Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 8 - Totem and Taboo
Log 8 - Totem and Taboo

I'm Your Pusher
Kelly Malone


What's the deal with listening to a coke addict? Not only listening, but also acknowledging their ideas, which thus infiltrate our social consciousness. A poverty stricken 28 year old, known as Dr Sigmund Freud, relays from his Viennese Neurologist perspective in 1884; "I have been reading about cocaine, the essential ingredient of coca leaves, which some Indian tribes chew to enable them to resist privations and hardships." He writes to his fiancée, Martha Bernays on April 21 1884, "I am procuring some myself and will try it..."

Procure cocaine he did. Aside from encouraging Martha to try it, she states that he "pressed it on friends and colleagues, both for themselves and their patients; he gave it to his sisters. In short, looked at from the vantage point of present knowledge, he was rapidly becoming a public menace."

Well, you can't really speculate from a vantage point of present knowledge because it is just that, a point of perspective, of questionable relevance. The use of cocaine in Freud's time was borne out of a similar motivation as that of today's widespread prescription of Prozac, to ostensibly "help" people.
However, a pusher is one thing and a public menace is another. As Freud "gave away" coke both personally and professionally, how is it that he was bequeathed the title of "public menace"?

In fact, he deserves this appellation for another reason; willfully retracting his findings in order to curry favour. But rather than stating "Freud set the social consciousness of the Western world back 50 years" by disregarding his earlier findings, I will simply observe that he dissolved his earlier theory to maintain his academic standing. Ironically, if his earlier theory is taken from the "vantage point" of knowledge today, it remains remarkably accurate.

Freud replaced the theory presented in his paper "Aetiology of Hysteria" in 1896 a short time later with the Oedipus complex theory, as a result of pressure from colleagues as they reacted to the radical discovery that Freud presented in "Aetiology of Hysteria".

These reactions of disbelief did not surprise Freud; in fact he'd predicted them. But what he did not predict was that he himself would come to discount the theory in favour of his career.

Freud theorised in the "Aetiology of Hysteria" that hysterical symptoms in adults were caused by infantile seduction. He proposed the seduction theory after finding that each of his eighteen hysterical clients disclosed childhood experiences of unwanted sexual contact. As a result of treating these patients, Freud was able to make connections between infantile sexual abuse, defense mechanisms (such as amnesia), and hysteria.

In the "The Aetiology of Hysteria", Freud announced: "I therefore put forward the thesis that at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experiences, occurrences which belong to the earliest years of childhood. As I have stated, he later dropped this theory to one that suggested premature sexual experiences were more likely to be a woman's fantasy of being seduced by her father and not a real occurrence. This theory is known as "the Oedipus complex", in support of which Freud stated: "Almost all my woman patients told me that they had been seduced by their fathers. I was driven to recognise in the end that these reports were untrue and so came to understand that the hysterical symptoms are derived from phantasies and not from real occurrences... It was only later that I was able to recognise in the phantasy of being seduced by the father the expression of the typical Oedipus complex in women".

These are some of the reasons why Freud changed his mind:
If his theory was true it would force acknowledgement that child sexual abuse (CSA) is widespread.
When Freud did believe his clients about their experience of CSA he immediately suffered isolation from his colleagues.
It would avoid implicating some of his colleagues, one of whom was having a sexual relationship with another colleague's young daughter.

The public menace that Freud manifested came out of his giving up the seduction theory in favour of the Oedipus complex. Because until recently, many therapists have failed to believe the survivors' reports of sexual seduction during childhood. Survivors have frequently been told that their symptoms are the result of chemical imbalances or genetic deficiencies. With survivors' experiences being minimised or discounted by the therapists, the result is frequently that the survivor is unable to process correctly her or his trauma. Ironically, as Freud originally stated, it is only by recognising the symptoms and defense mechanisms of infantile seduction that a therapist can provide appropriate treatment to the survivor.

Temporary Taboo!
Image: Tessa Laird



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room