Civilization and its Discontents -or- Emily Post's Etiquette

The Civilizing Process -or- The Book of Civilized Man

Many dreams sent to the International Institute for Dream Research speak of the dramatic workings of the civilizing process in which etiquette, manners and the ritualized deference system plays a central role. Who will write the history of deference, manners, and etiquette? The dream discussed later (below) illustrates the difference between our public face and our private face found in our dreams.

If Freud was interested in how the superego (also known as conscience) and public social face was installed in the human psyche, then Norbert Elias attempted to provide an answer in his work "The Civilizing Process". Nowhere can we better observe the raw anthropic (human) and social cause and effect structure of the civilizing process and civilization, than in our dreams. Elias discusses the history of manners as psychological and behavioural structures moulded by social traditions, attitudes, and institutions.

Elias work traces the European communities evolving moral and ethical sensibility, standards, norms and values regarding such knowledge, thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are subject to conscience such as bodily functions, violence, sexuality, table manners and polite forms of speech. These thoughts, feelings and behaviours are socially learned and internalized by increasing the behavioural inhibition thresholds using fear of punishment, guilt, shame and disgust, working outward from the social ritualized nucleus of etiquette to encompass the whole social order.

Elias work in itself is not new, books on manners can be traced back and found in ancient history. In the 13th century Daniel of Beccles "Book of the Civilized Man" poetically discussed many of the themes that Elias does. This psychologically introjected and internalized behavioural system of ontological inhibition and self-restraint becomes installed in the child. The psychological and behavioural process by which this is produced has also been conceptually refered to as "socialization". Socialization is carried our by a variety of role models and social institutions.

We are told, that it takes a village to raise a child. People who do not internalize or adhere via self-control to the internalized etiquette norms and community's values are considered as being deviants to the institutional social order. Deviance marks the ethical boundary of the community where the institutions of policing and social control are mobilized and sanctions are imposed to deal with the danger and threat of the deviant's behaviour to the community's formal and informal laws and social order.

Sigmund Freud argued in "Civilization and its Discontents" man's biologically driven search for freedom was in conflict with the societal demands for conformity. The biologically driven "pleasure principle" is repressed in favor of the "reality principle". It could be argued that the dream interpretation "Impulse Control -or- Paris Hilton in San Francisco" supports Freud's views. Herbert Marcuse "Eros and Civilization" would modify Freud's argument, in that he believed that the social and psychological problems with civilization was not primarily due the biological repression, instead due to cultural "surplus repression" (ie. oppression). Paolo Freire "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" has advocated for revolutionary learning of freedom that would counteract totalitarian forces of oppression. Nowhere are these totalitarian processes of oppression better seen than in Hitler's "Third Reich of Dreams" (read dream interpretation).

WE can observe the "civilizing process" of the modern "Emily Post" like etiquette and manners, or the failure there of, every night in our dreams. Civil deviance is found in domestic violence, crimes, sexuality, bodily functions, table manners and polite forms of speech are all manneristic  themes given unadulterated voice to in our dreams. The dream interpretation "Table Talk -or- Hate Speech" (read complete interpretation) illustrates and makes light of the pretentiousness of our conformity to the social graces and features a return of the surplus repressed in this dream's tragi-"comedy of manners" and ingraciation. Here is the dream;

Georjean, 34 Canadian

"We traveled up to my aunt's for my female cousin's birthday. This only took a couple of hours (real time would have taken 12 hours). We got there and all of a sudden we were where they actually live. That was strange. We went into the kitchen to put my baking there and my aunt was with us. We made small talk and cut the baking up into bite size pieces.

The next moment my boyfriend and I (been together for 5 years) were sitting at the table with some of my family (was kinda weird that my mom wasn't there, but then again my mom is not really accepted in my aunt's circle). Arnold was telling some story. He said "I told him to blow it out his ass." My aunt and uncle are very religious and these words are unacceptable in their presence. I looked at Arnold (boyfriend) and glared at him. (This is not the way he talks, he's very respectful to my family; I was mortified.) He said "It's not my fucking fault that it slips out." Again I was in awe of the language he was using.

