Culture and Environment II. The Continuity of Nature and Culture
Luther Lee Bernard
WITH respect to another phase of the relation of culture and environment the culture interpretationists are much more explicit and vocal. It is their contention that environment does not determine the type of culture, but at the most only limits it negatively. Some of them indeed hold that culture is underived and peculiarly an entity or a process in itself. It will be our object in this section to examine these contentions in some detail and to show that culture is a child of nature and never is able to disconnect itself entirely from nature, but rather supplements nature and has developed as an extension both of the natural environment and of the adjusting organism as an aid to further and more successful adjustment.
What has already been said will be helpful in pursuing this objective.
Practically all of the recent anthropologists have emphasized the passive rôle of the natural environment. Wissler says, "Environment furnishes the materials and in that sense only limits invention. To invent a birchbark-covered house a man must have lived among birch trees, but the mere living there does not require such an invention." Lowie declares, "The environment furnishes the builders of cultural structures with brick and mortar but it does not furnish the architect's plan. "
Again, he says, "The environment . . . . enters into culture, not as a formative but rather as an inert element ready to be selected from and molded." "The development of a particular architectural style and the selection of a special material from among an indefinite number of possible styles and materials are what characterize a given culture. Since geography permits more than a single adjustment to the same conditions, it cannot give the interpretation sought by the student of culture. " Dixon is less dogmatic, but agrees that "in the main environment is permissive, not mandatory, in general it offers opportunities, be they few or many, which man may take or leave as he chooses." , Goldenweiser's formula is perhaps slightly more behavioristic, but it amounts to the same thing: "Civilization is dynamic, a thing of growth and development; while environment is comparatively inert and static . . Civilizational changes cannot be derived from the characteristics of an environment that does not change"(!) The argument of Wallis is longer and more derailed, but to the same effect. Boas not only takes the same view," but is apparently father of this ideological concept and viewpoint among modern anthropologists in the United States.
With regard to these contentions, or this contention, certain questions are appropriate. In the first place, is it true that only culture is dynamic and mandatory and that environment (the natural environment is apparently implied) is merely static and permissive, or the provider of materials only? I have shown elsewhere that in the early stages of empirical invention it is nature that furnishes the model for the invention, or the architect's plan. The early club is but an extension of the arm, the beginning of the hammer is in a stone that weights the fist. The hatchet or ax is at first a sharp stone held in the hand, later to be held by the grasping fingers or a split stick or bound to a handle by means of withes. The throwing stick-and later the bow-involves the principle of the resiliant twig, and in fact grows out of it, The digging stick, taken at first directly from nature, is later sharpened by man (culture), and later still is pointed with a flat stone, a shell, or bone, and finally with metal. Archeologists cannot tell where nature left off fashioning the first hatchet or coup de poing and man began to do the work better. The first boat was doubtless a floating log and the first propellers the arms of the man stretched upon it.
Likewise, in the realm of social inventions man also first imitated nature and there is yet a great dispute among the
( 41) social psychologists as to whether nature or culture is dominant in the fashioning of human institutions. The essential dogma of the natural law metaphysicians and theologians of the middle ages, and even down to our day, was that nature provides the basic patterns for all human behavior, which in the concrete particulars is made up of imperfect copies of these natural patterns. This is also what Plato had in mind in his concept of the noumenal and the phenomenal, the perfect"idea" and the imperfect "copy." The modern social evolutionist likewise sees our social institutions as modified copies of earlier social practices which must have grown out of the original biological nature of our prehuman ancestors. But the social evolutionist, being a scientist instead of a metaphysician or a theologian, does not ordinarily hold with Plato that nature has in ultramundane storage a fund of perfect ideas or institutional architects' plans from which he may draw. Nor does he find evidence of a golden age in the past where existed perfect social institutions of which ours are but degenerate imitations. He is more likely to hold that there has been progress in the development of our social behavior and that this particular form of our culture is now better able to adjust human organisms to their natural environments than were the older forms of behavior or institutions which he believes grew originally out of prehuman biological nature. For these institutions, like the physical inventions already mentioned, are culture and their function is that of adjusting man co his environment, originally his natural environment, but now largely his artificial social or cultural environment.
