An Outline of Social Psychology

Chapter 5: The Anthropic Background of Cultural Behavior— continued

Jacob Robert Kantor

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Courage of no mean order is an inevitable prerequisite for an inquiry into the origins of anthropic phenomena. For such a study involves one at once in a complex maze of human circumstances. When human facts are to be accounted for no shortcuts are possible, nor any widespread generalizations. To enter into a serious investigation of origins, details piled upon details must be boldly encountered and judiciously handled. It is needless to add that such investigations are presided over by more or less lenient arbiters of fortune, so that studies of origins are more or less successful. Perhaps in most cases the investigation of genesis soon runs into the irrevocable. This means to say that studies of origins sooner or later carry us beyond the point where actual data are available. How are we to discover the beginnings of language, the family, or of magic? In the end all problems of cultural origins are lost in a labyrinth from which to extricate ourselves no Ariadne can supply us a thread.

Generally speaking, the problem of cultural origins is dichotomized into two distinct inquiries. The first is concerned with some given anthropic element in a particular civilizational system. Whence has come this object, technique, or social organization? This is essentially a concrete and specific study of the rise of a particular phase of a cultural system.

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The second problem, which attains speculative proportions, concerns the question as to how in all cultural systems the same general institutions or human functions arise. This is the question of the general origin of language, the family, law, the state, and even civilization itself. We can of course only examine problems of the first type.

With respect to the genesis of any specific anthropic element in a cultural system we may conclude at once that it is derived from some previous cultural element or from a complex of such anthropic factors. In this sense all the phenomena of culture consist of modifications of other cultural elements. Tools and implements are modified forms of the same general type of object. Customs are merely variants of other related actions. In other words, any new object or process has a distinct historical background which might be traced in its most intimate details. Or when these minutiae are lacking in part, we may safely infer something concerning its antecedents. At any rate we may be entirely satisfied that if the stages of historical growth were available for our investigative inquiries, the development of the anthropic element could be definitely traced. Here we are assuming that no striking novelty characterizes the cultural element in question.

However, when the cultural factor displays marked innovation we may be required to look for its beginnings in either one or the other of two sources. Either it has been borrowed in its entirety from some other anthropic system or else it is produced by a combination of several older elements. If the former is the case then we must begin a regressive research in order to recover the facts of its migration. This investigative procedure means carrying over our study into another cultural system instead of tracing back the history of the element in its present anthropic surroundings.

When the anthropic factor is the result of some combination of older elements then it is our task to discover the progres-

( 141) -sive steps in its transformation into a new product. Similarly, if we are studying a civilizational unit as a whole, some type of interrelationship of cultural systems may be looked to for information concerning the rise of new civilizational systems. The development of the American cultural system is a case in point. Essentially, the problem is one of determining the relative contribution of Dutch, English, French, Spanish, Indian, and Negro components to the making of the whole.

It is well to add here that many concrete anthropic origins combine the transformative and migrational conditions. Thus when one anthropic unit borrows a cultural element, the borrowed factor may undergo many changes before it can be assimilated into the new anthropic setting. An example is the transformation of laws, religions, or languages when they are translated from one group to another. To a great extent of course these transformations might take place even when the anthropic elements remain in their own original environment.

Of the greatest interest to the student of psychology is the question of the origin of similar elements in widely differing cultural systems. In many cases these anthropic units are located so far apart that a migration may hardly be assumed. The psychological implications of this problem are evident when we ask whether it is possible that two or more identical cultural traits can develop independently in time and space. Examples have already been met in our study of anthropic distribution. Others are the copper axe heads found both in Egypt and Peru, the phenomenon of totemism obtaining both in Australia and among the Eskimos of North America, and such a fact as the Shoshoni and the Greek both developing the dual in their languages.

By those anthropologists referred to as diffusionists, it is assumed that no cultural element, either a technique, an idea or an implement, could have any but a single origin in some particular place and then be carried over or diffused to other

( 142) communities. Thus when a similar story is found in two communities more or less widely geographically distributed, the assumption is made that somehow this cultural element must have been transported to the other location no matter how distant. This position is held even when no means of crossing over between the different communities are available and when conditions make it entirely plausible that a repeated and independent engendering of a cultural element is possible.

The diffusionistic notion concerning the origin of cultural elements is naturally entertained in connection with a type of psychological theory concerning the inventive capacities of human individuals. It is supposed that invention is a very uncommon and difficult type of activity, and further that it is impossible to repeat an invention. Quite appropriately there are ethnologists who are rigidly opposed to the assertion of such a lack of inventive capacity among peoples. These social scientists enforce their argument with a fulsome array of examples, which to the impartial judge seem to carry great weight. To the unbiased observer there cannot be any doubt that different cultural groups may start with dissimilar cultural elements and by developing them finally produce anthropic materials that are practically like those invented by the members of another collectivity.

Similarities in objects are traceable in part to a circumstance which Goldenweiser [1] refers to as "the principle of limited possibilities." This principle implies that the functions of things determine the character of objects wherever they may have developed. Furthermore there are mechanical limitations for objects. "Many different kinds of pots are known, but a pot is a pot, that is, a vessel or container." This function sets a limit to its formal variations. To a certain degree one pot is and must be like another.[2] Likewise in the case of language it is not hard to believe that since dual references

( 143) are made by all speakers, several linguistic systems will hit upon similar grammatical devices. If only we look to the concrete details of human life, a series of possibilities will always be found for the duplications of cultural elements that actually exist. No inconceivable conditions are in dispute such as two identical versions of the same language built up under different cultural circumstances.

