The Art of Avoiding History, by Peter Staudenmaier

This is a broad, catch-all category of works that fit best here and not elsewhere. If you haven't found it someplace else, you might want to look here.

Re: The Art of Avoiding History, by Peter Staudenmaier

Postby admin » Sun Feb 11, 2018 4:17 am

A Picture of Earth-Evolution in the Future
by Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, May 13th, 1921
Copyright © 1960



A lecture delivered in Dornach, on May 13th 1921. Authorized translation from the German of Notes unrevised by the lecturer. Published by kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

Also known as: A Picture of the Earth's Future Development Lecture 14 of 17 from the lecture series: Perspectives on Humanity's Development. Published in German as: Perspektiven der Menschheitsentwickelung. Der materialistische Erkenntnisimpuls und die Aufgabe der Anthroposophie. Der Mensch in seinem Zusammenhang mit der Kosmos. GA# 204.

This is a time when a great deal of attention, ranging from serious science to science-fiction, is being devoted to “outer space.” There is speculation on various levels about visitants from other worlds. Behind it all there may be an instinctive feeling — true in itself though often distorted in expression — that the apparent isolation of man on earth is not final; that man is not alone in the universe. We are therefore reprinting here a lecture (first published in English in the quarterly, “Anthroposophy,” for Easter, 1933, and long out of print) in which Rudolf Steiner spoke, briefly and enigmatically, of the need to recognise and welcome certain beings, “not of the human order,” who since the seventies of the last century have been descending from cosmic spheres into the realm of earth-existence, bringing with them “the substance and content of Spiritual Science.” — The Editors.

THE lectures I have given recently on the nature of colours [Three lectures on Das Wesen der Farben, given at Dornach on May 6 – 8, 1921. Published in English as a book entitled “Colour” (new edition in preparation).] may have helped to show you that we can begin to understand man in his real being only when we relate him to the whole universe. If we ask: What is man in his true nature? — then we must learn to look upwards from the Earth to what is beyond the Earth. This is a capacity of which our own time particularly stands in need. The human intellect has become more and more shadowy, and as a result of the developments which took place in the nineteenth century, it is no longer rooted in reality.

This unmistakably indicates that it is high time for man to discover how he can receive new impulses into his life of soul, and we will turn our attention today to certain great cosmic events with which we are already familiar from other points of view.

Most of you will have read the book An Outline of Occult Science, and will have realised that one of the great events in earthly evolution was the separation of the moon from the earth. The moon as we see today, shining towards us from cosmic space, was once united with the earth. It then separated from the earth and now circles around it as its satellite. We know what incisive changes in the whole sweep of evolution are connected with this separation of the moon from the earth. We must go far back in time, before the Atlantean deluge, to find the epoch when the moon departed from the body of the earth.

Today we will confine our attention to what came to pass on earth in connection with the being of man, and with the kingdoms of Nature around him, as a consequence of the separation of the moon from the earth. From the lectures on colours we have learnt that minerals — that is to say, the coloured mineral substances — actually derive their different hues from this relationship of the moon to the earth. Recognition of this fact enables us to make these cosmic events part of an artistic conception of existence. But other matters of the greatest significance come into consideration here. Man's being is the product of preceding metamorphoses of earth-existence — namely, the Saturn, Sun and Moon periods of evolution, during which no mineral kingdom existed. The mineral kingdom as we know it today came into being for the first time during the Earth period. Mineral substance, therefore, became part of man's being only during this Earth period. During the stages of Saturn, old Sun and old Moon, man had nothing mineral within him at all. Nor was his constitution adapted for existence upon the earth. By his very nature he was a being of the cosmos. Before the separation of the moon, and before the mineral substances with their many colours came into being, man was not adapted for earthly existence.

Let me put it in this way. It was a very real question for the Spiritual Beings who guide earthly evolution as to what must happen to man. Should he be sent down to the earth or be left to pass his existence in a realm beyond the earth? It can be said with truth that the separation of the moon, with the consequent changes in the earth and in the being of man, was the outcome of a decision on the part of the Spiritual Beings who guide and direct the evolution of humanity. It was because this coarse moon-substance was sent out of the earth that man's organism developed in such a way as to make it possible for him to become an earthly being. Through this event — through the separation of the moon and the incorporation of the mineral kingdom into the earth — man has become an earthly being, existing in the sphere of earthly gravity. Without earthly gravity, he could never have become a being capable of freedom. Before the separation of the moon he was not, in the real sense a personality. He was able to become a personality because of the concentration of the forces that were to build his body. And this concentration of forces was the result of the separation of the moon and the incorporation of the mineral kingdom into earthly existence. Man became a personality, and freedom was henceforward placed within his reach.

The evolution of man upon the earth since the separation of the moon has proceeded through many different stages. And we may say that if nothing else had happened except this departure of the moon from the earth, it would still have been possible for man to draw out of his organism, out of his body and soul, pictures such as arose in ancient, clairvoyant vision. Nor was man deprived of this faculty by the separation of the moon. He still envisaged the world in pictures, and if nothing else had happened, he would be living in a world of pictures to this day. But evolution went on. Man did not remain fettered to the earth. He received an impulse for evolution in the other direction — an impulse which actually reached its climax in the nineteenth century.

Even when long ages ago the human being, as ‘metabolic man,’ became subject to the force of earthly gravity, he was adapted as ‘head man’ for a cosmic existence. In effect, the intellect began to evolve. The old clairvoyant pictures densified into the forms of intellectual consciousness, as it was until the epoch of the fourth century after Christ. It was then for the first time that the human intellect began to grow shadowy. This process has been increasingly rapid since the fifteenth century, and today, although the intellect is an altogether spiritual faculty in man, its existence is not rooted in reality. It has only a picture-existence. When the man of today thinks merely with his intellect and faculty of reason, his thoughts are not rooted in reality at all. More and more they move about in a shadowy existence which reached its climax during the nineteenth century. And today man is altogether devoid of the sense for reality. He lives within a spiritual element, but is at the same time a materialist. His thoughts — which are spiritual but yet merely shadow-thoughts — are directed entirely to material existence.

Thus the second great process or event was that man became more spiritual. But the spiritual substance once derived from matter no longer ensouls him. His nature has become more spiritual, but with his spiritual faculties he thinks only about material existence.

You know that the moon will one day reunite with the earth. By the astronomers and geologists, who live in a world of abstractions, this reunion of the moon with the earth is placed thousands and thousands of years ahead. But this is mere illusion. In reality it is by no means so very far distant. Humanity as such is becoming younger and younger. Human beings are coming to a point when their development of body and soul will proceed only up to a certain age in life. At the time of the death of Christ, of the Event of Golgotha, human beings in general were capable of development in body and in soul until the 33rd year of life. Today this development is possible until the 27th year. In the fourth millennium a time will come when men will be capable of development only until the 21st year. In the seventh millennium the bodily nature will be capable of development only until the 14th year of life. Women will then become barren. An entirely different form of earthly life will ensue. This is the epoch when the moon will again approach the earth and become part of it.

It is high time for man to turn his attention to such mighty events of the realm of existence beyond the earth. He must not go on dreaming, vaguely and in the abstract, of some form of Divinity, but he must begin to be alive to the great happenings that are connected with his evolution. He must know what it means to say that the moon once left the earth and will enter the earth again.

Just as the separation of the moon was a decisive event, so too will be its re-entry. It is true that as human beings we shall still be inhabiting the earth, although birth will no longer take place in the ordinary way. We shall be connected with the earth by other means than through birth. We shall, however, have evolved in a certain respect by that time. And we must learn to connect what is happening today — I mean the fact that the intellect is becoming more and more shadowy — with what will one day be a great event in earthly evolution — the re-entry of the moon into the substance of the earth.

If the intellect continues to become even more spectral than it is already, if men never resolve to receive into their being what can now flow to them from spiritual worlds, then they will inevitably be absorbed into the shadowy grey-ness of their intellectual life.

What is this shadowy intellect? It cannot understand the real nature and being of man. The mineral world is the only realm which the shadowy human intellect is to a certain degree capable of understanding. Even the life of the plant remains enigmatical; still more so the life of the animal; while human life is altogether beyond the grasp of the mind. And so man goes on his way, evolving pictures of existence which in reality are nothing but a great world-question. His intellect cannot begin to grasp the real nature of plant or animal, and least of all that of the human being. This state of things will continue if man fails to listen to what is being given to him in the form of new Imaginations, in which cosmic existence is pictured to him. The living wisdom that Spiritual Science is able to impart must be received into his shadowy, intellectual concepts and thoughts, for only so can the shadow-pictures of the intellect be quickened to life.

