Monday, March 24, 2008

Pleasure Principle versus Reality Principle

These two principles also advanced by Freud are standard and readily understandable.  Freud argues that the young baby realises early the importance of the pleasure principle.  If the little child cries and is fed quite often when it does so it begins to realise that its needs can be met, its hunger and thirst satisfied and that such leads to real pleasure and gratification.  Now, it would be great if we lived in an "ideal world" where all our needs, wants and desires were satisfied.  But such is not the real world.  Instant gratification is not the way of life.  Everything comes at a price.  The child also learns very early on that sometimes when he/she cries their needs are not met immediately.  In other words that child is beginning to learn that harsh reality is just that - harsh!  It is almost superfluous to state that Freud called this meeting with harsh reality the "reality principle."  The child now embarks upon a more balanced take on life - fine it is well and good that ones desires, needs and wants are met, but that such does not happen a lot of the time.  The young child quickly learns to balance the "pleasure principle" with the "reality principle." 

The "pleasure principle" does indeed belong to the "primary process" as described in the immediately previous post to this.  Another way of saying this is that it it is one of the energies or forces (my words) or principles (Freud's word) that belong to the world of the unconscious, to the world where the "primary process" reigns.  In his structural paradigm of the psyche he points out that most of these principles take place in an area of the mind called the id.

When I was at college in the seventies of the last century I remember my lecturers in the sociology of education pointing out a notion or concept called "delayed gratification."  This sociologist insisted that this was a characteristic of more middle class social groupings.  These people knew, for instance, the value of education (at all levels) and so saw that it was necessary to study hard and for long hours to gain good results in exams and hence gain entry into university.  More middle class social groupings can make decisions based on "delayed gratification", i.e., they will give up their part-time job so that they can study better and attain better results.  While "instant gratification", namely the part-time job with poor wages, gives a gratification in the here and now, and is mostly a characteristic exhibited by the poorer social classes.  This has long been my own experience at school.  The young adolescent boys whom I teach today come from a more working class background.  The contention of my erstwhile sociology teacher is indeed true of my "boys".  They must have gratification of their desires as soon as possible.  Obviously they have learned that they cannot have them here and now.   For the latter they have substituted "as soon as possible."  Most will not go on to university, but rather choose to get a job which will give them money which will soothe their pleasure pangs.  Those that do choose to go onto third level choose more practical courses with high employment possibilities.  They will also find a part-time job at weekends to keep them in cash.  They will also inevitably marry young and have a family of 2 or 3 children which seems the norm for them.  They will when they are 40 and when their children are reared wonder where their lives have gone and what they have "achieved" for themselves. 

I had not realised at the time how much my sociology professor or her science had borrowed from Freud.  This does not surprise me now, because of my understanding of the enormously wide influence of Freud on ideas in all areas of culture and civilization.

Now, in the growing person there will always be a tug of war between the "pleasure principle" and the "reality principle."  The latter will keep the former "real" as it were.  That is one of the things I have always appreciated about my joy as a teacher and educator of adolescent boys that they keep me their teacher "real" and will tell me in no uncertain terms when I'm "talking shite."  To those of you unacquainted with this last expletive, merely elide the final "e" from the Anglo-Saxon term and you have it!   Anyway, another way of expressing this Freudian insight is to say that the "reality principle" keeps the lid on the Pandora's Box of the "Pleasure Principle."  Can you imagine if we functioned solely on the level of the pleasure principle at all times.  We would have no capacity at all to delay gratification or estimate any consequences of our actions.  We'd have to have everything "now."  We'd ask lovely looking women to copulate with us on the spot etc.  Okay this might be an exaggeration , but the reader will get my drift.  It is interesting to note that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his wonderful Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde without knowing Freud's work.  Robert Louis died in 1894 when Freud was only 38 and had not written much of his major work.  Stevenson's book is a gripping story of the conflict between  the pleasure principle and the reality principle.  When Dr Jekyll takes his newly discovered potion he becomes Mr Hyde, a cruel, a cruel totally selfish monster, all of whose sexual and aggressive impulses are totally unrestrained.

So now we have a lot of terms to play with - many of them close terms though not fully synonymous with each other.  They do of course overlap.  Hence, we have terms like unconscious, primary process, pleasure principle and id, all of which intersect in meaning but are not fully synonymous, but each adds a high degree of colour and more characteristics to describing the less consciously known side of our human psyche.

All in all, Freud, I believe opened up the veritable mystery the human psyche is in all its highs and lows, in all its splendour and beauty on the one hand and in all its murkiness and ugliness on the other.

I have uploaded a picture of my footprints on Donabate Beach, Summer 2006.

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