Human Nature and Conduct

Part 2: The Place of Impulse in Conduct:
VI. No Separate Instincts

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In spite of what has been said, it will be asserted that there are definite, independent, original instincts which manifest themselves in specific acts in a one-to-one correspondence. Fear, it will be said, is a reality, and so is anger, and rivalry, and love of mastery of others, and self-abasement, maternal love, sexual desire, gregariousness and envy, and each has its own appropriate deed as a result. Of course they are realities. So are suction, rusting of metals, thunder and lightning and lighter-than-air flying machines. But science anal invention did not get on as long as men indulged in the notion of special forces to account for such phenomena. Men tried that road, and it only led them into learned ignorance. They spoke of nature's abhorrence of a vacuum ; of a force of combustion ; of intrinsic nisus toward this and that; of heaviness and levity as forces. It turned out that these " forces " were only the phenomena over again, translated from a specific and concrete form (in which they were at least actual) into a generalized form in which they were verbal. They converted a problem into a solution which afforded a simulated satisfaction.

Advance in insight and control came only when the mind turned squarely around. After it had dawned upon inquirers that their alleged causal forces were only

(150) names which condensed into a duplicate form a variety of complex occurrences, they set about breaking up phenomena into minute detail and searching for correlation, that is, for elements in other gross phenomena which also varied. Correspondence of variations of elements took the place of large and imposing forces. The psychology of behavior is only beginning to undergo similar treatment. It is probable that the vogue of sensation-psychology was due to the fact that it seemed to promise a similar detailed treatment of personal phenomena. But as yet we tend to regard sex, hunger, fear, and even much more complex active interests as if they were lump forces, like the combustion or gravity of old-fashioned physical science.

It is not hard to see how the notion of a single and separate tendency grew up in the case of simpler acts like hunger and sex. The paths of motor outlet or discharge are comparatively few and are fairly well defined. Specific bodily organs are conspicuously involved. Hence there is suggested the notion of a correspondingly separate psychic force or impulse. There are two fallacies in this assumption. The first consists in ignoring the fact that no activity (even one that is limited by routine habit) is confined to the channel which is most flagrantly involved in its execution The whole organism is concerned in every act to some extent and in some fashion, internal organs as well as muscular, those of circulation, secretion, etc. Since the total state of the organism is newer exactly twice alike, in so far the phenomena of hunger and sex

(151) are never twice the same in fact. The difference may be negligible for some purposes, and yet give the key for the purposes of a psychological analysis which shall terminate in a correct ,judgment of value. Even physiologically the context of organic changes accompanying an act of hunger or sex makes the difference between a normal and a morbid phenomenon.

In the second place, the environment in which the act takes place is never twice alike. Even when the overt organic discharge is substantially the same, the acts impinge upon a different environment and thus have different consequences. It is impossible to regard these differences of objective result as indifferent to the quality of the acts. They are immediately sensed if not clearly perceived; and they are the only components of the meaning of the act. When feelings, dwelling antecedently in the soul, were supposed to be the causes of acts, it was natural to suppose that each psychic element had its own inherent quality which might be directly read off by introspection. But when we surrender this notion, it becomes evident that the only way of telling what an organic act is like is by the sensed or perceptible changes which it occasions. Some of these will be intra-organic, and (as just indicated) they will vary with every act. Others will be external to the organism, and these consequences are more important than the intra-organic ones for determining the quality of the act. For they are consequences in which others are concerned and which evoke reactions of favor and disfavor as well as

(152) cooperative and resisting activities of a more indirect sort.

Most so-called self-deception is due to employing immediate organic states as criteria of the value of an act. To say that it feels good or yields direct satisfaction is to say that it gives rise to a comfortable internal state. The judgment based upon this experience may be entirely different from the judgment passed by others upon the basis of its objective or social consequences. As a matter of even the most rudimentary precaution, therefore, every person learns to recognize to some extent the quality of an act on the basis of its consequences in the acts of others. But even without this judgment, the exterior changes produced by an act are immediately sensed, and being associated with the act become a part of its quality. Even a young child sees the smash of things occasionally by his anger, and the smash may compete with his satisfied feeling of discharged energy as an index of value.

