What Freud, Marx, and Darwin Got Wrong

Michael sits on the rug before us, reading something he has just prepared to conclude our class this evening:

“Freud said we’re products of our parents

Marx said we’re products of our culture

Darwin said we’re products of our biology.

Replace “products” with “victims”

He has said many things tonight that resonated with me. For example — I spoke of the chaos of my day, of falling into a “disintegration cycle”… twice he stops me to say: you’re dealing with intangibles. I’m confused: isn’t my war with my ego — or the bucking of my body — just as “tangible” as “joe’s Boss?”

I remember then a great truth…. “Replace ‘products’ with ‘victims'”

There is a wonderful poem by William Ernest Henley:


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

It’s hard to think about this poem without thinking about the Sikh Martyrs….

In a previous class Michael says to me: some people’s physics is other people’s metaphysics. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says we are “too drunk on sleep to understand / how far the unknown transcends the what-we-know.” And yet, the irony is that we can often trust the rigor of one scientific study over the rigor of thousands of years of human experience…. I suppose you can only just sigh and say: faith is fickle, friend.

So what did Freud, Marx, and Darwin get wrong?

We are not victims. We were NEVER victims… and to treat people like victims is to pity them — and pitying them leaves them powerless.

You see, perhaps each of these thinkers all spotted the same phenomena: “man is born free but everywhere he is chains” (as Rousseau puts it).. however, instead of realizing that there are no chains — they created them.

What do I mean by this?

Darwinism has led to the advent of biological determinism. A joke in and of itself. We are NOT victim of our biology — any more than we are victims of our psychology. The sheer fact of seppuku (samurai suicide) disproves it: how could there be a triumph of the will if biology was the ultimate determinant? Of course, this isn’t a very strong argument — since we can find evidence to support anything we believe… however, with the rise of Epigenetics it seems clear to me that strict darwinian determinism will prove to be a fad. As the work of my friend Wendy Wood attempts to show, to David Buss’s chagrin: perhaps the whole field of evolutionary psychology started off on the wrong foot… maybe we are not WIRED TO BE something but rather WIRED TO ADAPT… It would make sense wouldn’t it?

Marx thought he could out-smart the system. Serious students may claim he was “not utopian”… but perhaps they miss the major point: he was attempting to solve the unsolvable. You cannot FORCE people to wake up. I have met sweet and sour people from all walks of life. Economics explains a lot… but I don’t think eliminating capital will solve the core issues of human nature — NOT that we are naturally aggressive or greedy or compassionate — but rather that we are naturally myopic. Look: I’ve been working MY WHOLE LIFE to be more conscious — and it’s still an effort… just like it’s an effort to breathe, eat, and grow. Entropy is the only truth here… and its true under all conditions — no matter how good or how bad they are. Just like God tells Abraham he must “go into himself” in order to get to Israel — so too, the greatest journey is always inward… never outward. I’m not saying we should ignore the material paucity of the underprivileged (especially in respect to the gross advantage of the bourgeoisie). What I am saying is that things are probably a HELL of a lot BETTER than they were during the Pleistocene — all across the board. Which isn’t to say things are “ideal” it’s just to say we are creatures of RELATIVE advantage, not ABSOLUTE advantage… and there’s no amount of ABSOLUTE change that can cure this fact except the substantial change that occurs when one realizes it for his or her self.

Freud held that the past held the key to our future. That our neuroses stemmed from our past. That by gaining “insight” into our past we could miraculously “cure” our dis-ease…. only, unfortunately, this isn’t true. There was a meta-analysis I read once that concluded that the research on Psychoanalysis was that it ended up making people WORSE instead of BETTER!… Now, I’m not claiming that there isn’t some REAL JUICE in Freud’s work — in fact, I think the man was a genius! — however, I do know that much of the work I see people doing with Freudian Psychoanalysis is fairly superficial, at least I have not witnessed any significant shifts or magnificent, actualizing epiphanies  It’s mostly just mental masturbation: it feels good but accomplishes little. “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it” (Swindoll)


Ultimately, as Michael said before I left: LOOK at the past… just don’t stare at it….


Alex says, “the soul exceeds the circumstance” right before we end…


and, ultimately, as Nietzsche says, ‘we should treat deep ideas like cold bathes: quickly in and quickly out!’