Technology and Morals in Isben's An Enemy of the People and Freud's Civilization and its Discontent

Technology and Morals in Isben's An Enemy of the People and Freud's Civilization and its Discontent

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Technology and Morals in Isben's An Enemy of the People and Freud's Civilization and its Discontents


As technology increases do the morals of society degrade? This is a very scientific question to ask about quite an emotional subject. A scientist would ask for a set of data correlating points of increasing technology with corresponding points of moral standards. The brutal truth is that you can't know. No one can be certain about the moral standards of a people at a certain time in the past, let alone the present. And how do you face a period of time when the technological standards and ideas actually fell in relationship from the previous time period. Did their moral standards improve? I doubt it. Arguing for the code of chivalry and the honor of knights falls apart when you look away from fairy tales, that and the fact that most of the population of Europe was peasants, anyways. But seriously, a person really can't know. The only problem technology brings forth is that people can find a more efficient way of getting what they want. Because after all, isn't that all human nature is? And morals are defined by human nature. So if one person wants to kill people, technology will aid that person in doing so. Of course there's a monetary price to that technology, so you'll be able to kill people only as efficiently as your budget constraint allows. However, it's still not that hard or expensive to buy a gun and shoot someone. What I'm leading up to is that technology does not affect the morals of a people. It affects how efficiently they can carry out their goals, not their goals directly. Of course you can say that the possibility of doing something creates a desire to do it, but is someone going to commit genocide if they don't want to kill a single person in the first place?

Technology does not affect people's morals directly: it allows people to follow their nature (to carry out their goals) more efficiently. Henry Ibsen gives the best argument for this case. In his play, An Enemy of the People, the mayor of the town, Peter Stockmann, only wants what is best for the town and his public image. His brother, Dr.

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Thomas Stockmann, cares for the health of all people, wants to prove himself right, and wants to prove his brother wrong. Dr. Stockmann was against the building of the public springs from the beginning of their creation. So he set out to prove their flaws. Peter sees an increase in the town's economy after the springs are built, and how popular they are (and make him). So Peter is determined to keep the springs in operation.

Neither character stands on solid moral ground. Peter doesn't want to start a panic, or burden the tax payers further to finance rebuilding the springs. His town is just now gaining recognition and prosperity because of the springs, and he doesn't want to destroy that prosperity (or his, for that matter). But he would rather that people be poisoned for a few years than take the consequences of admitting to the truth. Dr. Stockmann may appear to stand on high moral ground, but even though his ends are moral, the audience learns his motives might not be. The audience can relate to his want to not poison people knowingly and deems that a worthy cause of good morals. But his strong foundations are shaken, especially at the end when Morten Kiil, Dr. Stockmann's father-in-law, points out: "Millions of tons of water come down that river. How do you know the day you made you tests there wasn't something unusual about the water?" (113) This shows that Dr. Stockmann jumped to the conclusion that the water had to be the cause because the results of one day's testing showed what he wanted them to. This means that he used technology to achieve his goals which were aimed in moral directions, but his motivation was tainted. At the same time, however, it must be noted that Kill's tannery technology was poisoning the river and making people sick, which is morally wrong; whereas, Dr. Stockmann's technology showed the water was tainted and needs to be fixed, which is morally good. Peter uses the technology to gain his town fame, while poisoning visitors, which again is morally wrong. This is the clearest example in the novel of how technology can be used for either good or bad; people make that decision, not the technology.

In Sigmund Freud's, Civilization and its Discontents, Freud analyzes different reasons as to why man is unhappy. In part three his book, he discusses how man has come to still be unhappy even during his technological advance over nature. I'm not so much concerned with whether or not Freud thinks man is happy, although he does state a good point about knowledge of prior cultures of man: " It seems certain that we do not feel comfortable in our present-day civilization, but it is very difficult to form an opinion whether and in what degree men of an earlier age felt happier and what part their cultural conditions played in the matter" (41). I made a similar assessment dealing with morals-that it's impossible to know what the moral standards of man in ages past were. As I said before, I'm less concerned with the happiness of man than the morals of man, but Freud is not altogether silent on this fact.

Freud doesn't directly talk about basic moral standards as much as he talks about man's drives. Man's drives, such as sexuality and aggressively are talked about and explained in Freud's book as an inherent part of man. On page 73 he talks about how ancient man was free to enjoy his natural drives, but gave some up to enjoy some security. This shows that mankind has had the same drives since ancient days. The drives of man directly affect his goals, i.e. the (human) nature of his actions. If the basic drives of man have not changed over time, then the basic goals of man have not changed over time. That means that human nature hasn't changed, and if human nature hasn't changed, man's morals haven't either. Therefore, technology has increased, but man's morals have remained the same.

Ibsen and Freud provided two key elements: one, that man uses technology for his own goals; two, that man's drives haven't changed since ancient times. In the series I stated in the prior paragraph I linked man's drives directly to both his goals and his morals. Through the views of Ibsen and Freud, we see that technology is only used to achieve the goals man has set (not to create them), and that man's morals were in place to form those goals before the technology even existed.

Works Cited

Ibsen, Henrik. An Enemy of the People. Toronto: Dover Publications, Inc., 1999.

Freud, Sigmund, Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated and edited by James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1961.
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