A child gives way to what, grossly speaking, we call anger. Its felt or appreciated quality depend; in the first place upon the condition of his organism at the time, and this is never twice alike. In the second place, the act is at once modified by the environment upon which it impinges so that different consequences are immediately reflected back to the doer. In one case, anger is directed say at older and stronger playmates who immediately avenge themselves upon the offender, perhaps cruelly. In another case, it takes effect upon weaker and impotent children, and the reflected ap-

(153) -preciated consequence is one of achievement, victory, power and a knowledge of the means of having one's own way. The notion that anger still remains a single force is a lazy mythology. Even in the cases of hunger and sex, where the channels of action are fairly demarcated by antecedent conditions (or "nature''), the actual content and feel of hunger and sex, are indefinitely varied according to their social contexts. Only when a man is starving, is hunger an unqualified natural impulse; as it approaches this limit, it tends to lose, moreover, its psychological distinctiveness and to become a raven of the entire organism.

The treatment of sex by psycho-analysts is most instructive, for it flagrantly exhibits both the consequences of artificial simplification and the transformation of social results into psychic causes. "Writers, usually male, hold forth on the psychology of woman, as if they were dealing with a Platonic universal entity, although they habitually treat men as individuals, varying with structure and environment. They treat phenomena which are peculiarly symptoms of the civilization of the West at the present time as if they were the necessary effects of fixed native impulses of human nature. Romantic love as it exists today, with all the varying perturbations it occasions, is as definitely a sign of specific historic conditions as are big battle ships with turbines, internal-combustion engines, and electrically driven machines. It would be as sensible to treat the latter as effects of a single psychic cause as to attribute the phenomena of disturbance and con-

(154) -flict which accompany present sexual relations as manifestations of an original single psychic force or Libido. Upon this point at least a Marxian simplification is nearer the truth than that of Jung.

Again it is customary to suppose that there is a single instinct of fear, or at most a few well-defined sub-species of it. In reality, when one is afraid the whole being reacts, and this entire responding organism is never twice the same. In fact, also, every reaction takes place in a different environment, and its meaning is never twice alike, since the difference in environment makes a difference in consequences. It is only mythology which sets up a single, identical psychic force which " causes " all the reactions of fear, a force beginning and ending in itself. It is true enough that in all cases we are able to identify certain more or less separable characteristic acts— muscular contractions, withdrawals, evasions, concealments. But in the latter words we have already brought in an environment. Such terms as withdrawal and concealment have no meaning except as attitudes toward objects. There is no such thing as an environment in general; there are specific changing objects and events. Hence the kind of evasion or running away or shrinking up which takes place is directly correlated with specific surrounding conditions. There is no one fear having diverse manifestations ; there are as many qualitatively different fears as there are objects responded to and different consequences sensed and observed.

Fear of the dark is different from fear of publicity,

( 155) fear of the dentist from fear of ghosts, fear of conspicuous success from fear of humiliation, fear of a bat from fear of a bear. Cowardice, embarrassment, caution and reverence may all be regarded as forms of fear. They all have certain physical organic acts in common— those of organic shrinkage, gestures of hesitation and retreat. But each is qualitatively unique. Each is what it is in virtue of its total interactions or correlations with other acts and with the environing medium, with consequences. High explosives and the aeroplane have brought into being something new in conduct. There is no error in calling it fear. But there is error, even from a limited clinical standpoint, in permitting the classifying name to blot from view the difference between fear of bombs dropped from the sky and the fears which previously existed. The new fear is just as much and just as little original and native as a child's fear of a stranger.

For any activity is original when it first occurs. As conditions are continually changing, new and Primitive activities are continually occurring. The traditional psychology of instincts obscures recognition of this fact. It sets up a hard-and-fast preordained class under which specific acts are subsumed, so that their own quality and originality are lost from view. This is why the novelist and dramatist are so much more illuminating as well as more interesting commentators on conduct than the schematizing psychologist. The artist makes perceptible individual responses and thus displays a new phase of human nature evoked in new

(156) situations. In putting the case visibly and dramatically he reveals vital actualities. The scientific systematizer treats each act as merely another sample of some old principle, or as a mechanical combination of elements drawn from a ready-made inventory.

When we recognize the diversity of native activities and the varied ways in which they are modified through interactions with one another in response to different conditions, we are able to understand moral phenomena otherwise baffling. In the career of any impulse activity there are speaking generally three possibilities. It may find a surging, explosive discharge— blind, unintelligent. It may be sublimated— that is, become a factor coordinated intelligently with others in a continuing course of action. Thus a gust of anger may, because of its dynamic incorporation into disposition, be converted into an abiding conviction of social injustice to be remedied, and furnish the dynamic to carry the conviction into execution. Or an excitation of sexual attraction may reappear in art or in tranquil domestic attachments and services. Such an outcome represents the normal or desirable functioning of impulse; in which, to use our previous language, the impulse operates as a pivot, or reorganization of habit. Or again a released impulsive activity may be neither immediately expressed in isolated spasmodic action, nor indirectly employed in an enduring interest. It may be " suppressed."

