The Whimsical Condition of Social Psychology, and of Mankind
Edwin B. Holt
The field of human society affords many brilliant illustrations of what David Hume called "the whimsical condition of mankind." It is true, for instance, as Dr. F. C. S. Schiller has remarked, that "all human institutions have a way of growing into perversions of their original purpose that block its attainment. . . . Those who run the institutions are allowed to acquire interests that conflict with the professed purpose of the institutions they serve." It is true that any very widely accepted opinion, if outside the range of immediate physical fact, will be found on examination to be not an observed truth but merely some fond chimaera that answers to the heart's desire. And it is true that "the strange infirmities of human understanding" are even more strange and more infirm than was to be imagined at the time when Hume wrote. Reason is not a light that guides us on to truth. "All it can do," as Professor Kallen has recently said, "is to argue a foregone conclusion."
These and other whimsicalities of our common lot may be studied with profit by anyone so inclined, provided that he has a shrewd flair for discovering those excellent authors of whom the man in the street and the reviewer for the Sunday maga-
( 172) -zine have never heard. But on all such matters the hungry student will find practically nothing in the academic "science of social psychology." This fact is a further whimsicality that may itself solicit the student's attention. The academic "text-book" of social psychology, he will find, is a farrago of vague, pedantic, and utterly useless abstractions. The mental blindness of nearly every academic social psychologist for any observable fact of human nature is so unfailing and complete as almost to compel admiration. What can any intelligent parent think, for instance, when he reads: "We must . . . look upon the gang [the typical boys' gang] as nature's special training-school for the social virtues"? Again, it is taken as axiomatic that sex "license stimulates desire without limit, and ends in impotent agony," so that "regulation is imperatively called for"; notwithstanding that in the married state and among animals, the two cases where complete sex license is to be found, it produces the very opposite result. So far as any discovery of causes for societal phenomena goes, complete chaos prevails. The name of any phenomenon is regularly presented as its cause: thus it is the "herd instinct," which causes men, wolves, and some other animals to go in herds; cannibalism causes men to be cannibals; etc. In one author of repute we read that "language is a product of the need of coöperative understanding"; again on the same page, that "men's usage makes language" (i.e., speaking makes speech); and on the following page that "language . . . is the result of belief in magic." The only fact conveyed by these silly statements is that the author is ignorant of what causation is. Then there is the ever popular fallacy, a main tenet of the Durkheim school, that "society" is something prior to and over and above individuals. It gives rise to such statements as the following: "Human nature is not something existing separately in the individual, but a group-nature or primary phase of society, a relatively simple and general condition of the social mind"; or again, "The moral sense has no significance from the point
( 173) of view of the individual, but only from that of the larger association" (i.e., society). Both statements are, of course, false.
All this may seem whimsical enough, but a still more whimsical fact remains to be noted. This is that there is one fundamental fact which underlies all societal phenomena and which alone goes a long way toward explaining them all; and this all-important fact is either overlooked or, if mentioned, is denied with a unanimity which is certainly not accidental. This fact is that man, no less than every other living creature, is always and inevitably self-interested, ego-centric. The quality of self-interest is so conspicuous (in spite of dissimulation) in almost every human transaction, is written so large over human history, and is so invariably taken into account by every intelligent man of affairs, that one is dumbfounded to find that it figures practically not at all in academic social theory. The term self-interest, egotism or any synonym therefor is rarely to be found in the index of a work on social psychology or sociology.
Now this anomaly characterizes not merely the psychology of the present day. It will be remembered that those philosophers in the past who have ventured to assign due importance to human selfishness, such as Voltaire, Helvétius, Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, have been uproariously "refuted," derided, sometimes slandered, in every way belittled, and eventually ignored in a way that suggests conspiracy. And something more than mere indirection there certainly is. To cite but one instance, and that a modern one: the late Mark Twain wrote an altogether temperate essay on human self-interest which is entitled What Is Man? He worked at this, off and on, through some twenty-five years; and commonly referred to it as "my Gospel" or "my Bible." In February, 1883, he presented a tentative version of this essay before the Monday Evening Club. "They
( 174) scoffed and jeered at it; denounced it as a manifest falsity."  In 1899 he wrote to W. D. Howells: "Since I wrote my Bible (last year), which Mrs. Clemens loathes and shudders over and will not listen to the last half nor allow me to print any part of it," etc. In his seventy-first year he wrote, regarding it, to his friend the Rev. J. Twichell: "For seven years I have suppressed a book which my conscience tells me I ought to publish. I hold it a duty to publish it. There are other difficult duties which I am equal to, but I am not equal to that one." Shortly after that (1906, some two years after the death of Mrs. Clemens) he at last had What Is Man? printed privately and anonymously!  "It was not over-favorably received," writes Mr. Paine. Nor was it at first included in the Collected Edition of Mark Twain's works; it was added later, in a supplementary volume, with uniform binding. There is not one word in this little work to which the slightest objection can be taken on any ground save that human selfishness is a theme strictly tabooed. And it would be interesting to know how many per-sons, even today, have ever heard of this essay, which is one of Mark Twain's very few serious utterances.