This quickening to life of the shadow-pictures of the intellect is not only a human but a cosmic event. You will remember the passage in the book Occult Science dealing with the time when the human souls ascended to the planets and afterwards descended once more to earth-existence. I spoke of how the Mars-men, the Jupiter-men and the others descended again to earth. Now an event of great significance came to pass at the end of the seventies of last century. It is an event that can be described only in the light of facts which are revealed to us in the spiritual world. Whereas in the days of old Atlantis human beings came down to the earth from Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and so on — that is to say, beings of soul were drawn into the realm of earth-existence — since the end of the seventies of last century, other Beings — not of the human order — have been descending to the earth for the purposes of their further development. From cosmic realms beyond the earth they come down to the earth and enter into a definite relationship with human beings. Since the eighties of the nineteenth century, super-earthly Beings have been seeking to enter the sphere of earth-existence. Just as the Vulcan-men were the last to come down to the earth so now Vulcan Beings are actually coming into the realm of earthly existence. Super-earthly Beings are already here, and the fact that we are able to have a connected body of Spiritual Science at all today is due to the circumstance that Beings from beyond the earth are bringing the messages from the spiritual world down into earth-existence.

But, speaking generally, what is the attitude adopted by the human race? The human race is behaving, if I may put it so very shabbily to these Beings who are appearing from the cosmos and coming down — slowly and by degrees, it is true — to the earth. The human race does not concern itself with them; it ignores their existence. And it is this which will plunge the earth into tragic conditions, for in the course of the next centuries more and more Spiritual Beings will be among us — Beings whose language we ought to understand. And this is possible only if we try to grasp what comes from them: namely, the substance and content of Spiritual Science. They want to give it to us and they want us to act in the sense of Spiritual Science. Their desire is that Spiritual Science shall be translated into social behaviour and action on the earth.

I repeat, then, that since the last third of the nineteenth century Spiritual Beings from the cosmos have been coming into our own sphere of existence. Their home is the sphere lying between the moon and Mercury, but they are already pressing forward into the realm of earth-existence and seeking to gain a foothold there. And they will be able to find it if human beings are imbued with the thought of their existence. This can also be expressed as I expressed it just now, by saying that our shadowy intellect must be quickened to life by the pictures of Spiritual Science. We are speaking of concrete fact when we say: Spiritual Beings are seeking to come down into earth-existence and ought to be willingly received. Catastrophe after catastrophe must ensue, and earthly life will fall at length into social chaos, if opposition is maintained in human existence to the advent of these Beings. They desire nothing else than to be the advance-guards of what will happen to earth-existence when the moon is once again united with the earth.

Today people may consider it comparatively harmless to elaborate only those automatic, lifeless thoughts which arise in connection with the mineral world and the mineral nature of plant, animal and man. Materialists revel in such thoughts which are — well — thoughts and nothing more. But try to imagine what will happen if men go on unfolding no other kinds of thoughts until the time is reached in the eighth millennium for the moon-existence to unite again with the earth. These Beings of whom I have spoken will gradually come down to the earth. Vulcan Beings, ‘Supermen’ of Vulcan, ‘Supermen’ of Venus, of Mercury, of the Sun, will unite with this earth-existence. But if human beings persist in nothing but opposition to them, earth-existence will pass over into chaos in the course of the next few thousand years.

It will be quite possible for the men of earth, if they so wish, to develop a more and more automatic form of intellect — but that can also happen amid conditions of barbarism. Full and complete manhood, however, cannot come to expression in such a form of intellect, and men will have no relationship to the Beings who would fain come towards them in earth-existence. And all those Beings of whom men have such an erroneous conception because the shadowy intellect can only grasp the mineral nature, the crudely material nature in the minerals, plants and animals, nay even in the human kingdom itself — all these thoughts which have no reality will in a trice become substantial realities when the moon unites again with the earth. And from the earth there will spring forth a terrible brood of beings, a brood of automata of an order of existence lying between the mineral and the plant kingdoms, and possessed of an overwhelming power of intellect.

This swarm will seize upon the earth, will spread over the earth like a network of ghastly, spider-like creatures, of an order lower than that of plant-existence, but possessed of overpowering wisdom. These spidery creatures will be all interlocked with one another, and in their outward movements they will imitate the thoughts that men have spun out of the shadowy intellect that has not allowed itself to be quickened by the new form of Imaginative Knowledge by Spiritual Science. All the thoughts that lack substance and reality will then be endowed with being.

The earth will be surrounded — as it is now with air and as it sometimes is with swarms of locusts — with a brood of terrible spider-like creatures, half-mineral, half-plant, interweaving with masterly intelligence, it is true, but with intensely evil intent. And in so far as man has not allowed his shadowy intellectual concepts to be quickened to life, his existence will be united not with the Beings who have been trying to descend since the last third of the nineteenth century, but with this ghastly brood of half-mineral, half-plantlike creatures. He will have to live together with these spider-like creatures and to continue his cosmic existence within the order of evolution into which this brood will then enter.

This is a destiny that is very emphatically part of human evolution upon the earth, and it is quite well known today by many of those who try to hold humanity back from the knowledge of Spiritual Science. For there are men who are actually conscious allies of this process of the entanglement of earth-existence. We must no longer allow ourselves to be shocked by descriptions of this kind. Such facts are the background of what is often said today by people who out of old traditions still have some consciousness of these things and who then see fit to surround them with a veil of mystery. But it is not right any longer for the process of the earthly evolution of humanity to be veiled in mystery. However great the resistance, these things must be said, for, as I constantly repeat, the acceptance or rejection of spiritual-scientific knowledge is a grave matter for all mankind.

I have been speaking today of a matter upon which we cannot form a lukewarm judgment, for it is part and parcel of the very texture of cosmic existence. The issue at stake is whether human beings will resolve in the present epoch to make themselves worthy to receive what the good Spirits who want to unite with men are bringing down from the cosmos, or whether men intend to seek their future cosmic existence within the tangled, spider-brood of their own shadowy thoughts. It is not enough today to speak in abstract terms of the need for Spiritual Science. The only thing to do is actually to show how thoughts become realities. Dreadfully abstract theories are hurled at men today, such, for example, as “Thoughts become things,” or similar phrases. Abstract statements of this kind altogether fail to convey the full and concrete reality. And the concrete reality is that the intellectual thoughts evolved inwardly by men today will in time to come creep over the earth like a spider's web wherein human beings will be enmeshed, if they will not reach out to a world lying beyond and above their shadowy thoughts and concepts.

We must learn to take in deepest earnestness such matters as were indicated at the conclusion of my lectures on the nature of colours, when I said that the science of colour must be lifted out of the realm of abstract physics into a region where the creative fantasy and feeling of the artist who understands the real nature of colour go hand-in-hand with a perception of the world illumined by Spiritual Science. We have seen how the nature of colour can be understood, how that which modern physics, with its unimaginative charts, casts down into the Ahrimanic world, can be lifted into the sphere of art, so that there can be established a theory of colours — remote, it is true, from the tenets of modern science, but able to provide a true foundation for artistic creation, if man will only receive it into his being.

And there is another thought, too, that must be taken very seriously. What do we find today all over the civilised world? Young students go into the hospitals or to universities to study science, and the constitution of the human being is explained to them. By studying the corpse they learn about the bones and the rest of the organism. By a series of abstract thoughts they are supposed to be able to acquaint themselves with the nature of man's being. But in this way it is only possible to learn something about the mineral part of the human organism. With this kind of science we can only learn about the part of man's being which has a significance from the time of the separation of the moon until its return, when the shadowy thoughts of modern times will become spidery creatures having a concrete existence.

A form of knowledge must develop which produces quite a different conception of the being of man, and it can be developed only by raising science to the level of artistic perception. We shall realise then that science as it is today is capable of grasping only the mineral nature, whether in the mineral kingdom itself or in the kingdoms of plant, animal and man. Even when applied to the plant kingdom, science must become a form of art, and still more so in the case of the animal kingdom. To think that the form and structure of an animal can be understood by the means employed by anatomists and physiologists is nonsense. And so long as we fail to realise that it is nonsense, the shadowy intellect cannot be transformed into a living, spiritual comprehension of the world. What is taught to young students today in so abstract a form in the universities must be transformed and must lead to a really artistic conception of the world. For the world of Nature itself creates as an artist. And until we realise that Nature is a world of creative art which can be understood only through artistic feeling, no healing will come into our picture of the world.

In the torture-chambers of mediaeval castles, people were shut into what was called the ‘iron virgin,’ where they were slowly spiked with iron teeth. This was a physical and more tangible procedure than that to which students in our day have to submit when they are taught anatomy and physiology and are told that in this way they are acquiring knowledge of the nature of man — but fundamentally it is the same kind of procedure. All that can be understood of the nature of man by such methods derives from an attitude of mind which is not unlike the attitude of those who were not averse from applying tortures in the Middle Ages. Students learn about the human being as he is when he has been dismembered — they are taught only about the mineral structure in man, about that part of his being which will one day be woven into the network of spider-like creatures extending over the earth.

It is a hard destiny that power should lie in the hands of men who regard the truest thoughts as absurdities and who scorn the impulses that are most inwardly and intimately bound up with the well-being of human evolution, with the whole mission of humanity in the world. It is a tragic state of things and we dare not shut our eyes to it. For it is only by realising the depth of such a tragedy that men will be brought to the point of resolving, each in his own place, to help the shadowy intellect to admit the spiritual world that is coming down from above in order that this intellect may be made fit for the conditions of future times. It is not right for the shadowy intellect to be driven down into an order of existence lower than that of the plants, into the brood of spidery creatures that will spread over the earth. Man's being needs to have reached a higher level of existence when, in the eighth millennium, women will become barren and the moon will unite once again with the earth. The earthly must then remain behind, with man directing and controlling it from outside like an object which he need not carry over with him into cosmic existence. Man must so prepare himself that he need not be involved in what must inevitably develop upon the surface of the earth in this way.

