not mean that it has nothing to say in modern society. On the contrary it seems to me that more and more people are suffering from nervous illness such as depression and anxiety. Could it be coincidence that cases of depression and anxiety seems more prevalent in today’s society, if not normal, than ever before? What is going to happen when our most basic needs can no longer be provided for, because of the excessive demands of our capitalistic society – not to mention the competition with China and other countries.

It goes without saying that to gain efficiency; other drives must be repressed and channeled differently. We weren’t originally made for making Iphones and Ipods or selling shoes. But what happens when productivity becomes number one, and the individual is number two? In indigenous societies words such as “anxiety” and “depression” hardly exist. You either have the option of surviving or not surviving; everything seems to have a simple and natural order that moves slowly forward. The same cannot be said about our modern society. Everything is fast. People are rushing to work, complaining about traffic, looking forward to make up for their stressful lives buying an Iphone. Maybe they want to buy it as a present to show their love to their son, their mother or their father to make up for the time they haven’t spent together. Whatever can’t be expressed in words or actual actions, must be expressed in things.

Technology is moving rapidly forward and whoever can’t keep up with it, is going to be left behind. Is it man who controls the computer, or is it computer that controls man? Of course there is going to be a sacrifice to make our high-tech civilization tick at an ever increasing pace.  Of course certain drives will have to be repressed to keep up the efficiency. We climbed down from the trees, now we are in sky high buildings and we must build bigger ones and produce more to stay competitive on the market. You can’t build sky scrapers and have sex at the same time. It’s that simple. But of course these buildings don’t build themselves for free, so you need to  keep the money flowing, spending some of your spare time buying that new watch you don’t need, or those shoes you never wanted until you saw Bruce Willis wearing them in a movie shouting “Yippee kay- yay motherfucker” before gunning down ten people. If there is one thing we fear in a well-capitalized City, it is looking into each other’s eyes, or being a little too social. After all we wouldn’t want to engage too much with each other, when we are supposed to buy things.

What would society do, if we used our drives for their main purposes, rather than buying things we don’t need? Yes, I am saying that society is making us repress what we really want, in exchange for what society needs, and that this sacrifice, now turning to Freud, results in nervous disorders such as depression and anxiety. I don’t believe any society can function without some kind of sexual control, and I believe that most of them must have disorders such as the nervous ones I am addressing in this article. Before me, I have a book called “Sex and punishment – 4000 years of judging desire”. It is about society and its control of the human sex drive through a longer period of time. Though I have only read the reviews of it so far, I dare to say that today’s society – though more liberated – controls human desire similarly for its own benefit, and that this is not without consequence.


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