Freud attempted to give a psychoanalysis into the minds of people
and neurosis. In his book, Totem and Taboo
, he proposes that all
modern forms of socialization are shaped by the primitive culture
of origin. In addition to that, he states that all behaviors of
conformity spring from a common primitive form. Generally, a totem
is a symbol that is common to a group of people. Typically, members
who are of the same totem are prohibited from breeding. In this
book, Freud argues that these simplistic societies would simply
have had no way of knowing the physiological effects of incest.
Instead, Freud argues that these primitive societies are driven by
something else. Thus, Freud instigated a study into these groups
and came up with conclusions. In the book, he also has something to
say about how modern and monotheistic religions came into being.
His theories have been heavily criticized, and have been a source
of major controversies since they were first put forward. In this
light, there is a need for closer examination.
The first chapter of this book concerns the incest taboos of
primitive tribes. Specifically, Freud chose to use Aborigines of
Australia for his study. He stated that he chose them because their
culture was deeply ingrained in use of totems and were very
primitive. In this chapter, Freud insinuates that totems only exist
as a way to prevent incestuous relations. Freud notes that savage
tribes took great care to avoid incestuous relations. In some
cases, this behavior was so severe that it led to what he termed as
avoidances'. What this meant is that communities took great care so
that even walking down the same path was prohibited. In some
instances, either the man or woman would have to hide if they
encountered someone of the opposite sex on a path. For his
explanation, Freud suggests that repression of sexual desire is the
cause of such 'avoidances'. However, modern societies have advanced
and no longer have to rely on avoidances. However, Freud suggests
that even advanced societies must have at one time passed through
this stage. Freud argues that neurotic patients have regressed. In
essence, they are unable to repress the primitive incestuous
This chapter deals with the topic of emotional ambivalence and
taboo practices. In this chapter, Freud explains taboo as
something, which is prevented by society without reason. He argues
that a taboo does not spontaneously exist. At one point, the taboo
had meaning but the meaning has since been lost to time. A taboo is
seen as something dangerous and having dire consequences, yet
further investigation reveals no one knows why. It has been so for
such a long time that its original significance is no longer
traceable. Since incest and the killing of a totem animal are most
prominent taboos, Freud argues at one time, they were the most
heinous acts in that clan. In essence, Freud argues that the
original lesser males may have killed the father and taken over his
females. As a result, he argues this repressed guilt leads them to
prohibit these two activities. In order to ensure no one breaks
these rules, sever punishment, even death is handed out communally
to anyone who violates the taboo.
This chapter deals with animism and omnipotence. Essentially, this
chapter tries to explain the origin of religions. Freud postulates
that primitive societies view every object in the universe as
possessing a soul. Darwin suggests that these primitive tribes
intermingle dreams with the physical world. In essence, they try to
explain the existence of the world and how their influence on it.
Freud argues that this primitive feeling of human being having
control over everything is what leads to narcissism. Primitive
tribes believe that whatever they do has a great impact on other
objects in the universe. Freud also argues that religion is a form
of repressed incest. He postulates the idea that a god stands in
place of one's parents and become an object of expressing repressed
sexual desires. Freud argues that animism is the first stage of the
mental evolution of man. According to Freud, religion and finally
science are the second and last stages of man's evolution. Freud
argues that religion leads to a lot intolerance and oppression.
This is because it is a result of repressed sexual desires. In
Freud's view, scientific discovery could put an end to most
oppression and conflict in the human race.
This chapter is concerned with explaining the origin of totems.
Freud notes that his studies indicate that exogamy is not innate in
man. Primal man at his core has a desire for sexual relations with
close family members. However, through social conditioning, it
becomes something of a norm. This last chapter is based on the
Oedipus complex, a theory that was first proposed by Sigmund Freud.
In this theory, Freud talks about a 'primal horde'. This is thought
to be one of the earliest attempts by man to live in organized
society. In this society, a single male would own all the females,
like is seen in gorillas' societies. The rest of the males remain
exogamous by default. However, at one point they may have killed
their father and taken over his females. However, this leads to
feelings of guilt, which are displaced to a totem animal or plant.
Thus, killing a totem creature is prohibited except for various
ceremonies. In essence, what happens is that these societies feel
ambivalent towards their original father figure. By slaughtering
the ritual totem animal in groups, they are attempting to console
each other by sharing in each other's guilt.
In the last chapter, Freud argues that all cultures, no matter how
advanced originate from the Oedipus complex. He also argues it is
the basis for all religion. Although he never saw it happen, he
predicted that an end to religion would also see an end to all
forms of conflict. Although much progress has been made in various
advanced societies around the world, there still exist many hurdles
in seeing his vision become a reality.