No one will deny, however, that more complex recent inventions (or culture) are not direct copies, or even obvious indirect or modified copies, of the structures in the natural environment. While the old empirical inventions still occur and nature models are constantly copied more or less directly in making such inventions, we have now entered dominantly into a period of projective invention. Here only the objective in the adjustment process remains the same as in the era of the dominance of empirical invention, and even this objective has usually become social rather than individual. The materials out of which the projective invention is constructed in its initial form are purely cultural, that is, symbolical (categories 1, (2.) and 2, (1) of the classification of culture proposed in Section I of this article). Such inventions are first made in terms of imagery, verbal symbols, with mathematical formulas. Later these symbolical descriptions are transformed or translated into computations, specifications, rules, constitutions, codes, creeds, diagrams, blue prints, etc., to serve as guides to the social and mechanical engineers whose business it is to transform them into social institutions (such as states, religions, school systems, mercantile organizations, etc.) and into machines, railroads, factories, bridges, and the like. It is evidently this stage of projective invention that the culture determinists frequently have in mind when they speak of the greater activity of culture in providing the model or the architect's plan. It is manifestly quite true that, while nature was more active
( 42) in providing models or plans in early stages of the development of adjustment technique (or culture), culture itself comes in time to be the immediately more active factor. I say immediately, for back behind all culture lies the highly dynamic fact of nature demanding and compelling the adjustment. In fact, all culture itself, as was pointed out in Section I, has grown up as a means to this adjustment, no more and no less. As Herder intimated a long while ago, when culture becomes an end in itself and neglects to make the adjustment of man to nature its primary objective, or even works in opposition to this end, it pays the penalty of its ignorance or arrogance by being destroyed.
There is another sense in which culture is the immediately more active factor in mediating an adjustment between man and his environment. This is the case of the borrowing of the culture pattern or architect's plan. Here especially we see illustrated the contention of the culture determinists that the natural environment does not demand of culture one and one only plan, nor even the pattern best calculated to make the most effective adjustment between the organism or the group and its environment. Any one of several patterns, and that possibly the least well adapted, may be the one that is selected, or that imposes itself upon the situation. How many illustrations do we see of this very thing in our society today! In politics, in government, in education, in religion, in business, everywhere, not the best, but frequently a very poor pattern shapes our conduct. Even yet we are trying to learn about human nature and society through the classics; we guide justice by the common law; the dead hand of metaphysics hampers our souls in religion; the dogma of the sacredness of private profit strangles to death the youthful ideal of social welfare and civic righteousness; the social worker rejoices more at fanning the feeble flame of a single feeble mind, a dissipated or diseased body, or a wrecked personality than at providing a good environment for the healthy development of the ninety-nine yet uncontaminated. Tradition, custom, ignorance (the limitation of our experience to a single borrowed pattern) estop us from adjusting intelligently and well. In such ways also, as well as through projected and progressive inventions, does culture often select our behavior and dominate us. And all this may—and the more often does—happen before the development of the projected invention is in full swing.
But whence does this borrowed pattern arise? The typical culture determinist often does not attempt to account for its origin. He starts with two categories in the causation of culture, invention and diffusion. His theory of invention is but little developed and is usually limited to the statement that it is one of the two sources of culture. Even Dixon, who gives more attention to invention than does any other contemporary American anthropologist, devotes only one chapter to the subject, while he gives the larger part of five chapters to diffusion, and the analysis of the latter is far more adequate and detailed than is his analysis of the former. The reason, I suppose, for the greater attention lavished upon diffusion by the anthropologists is that their science is still largely descriptive, a field and a
( 43) museum science. The relations of the anthropologists in the past have been much more closely conditioned with the geologists and the geographers than with the psychologists and the sociologists. They are only in the beginning of their development as an independent science, which means that description and classification still appear to them to be much more important than fundamental psychological and sociological analysis. They see evidences of diffusion everywhere they go in their travels. Their physical eyes can detect these data. But the analysis of the inventive process is an abstract one; it must be seen in its fundamental aspects through the knowledge of much more abstract sciences than those of geology and geography, and these sciences the anthropologists have as yet mastered but inadequately.
Thus the culture determinist is ordinarily content to stop with the concept of diffusion and does not care to go back of it to inquire into the ultimate source of the culture pattern received by borrowing. Some of the diffusionists write as if nothing was ever invented, but all things were borrowed. With this truncated point of view they erect culture into an absolute and underived entity. Lowie has expressed this thesis forcibly. He says, "Culture is a thing sui generis which can be explained only in terms of itself. This is not mysticism but sound scientific method. The biologist, whatever metaphysical speculations he may indulge in asto the ultimate origin of life, does not depart in his workaday mood from the principle that every cell is derived from some other cell. So the ethnologist will do well to postulate the principle, Omnis cultura ex cultrara. " If there is any doubt as to Lowie's belief that culture is underived from nature, the following should settle the point: "Culture thus appears as a closed system. We may not be able to explain all cultural phenomena or at least beyond a certain point; but inasmuch as we can explain them at all, explanation must remain on the cultural plane. " With this last contention I wish to take direct issue. It is a "culture-in-a-vacuum " theory which I shall attempt further to account for later.