From pre-earthly existence man has descended to this earthly life. His birth from woman began with the departure of the moon, but this physical form of birth is only a passing episode in the great sweep of cosmic evolution and will be replaced by another. It is the phase which was destined to bring to man the feeling and consciousness of freedom, the self-completeness of individuality and personality. It is a phase by no means to be undervalued. It was necessary in the whole cosmic process, but it must not remain forever unchanged. Man must not give way to the easy course of assuming the existence of an abstract God, but bring himself to look concretely at things that are connected with his evolution. For his being of soul-and-spirit can only be inwardly stimulated when he really understands the nature of the concrete realities connected with the great epoch towards which his successive earthly lives are leading him.

That is what a true Spiritual Science tells us today. The human will is threatened with being deprived of spiritual impulses and with becoming involved in the spidery web that will creep over the earth. There are men in existence who imagine that they will gain their ends by promoting their own spiritual development and leaving the rest of their fellow-beings in a state of ignorance. But the vast majority live in complete unawareness of the terrible destiny that awaits them if they lend themselves to what an ancient form of spiritual knowledge called the “sixteen paths to corruption.” For just as there are many ways in which the shadowy intellect may be directed to the impulses and knowledge coming from the spiritual world, so naturally there are many ways in which varieties of the shadowy intellect will be able to unite with the spider-beings who will spin their web over the earth in times to come. Intellect will then be objectivised in the very limbs and tentacles of these spidery creatures, who in all their wonderful inter-weavings and caduceus-like convolutions will present an amazing network of intricate forms.

It is only by developing an inner understanding for what is truly artistic that man will be able to understand the realm that is higher than mineral existence — that realm of which we see an expression in the actual shaping and form of the surfaces of things in the world.

Goethe's theory of metamorphosis was a most significant discovery. The pedants of his day regarded it as dilettantism, and the same opinion prevails today. But in Goethe, clarity of insight and intelligence was combined with a faculty of vision which perceived Nature herself as an active expression of artistic creation. In connection with the animal world, Goethe only reached the point of applying this principle of metamorphosis to the forms of the vertebras and cranial bones. But the process whereby the forms of a previous existence are transformed, whereby the body of the earlier life is transformed into the head of the subsequent life — it is only by an inner understanding of this wonderfully artistic transformation of the radial bones into the spherical that we can truly perceive the difference between the head and the rest of the human structure. Without this insight we cannot perceive the inner, organic connection between the head and the rest of the human body.

But this is a form of art which is at the same time science. Whenever science fails to become art, it degenerates into sophistry a form of knowledge that hurls mankind into calamity so far as his cosmic existence is concerned. We see, therefore, how a true Spiritual Science points to the necessity for artistic insight and perception. This faculty was already alive in Goethe's soul and comes to expression in his hymn in prose, entitled Nature, written about the year 1780, and beginning: “Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her ...” The ideas are woven together so wonderfully that the hymn is like the expression of a yearning to receive the Spirit from the cosmic All.

It can be said with truth that the development of the thoughts contained in Goethe's hymn to Nature would provide a dwelling-place for the Beings who would fain come down from the cosmos to the earth. But the barren conceptions of physiology and biology, the systematising of plant-life and the theories that were evolved during the nineteenth century — all the thoughts which, as I showed in the lectures on colour, have really nothing to do with the true nature of the plants — can awaken no real knowledge, nor can they get anywhere near the being of man. Hence the body of knowledge that is regarded today as science is essentially a product of Ahriman, leading man on towards earthly destruction and preventing him from entering the sphere which the Beings from beyond the earth have been trying to place within his reach since the last third of the nineteenth century.

To cultivate Spiritual Science is no abstract pursuit. To cultivate Spiritual Science means to open the doors to those influences from beyond the earth which have been seeking to come down to the earth since the last third of the nineteenth century. The cultivation of Spiritual Science is in very truth a cosmic event of which we ought to be fully conscious.

And so we survey the whole span of time from the separation until the return of the moon. The moon which, as we say, reflects the sunlight back to us, is in truth deeply connected with our existence. It separated itself from the earth in order that man might become a free being. But this period of time must be utilised by man in such a way that he does not prepare the material which, with the re-entry of the moon into the earth-sphere, would combine with the moon-substance to produce that new kingdom of which I have tried to give you a graphic picture.

Now and then there arises in human beings of our time a kind of foreboding of what will come about in the future. I do not know what meaning has been read into the chapter in Thus Spake Zarathustra, where Nietzsche writes of the ‘ugliest man’ in the ‘valley of death.’ It is a tragic and moving passage. Nietzsche, of course, had no concrete perception of the valley of death into which existence will be transformed when the spidery brood of which I have spoken spreads over the earth. Nevertheless, in the picture of this valley of death in Nietzsche's imagination there was a subconscious vision of the future, and within this valley of death he placed the figure of the ‘ugliest man.’ It was a kind of foreboding of what will happen if men continue to cultivate shadowy thoughts. For their destiny then will be that in hideous shape they will be caught up by the forces of the moon-existence as it comes down into the sphere of the earth and will become one with the brood of spidery creatures of which I have been speaking.

What purpose would be served by keeping these things secret today, as many people desire? To keep them secret would be to throw sand into the eyes of men. Much of what is spread over the world today under the name of spiritual teaching is nothing but a process of throwing sand into men's eyes so that no single event in history can be understood for what it really is. How many people realise today that events of fundamental and incisive importance are taking place? I have already spoken of these things. But how few are prepared really to enter into them! People prefer to shut their eyes to what is happening and to think that, after all, the events are not really of such great significance. Nevertheless, the signs of the times are unmistakable and must be understood.

This was what I wished to say in regard to the way in which the being of man upon the earth is connected with the cosmos.
Site Admin
Posts: 30807
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Art of Avoiding History, by Peter Staudenmaier

Postby admin » Sun Mar 04, 2018 12:42 am

Will Ecology Become ‘the Dismal Science’?
by Murray Bookchin
December 1, 1989



Almost a century and a half ago Thomas Carlyle described economics as “the dismal science.” The term was to stick, especially as it applied to economics premised on a supposedly unavoidable conflict between “insatiable needs” and “scarce natural resources.” In this economics, the limited bounty provided by a supposedly “stingy nature” doomed humanity to economic slumps, misery, civil strife, and hunger.

Today, the term “dismal science” appropriately describes certain trends in the ecology movement -- trends that seem to be riding on an overwhelming tide of religious revivalism and mysticism. I refer not to the large number of highly motivated, well-intentioned, and often radical environmentalists who are making earnest efforts to arrest the ecological crisis, but rather to exotic tendencies that espouse deep ecology, biocentrism, Gaian consciousness, and eco-theology, to cite the main cults that celebrate a quasi-religious “reverence” for “Nature” with what is often a simultaneous denigration of human beings and their traits.

Mystical ecologists, like many of today’s religious revivalists, view reason with suspicion and emphasize the importance of irrational and intuitive approaches to ecological issues. For the Reverend Thomas Berry, whom many regard as the foremost eco-theologian of our day, the “very rational process that we exalt as the only true way to understanding is by a certain irony discovered to be itself a mythic imaginative dream experience. The difficulty of our times is our inability to awaken out of this cultural pathology.”

One does not have to be a member of the clergy to utter such atavistic notions. In a more secular vein, Bill Devall and George Sessions, professors of sociology and philosophy, respectively, who wrote Deep Ecology, one of the most widely read books in mystical ecology, offer a message of “self-realization” through an immersion of the personal self in a hazy “Cosmic Self,” or, as they put it, a “‘self-in-Self’ where ‘Self’ stands for organic wholeness.”

The most influential Naturphilosophen included F.W.J. Schelling (1775-1854), Goethe, Lorenz Oken (1779-1851), and a man that Goethe much admired, Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869), a comparative anatomist who insisted that the divine essence of life would only be recognized through initiation into these insights through spiritual development:

Insofar as the idea of life is no other than the idea of an eternal manifestation of the divine essence through nature, it belongs among those original insights of reason that do not come to man from outside .... These insights open up in the inwardness of man; they must reveal themselves and, once a man has reached a certain level of development, they will always reveal themselves. [6]

This view is precisely the affirmation of the belief of the Naturphilosophen that, as historian of science Timothy Lenoir succinctly puts it, "when properly trained in the method of philosophical reflection, the understanding is capable, primarily through a higher faculty of judgment, of penetrating and comprehending the structure of the life process itself." [7] Thus, as living beings at the peak of the great chain of being (as historian of ideas Arthur O. Lovejoy called it), humans were uniquely capable of an intuitive grasp of the very pulse of life itself in its more elemental forms. Jung's twentieth-century psychological methods -- including that of "active imagination" -- are direct survivors of this Romantic praxis.