As Goldenweiser [3] indicates no one denies the capacity of any cultural group to invent and thus engender dissimilar elements of culture. Accordingly it is evident that the denial of parallel origin of similar objects can only be made in support of a theory of cultural origins and not as an interpretation of facts. To the argument that cultural similarities must always be borrowed a factual objection is found in the actual observation of the development of such parallel phenomena. Especially are such evidences prominent in the field of linguistics. Convergent cultural processes are discoverable in the analytical character of Chinese and English grammatical processes. Now from an objective psychological standpoint, circumstances do not present a single reason to doubt that cultural elements may be independently originated. Given the same general stimulational possibilities we may expect similar types of behavior to develop without regard to place. Naturally this behavior includes imaginative and inventive conduct and results in products constituting cultural elements. What must be taken into consideration is the possibility of the same combination of circumstances in different civilizational units. Such stimulational possibilities we may expect to find among many, if not all, human communities. Suppose a vessel is required for storing liquid food. What human situation is bereft of patterns for the invention of such receptacles. If water puddles or craters of ice are lacking, there may be gourds, cocoanuts or other natural vegetable containers.

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The close observation of every inventive process, which is merely the controlled accumulation of changes in things, amply testifies that there is never any dearth of suggestions for constructive psychological conduct. When a railway strike interferes with the transportation of a seriously needed coal supply it is only natural that dreams of broadcasting heat by radio will be stimulated. Specific properties of invented things also elicit particular constructive reactions. When inventive products consist of clay or wood, these materials themselves determine how they shall be worked and to a great extent what the products will be like, as well as changes in the functions of the things we propose to invent. Probably a more telling factor for the explanation of cultural objects than the presence of behavior possibilities for making new things is the absence of interfering conditions such as traditions and prior lines of cultural development.

At the basis of the disagreement of ethnologists in respect to the problem of cultural origins lies an inadequate psychological conception. The extreme diffusionists especially, seem to regard the mind (or psychological actions) as a more or less fixed quantity with given capacities. Here we meet with the unfounded doctrine of original mental nature, the psychic unity of man, etc. The historical ethnologists as anti-diffusionists are interested in independent developments, but they merely mean that aesthetic or general creative impulses can work out in different ways because of variations in circumstances. But they too accept the faulty conception of a "psychic spring which feeds all the creations of human culture." Neither side to the controversy appears to realize that psychological phenomena are in no sense fixed precedents of the things invented but rather are themselves developed in mutual interaction with the things, as constituents of human situations. Both psychological and ethnological phenomena develop and occur in an indissoluble relationship.

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Throughout an examination of the anthropic background of cultural conduct we are vividly reminded of the methodological dangers lurking in the attempt to simplify our data. Especially in the study of causes or conditions of anthropic events we must avoid the abstracting procedure of the physical sciences. It is impossible when dealing with complex human facts to isolate single interrelated conditions which may be regarded as directly responsible for a particular event. Whenever we attribute the original development of any specific anthropic element, its distribution among various communities or its changes, to some cause we are bound to misinterpret the whole situation.

The avoidance of the error of simplification must not, however, be construed as building up a barrier between cultural and say, physical phenomena. As happenings in nature there is no difference between them. Even simple physical (nonhuman) events cannot be attributed to single causes. But what we are able to do when we try to explain simple physical facts, namely reduce them to simple cause and effect relations, is an impossible procedure when we deal with anthropic data. For it is precisely the numerous intimate details of human events that provide the authentic descriptive handling of human facts. The only safe methodological procedure therefore is to look upon every human fact as a fiber interwoven in an intricate texture of human events. As compared then with the physicist, the social scientist in his investigation is not influenced by the goal of finding universal principles of explaining a series of apparently homogeneous events but rather he endeavors to discover the laws governing unique phenomena.

It follows therefore that in our study of anthropic occurrences we can do no more than to isolate a number of general causative or conditioning factors. In the present section then

(146) we pass in review a few of the many possible conditions that have a determining effect upon the occurrence of human phenomena.

Cultural Trends.—As potent determiners of anthropic phenomena cultural trends will at once be accorded a prominent place. A cultural trend we may think of as a typical or characteristic human development which persists among certain collectivities. For example, we regard a certain primitive group as nomadic, another as warlike. In more complex human associations some ethnic units may be considered as more musical, others predominantly sea or land folk, etc. Still different anthropic tendencies stamp collectivities as agricultural, industrial, or commercial. Cultural bents of a more subtle type are discovered in the vivacity and preciseness of French speech and thought, the thoroughness of the Germans, the mysticism of the Orientals, the artistic proclivities of certain communities, and the arrogance or unreliability of others. When these cultural trends are ethnic they unify particular civilizations and divide them off from other anthropic systems. Subethnic trends or more particularized bents of civilization, such as are found in numerous array in complex communities, merely systematize cultural elements along certain lines.

Of such particularized anthropic trends all kinds exist. There are intellectual, artistic, economic, scientific, religious and linguistic forms. The number as well as the types, of course, depend upon the size and complexity of the ethnic unity. Each type of trend not only operates in its own sphere, as in the case of language trends conditioning speech, or religious trends conditioning the religious circumstances of a group, but they also function in departments of life really foreign to them. For instance, religious trends may interfere with scientific thinking or vice versa. Again, notice that not always do these trends operate in isolation. Several of them

( 147) or all those existing in a particular community may in conjunction influence the life and action of that group.

In two ways do such cultural trends condition the civilization of collectivities. First, they exert a positive influence, in the sense that the religious trend determines what kind of religious conduct persons shall exclusively perform. Secondly, trends of action affect individuals negatively by stimulating them to revolt against and renounce accepted traditions. It is not an uncommon occurrence either for conflicts between these trends to bring about the development of new cultural elements, thus engendering a fresh anthropic trend. When a moral trend runs counter to a commercial tradition, the chances are that a new moral sentiment will arise in a given civilizational center.

Generally speaking, cultural trends determine the conservation of cultural elements as totalities by influencing the group to resist an alteration in its manners, laws, language, or customs. Also they prevent the acceptance of new anthropic elements, or the assimilation of inharmonic factors which have already achieved a foothold in a particular cultural system. Although these cultural trends are themselves not always permanent anthropic phenomena, they nevertheless exert powerful influences. Where a certain idea has become established no other conception can gain a footing without a strong force to support it. As we have already suggested we may regard such anthropic trends as the basis for the cohesion of anthropic systems. One of their most remarkable features is that they arise and persist without regard to any utilitarian, logical, or other criterion, and irrespective of the needs and desires of the personnel of the anthropic communities in which they are found.