If, as Lowie and other members of the Boas school seem to think, culture was not derived from nature—is, in fact, underived —then how shall it be accounted for? Shall we be content merely to take it as we find it, study its behavior now, and disregard its origins? Such a program is illusory; it cannot be carried out in practice. Culture is not static. It has a history, and the human mind is curious about this history. The question of the origins of our culture is the oldest one in our traditions. All of the great theologies or mythologies and philosophies have attempted to answer it, and the very fact that a group of culture interpretationists would consciously bar it is perhaps an unconscious recognition of the fact that it is knocking clamorously for recognition. The early theologies answered, "Revelation." The Greek and mediaeval metaphysicians replied, "natural law," "innate ideas," "intuition." The modern metaphysicians have responded to this same query as to the origins of culture with the supposedly magic words "intuition" and "instinct." Would the culture interpretationists accept any of these explanations? It is difficult to believe that they would.
Whether they explain their underived
( 44) culture in terms of such archaic formulas or whether they ignore the problem altogether, Lowie's words would seem to justify his readers in supposing he believes that in the beginning there was Culture, which some have called God, and that Culture created all else. The analogy perforce stops here, for neither did Culture do his work in six days, nor did he rest on the seventh. He never was so active as now. Nor did he create in the beginning, but was himself first created in the manner described above. This attempt to return to the primitive cosmology of the Hebrews and Babylonians (save merely in the more modernistic terminology employed by the culture interpretationists) seems clearly implied in the words of some of the members of the Boas school of American anthropology. Does this trend also throw some light upon the fact that various of these modern fundamentalists are also antagonistic to the theory of evolution? Lowie appears also to be laboring under a peculiar misapprehension as to the point of view of those who argue for the continuity of the natural and the cultural environments. While he recognizes the biological necessity for the adaptation of the organism to environment, he asserts that "such adaptation is no more spontaneously generated by the environment than are strictly biological adaptations." I do not recall anyone since the days of the old anthropogeographers who has held such a theory of the direct and immediate physical causation of culture, and it is not certain that they had in mind any such direct mechanical causation as is here implied. It is more reasonable to suppose that they knew so little of the mechanics of the conditioning of responses that they merely did not try to explain the process by which the culture of ideas (category a, (a) of the classification of culture proposed above) arises. However, if they did mean to imply such a direct causal relationship we should probably range this theory alongside Bastian's doctrine of universal or innate ideas in the archeological museum of primitive philosophic culture and leave it there. To invoke it now as a negative argument to support the dogma of an underived, sui generis culture is merely to create a man of straw.
There is no reason to suppose that either natural or cultural environment ever spontaneously generates adaptation or culture. Adaptation is always the accommodation of an organism to its environment through the mechanism of impact or of stimulus and response. Accommodation by impact applies to inorganic bodies and to organisms behaving as inorganic materials. Accommodation through stimulus and response is the type normally employed by living organisms and is the mechanism by which the higher types of culture are produced. In fact, all of the forms of culture except material culture (category I, (a) of my proposed classification, corresponding to the physico-social environment) are evolved through the stimulus-response mechanism. Thus the bio-social, the psycho-social, and the most important phases of the derivative control or institutional environments are cultural products arising through stimulus-response accommodation or adaptation. All of the higher forms of culture, that is, all except non symbolic culture of material objects, begins the neuro-muscular, neuro-
( 45) psychic responses of the organism to stimuli; and even material objects, when considered as culture instead of as natural environment, are fashioned from the raw materials of nature through that adaptive process we call the stimulus-response process.
