Review of The Control of the Social Mind

Floyd Henry Allport

Careful workers in social psychology need not be discouraged by the unscientific title of Professor Weeks' latest work. There is strictly no such thing as the "Social Mind''; but then, the author has not tried to write anything about it. In very few places in the book does the lurid group fallacy of the title page enter to vitiate the discussion. Nor does the subject matter deal more precisely with the control of "public opinion" as represented in individuals. There is of course some discussion of this

(310) subject; but the work as a whole is an enthusiastic propaganda for turning psychological knowledge toward improvement, through efficiency and economy of energy, in industrial and civic enterprise. The "social mind" seems intended as an equivalent for social and political efficiency. If we allow for the fact that the "psychology" employed is inspirational rather than of a scientific or research character, the sub-title is a fairly adequate statement of the contents. The main title exemplifies an unfortunate modern tendency toward clamor for popularity in the name of psychology. We do not mean, however, that the book is wholly lacking in good psychological substance; but that we agree with the statement of the editor, eulogistically intended, that, "Professor Weeks has established his position as a director of ideas for popular consumption".

Obviously written to persuade, the book abounds in epigrams, Yet there are, here and there, passages of value to the more serious student of social psychology. Among these is the urge for more clearly defining the terms used for control of the public through propaganda. Attaching labels is a menacing "fallacy of words". The child should be allowed to arrive at his concepts through enlarged experience, instead of having his thinking controlled by concepts given by adults. "Provide evidence and culture materials but refrain from interference with the proper development of general ideas, should be the rule" (p. 53). The limits to this doctrine are of course apparent (reviewer). It is surely using the term in a broad sense when the author (p. 57) asserts that "too restricted concepts were the psychological basis of the Civil War in America".

We need also to apply psychology to the building up of defenses against unscrupulous commercial and political propagandism. "Propaganda is twin brother to advertising, but goes beyond commercial advertising in that control of fundamental attitudes on great issues is sought, and not infrequently for no perceptible benefit to the people [controlled]." Particularly vicious is the propaganda. emanating from an invisible and impersonal source, yet endowed, because anonymously published, with a prestige due to what the reviewer calls the illusion of universality (all are thought to be reading it). Articles should be signed that we may know the motive of the writer and guard our sentiments against exploitation. A further need for the defense of private opinion exists in regard to voting. Intimidation by employer or other social pressure must be abolished by secrecy of the ballot. "In committee meetings, clubs, and local organizations, publicity of voting is a restraint."

Chapter VIII, "The Psychology of Public Business" contains suggestions of value for the psychology of public opinion. Means must be devised for keeping citizens informed of the workings of their government upon the one hand, and of keeping governmental official informed of the views and wishes of the people whom they represent upon the other. At present too much isolation exists between public business and the check of public knowledge and control.

In the second part of the volume the author treats us to a view of "the

(311) social mind at closer range". It is to be feared, however, that decreasing the distance has not greatly increased our clarity of vision. Speculation, craze, and the universal desire to get rich quickly are touched upon, but are given no more adequate psychological basis than a picturesque "instinct of adventure". Along with fear and the "fighting instinct" we find such forces as the "instinct of curiosity", the ''hunting instinct", the "instinct of decoration" and display, and the "parental form of the sex instinct" ---all introduced as psychological bases which are to be turned [often in a rather far-fetched manner] to socially constructive expression. The remaining chapters are based upon somewhat better foundations and contain much that is worth reading. They deal with the social value of recreation and play as means of creatively absorbing energies, the social. uses of memory [really a loose description of the conditioned response and education in socializing the individual], the art of accuracy in journalistic and other social controls, the power of suggestion in constructive citizenship and in mobs, the needed attitude for a scientific program of "social engineering" and the conservation and employment of "available civic energy ".



No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2