For the greater part the more specialized trends have a more powerful role as causes of culture. This situation doubtless is owing to the more limited range of circumstances involved and especially to the smaller number of persons con-

( 148) -cerned. On approaching any ethnic cultural situation, therefore, one observes innumerable variations from prevailing cultural tendencies. No absolute homogeneity of cultural elements is to be found. All groups contain sufficient negative instances—unconformities and inequalities—to serve as the exception proving the rule of cultural trends.

Not all members of militaristic groups are militaristic. Not all individuals of a progressive collectivity are progressive. This situation is inevitable when human persons are concerned. Anthropic trends must never be considered as other than decidedly empirical events, tendencies that are analyzed out of human situations. Because they are not metaphysical processes they are never to be thought of as absolute. It is clear then that cultural trends themselves are determined and conditioned by other factors with which they coexist in a human situation, for example the conduct of members of the anthropic units in which they are found. That anthropic tendencies are subject to modification does not detract, however, from their capacity not only to condition the quality of certain civilizations but also to influence their rate of transformation.

Historical Conditions.—An influence upon anthropic phenomena similar to the cultural trends, but in a way basic to them, is that of the historical position of a cultural unit. The nature of an anthropic system is to a great extent conditioned by its historical origin and development. The conditions here may be generalized as the interrelation of cultural units. To illustrate, the civilization of the Latin ethnic units are decidedly colored in their linguistic and religious aspects by their descent from or contact with the Roman cultural system. In more recent times differences in these anthropic units have been induced by their differential contacts with other ethnic groups. Spanish culture reveals its historical contact with Moorish civilization, French with Germanic, Roumanian with Slavic, etc. The study of each anthropic unit

(149) demonstrates the contribution to every cultural complex of elements derived from historical contacts with other units.

It is not difficult to conclude then that historical conditions are in part responsible for the general scope and complexion of a particular civilization or for some specific trend. The civilization of the people of the United States as an anthropic unit, for instance, may be traced out in its details according to its historical contacts. The chief cultural trends issue from England, while the language and other particular elements are derived partially from Indian, Negro, and other contacts. It is believed that the Chinese derived their use of the horse, donkey and camel, and the practice of felt and rug weaving from encounters with the Turkish and Tongus civilizations. Despite the long-time connotation of the term historical, the processes of historical contacts can be observed at any time. We need give attention only to the trade and military contacts of nations to see to what an extent historical conditions influence particular features of intercommunicating civilizations.

Life Conditions.—A fertile source of anthropic causes is to be found in the actual living conditions of human organisms. Minute human ecological details determine the civilizational circumstances of families, sibs, tribes, nations, etc. The accidents and incidents of health, war, slavery, colonization, the existence or non-existence of roads, hospitals, industries, condition the kind of institutions, language, laws, customs, etc., that a particular collectivity will have. To illustrate, the rigors of economic life in a certain community result in the origination of an infanticide institution. Infanticide in turn may provoke changes in marriage relations; in brief it may bring about the institution of polyandry. Among life conditions we must distinguish, of course, between occasional circumstances such as famines, invasions, and other crises, and the more or less fixed periodic natural events such as the overflowing of rivers, changes in seasons, the biological phenomena of puberty, catamenia, pregnancy, climacteric, old age, etc. Some

(150) of the constant and contingent conditions naturally involve one another and thus neutralize or intensify each others' influences.

A striking example of the influence of life conditions upon anthropic phenomena is their effect upon language. Ethnologists have convincingly demonstrated that particular types of vocabulary, grammatical processes and refinements depend upon the function of the language in meeting the life conditions of particular groups. It is found that the lack of numbers or symbols for many objects is owing to the groups not dealing with large quantities of things. Again, the multiplication and refinement of terms for what appear to be practically the same thing may be explained on the basis of the ecological circumstances of the linguistic group in question. None other than the necessities of changing life conditions are enlarging the Japanese and other peoples' languages to accommodate themselves to European references to things. Similarly, the altering life circumstances of the Chinese people are inducing that group to seek for an alphabetical substitution for their present written language. Again, ecological circumstances restricted to the scientific field are stimulating scientists to attempt the establishment of a universal language. Obviously, since language is merely a behavior instrument for intercourse between individuals, in other words a behavior method of referring to things, we find that every specific instance of language manifests in an unmistakeable way the life circumstances of individuals.

What is true of language is equally true of law, religion, family and social organization, and other anthropic elements. No special examples are required here, for whoever pays the slightest attention to the modifications in these apparently permanent features of civilization will see the numerous influences upon them of the particular exigencies of living.

Environmental Conditions.—Quite a distinct set of anthropic determiners may be located in the environmental

( 151) surroundings of human societies. We confine the term environment to the natural auspices under which human organisms live. Foremost are the general surface or topographical conditions surrounding the community. The proximity of rivers, lakes, or other water, the smoothness or hilliness of the country, also the availability of particular plants and animals, metals, stones and other types of natural resources, rigidly condition the type of cultural elements developed. Climate, altitude and other telluric phenomena make plausible or prevent the development of anthropic facts as well as hasten or retard the evolution of cultural complexes.

Unhappily the environmental influences upon culture have been made the unfortunate pawns in a struggle between different types of anthropological absolutists. On the one hand, there are those who regard environment as a sole cause for the development of cultures in all their respects. Clearly it is an irrational extremity of scientific interpretation to make climate or geography a single cause for the existence of any cultural system or any of its divisions. A telling objection to such a limiting theory is that in some instances the same type of environment surrounds entirely different cultural systems. On the opposite side, it is contended that environmental features of a group have no influence at all upon its cultural factors.

