Thursday, September 1, 2011

How Freud's "Ich Factor" got lost in translation

When Sigmund Freud invented and first wrote about the Id, the Ego, and the Super-Ego, he used the German language terms: das Es, das Ich, and das Über-Ich.  German speakers will instantly recognize the corresponding pronoun parts of speech. This point has been made before: link.

When I thought about Freud's constructs as a sketch, I discovered it had been done already (of course):


In that scheme, das Ich (Ego) encircles an inchoate Es (Id). Each individual* Ich is in turn surrounded by a larger circle, "the Environment" (super-ego).

More often, Freudian constructs are sketched as an iceberg, for example:


I like the circles sketch better. Stretching the notion, the political constructs of individuals, states, nations, and supra-national entities fit an expanded "circles of circles" diagram and also help explain my father's favorite dictum:
If people can't control themselves, the government will. If the government can't control itself, another government will.
His was not an argument for the authority of a nation versus individual states, nor was it a model for the authority of nations versus supra-national bodies. Rather, it just explained a mechanism for maintaining a semblance of order in the world. The Ich (Ego) is the most important aspect of personality because it maintains the balance between the irrational and the super-rational. The Freudian model is also a model for self-governance.
*Individual: a portmanteau word giving a sense of both (1) duality--having both "idward" and outward facets--as well as (2) indivisibility.


  1. It's worth rediscovering the obvious once and a while.

  2. "The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act. A general association takes place, and common interest produces common security."
    Thomas Paine

  3. Paine sounds like he had lots of common sense.

  4. ego (after Freud)