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An Enemy Of The People, Waiting For Godot And Civilization And Its Discontents

1469 words - 6 pages

Science and Human Values in Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents


Throughout the centuries, society has been given men ahead of their time. These men are seen in both actual history, and in fictional accounts of that history. Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, and even Freud laid the framework in their fields, with revolutionary ideas whose shockwaves are still felt today. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and so society has also possessed those how refuse to look forward, those who resisted the great thinkers in science and civilization. The advancement of science and technology is like the flick of a light switch; research may be slow and tedious, but once discoveries are made, they are not long hidden. In contrast, advancement in the ideas of ethics and human values come slowly, like the rising of the sun; there are hints at advancement for a long time before the next step is ready to be made. Because of this, science and technology takes off in leaps and bounds before human values have awakened to find society moving again.

This race between science and human values is a common theme in literature. Sigmund Freud discusses it in his essay Civilization and Its Discontents, bringing up themes later reflected in Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. In the more concrete story line of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People one finds intertwined this same conflict. It seems generally agreed that science and technology are winning in this race, at the expense of humanity. But there is less agreement as to just what to do about it, or what is needed to save humanity from its own scientific advances.

Sigmund Freud breaks the conflict and race down even farther so as not to be simply between science and human values, but ultimately between the death instinct and Eros. Civilization, sustained by technological breakthroughs, gives rise to aggression and the death instinct. This instinct opposes the desires of Eros, which bring man together in love relationships. If aggression between individuals is allowed to dominate, civilization is threatened, and so restrictions are placed on man. These restrictions destroy happiness in civilized man, who can no longer gratify his instincts. In responses, man's goal becomes attaining happiness in spite of civilization's restrictions. To this end, energy is put into art, religion, addictive habits, and scientific advancement. This scientific advancement is a double-edged sword; while it offers happiness to the individual responsible, it may serve to advance civilization and further restrict man. While Freud offers the attainment of happiness as the balance against the destructiveness of civilization's advancement, his is not an optimistic outlook. The best that can be hoped for is that Eros can keep up with the death instinct, even as love gives more opportunity for aggression.

In Beckett's...

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