Between these two contradictory viewpoints the actual function of environmental features as conditions of anthropic development has been misprized. True it is, of course, that they are not complete or sole determiners of perhaps any feature of a cultural system. But surely they play no insignificant part as partial conditioners of anthropic factors. Certainly environmental features make possible or impossible the existence of specific human phenomena.. While it is true that among collectivities living in the same region, one group builds snow houses while the other. does not, this differentiation would not occur were it not for the snow environment. With-

( 152) -out woody surroundings no collectivity could develop a woodemploying technique or possess wood products as part of its anthropic system. A primary consideration here for the detailed student of anthropic phenomena is the fact that environmental features in their essential details must be present in order to serve as stimuli for the activities of the individual members of the collectivities. For instance, inventions, in one of their aspects at least, depend upon the presence of environmental factors which not only suggest reactions of a certain type but have a potent influence upon the elaboration of any inventive development.

Here is another occasion to honor the inviolable precept of the social sciences, namely to occupy ourselves with actual details of the facts we study. In complying with this requirement of the logic of science we do not disregard certain conditions merely because they are not the sole causes of the occurrence of particular phenomena. It is undeniable that environmental influences in the form of specific objects and conditions, in conjunction with all the various other determiners, play an important role in shaping the anthropic complexes in every cultural system.

Psychological Conditions.—It is only natural to expect psychological factors to be of great significance as causes of cultural phenomena. For these types of determining influences are intimately involved with the persons who constitute the kernel of the anthropic system. In spite of the fact, however, that the whole anthropic system revolves around the psychological activities of the group, it is to be urged immediately that in no sense can the fortunes of cultural phenomena be attributed exclusively to the operation of psychological facts. Rather, psychological happenings cooperate with many other kinds of circumstances. No psychological process can take place without the environmental circumstances that constitute the basis for the stimuli functions which provoke action. And it is inconceivable that the stim-

(153) -uli functions can exist without connection with particular properties of objects, the existence of various geographic factors, besides raw materials, etc. Neither can psychological facts exist without tools, social organization, traditions, etc., which condition their occurrence.

The psychological influences upon anthropic phenomena may be divided into two types. First we may refer to the actual behavior of persons. Such activity consists of the wants, desires, imagination, habits, beliefs, loves, jealousies, and other action of individuals which function as the bases for cultural development and degeneration. Possibly these psychological factors condition primarily cultural elements of the more personal type, those, namely, touching the phenomena of patriotism, prejudices, ideals, craftsmanship and domestic relations. Such psychological conditions, however, need not be restricted in their operation to these particular features of civilization.

More potent than the behavior of persons as determiners of anthropic phenomena are psychological processes. To illustrate, the nature of a specific cultural system depends to some extent upon the process of habituation. Once individuals have built up a series of responses they become behavioristically inert. They are not susceptible to possible modifications in their institutions. Customs, laws, forms of thought or worship remain relatively fixed. The group as a whole may then become inhospitable to cultural borrowings from other groups. Again, the processes of intelligence may operate. When persons of certain collectivities acquire particular capacities or many capacities they become more efficient and as a consequence their civilization may take on a progressive aspect. The existence of inventive processes, the development of imaginative power and reasoning among persons of given communities undoubtedly make for an advanced form of civilization.

In similar fashion all the various psychological processes

( 154) involved in the acquisition of behavior equipments [4] have their share in the sway of cultural formation. We are really pointing out here the causal conditions residing in the principle of personality development. Since the acquisition of reaction systems makes individuals into particular types it necessarily has a powerful influence upon cultural events. To these primarily personal factors we must add the principles of social psychology. Here the process of culturalization, the development of cultural traits, stands supreme. The more successfully the culturalization processes operate the more static and conservative are the groups concerned.

Institutional Circumstances.[5] —The institutional character of any cultural unit presents us with a definite set of influences upon its civilizational system. Institutions we may regard as small scale trends of a cultural type, or as particularities manifesting the larger trends we have already treated. A favorite illustration of institutional influence upon cultural phenomena is found in the dominance of Aristotelian science in the Mediaeval and early modern intellectual periods. It is thought that established Aristotelian institutions have prevented the development of newer scientific ideas and principles. As a matter of fact even if the solid foundation of an intellectual or scientific institution does not wholly prevent newer ideas from coming into existence it at least hinders the rapidity with which they come to prevail.

When we pass to inventions the ease and rapidity with which they are made are owing to the existence or non-existence of institutions of an intellectual or mechanical sort which favor or deter their development. In an anthropic system in which institutions of cheapness and commonness are strongly intrenched there is no call for the invention of fine things or laborious processes for producing them.

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In the domain of art, it is well appreciated how the prior establishment of institutions, in the form of technical manners and modes, prevents the advent of new techniques and styles. Hence the constant railing at academic traditions and their blighting influence upon spontaneity and free expression among the younger artists. Similarly, in the field of language the frequent references made to pedants and other conservators of use and wont indicate the general appreciation of the influence of rigid rules of speech and spelling as stable institutions.

Institutions of dress and manners offer us an abundance of illustrative conditions influencing the acceleration of cultural changes. The field of fashion in complex societies is completely dominated by institutions of change. Garments must be periodically modified, in fact each season, and the shorter the season the more influential the institution. This accelerating type of institutional influence suggests that probably no institution functions exclusively as an inhibiting condition. Possibly every institutional establishment serves two functions, namely, to inhibit the development of certain anthropic phenomena, and to promote others. Certain types of institutions, however, may be regarded as primarily inhibitors, as in the case of church institutions. Indeed clothes and church institutions might be cited as examples of the two extremes. The former as we have indicated are responsible for rapidly changing circumstances prevailing in a society. The latter make for the immobility and rigidity of mores as exemplified in the preservation of Latin, Hebrew, and old Slavonic as the languages employed in church ritual, although they have no other living function in the particular society harboring them. Institutions of the church variety may cause various practices having no function or significance to persist in the life of a collectivity.

