Perhaps you know that he wrote a book about the interpretation of dreams. But then you’ll know what they’re all about. Or at least what Freud’s were all about.
These days you won’t find too many professionals who take Freud all that seriously. Though if you look at the world around us – the nature of most advertising, the biggest-selling newspapers and magazines, the salaciousness that abounds on the internet – you might think he had a point. Sex isn’t actually everything, but it seems to be pretty dominant in the lives of most people most of the time. At least as far as so much of the media seems to believe and encourage.
And it does seem unfair to write off Freud totally as a dirty old man. The science of psychology and psychoanalysis may have moved on a long way. It’s only right that it should. But Freud was there at the beginning.
He discovered – or invented, it’s a moot point which – our modern concepts of the ego, the id, the subconscious. Ideas that still serve mind-doctors – and advertising companies, and managers, and a lot of other people – pretty well.
His book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life – the one about those Freudian slips – is still a cracking good read.
And he said this: “The psychical significance of a drive rises in proportion to its frustration.” In other words, the more you’re denied something, the more you want it.
He was talking, of course, about sexual desire, but the point holds good whatever kind of desire you apply it to. The desire, for example, for a fancy car, or a yacht, or a big house, or an exotic holiday, or a glittering jewel, or a little black dress, or a fabulous meal and a fine wine, or a publishing deal, or movie stardom, or a sports trophy, or political power.
If you get any of those things without having spent some time first in frustrated desire for them, you won’t appreciate them. If you haven’t had to work, or wait, for what you get, the getting is worthless. Or so the philosophers and psychologists continue to tell us. And I like to believe it’s true.
It makes it so much more bearable not having any of those things to think that those who have them get little pleasure out of it.
It also makes nonsense of that over-used phrase “the politics of envy”.
I don’t want a fairer, more equal society because I envy the rich. I want it because I believe it would be better – for everybody. If a few egos get repressed along the way, so much the better.
It may be an impossible dream. But it’s still a dream worth pursuing. And it’s a dream – whatever Freud might say – that has absolutely nothing to do with sex.