The concept of a person without society or culture has been a fixation amongst humanity since at least the start of our written tradition. With the first emergence of civilization in the Mesopotamia valley came the character Enkidu of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the first recorded use of this “wild man” trope in our earliest surviving example of literature.
Aristotle, in determining how society impacts man, wrote of those who are unable to live in society needing to be either beasts or gods, due to our natural inability for complete satisfaction in isolation.
Again and again, from the fate of Nebuchadnezzar II in the Book of Daniel to Golding’s fictional schoolboys descending into savagery in Lord of the Flies, this fear of a return to a primitive state resonates amongst humanity like a trauma dream.
Modern Political Implications
Due to this innate insecurity, our tendency towards collectivism as opposed to individualism is better understood. More pointedly to the discussion of modern political movements, the imagining of a complete inverse of the natural world is a relatively modern advent.
In the 20th century, a time when the world’s population exploded from 1.65 billion to 6 billion, we saw the re-conceptualization of government play out across the globe. During the rise of mass media and state-enforced collectivism, authors like Orwell and Huxley saw this expansion as the antithesis to man’s natural state – and foresaw the internal tensions created by increased linkages of society.
A Psychoanalytic expectation for the future
If 1984 and Brave New World are the nightmares stemming from the 20th century, what would Freud expect to see in the 21st century regarding this topic?
Caught in between the primal drives associated with all creatures in their natural state and the desire to remain in society, humanity as described by Freud is driven to neuroses, unhappiness, and malaise by the suppressive functions of society.
Contrasting man’s state in nature, whenever the inhibitions become too strong, or the suppressed aggressive impulses pile up, organized explosion becomes inevitable. Freud saw this non-reproduction linked aggression as “a period of general unleashing of man’s animal nature.
Researchers who refer to problematic cultures or problematic influences online have failed in their attempts to specify. All cultures, be they familiar or alien, cause a degree of stress on the individual psyche. From this psychoanalytic perspective, we would expect to see increased levels of dissatisfaction as populations grow and expand into increasingly complex pluralities. We would also expect to see a rise in what could be considered non-reproductive aggression – such as sadistic acts, self-harming, and mass shootings.
Paired with population growth, the internet further expands society’s suppressive functions, unceasingly linking an individual to the general culture. If our theory of suppressed aggressive impulses is correct, we would see a connection between usage time and violent acts.
Consequently, recent years have shown us numerous studies indicating that internet addiction predicted aggression in adolescents, irrespective of whether clinical factors were considered. An additional study found that “adolescents with (i)nternet addiction were more likely to demonstrate aggressive behavior and that various factors, including computer-mediated social interaction, exposure to media violence, and entering a deindividuated state during Internet activities, may be involved in the association between Internet addiction and aggressive behavior.”
The ever-increasing demands, ubiquity, and complexity of our modern society intrude upon the individual, creating a constant psychic tension that leads to unfavorable behaviors. As we continue to progress towards this overexposure to culture, the behaviors humanity has historically referred to as evil will be the exhaust gas billowing over our population during the futile experiment.