Human Conditions.—Many influences upon cultural phenomena especially in more complex societies, are traceable

(156) to human conditions. Under this term we include economic and political circumstances. These we may regard as more ephemeral human situations than we discussed under the heading of life conditions. The present influences constitute in a sense the immediate status of the group. For instance, the particular political and economic circumstances of a community at some specific time may stimulate or favor the encouragement of scientific work, the establishment of institutions of learning, and in other ways serve as the direct or indirect causes of various anthropic conditions. In similar fashion the social and moral circumstances of a group promote or retard the development of science, art, and intelligence among populations. An excellent illustration is found in the influence of religious life of the mediaeval community favoring the building of cathedrals and the development of religious art. Again, wherever there are good roads, rapid means of transportation, cheap and abundant newspapers, there are means for the dissemination of knowledge, principles and practices of various arts, the borrowing of ideas and objects, the spread of customs, etc. It is notorious, too, how the industrial conditions of a cultural collectivity accelerate the development of inventions connected with industrial processes. Again, to observe the styles in literary and dramatic products is to note how temporal human conditions influence the cultural life of a community. From time to time as conditions change, novels and dramas are based upon specific problems, the freedom of women, the dangers of venereal diseases, the servility of labor, etc. It is hardly necessary to add that such ephemeral life conditions probably influence more the primarily temporal aspects of culture. But it is really impossible to draw such fine lines as to enable us to say that the influence here does not extend to all the phases of anthropic existence.

In concluding our discussion of the conditions for the origin and maintenance of anthropic elements we must not neglect

( 157) to suggest the interrelation of the various causal conditions. We should be yielding to the simplifying temptation if we overlooked the conjoint operation of these influencing factors. Life conditions alone, without mutual interconnection with psychological and other facts, do not account for the existence of linguistic, religious, or law traditions. Rather, all of these institutions and cultural elements are modified and developed through the instrumentality and influence of an intermixture of such causal or conditioning factors.

Let us look too to the relative place of the psychological and environmental factors. If the kind of cultural objects which exist in a group are the products of psychological actions, these actions can only be regarded as responses to certain raw materials existing in that group's environment. Again, the skill and craft capacities of the individuals concerned are directly dependent upon the amount of stimulation by both natural and cultural objects. Obviously, then, both psychological and environmental facts are mutually necessary as conditioning factors of civilization. This point may be generalized for all of the conditions of anthropic happenings.

Our survey further indicates the need to analyze any anthropic situation into a series of interrelated facts each of which must be investigated by those versed in the study of such happenings. The description of the phenomena involved must represent therefore a synthetic statement composed of the various contributing propositions of specialized investigators. Such a synthetic interpretation of anthropic happenings might prevent scholars from assuming that in an adjoining science to their own there are ultimate explanations of certain facts. For example, a philologist in pointing out the presence of linguistic patterns as isolating, inflectional, agglutinative, etc., remarks that for the ultimate explanation of this morphology the psychologist must be held responsible. The fact is, however, that the psychological aspects of the cultural situation are also specific empirical conditions. The synthetic

( 158) statement therefore constitutes the organization of all the naturalistic factors, and the exclusion of ultimates whether innocent abstractions or metaphysical absolutes.


It is common observation that as a rule persons regard their own culture as the best and most valuable. Upon reflection we find, of course, that conditions could hardly be otherwise. To live with individuals who act in a certain wav and to be constantly in contact with particular kinds of objects brings about an intimacy which, when brought to articulation, constitutes ipso-facto a judgment of high evaluation and unqualified approval.

The certainty of one's opinion concerning one's own anthropic system naturally depends upon a person's range of contact with other civilizations. The fewer contacts with different groups the surer one is of the importance and value of one's own. Assuredly a person who has not seen other social organizations, techniques, and manners of life can no more have a criterion of comparison than he can possess knowledge of other cultural systems. His own culture therefore is not only best so far as his attitude is concerned, but it is the only one really having any existence for him. When persons have only a very limited acquaintance with culture they cannot have any valid judgments, to say nothing of being openminded or rational. Who would think of asking a Sunday school class who had never heard of Buddah, or Mohammed, how these religious figures compare with Christ?

That judgments entertained by those not acquainted with cultures are not worthy of consideration is obvious. But unfortunately the opinions of those most favorably situated are frequently not much more valid. For even here various psychological conditions influence the value of one's judgments. It is almost impossible to overcome the prejudices

( 159) developed with the early acquisition of tastes, preferences, tend cognitive intimacies through an invariable association with one's own institutions. Everyone is familiar with the claims made by Europeans concerning the absolute superiority of the Western over the Eastern civilizations, claims which are exactly duplicated by the attitudes of the Easterners with respect to the Occidentals. Most remarkable it is that even ethnologists participate in such expressions of judgments of civilizational superiority. For instance, anthropologists are actually willing to ascribe superiority to Nordic civilizations over other Occidental types. When all the white cultures are taken en masse then there seems to be no limit to the confidence expressed in the superiority of such civilizations. This view may or may not be coupled with the idea that such superiorities are the inevitable results of a race factor. The question arises, therefore, how to satisfy the conflict between the different judgments of approval. Certainly not all the cultures asserted to be the best (a circumstance which includes them all respectively) can possibly be the most superior. Especially is this true when we observe how widely varied are the different civilizations. Is a militant form of culture superior to a pacific one, a republican to an imperialistic one? Or can we decide the comparative merits of a civilization in which male ascendency is prevalent as over against one in which the female is predominant?

The staggering problem here is the discovery of a touchstone upon which to make our evaluation. Such a criterion perhaps can be found in the possibilities which anthropic systems contain for the adaptability or welfare of the individuals concerned, or of the group as a whole. Immediately we are assured by the facts in the case that probably each anthropic system is best for its own collectivity and human circumstances. Without doubt the simple and crude civilization of the Eskimos taken as a whole is quite as well adapted to their own circumstances as the French ethnic system is to its

( 160) conditions. Surely those who live under one set of circumstances may not underrate the civilization of the other group, for no culture can be as good for the life conditions of another community as it is for the community in which it is actually found. In short, no culture can prove serviceable in the adaptation of human beings unless it is built up under and adapted to a particular set of conditions. Now since these situations always change as we move from community to community, no two cultures can be equally adapted to a certain complex of human situations. Does it not appear futile then to ask the question as to which civilization is superior?