-- The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement, by Richard Noll

The language of Deep Ecology is distinctly salvational: “This process of full unfolding of the self can also be summarized in the phrase: ‘No one is saved until we are all saved,’ where the phrase ‘one’ includes not only me, an individual human, but all humans, whales, grizzly bears, whole rain-forest ecosystems, mountains and rivers, the tiniest microbes in the soil, and so on.”

This hortatory appeal raises some highly disconcerting problems. The words “and so on” omit the need to deal with pathogenic microbes, animal vectors of lethal diseases, earthquakes, and typhoons, to cite less aesthetically satisfying beings and phenomena than whales, grizzly bears, wolves, and mountains. This selective view of “Mother Nature’s” biotic and physiographic inventory has raised some stormy problems for mystical ecology’s message of universal salvation.

Mystical ecologists tend to downgrade social issues by reducing human problems (a generally distasteful subject to them) to a “species” level -- to matters of genetics. In the words of Pastor Berry, humanity must be “reinvented on the species level” by going “beyond our cultural coding, to our genetic coding, to ask for guidance.” The rhetoric that follows this passage in The Dream of the Earth verges on the mythopoeic, in which our “genetic coding” binds us “with the larger dimensions of the universe” -- a universe that “carries the deep mysteries of our existence within itself.” Berry’s exhortations enjoy great popularity these days, and have been quoted with approval even in the conventional environmental literature, not to speak of the mystical variety.

Such cosmological evangelism, clothed in ecological verbiage, deprecates humanity. When human beings are woven into the “web of life” as nothing more than one of “Mother Nature’s” innumerable species, they lose their unique place in natural evolution as rational creatures of potentially unsurpassed qualities, endowed with a deeply social nature, creativity, and the capacity to function as moral agents.

“Anthropocentricity,” the quasi-theological notion that the world exists for human use, is derided by mystical ecologists in favor of the equally quasi-theological notion of “biocentricity,” namely, that all life-forms are morally interchangeable with one another in terms of their “intrinsic value.” In their maudlin Gaia Meditations, two mystical ecologists, John Seed and Joanna Macy, enjoin us human mortals to “think to your next death. Will your flesh and bones back into the cycle. Surrender. Love the plump worms you will become. Launder your weary being through the fountain of life.” In the mystically overbaked world of the American Sunbelt, such drivel tends to descend to the level of bumper-sticker slogans or is evoked in poetic recitations at various ashrams in Anglo-American cities and towns.

Taken as a whole, the crude reduction of the ecological crisis to biological and psychological sources has produced an equally reductionist body of “correctives” that makes the dismal economics of an earlier time seem almost optimistic by comparison. For many, perhaps most, mystical ecologists, the standard recipe for a “sustainable” future involves a lifestyle based on harsh austerity -- basically, a rustic discipline marked by dietary simplicity, hard work, the use of “natural resources” only to meet survival needs, and a theistic primitivism that draws its inspiration from Pleistocene or Neolithic “spirituality” rather than from Renaissance or Enlightenment rationality.

Spirituality and rationality, which mystical ecologies invariably perceive in crassly reductionist and simplistic terms are pitted against each other as angels and demons. The mystics usually regard technology, science, and reason as the basic sources of the ecological crisis, and contend these should be contained or even replaced by toil, divination, and intuition. What is even more troubling is that many mystical ecologists are neo-Malthusians, whose more rambunctious elements regard famine and disease as necessary and even desirable to reduce human population.

The grim future evoked by mystical ecologists is by no means characteristic of the vision the ecology movement projected a generation ago. To the contrary, radical ecologists of the 1960s celebrated the prospect of a satisfying life, freed from material insecurity, toil, and the self-denial produced by market and bureaucratic capitalism.

This utopian vision, advanced primarily by social ecology in 1964 and 1965, was not antitechnological, antirational, or antiscientific. It expressed for the first time in the emerging ecology movement the prospect of a new social, technological, and spiritual dispensation. Social ecology claimed that the idea of dominating nature stemmed from the domination of human by human, in the form not only of class exploitation but of hierarchical domination. Capitalism -- not technology, reason, or science as such -- produced an economy that was systemically anti-ecological. Guided by the competitive marketplace maxim “grow or die,” it would literally devour the biosphere, turning forests into lumber and soil into sand.

Accordingly, the key to resolving the ecological crisis was not only a change in spirituality -- and not a regression to pre-historic religiosity -- but a sweeping change in society. Social ecology offered the vision of a nonhierarchical, communitarian society that would be based on directly democratic confederal communities with technologies structured around solar, wind, and renewable sources of energy; food cultivation by organic methods, a combined use of crafts and highly versatile, automatic, and sophisticated machinery to reduce human toil and free people to develop themselves as fully informed and creative citizens.

The disappearance of the utopian 1960s into the reactionary 1970s produced a steady retreat by millions of people into a spiritualistic inwardness that had already been latent in the counterculture of the previous decade. As possibilities for social change began to wane, people sought a surrogate reality to veil the ills of the prevailing society and the difficulty of removing them. Apart from a brief interlude of environmental resistance to the construction of nuclear power plants, large parts of the ecology movement began to withdraw from social concerns to spiritual ones, many of which were crassly mystical and theistic.

In the universities, Lynn White Jr. whose advocacy of religious explanations for the ecological crisis began to give it an otherworldly character, initiated this withdrawal. Around the same time, Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons brought Malthus’s ghost into ecological discourse in the academy, further deflecting the social thrust of the 1960s ecology movement into a demographic numbers game. Both of these academicians had advanced their views largely in Science magazine, which has only limited public outreach, so it fell to a California entomologist, Paul Ehrlich, to divert the ecological concerns of the early 1970s from the social domain to the single issue of population growth in a hysterical paperback, The Population Bomb, that went through numerous editions and reached millions of readers.

Writing like an SS officer touring the Warsaw ghetto, Ehrlich in the opening pages of his tract saw nothing but “People! People!” -- failing to notice a vicious society that had degraded human lives. The slender thread that united White and more firmly, Hardin and Ehrlich was the nonsocial interpretation they gave to ecological problems, not any shared ecological overview.

Arne Naess, a Norwegian academic and mountain-climber, provided such an overview in 1973. He coined the term “deep ecology” and nurtured it as an ecological philosophy or sensibility that asks “deep questions” in contrast to “shallow ecology.” Recycled into a form of California spiritualism by Devall and Sessions with a bizarre mix of Buddhism, Taoism, Native American beliefs, Heidegger, and Spinoza among others, mystical ecology was now ready to take off as a new “Earth Wisdom.”

What catapulted this confused sensibility from the campus into newspaper headlines, however, was a wilderness movement, Earth First!, that began to take dramatic direct actions against the lumbering of old-growth forests and similar indecencies inflicted on wild areas by corporate America.

Earth First!’s founders, particularly David Foreman, had been conservationists who were weary of the ineffectual lobbying tactics of Washington-based conservation organizations. Inspired by Edward Abbey, the author of the highly popular novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, whose avowedly misanthropic views bordered on racism with its accolades to America’s “northern European culture,” Earth First!’s leaders began to seize upon deep ecology as a philosophy.

This is not to say that most Earth First!ers knew anything about “deep ecology” other than its claim to be “deep.”
But Devall and Sessions had placed Malthus in its pantheon of prophets and described “industrial society” -- not capitalism -- as the embodiment of the ills that mystical ecologists generally deride. Indeed, their book was distinctly wilderness-oriented, expressly “biocentric,” and seemed to make short shrift of humanity’s place in the cosmos.

Consistency has never been the strong point of any antirational movement, so it is not surprising that while Devall and Sessions piously extolled a “self-in-Self,” a caring form of pantheism or hylozoism, Foreman did not hesitate to describe human beings as a “cancer” in the natural world, and quite surprisingly, Gary Snyder, the poet-laureate of the deep-ecology movement, described humans as “locust like.”

Mystical ecology as a dismal science is, in fact, antihuman. Despite his gentle piety, Pastor Berry, for example, becomes positively ferocious in his treatment of human beings, describing them as “the most pernicious mode of earthly being.” Indeed, “We are the termination, not the fulfillment, of the Earth process. If there were a parliament of creatures, its first decision might well be to vote the humans out of the community, too deadly a presence to tolerate any further. We are an affliction of the world, its demonic presence. We are the violation of Earth’s most sacred aspects.”

Ecclesiastic vitriol has often been more selective. In the best of cases, it has targeted the rich, not the poor; the oppressor, not the oppressed; the ruler, not the downtrodden. But mystical ecology tends to be more all-embracing. Berry’s ecumenical “we,” like his treatment of “human beings” as a species rather than as beings who are divided by the oppressions of race, sex, material means of life, culture, and the like, tends to permeate mystical ecology.

“We are all capitalists at heart,”
declares a well-intentioned Norwegian writer, Erik Dammann, whose The Future in Our Hands has been touted by Arne Naess as a virtual manifesto for social improvement. The homeless in American cities, the AIDS victims who have been left to die in Zurich’s notorious needle park, the overworked people in the First World’s mines and factories -- none of these count for much in Dammann’s plea that “we” in America and Europe reduce our consumption of goods in behalf of the Third World’s poor.