Perhaps part of the misconception of the culture determinists about the character of culture is due to a misapprehension on their part as to the nature of mind, the mechanism through which supposedly culture becomes effective. The behavioristic notion that mind is not a material entity, a thing in itself, but a conceptual term used to characterize the functional integration of one's behavior or conduct, is now generally accepted in all scientific circles. The day of searching for a material soul in the brain, or more specifically in the pineal gland, or even in the heart, seems definitely past. If one's mind is the integrative conceptual characterization of the logic of his behavior, how does this behavior, whose logic or organic rationale is all the mind we know, arise? Here is the point at which the anthropologist who would formulate a theory of culture, and of its relation to environment, must be a psychologist, perhaps even a social psychologist. Many of the anthropologists have been content to be merely field workers and collectors, or museum technologists, thinking thereby to establish their claims to be included in the category of exact scientists and scorning acquaintance with such "speculative" subjects as psychology, social psychology, and sociology. But when they generalize their data—and of what use are ungeneralized data—they must become sociologists (or pseudo-sociologists) in spite of themselves. Whence, then, does this directive mind, or initial culture (category 2, (a) of our classification of culture) to which the culture interpretationists pin their faith, arise? Clearly, it must have arisen, like all other aspects of culture, out of man's attempts to adjust himself to the world in which he lives, either by acquiring adaptive habits (subjective means) or by transforming his environment (objective means). In fact the subjective and objective methods of adjustment always have gone on together. Mind not merely arises out of this adjustment process; it is the logic or methodology of this adjustment process itself. When objectivated in symbolic form it becomes the external psycho-social environment. If this mind in its primitive form as subjective behavior and the symbolic rationale of adjustment technique expands in time into objectivated traditions, beliefs, creeds, philosophy, even science and the sciences (those things the anthropologists have denominated non-material culture), this fact in no wise makes it less a means for the control of the environment.
In fact, it is primarily through science (or logically organized symbolic culture) that society now directs the reorganization of the environment, whether natural or cultural. Wallis and the others lave correct when they say that mind and culture (especially the objectivated or social aspects of mind) have great power in utilizing and controlling the environment; but they are equally incorrect when they regard the environment as without power to influence mind or culture. Changing environments (natural and cultural) are constantly acting as stimuli which recondition man's responses to that environment and thus arc active in the development or creation of new phases of mind and culture. It would be entirely correct to say that the presence of the coal is at some stage in the cultural developmental process the deci-
( 46) -sive factor in producing those mental responses or culture patterns which guide its utilizations. It was the presence of the coal which originally called forth the mental or cultural utilization response. It was the original sine qua non of the development of these responses. It is only in such cases as where one people borrows ready made from another people the mental or cultural patterns for the utilization of coal and thereby discovers coal and the virtues of coal for the first time that the culture determinists' dictum that it is mind or culture that acts upon the environment (coal) and not the environment (coal) that acts upon the mind appears to be true. In such cases it is true, but these are obviously highly sophisticated cases which could appear to the culture interpretationists so all-important only in a period when they are so patently under the domination of the diffusion hypothesis of the origin of culture. We must remember that, after all, all culture had to be invented sometime and that all mind had to evolve out of the adjustment process, and that mind and culture were originally the cumulative responses of men to environment in this adjustment process. At first mind and culture were subjective and personal, but in time they became objective (objectivated) and social. Antecedent to mind or culture was environment, and out of environment all things sprang, including mind (the cumulative logic of behavior) and culture (the accumulation of man's technique of adjustment to environment and the transformed or manufactured materials for that adjustment). Even culture as objectivated mind becomes environment, superimposed and resuperimposed upon the old natural environment, and in its turn helps to create new mind and culture in this adjustment process.
Thus it becomes clear that the culture of behavior or non-material culture arises in the organism and is objectivated through neuro-muscular response as overt behavior, material objects and symbols. Overt behavior and material cultural objects may also by symbolic. This inner development or growth of culture through the stimulus-response mechanism takes place by means of the conditioning of responses. If no culture can be produced in and by the organism without the conditioning of responses, it is equally true that no conditioning of responses can occur without a stimulus (or an impulse) which originally came from the environment; and this means ultimately the natural environment. There are always two terms in the adjustment process, the environment and the organism. Behavior culture is simply accumulated or stored (inner or external) adjustment technique, preserved to serve as tools or means to an easier future adjustment. If the organism responds selectively according to its nature or previous development, including its acquired behavior patterns or cultural development, nevertheless it responds. Also it responds to the cultural environment (outside and inside the organism) in essentially the same way in which it responds to the natural environment, that is, through the reception of stimuli. If there is any difference in the degrees of activity or passivity with which the cultural and natural environments provide stimuli, it must arise wholly from the different degrees of mobility of the two types of environment on the one hand and from the different degrees of their immediacy on the other hand. Since the culture of behavior arises within the organism and consists of behavior patterns and of social or cultural patterns, it may be regarded as more immediate in some of its forms. But this would scarcely be the case where a house, a city,
( 47) or trained animals, or trained men constitute the cultural environment, although some of these would ordinarily be more dynamically mobile and operate more directly as providers of stimuli to responses.
