Beyond positing a distinction between the conscious and the unconscious, Freud also described various psychic structures that he believed interacted with each other, mainly unconsciously. These structures were called the Id, Ego, and Superego.
The Id is the primary psychic structure and, thus, the most primitive (i.e., animalistic). The Id operates according the the pleasure principle, seeking somatic pleasure, release and gratification. In short, Freud posits a hedonic view of motivation. Similarly, many Christians describe temptation in largely hedonic terms. For example, hedonics are implicated in the very first sin:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.Also note the hedonic formulation from 1 John:
For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.According to Freud, the Id, as the primary and original psychic structure, dominates a child's motivational psychology. That is, a child only knows gratification or frustration (i.e., thwarted gratification). Consequently, Freud had a low view of childhood. Children are basically selfish and pleasure-seeking. A child's behavior is primarily regulated by the external environment through rewards and punishments. That is, the child has yet to develop a conscience. Thus, following up on Part 2 in this series, children are similar to animals in that they have yet to internalize a "knowledge of good and evil" and become neurotic. Like animals, children don't mind nudity or urinating in public. One has to remind children to put some clothes on or to close the door to the bathroom.
From a theological vantage all this looks very Augustinian and Calvinistic, a modern spin on original sin and human depravity. And I think that connection is valid.
Digging deeper, if gratification is the goal of the Id then we need to specify the exact nature of the "pleasure" being sought. Freud specified the motives of the Id by positing two drives toward gratification: Sex and aggression. Freud believed that sex and aggression were the two principle motives of human psychology.
That seems like a pretty grand claim. So I like to pause at this point and ask my students the following questions: What do you think about sex and aggression between the two fundamental impulses of human motivation? Specifically, ask yourself, how much of TV or movies or entertainment can be explained by an appeal to sex and aggression?
Take, for example, going to a Dallas Cowboys football game here in Texas. What interests us about this game? Well, there is a lot of aggression:
And there is also a lot of sex:
Now, you might counter that sex and aggression better describe male Sunday NFL psychology. But an examination of media and entertainment that targets females is also full of sex and aggression. The conflict and sex might be different in manifestation and nuance, but it's still there.
In short, Dr. Freud wasn't crazy in highlighting sex and aggression. Sex and aggression are everywhere. For example, sex and aggression are implicated at the very beginning of the Biblical story. As noted in the last post, the first symptom of the Fall of Adam and Eve was the onset of sexual self-awareness ("they realized they were naked"). The very next sin is murder, when Cain kills Abel. Sex and aggression, the first two marks of the Fall. Plus, how much sex and aggression is in the Bible overall? A lot.
Of course it would be ridiculous to reduce all of human psychology to sex and aggression. Even if we appeal to the sublimated manifestations of sex and aggression: Love and work. But I think Freud should get some credit for boldly making the claim that, despite civilized appearances, sex and aggression infuse workaday existence. And if our media and entertainments are diagnostic of what catches our fancy, attention or interest, well, Dr. Freud seems to be spot on.