Laudable as the goal of reduced consumption may seem, it is an ineffectual exercise in charity, not social mobilization; in humanitarianism, not social change. It is also an exercise in a superficial form of social analysis that grossly underplays the profoundly systemic factors that have produced overfed elites in all parts of the world and masses of underfed underlings. Nearly all we learn from Dammann’s liberal good intentions is that an ecumenical “we” must be faulted for the ills of the world -- a mystical “consumer” who greedily demands goodies that “our” overworked corporations are compelled to produce.

Despite the radical rhetoric to which Devall and Sessions resort, the principal practical recipe for social change they have to offer “us” in Deep Ecology is little more than a naive prayer. “Our first principle,” they write, “is to encourage agencies, legislators, property owners and managers to consider flowing with rather than forcing natural processes.” We should “act through the political process to inform managers and government agencies of the principles of deep ecology,” to achieve “some significant changes in the direction of wise long-range management policies.”

The watered-down liberalism of Devall and Sessions is echoed more explicitly in Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s latest book, Healing the Planet, in which the authors declare their adherence to deep ecology, a “quasi-religious movement” (to use their own words) that “recognizes that a successful new philosophy cannot be based on scientific nonsense.” Such denigration of science hardly befits writers whose reputation is based on their scientific credentials, with or without the vague use of the word “nonsense” to qualify their remarks. More guarded these days than in their earlier, somewhat hysterical tracts, the Ehrlichs offer something for everyone in a rather bewildering number of scenarios which show concern for the poor as well as the rich, the Third World as well as the First, even Marxists as well as avowed conservatives. But almost every important passage in the book repeats the refrain that marks their earlier works: “Controlling population growth is critical.”

The Ehrlichs’ treatment of fundamental social issues, however, reveals the extent to which they come to terms with the status quo. Our democratic “market-based economies [are] so far the most successful political and economic systems human beings have ever devised ” That there is a systemic relationship between “market based” economy and the ruthless plundering of the planet hardly appears on the Ehrlichs’ social horizon.

Naess is, perhaps, less equivocal -- and more troubling -- about his own solutions. As he weighs such alternative political philosophies as communism and anarchism, the father of deep ecology asserts, in his recently translated Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle, that deep ecology has an affinity with “contemporary nonviolent anarchism.” But the reader who might be stunned by this commitment to a libertarian alternative quickly learns that “with the enormous and exponentially increasing human population pressure and war or warlike conditions in many places, it seems inevitable to maintain some fairly strong central institutions” -- or, put less obliquely than deep ecologists are wont to do, a “fairly strong” centralized state. Here, in fact, Naess’s neo-Malthusianism and his pessimistic view of the human condition reinforce elitist beliefs in the ecology movement for state centralization and the use of coercion. The views of such deep ecologists as Christopher Manes, whose own colleagues regard him as an extremist, barely deserve serious discussion. Manes has welcomed the AIDS epidemic as a means of population control. Many mystical ecology writers echo his claim that “wilderness and not civilization is the real world.”

One of the most strident condemnations of human beings as the source of the ecological crisis comes from James Lovelock, the architect of the “Gaia hypothesis,” a mythopoeic notion that the Earth, personified as “Gaia” (the Greek goddess of our planet), is literally a living organism. In this theology, “we,” needless to say, are not merely trivial and expendable but, as some Gaians have put it, parasitic “intelligent fleas” on the planet. For Lovelock, the word “we” replaces all distinctions between elites and their victims in a shared responsibility for present-day ecological ills.

“Our humanist concerns about the poor of the inner cities or the Third World,” Lovelock declaims, “and our near-obscene obsession with death, suffering, and pain as if these were evils in themselves -- these thoughts divert the mind from our gross and excessive domination of the natural world. Poverty and suffering are not sent; they are the consequences of what we do.”

It is “when we drive our cars and listen to the radio bringing news of acid rain [that] we need to remind ourselves that we, personally, are the polluters.” Accordingly, “we are therefore accountable, personally, for the destruction of the trees by photochemical smog and acid rain.” The lowly consumer is seen as the real source of the ecological casts, not the producers who orchestrate public tastes through the mass media and the corporations who own and ravage Loveloek’s divine Gaia.

The ecology movement is too important to allow itself to be taken over by airy mystics and reactionary misanthropes. The traditional labor movement, on which so many radicals placed their hopes for creating a new society, has withered, and in the United States the old time populist movements have died with the agrarian strata that provided them with sizable followings. Rooseveltian liberalism’s future hangs in the balance as a result of the Reagan-Bush assault on New Deal reforms The cooptation of nearly every worthwhile cause, including conventional environmentalism itself, is symbolized by the ease with which corporations tout the slogan EVERY DAY IS EARTH DAY!

But the natural world itself is not cooptable. The complexity of organic and climatic processes still defies scientific control, just as the marketplace’s drive to expand still defies social control. The conflict between the natural world and the present society has intensified over the past two decades. Ecological dislocations of massive proportions may well begin to overshadow the more sensational issues that make headlines today.

A decisive collision looms: On one side is the grow-or-die economy, lurching out of control. On the other, the fragile conditions necessary for the maintenance of advanced life-forms on this planet. This collision, in fact, confronts humanity itself with sharp alternatives: an ecological society structured around social ecology’s ideal of a confederal, directly democratic, and ecologically oriented network of communities, or an authoritarian society in which humanity’s interaction with the natural world will be structured around a command economics and politics. The third prospect, of course, is the immolation of humanity in a series of ecological and irreversible disasters.

For the ecology movement to become frivolous and allow itself to be guided by various sorts of mystics would be unpardonable -- a tragedy of enormous proportions. Despite the dystopian atmosphere that seems to pervade much of the movement, its utopian vision of a democratic, rational, and ecological society is as viable today as it was a generation ago.

The misanthropic strain that runs through the movement in the name of “biocentricity,” antihumanism, Gaian consciousness, and neo-Malthusianism threatens to make ecology, in the broad sense of the term, the best candidate we have for a “dismal science.” The attempt by many mystical ecologists to exculpate the present society for its role in famines, epidemics, poverty, and hunger serves the world’s power elites as the most effective ideological defense for the extremes of wealth on the one side and poverty on the other.

So you need that other tool – you need the insight into the radical interconnectivity at the heart of existence, the web of life, our deep ecology. When you have that, then you know that this is not a battle between good guys and bad guys. You know that the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart. And you know that we are so interwoven in the web of life that even the smallest act, with clear intention, has repercussions through the whole web beyond your capacity to see.

-- Joanna Macy on the relevance of the Shambhala Warrior Prophecy for our time

It is not only the great mass of people who must make hard choices about humanity’s future in a period of growing ecological dislocation; it is the ecology movement itself that must make hard choices about its sense of direction in a time of growing mystification.
Site Admin
Posts: 30807
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Art of Avoiding History, by Peter Staudenmaier

Postby admin » Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:12 am

Morale and National Character [10]
Excerpt from "Steps to an Ecology of Mind," by Gregory Bateson
(This essay appeared in Civilian Morale, edited by Goodwin Watson, copyright 1942 by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.)



We shall proceed as follows: (1) We shall examine some of the criticisms which can be urged against our entertaining any concept of “national character.” (2) This examination will enable us to state certain conceptual limits within which the phrase “national character” is likely to be valid. (3) We shall then go on, within these limits, to outline what orders of difference we may expect to find among Western nations, trying, by way of illustration, to guess more concretely at some of these differences. (4) Lastly, we shall consider how the problems of morale and international relations are affected by differences of this order.

Barriers to Any Concept of “National Character”

Scientific enquiry has been diverted from questions of this type by a number of trains of thought which lead scientists to regard all such questions as unprofitable or unsound. Before we hazard any constructive opinion as to the order of differences to be expected among European populations, therefore, these diverting trains of thought must be examined.

It is, in the first place, argued that not the people but rather the circumstances under which they live differ from one community to another; that we have to deal with differences either in historical background or in current conditions, and that these factors are sufficient to account for all differences in behavior without our invoking any differences of character in the individuals concerned. Essentially this argument is an appeal to Occam’s Razor—an assertion that we ought not to multiply entities beyond necessity. The argument is that, where observable differences in circumstance exist, we ought to invoke those rather than mere inferred differences in character, which we cannot observe.

The argument may be met in part by quoting experimental data, such as Lewin’s experiments (unpublished material), which showed that there are great differences in the way in which Germans and Americans respond to failure in an experimental setting. The Americans treated failure as a challenge to increase effort; the Germans responded to the same failure with discouragement. But those who argue for the effectiveness of conditions rather than character can still reply that the experimental conditions are not, in fact, the same for both groups; that the stimulus value of any circumstance depends upon how that circumstance stands out against the background of other circumstances in the life of the subject, and that this contrast cannot be the same for both groups.