Suppression is not annihilation. " Psychic" energy is no more capable of being abolished than the forms

(157) we recognize as physical. If it is neither exploded nor converted, it is turned inwards, to lead a surreptitious, subterranean life. An isolated or spasmodic manifestation is a sign of immaturity, crudity, savagery; a suppressed activity is the cause of all kinds of intellectual and moral pathology. One form of the resulting pathology constitutes " reaction " in the sense in which the historian speaks of reactions. A conventionally familiar instance is Stuart license after Puritan restraint. A striking modern instance is the orgy of extravagance following upon the enforced economies and hardships of war, the moral let-down after its highstrung exalted idealisms, the deliberate carelessness after an attention too intense and too narrow. Outward manifestation of many normal activities had been suppressed. But activities were not suppressed. They were merely dammed up awaiting their chance.

Now such " reactions " are simultaneous as well as successive. Resort to artificial stimulation, to alcoholic excess, sexual debauchery, opium and narcotics are examples. Impulses and interests that are not manifested in the regular course of serviceable activity or in recreation demand and secure a special manifestation. And it is interesting to note that there are two opposite forms. Some phenomena ire characteristic of persons engaged in a routine monotonous life of toil attended with fatigue and hardship. And others are found in persons who are intellectual and executive, men whose activities are anything but monotonous, but are narrowed through over-specialization. Such men

(158) think too much, that is, too much along a particular line. They carry too heavy responsibilities; that is, their offices of service are not adequately shared with others. They seek relief by escape into a more sociable and easy-going world. The imperative demand for companionship not satisfied in ordinary activity is met by convivial indulgence. The other class has recourse to excess because its members have in ordinary occupations next to no opportunity for imagination. They make a foray into a more highly colored world as a substitute for a normal exercise of invention, planning and judgment. Having no regular responsibilities, they seek to recover an illusion of potency and of social recognition by an artificial exaltation of their submerged and humiliated selves.

Hence the love of pleasure against which moralists issue so many warnings. Not that love of pleasures is in itself in any way demoralizing. Love of the pleasures of cheerfulness, of companionship is one of the steadying influences in conduct. But pleasure has often become identified with special thrills, excitations, ticklings of sense, stirrings of appetite for the express purpose of enjoying the immediate stimulation irrespective of results. Such pleasures are signs of dissipation, dissoluteness, in the literal sense. An activity which is deprived of regular stimulation and normal function is piqued into isolated activity, and the result is division, disassociation. A life of routine and of over-specialization in non-routine lines seek occasions in which to arouse by abnormal. means a feeling of sat-

(159) -isfaction without any accompanying objective fulfilment. Hence, as moralists have pointed out, the insatiable character of such appetites. Activities are not really satisfied, that is fulfilled in objects. They continue to seek for gratification in more intensified stimulations. Orgies of pleasure-seeking, varying from saturnalia to mild sprees, result.

It does not follow however that the sole alternative is satisfaction by means of objectively serviceable action, that is by action which effects useful changes in the environment. There is an optimistic theory of nature according to which wherever there is natural law there is also natural harmony. Since man as well as the world is included in the scope of natural law, it is inferred that there is natural harmony between human activities and surroundings, a harmony which is disturbed only when man indulges in " artificial " departures from nature. According to this view, all man has to do is to keep his occupations in balance with the energies of the environment and he will be both happy and efficient. Rest, recuperation, relief can be found in a proper alternation of forms of useful work. Do the things which surroundings indicate need doing, and success, content, restoration of powers will take care of themselves.

This benevolent view of nature falls in with a Puritanic devotion to work for its own sake and creates distrust of amusement, play and recreation. They are felt to be unnecessary, and worse, dangerous diversions from the path of useful action which is also the path of

( 160) duty. Social conditions certainly impart to occupations as they are now carried on an undue element of fatigue, strain and drudgery. Consequently useful occupations which are so ordered socially as to engage thought, feed imagination and equalize the impact of stress would surely introduce a tranquillity and recreation which are now lacking. But there is good reason to think that even in the best conditions there is enough maladjustment between. the necessities of the environment and the activities " natural " to man, so that constraint and fatigue would always accompany activity, and special forms of action be needed— forms that are significantly called re-creation.