It should not be surprising in the light of this analysis, therefore, and in this day of a vast accumulation of culture and its superimposition upon the natural environment, to find that the cultural environment. offers more stimuli to the production of new cultural responses than does the now largely disintegrated natural environment. But, this fact does not make of the culture of behavior an derived factor in the production of culture. Its naturalistic origin and its derived character are clearly evident. The derivation of the culture of material objects from nature is very clearly perceived as a transformation ultimately and more or less directly of nature itself. Nor does the apparent disseverance of existing culture from nature prevent the natural environment from frequently taking the lead, even in this day of the apparently overwhelming domination of culture, in the determination of new culture. In fact, the most profound cultural movements and determinations appear still to be initiated and determined by the natural environment, although of course indirectly rather than directly. It is true, as the culture determinists contend, that frequently nature offers a variety of possibilities of cultural response or adjustment and that the borrowed culture pattern selects from among these and uses what it finds meet for its purpose. Thus the scenery is made to conform to the play, rather than that the play is rewritten to fit the given stage and scenery. But is not this also exactly what happens if we reverse the situation and make culture provide a number of plays from which one will be selected as best suited to the existing stage and scenery? Culture may—indeed often is—called upon to provide a new play to fit an existing stage. It is of course true, in keeping with the former supposition, that man may either mine coal, till the soil, or farm the Republican voters, in Pennsylvania, according to the cultural pattern that is dominant in any particular locality or person. Yet the distribution of these forms of behavior can scarcely be said to be determined primarily by the accident of the distribution of borrowed culture patterns.
Let us take as an example the island of Manhattan which has not lacked for variety of imported culture patterns. Here among others we find the patterns of hunting, fishing, farming, commerce, shipping, manufacturing, the stock exchange, the building of sky scrapers. In fact, there was a sort of historical succession of culture patterns on Manhattan in somewhat the order here stated. But, in spite of their early familiarity with the hunting and fishing patterns, the Manhattanese for some strange reason (strange indeed if we accept the culture interpretationist's theory of the origin of culture by diffusion) gave them up in favor of commerce and shipping. In the course of time, for an equally strange reason, they began to operate a stock exchange and to build sky scrapers. Did this change occur merely because borrowed patterns of these types flooded in upon them so strongly that they could not resist the cultural impulse to turn their geographic stage to a new and strange account? If so, whence did these powerful patterns come? Perhaps the stock exchange pattern came from London. But from what other source could the sky-scraper pattern have been borrowed except from heaven (revelation), intuition (natural law), innate ideas, or some fantastic instinctive mutation—unless indeed it grew out of the experience and needs of the people as determined actively by their
( 48) geographic environment? To most rational people the latter explanation will, I suppose, appear to be more acceptable. In the case of skyscrapers, the narrowed geographic environment of the island of Manhattan operated relatively directly in producing the cultural mutation. But in the case of commerce, manufacturing, shipping, and the stock exchange, geography operated more remotely and indirectly through such natural channels as the Hudson river, the low transportation level of the Mohawk valley, and the chain of great lakes stretching back into the great agricultural hinterland of the United States, making New York City the natural port and outlet for internal commerce. If the patterns for this commercial behavior came from Europe, they were selected and imported by the geographical opportunity and need. Otherwise, why did they not operate equally at New Haven, Providence, or Boston; or even at Springfield, Ohio, or at High Point, North Carolina? They did not force themselves upon geography. Clearly geography, rather than preexisting culture patterns, did the active selecting in this case, and in thousands of other cases. It is an instance of the stage selecting the play.
It appears to be clear from the evidence presented in this section that culture is not, as the radical culture interpretationists claim, a phenomenon sui genesis, underived from nature. On the other hand, culture is the product of the adjustment of the organism — above all of the flexible human organism—to its environment, which was at first exclusively the natural environment, but has become increasingly the cultural or derivative and social environment. In fact, it is clear that the cultural environment is at first and in its lower forms made directly from the materials of the natural environment, and that its forms are but a continuation and an elaboration of the forms of the natural environment. As the cultural environment accumulates, the succeeding increments of culture, arising as adaptive technique out of the process of the adjustment of the organism to its environment, are decreasingly directly derived from nature and increasingly directly derived from antecedent culture. This increasingly indirect derivation of culture from nature will be the theme of the third section of this paper.