It is possible, in fact, to argue that since the same circumstances never occur for individuals of different cultural background, it is therefore unnecessary to invoke such abstractions as national character. This argument breaks down, I believe, when it is pointed out that, in stressing circumstance rather than character, we would be ignoring the known facts about learning. Perhaps the best documented generalization in the field of psychology is that, at any given moment, the behavioral characteristics of any mammal, and especially of man, depend upon the previous experience and behavior of that individual. Thus in presuming that character, as well as circumstance, must be taken into account, we are not multiplying entities beyond necessity; we know of the significance of learned character from other types of data, and it is this knowledge which compels us to consider the additional “entity.”

A second barrier to any acceptance of the notion of “national character” arises after the first has been negotiated. Those who grant that character must be considered can still doubt whether any uniformity or regularity is likely to obtain within such. a sample of human beings as constitutes a nation. Let us grant at once that uniformity obviously does not occur, and let us proceed to consider what sorts of regularity may be expected.

The criticism which we are trying to meet is likely to take five forms. (1) The critic may point to the occurrence of subcultural differentiation, to differences between the sexes, or between classes, or between occupational groups within the community. (2) He may point to the extreme heterogeneity and confusion of cultural norms which can be observed in “melting-pot” communities. (3) He may point to the accidental deviant, the individual who has undergone some “accidental” traumatic experience, not usual among those in his social environment. (4) He may point to the phenomena of cultural change, and especially to the sort of differentiation which results when one part of the community lags behind some other in rate of change. (5) Lastly, he may point to the arbitrary nature of national boundaries.

These objections are closely interrelated, and the replies to them all derive ultimately from two postulates: first, that the individual, whether from a physiological or a psychological point of view, is a single organized entity, such that all its “parts” or “aspects” are mutually modifiable and mutually interacting; and second, that a community is likewise organized in this sense.

If we look at social differentiation in a stable community—say, at sex differentiation in a New Guinea tribe [11]—we find that it is not enough to say that the habit system or the character structure of one sex is different from that of another. The significant point is that the habit system of each sex cogs into the habit system of the other; that the behavior of each promotes the habits of the other. [12] We find, for example, between the sexes, such complementary patterns as spectatorship-exhibitionism, dominance-submission, and succoring-dependence, or mixtures of these. Never do we find mutual irrelevance between such groups.

Although it is unfortunately true that we know very little about the terms of habit differentiation between classes, sexes, occupational groups, etc., in Western nations, there is, I think, no danger in applying this general conclusion to all cases of stable differentiation between groups which are living in mutual contact. It is, to me, inconceivable that two differing groups could exist side by side in a community without some sort of mutual relevance between the special characteristics of one group and those of the other. Such an occurrence would be contrary to the postulate that a community is an organized unit. We shall, therefore, presume that this generalization applies to all stable social differentiation.

Now, all that we know of the mechanics of character formation—especially the processes of projection, reaction formation, compensation, and the like—forces us to regard these bipolar patterns as unitary within the individual. If we know that an individual is trained in overt expression of one-half of one of these patterns, e.g., in dominance behavior, we can predict with certainty (though not in precise language) that the seeds of the other half—submission—are simultaneously sown. in his personality. We have to think of the individual, in fact, as trained in dominance-submission, not in either dominance or submission. From this it follows that where we are dealing with stable differentiation within a community, we are justified in ascribing common character to the members of that community, provided we take the precaution of describing that common character in terms of the motifs of relationship between the differentiated sections of the community.

The same sort of considerations will guide us in dealing with our second criticism—the extremes of heterogeneity, such as occur in modern “melting-pot” communities. Suppose we attempted to analyze out all the motifs of relationship between individuals and groups in such a community as New York City; if we did not end in the madhouse long before we had completed our study, we should arrive at a picture of common character that would be almost infinitely complex—certainly that would contain more fine differentiations than the human psyche is capable of resolving within itself. At this point, then, both we and the individuals whom we are studying are forced to take a short cut: to treat heterogeneity as a positive characteristic of the common environment, sui generis. When, with such an hypothesis, we begin to look for common motifs of behavior, we note the very clear tendencies toward glorying in heterogeneity for its own sake (as in the Robinson Latouche “Ballad for Americans”) and toward regarding the world as made up of an infinity of disconnected quiz-bits (like Ripley’s “Believe It or Not”).

The third objection, the case of the individual deviant, falls in the same frame of reference as that of the differentiation of stable groups. The boy on whom an English public-school education does not take, even though the original roots of his deviance were laid in some “accidental” traumatic incident, is reacting to the public-school system. The behavioral habits which he acquires may not follow the norms which the school intends to implant, but they are acquired in reaction to those very norms. He may (and often does) acquire patterns the exact opposite of the normal; but he cannot conceivably acquire irrelevant patterns. He may become a “bad” public-school Englishman, he may become insane, but still his deviant characteristics will be systematically related to the norms which he is resisting. We may describe his character, indeed, by saying that it is as systematically related to the standard public-school character as the character of Iatmul natives of one sex is systematically related to the character of the other sex. His character is oriented to the motifs and patterns of relationship in the society in which he lives.

The same frame of reference applies to the fourth consideration, that of changing communities and the sort of differentiation which occurs when one section of a community lags behind another in change. Since the direction in which a change occurs will necessarily be conditioned by the, status quo ante, the new patterns, being reactions to the old, will be systematically related to the old. As long as we confine ourselves to the terms and themes of this systematic relationship, therefore, we are entitled to expect regularity of character in the individuals. Furthermore, the expectation and experience of change may, in some cases, be so important as to become a common character-determining factor [13] sui generis, in the same sort of way that “heterogeneity” may have positive effects.

Lastly, we may consider cases of shifting national boundaries, our fifth criticism. Here, of course, we cannot expect that a diplomat’s signature on a treaty will immediately modify the characters of the individuals whose national allegiance is thereby changed. It may even happen—for example, in cases where a preliterate native population is brought for the first time in contact with Europeans—that, for some time after the shift, the two parties to such a situation will behave in an exploratory or almost random manner, each retaining its own norms and not yet developing any special adjustments to the situation of contact. During this period, we should still not expect any generalizations to apply to both groups. Very soon, however, we know that each side does develop special patterns of behavior to use in its contacts with the other. [14]At this point, it becomes meaningful to ask what systematic terms of relationship will describe the common character of the two groups; and from this point on, the degree of common character structure will increase until the two groups become related to each other just as two classes or two sexes in a stable, differentiated society. [15]

In sum, to those who argue that human communities show too great internal differentiation or contain too great a random element for any notion of common character to apply, our reply would be that we expect such an approach to be useful (a) provided we describe common character in terms of the themes of relationship between groups and individuals within the community, and (b) provided that we allow sufficient time to elapse for the community to reach some degree of equilibrium or to accept either change or heterogeneity as a characteristic of their human environment.

Differences Which We May Expect Between National Groups

The above examination of “straw men” in the case against “national character” has very stringently limited the scope of this concept. But the conclusions from this examination are by no means simply negative. To limit the scope of a concept is almost synonymous with defining it.

We have added one very important tool to our equipment —the technique of describing the common character (or the “highest common factor” of character) of individuals in a human community in terms of bipolar adjectives. Instead of despairing in face of the fact that nations are highly differentiated, we shall take the dimensions of that differentiation as our clues to the national character. No longer content to say, “Germans are submissive,” or “Englishmen are aloof,” we shall use such phrases as “dominant-submissive” when relationships of this sort can be shown to occur. Similarly, we shall not refer to “the paranoidal element in German character,” unless we can show that by “paranoidal” we mean some bipolar characteristic of German-German or German-foreign relationships. We shall not describe varieties of character by defining a given character in terms of its position on a continuum between extreme dominance and extreme submissiveness, but we shall, instead, try to use for our descriptions some such continua as “degree of interest in, or orientation toward, dominance-submission.”

So far, we have mentioned only a very short list of bipolar characteristics: dominance-submission, succoring-dependence, and exhibitionism-spectatorship. One criticism will certainly be uppermost in the reader’s mind, that, in short, all three of these characteristics are clearly present in all Western cultures. Before our method becomes useful, therefore, we must try to expand it to give us sufficient scope and discriminatory power to differentiate one Western culture from another.

As this conceptual frame develops, no doubt, many further expansions and discriminations will be introduced. The present paper will deal with only three such types of expansion.