Hence the immense moral importance of play and of fine, or make-believe, art— of activity, that is, which is make-believe from the standpoint of the useful arts enforced by the demands of the environment. When moralists have not regarded play and art with a censorious eye, they often have thought themselves carrying matters to the pitch of generosity by conceding that they may be morally indifferent or innocent. But in truth they are moral necessities. They are required to take care of the margin that exists between the total stock of impulses that demand outlet and the amount expended in regular action. The v keep the balance which work cannot indefinitely maintain. They are required to introduce variety, flexibility and sensitiveness into disposition. Yet upon the whole the humanizing capabilities of sport in its varied forms, drama, fiction, music, poetry, newspapers have been neglected. They

(161) have been left in a kind of a moral no-man's territory. They have accomplished part of their function but they have not done what they are capable of doing, In many cases they have operated merely as reactions like those artificial and isolated stimulations already mentioned.

The suggestion that play and art have an indispensable moral function which should receive an attention now denied, calls out an immediate and vehement protest. We omit reference to that which proceeds from professional moralists to whom art, fun and sport are habitually under suspicion. For those interested in art, professional estheticians, will protest even more strenuously. They at once imagine that some kind of organized supervision if not censorship of play, drama and fiction is contemplated which will convert them into means of moral edification. If they do not think of Comstockian interference in the alleged interest of public morals, they at least think that what is intended is the elimination by persons of a Puritanic, unartistic temperament of everything not found sufficiently earnest and elevating, a fostering of art not for its own sake but as a means of doing good by something to somebody. There is a natural fear of injecting into art a spirit of earnest uplift, of surrendering art to the reformers.

But something quite other than this is meant. Relief from continuous moral activity— in the conventional sense of moral— is itself a moral necessity. The service of art and play is to engage and release impulses in

(162) ways quite different from those in which they are occupied and employed in ordinary activities. Their function is to forestall and remedy the usual exaggerations and deficits of activity, even of "moral " activity and to prevent a stereotyping of attention. To say that society is altogether too careless about the moral worth of art is not to say that carelessness about. useful occupations is not a necessity for art. On the contrary, whatever deprives play and art of their own careless rapture thereby deprives them of their moral function. Art then becomes poorer as art as a matter of course, but it also becomes in the same measure less effectual in its pertinent moral office. It tries to do what other things can do better, and it fails to do what nothing but itself can do for human Mature, softening rigidities, relaxing strains, allaying bitterness, dispelling moroseness, and breaking down the narrowness consequent upon specialized tasks.

Even if the matter be put in this negative way, the moral value of art cannot be depreciated. But there is a more positive function. Play and art add fresh and deeper meanings to the usual activities of life. In contrast with a Philistine relegation of the arts to a trivial by-play from serious concerns, it is truer to say that most of the significance now found in serious occupations originated in activities not immediately useful, and gradually found its way from them into objectively serviceable employments. For their spontaneity and liberation from external necessities permits to them an enhancement and vitality of meaning not possible in

( 163) preoccupation with immediate needs. Later this meaning is transferred to useful activities and becomes a part of their ordinary working. In saying then that art and play have a moral office not adequately taken advantage of it is asserted that they are responsible to life, to the enriching and freeing of its meanings, not that they are responsible to a moral code, commandment or special task.

To a coarse view— and professed moral refinement is often given to taking coarse views— there is something vulgar not only in recourse to abnormal artificial excitations and stimulations but also in interest in useless games and arts. Negatively the two things have features which are alike. They both spring from failure of regular occupations to engage the full scope of impulses and instincts in an elastically balanced way. They both evince a surplusage of imagination over fact; a demand in imaginative activity for an outlet which is denied in overt activity. They both aim at reducing the domination of the prosaic, both are protests against the lowering of meanings attendant upon ordinary vocations. As a consequence no rule can be laid down for discriminating by direct inspection between unwholesome stimulations and invaluable excursions into appreciative enhancements of life. Their difference lies in the way they work, the careers to which they commit us.

Art releases energy and focuses and tranquilizes it. It releases energy in constructive forms. Castles in the air like art have their source in a turning of im-

( 164) -pulse away from useful production. Both are due to the failure in some part of man's constitution to secure fulfilment in ordinary ways. But in one case the conversion of direct energy into imagination is the starting point of an activity which shapes material; fancy is fed upon a stuff of life which assumes under its influence a rejuvenated, composed and enhanced form. In the other case, fancy remains an end in itself. It becomes an indulging in fantasies which bring about withdrawal from all realities, while wishes impotent in action build a world which yields temporary excitement. Any imagination is a sign that, impulse is impeded and is groping for utterance. Sometimes the outcome is a refreshed useful habit; sometimes it is an articulation in creative art; and sometimes it is a futile romancing which for some, natures does what self-pity does for others. The amount of potential energy of reconstruction that is dissipated in unexpressed fantasy supplies us with a fair measure of the extent to which the current organization of occupation balks and twists impulse, and, by the same sign, with a measure of the function of art which is not vet utilized.