Our comparison of cultures in situ does not preclude the possibility that some elements in a particular cultural system could profitably be incorporated in another group's civilization. But would such a transfer of cultural elements always go in one direction? Decidedly not, although some statistical preponderance of borrowings might be conceived to exist. But even if this should turn out to be the case on the basis of a rigid adaptation criterion we have shifted our problem from complete anthropic systems to cultural specificities.

Unfortunately, for those who must evaluate culture, the entire foundation for making value judgments concerning the comparative qualities of civilizations stands upon a sandy foundation. Are all the elements of a cultural system or the cultural systems themselves adaptation phenomena? Clearly the cultural life of a community is not exclusively bound up with maintenance and environmental adaptations. We can hardly conceive of religion, especially when differentiated from magic, as being intimately involved with maintenance circumstances. In the field of art and ornamentation the anthropic elements are still farther removed from any immediate adaptive purposes. We have already mentioned the erroneous assumption that even the most primitive collectivities are primarily occupied with activities which are motivated by sheer biological existence. When we turn to cul-

( 161) -tural groups of any degree of complexity we find a preponderant series of anthropic factors which are many levels removed from simple adaptive conditions. It follows then that we must have aesthetic, intellectual and other criteria in addition to the test of usefulness.

We do not by any means intend to imply that it is impossible to have a standard of cultural value and perfection. It is not. For example, it is entirely feasible, with the present cultural materials to draw upon, to select specimens of the best tools, art works, social organizations, etc., and combine them into a cultural system better than any which prevails. But the obvious artificial manipulations involved in such a procedure prevent us from confusing such a utopian anthropic system with an actually existing culture. We realize that under actual human circumstances such a human situation could never be contrived. This possibility of logically organizing a superior anthropic system, may, however, be accepted as an inferential basis for drawing conclusions about cultures. But even here we must resist the temptation to base our preferences upon judgments derived from our own cultural surroundings.

Though he possess the best will in the world, the Oriental brought up to seek art in an intense spiritual calm, cannot be expected to accord the same value to the Venus de Milo, which an Occidental does. This is only one illustration which exemplifies the situation throughout every phase and feature of civilization. To what extent is it possible for the protagonist in the arena of modern practical life, where the amassing of material goods is at least the primary if not the sole end of being, to see clearly the merits of entirely different planes of existence? How can such a person weigh fairly the Greek pursuit of wisdom, perfection, and beauty, or the mediaeval aspiration toward supramundane values? And so our hypothetically perfect system could probably at best be perfect only for the perfector. Our speculation has sufficiently

( 162) served our purpose in reducing to an absurdity the search for best cultures so far as actual human circumstances are concerned.

As an example of the sort of predicament to be avoided in judging the value of a cultural system we may refer to a current misconception that substitutes complexity or novelty for superiority. Little reflection is required to make certain that neither of these qualities, whether the complication or increase of cultural elements or processes, or the adoption of new ones, actually makes the cultural system better than it has previously been. To refer to a modern example, what basis exists for saying that a cultural system has changed for the better, when a local industrial situation, in which individuals made required articles by hand out of available materials, is transformed into an enormously complex industrial system? What special merit is there in developing such a complex situation that raw materials available in certain places are transported for hundreds and even thousands of miles to another district to be manufactured into articles and then transported back to the original place where the raw material originated? Passing to another illustration, is a civilization improved when it becomes so complicated as to involve such enormous specialization of industrial processes that no craftsmen are needed, or when the multiplexity increases to the point of producing a wasteful irrelation between the selling and making of goods? Of course it must be noted that the type of economic process and social organization mentioned fits well into the industrial cultural system. But this merely means that a certain culture and its elements exist and not that it is superior or inferior.

One more point. Even if we confine our evaluation to particular subdivisions of a single cultural system it is still difficult to measure their significance. In the first place, by what means could one arrange in a scale of values the different activities and objects of a civilization? Are scientific pursuits

( 163) more valuable than artistic activities? Is scientific knowledge more important than art? Again, is the science or art of a civilization more valuable than the daily practices of ordinary life? Naturally any attempt to make such judgments involves comparable factors in each series. That is to say, the best practices of ordinary life must be matched with the best art and so forth.

Let us push this point a little farther. Subdivide our anthropic system into as small units as possible, we cannot judge any such fraction of culture as a whole, but must go down to very minute instances. Succinctly stated, there is no artistic division of a culture which is not replete with inartistic elements. There is no scientific department of any culture which is not gorged with fallacies and obscurantisms.[6] And this suggestion holds as well for every other cultural division. Certainly the domains of science and art are no exceptions to the general rule that we must inevitably go back to particular workers and specific products. This being the case we have another obstacle in the pathway of those who attempt to measure the relative significance or value of anthropic systems.

Our conclusion, then, reduces itself to the fact that it is only particular civilizational elements which are subject to any genuine qualitative evaluation. Furthermore, these qualitative evaluations are based upon numerous criteria each fitting into its own particular place. Some criteria are derived from the adaptability of the individuals using the cultural elements; others are founded on the aesthetic, economic, and logical qualities of the civilizational factors. And in every case these various criteria must only be employed insofar as they are actually serviceable in comparing civilizational ele-

( 164) -ments with respect to the actual human conditions under which they are found.

Concerning the improvement of an anthropic system this contingency is always to be regarded as feasible. The need for such emendation can be discovered in the circumstances of the given system from the standpoint of the members of the collectivity, or from a comparison of different systems. Here, too, in every instance the genuine improvement of a civilization refers only to some of its elements. Such actual advancements we frequently observe among groups on the basis of the interchange or borrowing of specific anthropic elements.


