Swapping Illusions

THE FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION. By Sigmund Freud (Horace Liveright.)

DOCTOR FREUD of Vienna has written another book for “tough-minded” people, that is to say, people who are willing and able to face the “bitter truth” and reshape their lives thereby. The bitter truth is this instance is concerned with the psychoanalytical discover that all religious ideas are the bunk, being fantastic attempts on the part of poor human nature to escape the pangs of reality. This would be astonishing news to millions upon millions, were they ever to hear of it. They will not, and even if they did they would scarcely be affected, for when were we of the millions ever convinced of anything by reason?

Nevertheless, the proud parent of many complexes proves that religion is doomed for the curious reason that it has been shown to be an illusion. “As he has taught us to forsake childish things (!),” writes the publisher’s blurbster, “and to become adults in our conduct (!!), so he urges us to maturity in our philosophy of the cosmos.” This seems an ambitious program.

Without a doubt, “The Future of an Illusion” is a masterpiece of rationality. It may even be a profound contribution to the literature of Twentieth century science; and “Science,” says Dr. Freud in conclusion, “is no illusion.” So the matter sems to be settled at last. Having “forsaken childish things” and “become adults,” we may now dismiss our preachers and go into the maturing business.

But here and there an occasional layman, with who knows what infantile complexes, may have a few silly questions to ask about this illusion business in general. Without questioning the obvious practical triumphs of scientific technology, and without the least intention of either defending or attacking anybody’s religion, such a person might ask, for instance, how it happens that scientific theory is so admirably adapted to flatter the dominant social psychosis? Why, in a democratic, materialistic time, do the most celebrated psychologists happen to discover exactly the sort of “truth” that agrees best with the going notions of the crowd? Have not celebrated psychologists assured us that all the older, aristocratic ideas about human nature are piffle, and that we are the brute victims of gut reactions? Are not many of us glad to hear that all men are born with exactly equal potentialities and that environment explains all excellence in others who may surpass us in ability? Are we not told, what is well calculated to please many of us in our present temper, that sex is about all that really matters in determining our attitudes? Is it not strange that, with the “emancipation” (and greatly increased buying power) of woman, our scientific theorists should suddenly begin to discover extremely flattering truths about the feminine mentality? Is it possible that there may be some relation between the scientific doctrine of universal relativity and the prevailing anarchic mood of a competitive society?

Suspicious circumstances of this sort abound in our scientific theorizing and there can be no harm in asking if, by any chance, there might be such a thing as swapping illusions as the wind of world whim veers.