Alternatives to Bipolarity

When we invoked bipolarity as a means of handling differentiation within society without foregoing some notion of common character structure, we considered only the possibility of simple bipolar differentiation. Certainly this pattern is very common in Western cultures; take, for instance, Republican-Democrat, political Right-Left, sex differentiation, God and the devil, and so on. These peoples even try to impose a binary pattern upon phenomena which are not dual in nature—youth versus age, labor versus capital, mind versus matter—and, in general, lack the organizational devices for handling triangular systems; the inception of any “third” party is always regarded, for example, as a threat to our political organization. This clear tendency toward dual systems ought not, however, to blind us to the occurrence of other patterns. [16]

There is, for example, a very interesting tendency in English communities toward the formation of ternary systems, such as parents-nurse-child, king-ministers-people, officers-N.C.O.’s-privates. [17]While the precise motifs of relationship in these ternary systems remain to be investigated, it is important to note that these systems, to which I refer as “ternary,” are neither “simple hierarchies” nor “triangles.” By a pure hierarchy, I should mean a serial system in which face-to-face relations do not occur between members when they are separated by some intervening member; in other words, systems in which the only communication between A and C passes through B. By a triangle I should mean a threefold system with no serial properties. The ternary system, parent-nurse-child, on the other hand, is very different from either of these other forms. It contains serial elements, but face-to-face contact does occur between the first and the third members. Essentially, the function of the middle member is to instruct and discipline the third member in the forms of behavior which he should adopt in his contacts with the first. The nurse teaches the child how to behave toward its parents, just as the N.C.O. teaches and disciplines the private in how he should behave toward officers. In psychoanalytic terminology, the process of introjection is done indirectly, not by direct impact of the parental personality upon the child. [18] The face-to-face contacts between the first and third members are, however, very important. We may refer, in this connection, to the vital daily ritual in the British Army, in which the officer of the day asks the assembled privates and N.C.O.’s whether there are any complaints.

Certainly, any full discussion of English character ought to allow for ternary, as well as bipolar patterns.

Symmetrical Motifs

So far, we have considered only what we have called “complementary” patterns of relationship, in which the behavior patterns at one end of the relationship are different from, but fit in with, the behavior patterns at the other end (dominance-submission, etc.). There exists, however, a whole category of human interpersonal behavior which does not conform to this description. In addition to the contrasting complementary patterns, we have to recognize the existence of a series of symmetrical patterns, in which people respond to what others are doing by themselves doing something similar. In particular, we have to consider those competitive [19] patterns in which individual or group A is stimulated to more of any type of behavior by perceiving more of that same type of behavior (or greater success in that type of behavior) in individual or group B.

There is a very profound contrast between such competitive systems of behavior and complementary dominance-submission systems—a highly significant contrast for any discussion of national character. In complementary striving, the stimulus which prompts A to greater efforts is the relative weakness in B; if we want to make A subside or submit, we ought to show him that B is stronger than he is. In fact, the complementary character structure may be summarized by the phrase “bully-coward,” implying the combination of these characteristics in the personality. The symmetrical competitive systems, on the other hand, are an almost precise functional opposite of the complementary. Here the stimulus which evokes greater striving in A is the vision of greater strength or greater striving in B; and, inversely, if we demonstrate to A that B is really weak, A will relax his efforts.

It is probable that these two contrasting patterns are alike available as potentialities in all human beings; but clearly, any individual who behaves in both ways at once will risk internal confusion and conflict. In the various national groups, consequently, different methods of resolving this discrepancy have developed. In England and in America, where children and adults are subjected to an almost continuous barrage of disapproval whenever they exhibit the complementary patterns, they inevitably come to accept the ethics of “fair play.” Responding to the challenge of difficulties, they cannot, without guilt, kick the underdog. [20] For British morale Dunkirk was a stimulus, not a depressant.

In Germany, on the other hand, the same cliches are apparently lacking, and the community is chiefly organized on the basis of a complementary hierarchy in terms of dominance-submission. The dominance behavior is sharply and clearly developed; yet the picture is not perfectly clear and needs further investigation. Whether a pure dominance-submission hierarchy could ever exist as a stable system is doubtful. It seems that in the case of Germany, the submission end of the pattern is masked, so that overt submissive behavior is almost as strongly tabooed as it is in America or England. In place of submission, we find a sort of parade-ground impassivity.

A hint as to the process by which the submissive role is modified and rendered tolerable comes to us out of the interviews in a recently begun study of German life histories. [21] One German subject described how different was the treatment which he, as a boy, received in his South German home, from that which his sister received. He said that much more was demanded of him; that his sister was allowed to evade discipline; that whereas he was always expected to click his heels and obey with precision, his sister was allowed much more freedom. The interviewer at once began to look for intersex sibling jealousy, but the subject declared that it was a greater honor for the boy to obey. “One doesn’t expect too much of girls,” he said. “What one felt they (boys) should accomplish and do was very serious, because they had to be prepared for life.” An interesting inversion of noblesse oblige.

Combinations of Motifs

Among the complementary motifs, we have mentioned only three—dominancesubmission, exhibitionism-spectatorship, and succorance-dependence—but these three will suffice to illustrate the sort of verifiable hypotheses at which we can arrive by describing national character in this hyphenated terminology. [22]

Since, clearly, all three of these motifs occur in all Western cultures, the possibilities for international difference are limited to the proportions and ways in which the motifs are combined. The proportions are likely to be very difficult to detect, except where the differences are very large. We may be sure ourselves that Germans are more oriented toward dominance-submission than are Americans, but to demonstrate this certainty is likely to be difficult. To estimate differences in the degree of development of exhibitionism-spectatorship or succorance-dependence in the various nations will, indeed, probably be quite impossible.

If, however, we consider the possible ways in which these motifs may be combined together, we find sharp qualitative differences which are susceptible of easy verification. Let us assume that all three of these motifs are developed in all relationships in all Western cultures, and from this assumption go on to consider which individual plays which role.

It is logically possible that in one cultural environment A will be dominant and exhibitionist, while B is submissive and spectator; while in another culture X may be dominant and spectator, while Y is submissive and exhibitionist.

Examples of this sort of contrast rather easily come to mind. Thus we may note that whereas the dominant Nazis preen themselves before the people, the czar of Russia kept his private ballet, and Stalin emerges from seclusion only to review his troops. We might perhaps present the relationship between the Nazi Party and the people thus:

Party / People
Dominance / Submission
Exhibitionism / Spectatorship

While the czar and his ballet would be represented:

Czar / Ballet
Dominance / Submission
Spectatorship / Exhibitionsim

Since these European examples are comparatively unproved, it is worthwhile at this point to demonstrate the occurrence of such differences by describing a rather striking ethnographic difference which has been documented more fully. In Europe, where we tend to associate succoring behavior with social superiority, we construct our parent symbols accordingly. Our God, or our king, is the “father” of his people. In Bali, on the other hand, the gods are the “children” of the people, and when a god speaks through the mouth of a person in trance, he addresses anyone who will listen as “father.” Similarly, the rajah is sajanganga (“spoilt” like a child) by his people. The Balinese, further, are very fond of putting children in the combined roles of god and dancer; in mythology, the perfect prince is polished and narcissistic. Thus the Balinese pattern might be summarized thus:

High Status / Low Status
Dependence / Succoring
Exhibitionism / Spectatorship

And this diagram would imply, not only that the Balinese feel dependence and exhibitionism and superior status to go naturally together, but also that a Balinese will not readily combine succoring with exhibitionism (that is, Bali completely lacks the ostentatious gift-giving characteristic of many primitive peoples) or will be embarrassed if forced by the context to attempt such a combination.

Although the analogous diagrams for our Western cultures cannot be drawn with the same certainty, it is worthwhile to attempt them for the parent-child relationships in English, American, and German cultures. One extra complication must, however, be faced; when we look at parent-child relationships instead of at relationships between princes and people, we have to make specific allowance for the changes in the pattern which occur as the child grows older. Succorance-dependence is undoubtedly a dominant motif in early childhood, but various mechanisms later modify this extreme dependence, to bring about some degree of psychological independence.

The English upper- and middle-class system would be represented diagrammatically thus:

Parents / Children
Dominance / Submission (modified by “ternary” nurse system)
Succoring / Dependence (dependence habits broken by separation—children sent to school)
Exhibitionism / Spectatorship (children listen silently at meals)

In contrast with this, the analogous American pattern seems to be:

Parents / Children
Dominance (slight) / Submission (slight)
Succoring / Dependence
Spectatorship / Exhibitionism

And this pattern differs from the English not only in the reversal of the spectatorship-exhibitionism roles, but also in the content of what is exhibited. The American child is encouraged by his parents to show off his independence. Usually the process of psychological weaning is not accomplished by sending the child away to a boarding school; instead, the child’s exhibitionism is played off against his independence, until the latter is neutralized. Later, from this beginning in the exhibition of independence, the individual may sometimes go on in adult life to show off succorance, his wife and family becoming in some degree his “exhibits.”

Though the analogous German pattern probably resembles the American in the arrangement of the paired complementary roles, certainly it differs from the American in that the father’s dominance is much stronger and much more consistent, and especially in that the content of the boy’s exhibitionism is quite different. He is, in fact, dominated into a sort of heel-clicking exhibitionism which takes the place of overt submissive behavior. Thus, while in the American character exhibitionism is encouraged by the parent as a method of psychological weaning, both its function and its content are for the German entirely different.

Differences of this order, which may be expected in all European nations, are probably the basis of many of our naive and often unkind international comments. They may, indeed, be of considerable importance in the mechanics of international relations, in as much as an understanding of them might dispel some of our misunderstandings. To an American eye, the English too often appear “arrogant,” whereas to an English eye the American appears to be “boastful.” If we could show precisely how much of truth and how much of distortion is present in these impressions, it might be a real contribution to interallied cooperation.

