The Psychology of Aggression, Part 3

Since Freud believed that aggression is man’s natural state, it follows that such aggression can function outside of the realm of the ownership of private property.

Furthermore, since aggression, according to Freud, is innate, it comes before the idea of ownership. As Freud (1961) stated: “Aggressiveness was not created by property. It reigned almost without limit in primitive times, when property was still very scanty, and it already shows itself in the nursery almost before property had given up its primal, anal form; it forms the basis of every relation of affection and love among people…” (p. 71).

Freud continued: “It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness” (p. 72).

Historically, man’s aggressive nature has afforded him the opportunity to form communities by protecting and differentiating one group from another. For example, Freud pointed to the persecution of Jews by Christians during the inquisition of the Middle Ages, as well as the annihilation of the bourgeoisie in Russia by the Communist Party.

According to Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, people gather in groups to confront and alleviate their fear of death. The security of homogenous populations enhances individual self-esteem, which tends to buffer one’s anxiety about mortality. They suggested that this fear of death is actually what drives prejudice between groups.

Similar cultural world views, Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski suggested, are an inoculation against aggression and war. They observed that: “This awareness of death creates the potential for debilitating terror, managed through the development of cultural world views: humanly created belief systems that are shared by individuals in groups and function to minimize anxiety engendered by the awareness of death.” (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2000, p. 133)

Because cultures differentiate in their particular belief systems in relation to the afterlife, for example, people that have similar ideas gain a sense of security from one another.

Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski noted that: “The awareness of mortality is a potentially terrifying by-product of human consciousness. People manage this potential for terror through the development of culture, which confers the sense that they are valuable members of a meaningful universe. Self-esteem serves to buffer anxiety, and reminders of mortality intensify striving for self-esteem and defense of the worldview. Mortality concerns contribute to prejudice because people who are different challenge the absolute validity of one’s cultural worldview. Psychological equanimity is restored by bolstering self-worth and faith in the cultural worldview, typically by engaging in culturally valued behaviors and by venerating people who are similar to oneself and berating, converting, or annihilating those who are different.” (p. 137)

When groups of different cultural world views collide politically, religiously, or racially, they fall back on their innate aggression to annihilate those groups with differing perspectives, so as to enhance their own feelings of sameness and security. Greenberg added: “Many studies have examined the effects of mortality salience on reactions to others who support or threaten participants’ religious or political views” (as cited in Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2000, p. 135).

Even if all things were equal, and man was totally free to be his natural, sexual self, his aggression would still be a part of his natural instinct.

Equality for human beings is nowhere present in nature, and Freud (1961) noted that even “if we do away with personal rights over material wealth, there still remains prerogative in the field of sexual relationships, which is bound to become the source of the strongest dislike and the most violent hostility among men who in other respects are on equal footing.” (p. 71).


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Pinker, S. (2002) The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. New York: Penguin.

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2000). Pride and prejudice: Fear of death and

social behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 200-204.