As the concluding topic in our survey of the anthropic background of social psychology we may glance at some problems concerning the relations existing between individuals and civilization. This aspect of the cultural perspective is of especial importance to the psychologist. For the issues involved bring to the front a number of facts concerning the character of psychological phenomena and their general place in the scheme of civilization. We isolate, for our purpose, three distinct problems. So thoroughly interrelated are they, however, that we may quite appropriately regard them as merely three phases of the same problem.

The first is the problem of social destiny. Here the emphasis is upon the origin and changes in civilization. Those who believe in social destiny look upon civilization as a closed system. It is an absolute entity which exists independently of the power and influences of human beings. Civilization is thus regarded as a set of superorganic phenomena beyond the facts of biology, psychology, or the concrete happenings of human life. As to the relation of man to civilization, he is merely a feature of specific anthropic systems carried along

( 165) in a stream with other objects, but with no effective resistance against or influence upon the general current.

The proponents of this conception naturally base their doctrine upon those anthropic facts which appear to minimize the power of individuals. For instance, they argue that there is nothing in the biological nature of man to determine what sort of civilization should exist, nor to condition what types of society he shall belong to. There is not, in other words, any racial basis of civilization. From a psychological standpoint they indicate that an individual is powerless to develop a language, but has one imposed upon him by his civilizational system. Without knowing anything of grammar he uses certain words, in a certain order, and in general without his consent or knowledge has thrust upon him a linguistic civilization. Similarly, it is declared that inventions are forced upon people by the exigencies of cultural life and cannot be brought into existence by individuals. As support for these propositions the fact is adduced that many individuals always have a part in inventions or in the general development of new things. Accordingly novel civilizational developments are regarded as inevitable in human affairs without reference to specific persons. In the same way it is declared that man is at the mercy of every aspect of his civilization and must accept the art standards, tastes and judgments of his time, the ideas and sciences of his group, and the religion and manners of his society.

Those who oppose the conception of social destiny rest their case upon the fact that after all, all inventions, changes in languages and religion, progress in art and manners must in the final analysis originate with and be carried out by individuals. As a particular case, the opponents of cultural destiny say that scientific ideas are definitely influenced by persons. Indeed it is only shortsight that leads to an undervaluation of the role played by politicians of the scientific domain in affecting the scientific fashions of a particular

( 166) group. In point of fact, such persons with their use of cooperative enterprises, propaganda, as well as other methods, decidedly influence the course of scientific thinking. Are not the manners and customs of a society modified by the advertising campaigns of persons carried out for their own purposes? These examples typify conditions in every department of civilization. Changes in the musical or other artistic life of people, with the possible development of new cultural tendencies, are frequently furthered by cliques, personal intrigues, and other deliberate influences. It is of course admitted that the efforts of persons in changing civilization frequently are abetted by war conditions, industrial, political and commercial circumstances. But these it is retorted are not forces entirely independent of human individuals. And certainly they cannot be regarded as forces of social destiny.

A more popular version of the social destiny theory concerns the events localized within political and historical circumstances. The upholders of the doctrine say that historical facts roll on without any interference of individuals. Heroes or the great figures of history are believed to arise at particular moments in the current of affairs of a particular group, but are considered as playing their part only insofar as such a course of human circumstances permits, after which they drop out of the field. It is further indicated how great figures always have supports in other individuals, who themselves have sources of power located in inevitable, political, economic, social and military circumstances. In general it is asserted that historical events like languages, religions and art have a power within them in complete disregard of the desires or choice of individuals.

The champions of the hero theory on the other hand, stress the power and force resident in an individual enabling him to direct the course of human events. The great figures in history, the political heroes, dictators, diplomats, liberators,

( 167) and other striking personalities are regarded as sources of genuine determiners of the destinies of nations.

There seems to be no doubt that both the proponents and opponents of the social destiny theory have considerable truth on their respective sides. But it seems equally clear that both sets of contenders magnify their facts into forces and also assume sharp divisions to exist in human circumstances. Thus, certain factual elements are not only overstressed but are made into empty absolutes. The entire basis for the controversy concerning social destiny lies in a process of fallacious abstraction. Why put a hypothetical individual over against a purely conceptual group or civilization? No science is really concerned with such things. Besides, the collectivities to which individuals belong are actually numbered by the thousands. There is in fact no such thing as a single group either in complex or more simple civilizations. Thus there really is no one group or specific civilization to set over against the individual.

Possibly the motive for developing these abstractions is traceable to a desire to explain and evaluate human phenomena at one stroke. On the one hand, the anthropologist, inclined toward mass phenomena and historical units, will interpret all human events as factors in a civilization existing beyond the specific actions of persons. Ethnologists with psychological interests, on the other hand, demand an explanation of human phenomena in terms of the behavior of persons to the neglect of the larger social factors. If this is the case, the question arises as to how valid such explanations can be. Nothing is more certain than that one cannot explain concrete things by abstractions. And surely the only realities in the field of social phenomena are specific happenings.

On the side of the individual there are no facts over and above the actual details of psychological, sociological and biological events. So far as society is concerned we may agree that culture is a closed system, but this means only

( 168) for example that the totality of civilizational conditions can not be explained in terms of the behavior of persons. Also to be considered are the environmental circumstances, the presence or absence of plants, animals, metals, streams, etc. By all means must we accord the slow development of cultural objects and process throughout generations a distinct place in civilization. Thus, given individuals are born into closed anthropic systems. But this does not mean that the actions of persons have no counter effect upon their civilization. We suggest then that all the data in the field of the human sciences should be explained in terms of concrete facts rather than in terms of any form of empty abstractions.

Our second problem concerns the question of the submergence of a person in his civilization. Here the psychological implications emerge somewhat more definitely, for at this point are stressed the source of origin of mentality development and of general human qualities. The question is asked, can individuals in any sense develop independently of their anthropic systems? Or to go still farther, can an individual be superior to his community in matters of intelligence, moral thought and conduct, or aesthetic appreciation and creation?