I asked him if I could talk to him outside. We left the table. We went outside on the balcony (strange, my aunt doesn't have a balcony). We talked a bit about his language inside. He kept swearing. (He doesn't even swear much when it's just us.) I went into the house. Next thing I know I was in a bedroom with 4 different armoires. I had spilled something on my shirt and was looking for something to wear. I felt confused. Kept looking in the same armoires for something to wear. All the clothes were for someone smaller than me. I felt belittled and really upset. I was crying."

Mr Hagen's Reply; Small Talk and Table Talk -or- Face-work and the Mask of Sanity

The dream above illustrates, that dreams are an artistic and dramatic form of "interactive theatre" which allows us to teichoscopically see and break through the fourth wall, making transparent what Peter L. Berger and Thomas Lachmann called "The Social Construction of Reality". Following Jean Jacques Rousseau's ideas for the need for psychological and behavioural transparency of the workings of civil society, the psychological enterprise of the International Institute for Dream Research has always been "metafictional" (aka "romantic irony). The dream allows us to circumvent the everyday censorship, deceptions and obstructions, thereby gaining access to the truth and the everyday conceptual constructions of communication, dialogue and social reality.

In the dream, the situational stage moves from the small talk in the kitchen to a table. Table talk is a form of literary biography, which can include a vast variety of discourses including; sayings, opinions, anecdotes, chit-chat, gossip, rumor etc. Table-talk is extremely valuable in understanding the nature of formal and informal dialogue and the unpublished and secret histories of an individual and a society. Once at the table, Arnold starts swearing.

In your dream we can read; "it was kinda weird that my mom wasn't there, but then again my mom is not really accepted in my aunt's circle." It might be that the Freudian slippage of the tongue (i.e. problem of swearing) of your boyfriend may actually be words thought by your mother and/or yourself speaking to your aunt in a disguised fashion. Since she (your mother) is not welcome/accepted (she is evidently rejected/hated/humiliated/repressed?) in your aunt's circle!?

It could also be that what your boyfriend is saying is your aunt's repressed and censored feelings. Said differently, is Arnold there to speak for someone else, because they are to afraid to say anything? The psychological and emotional problems that you are experiencing have been investigated by the British psychiatrist R.D. Laing in "Politics of the Family". The cultural milieu is the narrative set of cultural conditions and determinisms of communication in/by which we live. Being, narrative and dialogue cannot be separated from the social environment in which one lives. It is the narrative milieu that determines and influences the cultural movement of the characters and not the movement of the characters that determine the milieu. A single character can, however, help to change a cultural milieu.

When pessimism sets in the dramaturgical theatre of everyday life, disillusionment is the logical outcome. Resignation, resentment, alienation, apathy, mortification and protest are the net result and become acted out "on" and/or "off" the cultural communication stage. The dream above provides access to understanding the cultural dramatic milieu and the obscene dynamics of the theatre of everyday life. If as Ferenczi says; "Dirty words as well as dreams are a true way to the unconscious.", then we can better understand the context of the IIDR dream interpretation of "Nine Dirty Words in Dreams".

What the dream also underscores is "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" in which Erving Goffman provides the reader with the dramatic imagery of everyday theatre to visualize human action and performance. Since the cultural stage is a socially constructed fiction, we find the psychodynamic concepts of the "front" and the "back" stages of the performance. In dreams we can equate this front, to our mask or "personae" (public face) and the back to our true and real thoughts and feelings. During the day our public mask wearing (front stage) is reinforced by our nightly dreams of our everyday presentation of self. However, at night when the veil of our everyday public behaviour falls away, it reveals our "real self" performing on the back stage of our dreams. Said differently, using Marcuse's concept of surplus repression discussed earlier (above), we can understand how many people live with what Ronald Laing in "The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness" called a "divided self".

Goffman's concept of of face and "face-work" are part of what goes on in our dreams almost every night. The fact that Georjean is looking for something to wear in the armoires underscores that she feels that she has "lost face", she has been psychological mortified and stigmatized (in the dream represented by the stain on her shirt) and is concerned about her appearance to the point that the situation makes her cry. We can clearly see in dreams the metafictional varieties of mask wearing and divided selves, some wear their masks well, while others wear disguising masks of sanity.





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