Freud can’t explain transgenderism

Hey all, this is cross-posted from substack. Not all the posts from over there are even coming here, and I think I’ll stop updating this site soon and maybe turn it into a static web page and archive. Substack is just really good, offers me a lot more opportunity to grow. My wordpress traffic has been shrinking since, like, 2015, so it’s just time to move. Sign up there to get all my posts and be ready for the switch-over!

Have been going through The Penguin Freud Reader, and I am blown away by this Freud fellow. As I posted on Notes, I feel like last week I posted This Nietzsche dude has it all figured out and now this week I’m posting This Freud guy has it all figured out! As many have noted, Freud is merely a continuation of Nietzsche. With God dead and all sources of value dissolved, the only way of continuing was to parse ourselves, our own innermost desires and drives. In other words, with human reason no longer able to provide guidance, we needed a new god: our own unconscious.

The idea of the unconscious has always struck me as a bit suspect. Thinking, as an activity, seems too tied to the conscious life. How could there be an unconscious that thinks, without us knowing its thoughts? But this was a bowdlerization of the idea of the unconscious. To Freud, the unconscious is merely the source of our thoughts, impressions, desires. In his telling, the unconscious (an idea that was deeply controversial even in his own day) is simply the part of our mind where psychic impressions are dispatched (as memories) and from which they return, when we actively remember something or when an impression occurs to us. Because it is quite true that a large part of our mental activity seems to be a conversation with something else—thoughts and memories and emotions are handed to us, even though we haven’t consciously called for them.

Freud believed there were rules to the operation of the unconscious, and that it was possible to unpick why we desired some things and not other things.

Of utmost importance to Freud was sexual development: all of our motive power was displaced libidinal energy. The sexual drive was the only truly constructive drive. The other drives, he called “the death drives”. His most interesting concept, I think, was the reality principle: the idea that our ego collects impressions from inside the mind (from the id) and from outside the mind (from reality) and attempts to impose reality upon the id whenever the id’s desires are too difficult. For Freud, this struggle to repress one’s desires was the main manifestation of the death drive.

I think Freud notes, rather astutely, that what he calls the death drive is very similar to Schopenhauer’s willing against life. Left to its own devices, the rational mind often develops a horror of life and a rejection of the self. Schopenhauer in the end concluded that the only true aim of life was to extinguish the will, to actively choose at all moments not to will, so to eventually bring the universe to a close.

Freudian interpretations of human motivations are rather out of fashion, because they’re so unfalsifiable, as Freud himself notes. [Click through to see rest of the post]

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