On the whole it is quite true that individuals acquire their civilizational qualities as members of particular groups. From the standpoint of an infant it is beyond question that the group enjoys a prior existence. It is granted, too, that when the infant is born into a society he must adapt himself to it by developing certain necessary qualities before he can take his place among his fellow participants in the community. Certain it is that if we consider the number of group phenomena that are set over against the individual, collectivities must be regarded as gigantic factors in human circumstances. So far then the person is pretty well submerged in his groups.

Nevertheless there are omnipresent opposing facts. Cannot individuals in the course of their domestication develop

( 169) contrary traits of thought and action? Protestants of all types and those who renounce the ordinary modes of living are in no wise to be dismissed as spurious manifestations of culture. With respect to intellectual matters it is obvious that persons may develop knowledge and capacities which not only represent an emancipation from the trammels of society but also signalize the transcendence of the group level. Are there not even in the simplest societies strong individualists, persons who stand out of their groups in knowledge and capacities and even in opposition to the community? In our own complex civilizations there are numerous examples to illustrate this situation. Intellectual history records many cases in which persons have been infinitely superior to their human surroundings. An instructive example is that of Cavendish who according to his biographer, sat calmly by with knowledge gained from his scientific experiments, watching the hopeless stumbling of his scientific confreres into error after error. Though it is a fact that an individual cannot be entirely separated from his human surroundings, who shall deny that persons can develop capacities which contradict the theory of the absolute domination of the individual by society as a whole, or by particular collectivities?

That individuals can develop independent traits is immediately apparent from a consideration of the details of psychological processes. Once we concern ourselves with the particularities of human societies we discover many conditions making it possible for objects, actions, and other civilizational elements to affect individuals differently. Thus they can build up traits of action which are to a great extent unique from the standpoint of the mass. Also contacts with persons and objects from different societies enable a person to acquire progressively different reactions than are ordinarily found in a particular collectivity. Such variations in behavior are not limited to subtle activities called attitudes, knowledge, or reasoning processes, but include all types of practices. Ac-

( 170) -cordingly individuals can develop idiosyncratic action of all types. Perhaps in most cases the individual really shares such independent traits with small groups such as families or schools, but whether he does or not a total submergence of persons in societies is nowise an absolute condition.

Our third problem is concerned with the "organic whole," or an attempt to account for the sources of civilizational qualities. The question emphasized is in what way do groups and individuals contribute to each others' development. It is to be observed at once that the very formulation of this problem indicates a rejection of either society or the individual as the sole source of social phenomena. This amounts to a compromise viewpoint.

The sponsors of the "organic whole" doctrine assert that civilizations and individuals are constantly reciprocating in their action upon each other. Individuals are presumed to be the sources of many forms of innate powers which are developed through the action upon them of the society in which they live. After innate characteristics are developed into social traits, they exert influences upon and transform the phenomena of civilization.

Now it occurs to the writer that a compromise position, when it brings together two unacceptable views, can be no more useful than the separate doctrines. The "organic whole" theory represents an abstracting process which results in the creating of two explanatory entities, a substantive society on the one hand, and an absolute person on the other. Both of these abstractions together, no more than each separately, can give us any satisfactory picture of the relations of persons and civilizations.

Yet, there is after all something to be said in approval of this compromise position, for it does undoubtedly suggest the constant interaction that goes on during the mutual conditioning of persons and the groups in which they live. The "organic whole" problem requires, then, only to be emended so that both

( 171) men and cultures are regarded as very specific things and events.

On the side of the individual. Instead of assuming that the person, when he is born into a society consists of a congeries of sheer civilizational possibilities, we regard him as a factor in a complex series of human developments. First, the person comes into the world as a biological organism continuing the life of certain members of a definite species—a species that has evolved to the point of being civilized animals as all human beings are. Thus occupying a given place on the biological scale, the organism is prepared to become civilized. The process of civilization is the acquisition, through contacts with cultural objects, of language, beliefs, ideas, and the achievement of the capacity to perform all other activities of social beings. Moreover, as we have already suggested, the organism can develop capacities which may result in the modification of his social system.

On the side of civilization. Let us substitute for an abstract society a system of objects, institutions, and persons each of which constitutes a development in the long life of individuals in their succeeding generations. Civilizational objects, when they are farthest removed from biological phenomena, are physical objects shaped and organized through the activities of psychological organisms. No phase of civilization is then beyond biological and psychological levels of existence, except the sheerest raw materials of cultural objects, or ultimate biological structures and functions of man, and the flora and fauna of his surroundings. On the other hand, probably most of the constituents of civilization include human actions, the organizations of persons, techniques, and other products which exist quite upon a psychological level. On the whole, it would appear therefore that the nature and development of the anthropic qualities of man and society may both be sought in an elaborate series of very specific human events.


TYLOR, Anthropology, 1881.

TYLOR, Primitive Culture, 1883.

HADDON, A History of Anthropology, 1910.

BOAS, The Mind of Primitive Man, 1911.

MARETT, Anthropology, 1912.

DURKHEIM, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1915.

LowiE, Culture and Ethnology, 1917.

LOWIE, Primitive Society, 1920.

FREEMAN, Social Decay and Regeneration, 1921.

GOLDENWEISER, Early Civilization, 1922.

BARTLETT, Psychology and Primitive Culture, 1923.

KROEBER, Anthropology, 1923.

WISSLER, Man and Culture, 1923.

BARNES, (ED.) History and Prospects of the Social Sciences, 1925.

TOZZER, Social Origins and Social Continuities, 1925.

OGBURN and GOLDENWEISER, The Social Sciences and their Interrelation, 1927.


  1. See references given by this writer, in C.A., p. 225.
  2. Goldenweiser, C.A., p. 237.
  3. C.A., p. 237.
  4. For nature of behavior equipment, see Chapter Vl.
  5. We are referring here of course to sociological and not psychological institutions.
  6. Think only of how mathematical methods and results have been magicized, and unwittingly made into cloaks of ignorance and shrouds for the most errant nonsense.

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