Homo homini lupus

Eros and Thanatos are the instincts for life and destruction respectively.  Here are two passages from Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, in which he describes our viciousness to each other and the struggle between the instinct for life and the instinct for death.

But surely we love each other!  Not according to Freud, who sees people as fundamentally aggressive who will use others for gain monetarily, materially, sexually, and will even humiliate and even kill to get what they want.

Our natural aggression comes from what Freud calls the death drive, which is one half of the fundamental forces at play  – the counterbalancing force is the life instinct Eros – in the evolution of civilization:

“The element of truth behind all this, which people are so ready to disavow, is that men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness.  As a result their neighbor is for them … someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him.  Homo homini lupus.”

― Sigmund FreudCivilization and Its Discontents

…whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind. Why this has to happen, we do not know; the work of Eros is precisely this. These collections of men are to be libidinally bound to one another. Necessity alone, the advantages of work in common, will not hold them together. But man’s natural aggressive instinct is the derivative and the main representative of the death instinct which we have found alongside of Eros and which shares world-dominion with it. And now, I think, the meaning of evolution of civilization is no longer obscure to us. It must present the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species. This struggle is what all life essentially consists of, and the evolution of civilization may therefore be simply described as the struggle for life of the human species. And it is this battle of the giants that our nurse-maids try to appease with their lullaby about Heaven.

― Sigmund FreudCivilization and Its Discontents


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