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 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: 33486
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: 33486
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