In terms of the diagrams above, the “arrogance” of the Englishman would be due to the combination of dominance and exhibitionism. The Englishman in a performing role (the parent at breakfast, the newspaper editor, the political spokesman, the lecturer, or what not) assumes that he is also in a dominant role—that he can decide in accordance with vague, abstract standards what sort of performance to give —and the audience can “take it or leave it.” His own arrogance he sees either as “natural” or as mitigated by his humility in face of the abstract standards. Quite unaware that his behavior could conceivably be regarded as a comment upon his audience, he is, on the contrary, aware only of behaving in the performer’s role, as he understands that role. But the American does not see it thus. To him, the “arrogant” behavior of the Englishman appears to be directed against the audience, in which case the implicit invocation of some abstract standard appears only to add insult to injury.

Similarly, the behavior which an Englishman interprets as “boastful” in an American is not aggressive, although the Englishman may feel that he is being subjected to some sort of invidious comparison. He does not know that, as a matter of fact, Americans will only behave like this to people whom they rather like and respect. According to the hypothesis above, the “boasting” pattern results from the curious linkage whereby exhibition of self-sufficiency and independence is played off against overdependence. The American, when he boasts, is looking for approval of his upstanding independence; but the naive Englishman interprets this behavior as a bid for some sort of dominance or superiority.

In this sort of way, we may suppose that the whole flavor of one national culture may differ from that of another, and that such differences may be considerable enough to lead to serious misunderstandings. It is probable, however, that these differences are not so complex in their nature as to be beyond the reach of investigation. Hypotheses of the type which we have advanced could be easily tested, and research on these lines is urgently needed.

National Character and American Morale

Using the motifs of interpersonal and intergroup relationship as our clues to national character, we have been able to indicate certain orders of regular difference which we may expect to find among the peoples who share our Western civilization. Of necessity, our statements have been theoretical rather than empirical; still, from the theoretical structure which we have built up, it is possible to extract certain formulas which may be useful to the builder of morale.

All of these formulas are based upon the general assumption that people will respond most energetically when the context is structured to appeal to their habitual patterns of reaction. It is not sensible to encourage a donkey to go up hill by offering him raw meat, nor will a lion respond to grass.

(1) Since all Western nations tend to think and behave in bipolar terms, we shall do well, in building American morale, to think of our various enemies as a single hostile entity. The distinctions and gradations which intellectuals might prefer are likely to be disturbing.

(2) Since both Americans and English respond most energetically to symmetrical stimuli, we shall be very unwise if we soft-pedal the disasters of war. If our enemies defeat us at any point, that fact ought to be used to the maximum as a challenge and a spur to further effort. When our forces have suffered some reverse, our newspapers ought to be in no hurry to tell us that “enemy advances have been checked.” Military progress is always intermittent, and the moment to strike, the moment when maximum morale is needed, occurs when the enemy is solidifying his position and preparing the next blow. At such a moment, it is not sensible to reduce the aggressive energy of our leaders and people by smug reassurance.

(3) There is, however, a superficial discrepancy between the habit of symmetrical motivation and the need for showing self-sufficiency. We have suggested that the American boy learns to stand upon his own feet through those occasions in childhood when his parents are approving spectators of his self-sufficiency. If this diagnosis is correct, it would follow that a certain bubbling up of self-appreciation is normal and healthy in Americans and is perhaps an essential ingredient of American independence and strength.

A too literal following of the formula above, therefore, a too great insistence upon disasters and difficulties, might lead to some loss of energy through the damming up of this spontaneous exuberance. A rather concentrated diet of “blood, sweat, and tears” may be good for the English; but Americans, while no less dependent upon symmetrical motivation, cannot feel their oats when fed on nothing but disaster. Our public spokesmen and newspaper editors should never softpedal the fact that we have a man-sized job on our hands, but they will do well to insist also that America is a man-sized nation. Any sort of attempt to reassure Americans by minimizing the strength of the enemy must be avoided, but frank boasts of real success are good.

(4) Because our vision of the peace is a factor in our war-making morale, it is worthwhile to ask at once what light the study of national differences may throw upon the problems of the peace table.

We have to devise a peace treaty (a) such that Americans and British will fight to achieve it, and (b) such that it will bring out the best rather than the worst characteristics of our enemies. If we approach it scientifically, such a problem is by no means beyond our skill.

The most conspicuous psychological hurdle to be negotiated, in imagining such a peace treaty, is the contrast between British and American symmetrical patterns and the German complementary pattern, with its taboo on overt submissive behavior. The allied nations are not psychologically equipped to enforce a harsh treaty; they might draw up such a treaty, but in six months they would tire of keeping the underdog down. The Germans, on the other hand, if they see their role as “submissive,” will not stay down without harsh treatment. We have seen that these considerations applied even to such a mildly punitive treaty as was devised at Versailles; the allies omitted to enforce it, and the Germans refused to accept it. It is, therefore, useless to dream of such a treaty, and worse than useless to repeat such dreams as a way of raising our morale now, when we are angry with Germany. To do that would only obscure the issues in the final settlement.

This incompatibility between complementary and symmetrical motivation means, in fact, that the treaty cannot be organized around simple dominance-submissive motifs; hence we are forced to look for alternative solutions. We must examine, for example, the motif of exhibitionism-spectatorship —what dignified role is each of the various nations best fitted to play?—and that of succoring-dependence— in the starving postwar world, what motivational patterns shall we evoke between those who give and those who receive food? And, alternative to these solutions, we have the possibility of some threefold structure, within which both the allies and Germany would submit, not to each other, but to some abstract principle.



10. This essay appeared in Civilian Morale, edited by Goodwin Watson, copyright 1942 by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. It is here reprinted by permission of the publisher. Some introductory material has been edited out.

11. Cf. M. Mead (Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, New York, Morrow, 1935), especially Part III, for an analysis of sex differentiation among the Chambuli; also G. Bateson (Naven, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1936) for an analysis of sex differentiation among adults in Iatmul, New Guinea.

12. We are considering here only those cases in which ethological differentiation follows the sex dichotomy. It is also probable that, where the ethos of the two sexes is not sharply differentiated, it would still be correct to say that the ethos of each promotes that of the other, e.g., through such mechanisms as competition and mutual imitation. Cf. M. Mead (op. cit.).

13. For a discussion of the role played by “change” and “heterogeneity” in melting-pot communities, cf. M. Mead (“Educative effects of social environment as disclosed by studies of primitive societies.” Paper read at the Symposium on Environment and Education, University of Chicago, September 22, 1941). Also F. Alexander (“Educative influence of personality factors in the environment.” Paper read at the Symposium on Environment and Education, University of Chicago, September 22, 1941).

14. In the South Seas, those special modes of behavior which Europeans adopt toward native peoples, and those other modes of behavior which the native adopts toward Europeans, are very obvious. Apart from analyses of “pidgin” languages, we have, however, no psychological data on these patterns. For a description of the analogous patterns in Negrowhite relationships, cf. J. Dollard (Caste and Class in a Southern Toivn, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1937), especially Chapter XII, Accommodation Attitudes of Negroes.

15. Cf. G. Bateson, “Culture Contact and Schismogenesis,” Man, 1935, 8: 199. (Reprinted in this volume.)

16. The Balinese social system in the mountain communities is almost entirely devoid of such dualisms. The ethological differentiation of the sexes is rather slight; political factions are completely absent. In the plains, there is a dualism which has resulted from the intrusive Hindoo caste system, those with caste being discriminated from those without caste. At the symbolic level (partly as a result of Hindoo influence) dualisms are much more frequent, however, than they are in the social structure (e.g., Northeast vs. Southwest, Gods vs. demons, symbolic Left vs. Right, symbolic Male vs. Female, etc.).

17. A fourth instance of this threefold pattern occurs in some great public schools (as in Charterhouse), where the authority is divided between the quieter, more polished, intellectual leaders (“monitors”) and the rougher, louder, athletic leaders (captain of football, head of long room, etc.), who have the duty of seeing to it that the “fags” run when the monitor calls.

18. For a general discussion of cultural variants of the Oedipus situation and the related systems of cultural sanctions, cf. M. Mead (“Social change and cultural [incomplete].

19. The term “cooperation,” which is sometimes used as the opposite of “competition,” covers a very wide variety of patterns, some of them symmetrical and others complementary, some bipolar and others in which the cooperating individuals are chiefly oriented to some personal or impersonal goal. We may expect that some careful analysis of these patterns will give us vocabulary for describing other sorts of national characteristics. Such an analysis cannot be attempted in this paper.

20. It is, however, possible that in certain sections of these nations, complementary patterns occur with some frequency—particularly among groups who have suffered from prolonged insecurity and uncertainty, e.g., racial minorities, depressed areas, the stock exchange, political circles, etc.

21. G. Bateson, unpublished research for the Council on Human Relations.

22. “For a fuller study, we ought to consider such other motifs as aggression-passivity, possessive-possessed, agent-tool, etc. And all of these motifs will require somewhat more critical definition than can be attempted in this paper.
Site Admin
Posts: 30807
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Return to Articles & Essays

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests