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Rorty, A.O. (1971-72). Some Social uses of the Forbidden. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(4):497-510.

(1971-72). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(4):497-510

Some Social uses of the Forbidden

Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, Ph.D.

Wherever there is a strong social prohibition on the expression of a drive or an activity, we may presume that there is a strong tendency, perhaps with the force of an instinctual drive, to perform that activity. It was, in fact, by noticing and analyzing the prohibitions against incest and aggression that Freud came to the view that they were innate instinctual drives whose motivating force might be redirected or transformed, but never obliterated. Freud saw that the conflicts and ambivalences that normal and neurotic people alike must face arise because they are driven by desires whose enactment is forbidden: they must then find expressions for these desires which provide both social acceptance and private satisfaction. These conflicts can never be entirely resolved; but Freud thought that if one has not been too damaged by the perils and pitfalls of one's early development, one may perhaps arrive at some workable balance between innate instinct and social prohibition.

It is characteristic of Freud to trace motivational forces of all sorts back to those primitive instinctual drives that he considered their etiological and energetic origin.17,20 This he did for the sake of completeness, simplicity and depth of explanation. In most cases, when Freud traced a particular set of desires to its origins, he found the instinctual base more plastic, more diffuse, more undifferentiated than its socialized derivate. Thus, for example, particular cases of competitive behavior, often highly specific, are traced back to generalized aggression; similarly, highly specific desires for accumulating objects are traced back through sibling rivalry and anal development to generalized libidinal drives.13,15

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