The development of mental pathologies to the point where they need clinical attention has of late enforced a widespread consciousness of some of the evils of suppression of impulse. The studies of psychiatrists have made clear that impulses driven into pockets distil poison and produce festering sores. An organization of impulse into a working habit forms an interest. A surreptitious furtive organization which does not arctic-

(165) -ulate in avowed expression forms a " complex." Current clinical psychology has undoubtedly overworked the influence of sexual impulse in this connection, refusing at. the hands of some writers to recognize the operation of any other modes of disturbance. There are explanations of this one-sidedness. The intensity of the sexual instinct and its organic ramifications produce many of the cases that are so noticeable as to demand the attention of physicians. And social taboos and the tradition of secrecy have put, this impulse under greater strain than has been imposed upon others. If a society existed in which the existence of impulse toward food were socially disavowed until it was compelled to live an illicit, covert life, alienists would have plenty of cases of mental and moral disturbance to relate in connection with hunger.

The significant thing is that the pathology arising from the sex instinct affords a striking case of a universal principle. Every impulse is, as far as it goes, force, urgency. It must either be used in some function, direct or sublimated, or be driven into a concealed, hidden activity. It has long been asserted on empirical grounds that repression and enslavement result in corruption and perversion. We have at last discovered the reason for this fact. The wholsome and saving force of intellectual freedom, open confrontation, publicity, now has the stamp of scientific sanction. The evil of checking impulses is not that they are checked. Without inhibition there is no instigation of imagination, no redirection into more dis-

(166) -criminated and comprehensive activities. The evil resides in a refusal of direct attention which forces the impulse into disguise and concealment, until it enacts its own unavowed uneasy private life subject to no inspection and no control.

A rebellious disposition is also a form of romanticism. At least rebels set out as romantics, or, in popular parlance, as idealists. There is no bitterness like that of conscious impotency, the sense of suffocatingly complete suppression. The world is hopeless to one without hope. The rage of total despair is a vain effort at blind destructiveness. Partial suppression induces in some natures a picture of complete freedom, while it arouses a destructive protest against existing institutions as enemies that stand in the way of freedom. Rebellion has at least one advantage over recourse to artificial stimulation and to subconscious nursings of festering sore spots. It engages in action and thereby comes in contact with realities, It contains the possibility of learning something. Yet learning by this method is immensely expensive. The costs are incalculable. As Napoleon said, every revolution moves in a vicious circle. It begins and ends in excess.

To view institutions as enemies of freedom, and all conventions as slaveries, is to deny the only means by which positive freedom in action can be secured. A general liberation of impulses may set things going when they have been stagnant, but if the released forces are on their way to anything they do not know the way nor where they are going. Indeed, they are bound

(167) to be mutually contradictory and hence destructive destructive not only of the habits they wish to destroy but of themselves, of their own efficacy. Convention and custom are necessary to carrying forward impulse to any happy conclusion. A romantic return to nature and a freedom sought within the individual without regard to the existing environment finds its terminus in chaos. Every belief to the contrary combines pessimism regarding the actual with an even more optimistic faith in some natural harmony or other— a faith which is a survival of some of the traditional metaphysics and theologies which professedly are to be swept away. Not convention but stupid and rigid convention is the foe. And, as we have noted, a convention can be reorganized and made mobile only by using some other custom for giving leverage to an impulse.

Yet it is too easy to utter commonplaces about the superiority of constructive action to destructive. At all events the professed conservative and classicist of tradition seeks too cheap a victory over the rebel. For the rebel is not self-generated. In the beginning no one is a revolutionist simply for the fun of it, however it may be after the furor of destructive power gets under way. The rebel is the product of extreme fixation and unintelligent immobilities. Life is perpetuated only by renewal. If conditions do not permit renewal to take place continuously it will take place explosively. The cost of revolutions must be charged up to those who have taken for their aim arrest of custom instead of its readjustment. The only ones who have

(168) the right to criticize " radicals " — adopting for the moment that perversion of language which identifies the radical with the destructive rebel— are those who put as much effort into reconstruction as the rebels are putting into destruction. The primary accusation against the revolutionary must be directed against those who having power refuse to use it for ameliorations. They are the ones who accumulate the wrath that sweeps away customs and institutions in an undiscriminating avalanche. Too often the man who should be criticizing institutions expends his energy in criticizing those who would re-form them. What he really objects to is any disturbance of his own vested securities, comforts and privileged powers.


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