Is it that the self-interest of mankind so little likes to look at itself that all reflective thought on the subject is instinctively tabooed? Or is it, perhaps, that the self-interest of some more grossly self-interested portion of mankind has felt it to be advantageous, and found it to be possible, to place an effective taboo on all open consideration of the subject? It is easier to practice burglary where no one suspects the existence of such a means of livelihood. And the power of observation, of actual independent observation, is so rare (for the social psychologists are not alone here) that the mass of mankind can safely be trusted to know nothing except that which is bellowed at it
( 175) through a loud-speaker. And how easy it is to shout through the loud-speaker that self-interest existeth not.
Now "self-interest" is itself a name, and although it is, in my opinion, the correct name for an observable feature of every transaction between two or more human beings, it will by no means advance us, at present, to pretend that self-interest is a cause of social phenomena; to say, that is, after the manner of most social psychologists, that self-interest makes men self-interested, that self-interest accounts for deceitfulness, or the like. We must go further, clearly: but to what:
Even a physicist is constantly tempted to say that a body falls "by gravitation." Is "gravitation," then, a cause? It is one in-stance of that action at a distance which is called the mutual attraction of masses, a "universal law." But "gravitation" no more makes bodies gravitate than "self-interest" makes men selfish. "Attraction" does not cause two masses to attract each other, nor are they "obeying" the "law" which describes, i.e., narrates, the direction, rate, etc., of their respective movements. I fear that many physicists can be as justly criticized on this point as can the social psychologists. But the way out is rather more obvious, perhaps, in the field of physics than in that of psychology. Certainly Kirchhoff and Hertz were correct in declaring that explanation is only complete description; but that does not justify the mathematically minded physicist in assuming that one or more equations describing the movements of the masses (or, in other cases, "statistical laws") are a "complete description." Any description in terms of "action at a distance," one feels, is incomplete: there must be something more, some-thing as yet unsuspected, behind a phenomenon so "inexplicable." A more complete description would surely leave the mind more satisfied; and satisfaction is what is primarily meant by "explanation." But the real causes, and this is our present
( 176) point, will never be extracted from the actual masses as they move, and be put into the word "gravitation" or "attraction or into any formulation of a "law": they will always remain in the masses and the field in which these masses move. Words and equations can only name, and direct our attention to, aspects of the real phenomena. Now gravitation or attraction is merely the name for a phenomenon which has not as yet been explained. The concrete bodies which exhibit mutual attraction must be studied further.
The concrete bodies which exhibit self-interest must be studied more analytically; and these bodies are living human beings_ Now these living bodies are so complicated in structure and function that there is little hope of deciphering their plan, of picking out fundamental properties from superficial manifestations, unless we examine successive steps in the process of their construction. We must glance at the development of the human embryo. Its very earliest movements are altogether random movements: it slowly writhes and twists, bends or unbends a limb, etc., but all with no vestige of purpose or coördination. The reason for such utter aimlessness has been revealed by the microscope. The embryonic nerve-muscle system, at this stage of development, consists of the following three sorts of elements: (I) sensory cells, many (not all) of which are mature enough to be susceptible to stimulation (by pressure, warmth, etc.), each provided with a nerve-fibril (neuron) that will con-duct nervous impulses to the central nervous system; (2) a vast number of "connecting" neurons, both long and short, lying wholly within the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord); (3) motor neurons which start within the central nervous system and run out to all muscles. At this stage of the
( 177) development the sensory neurons are not connected with the "connecting" neurons, nor are these connected with one another or with the motor neurons. Sensory impulses coming from sensory cells (sense-organs) to the central nervous system jump across from one neuron to another as best they can, and if they can; and if they succeed in reaching some motor nerve (and so, making some muscle contract), it is fortuitous which motor nerve is reached. Therefore the muscular contraction is fortuitous, random; and all movements are at this stage random.
For sake of clarity we can leave out of account many complicating details, consider only the fundamental facts of the central nervous system, and can speak somewhat metaphorically of the process of nerve-impulse conduction without falsifying the facts which we wish to understand. Any one of the connecting neurons may be considered as a more or less long fibre (axon) having a (cell-body and) tassel of short dendrites at one end. Nerve-impulses can enter such a neuron only through the dendrites of the tassel, from which they pass along the axon to its farther end. Where any such axon ends there are regularly found, lying in greater or less proximity, the dendrite tassels of other neurons; and the space intervening between the axon-end and these many dendrites is called a synapse; it is occupied by non-nervous tissue, which offers some resistance to the passage of nerve-impulses. But if the impulses are strong enough to push through the non-nervous tissue at the synapse, they may reach many dendrites and start nerve-impulses in more than one neuron. Thus at a synapse nerve-impulses arriving over one neuron may spread to several, or even many, neurons. And such a spreading of impulses, from one neuron
( 178) to several, regularly occurs. Thus nerve-impulses set up by the stimulation of a sense-organ or a group of sensory cells will regularly, if they come closely enough on one another's heels (which is what the "strength" of a nerve-current amounts to) pass the synaptic resistances, traverse neuron after neuron, spreading at each synapse to a greater number of neurons, and will finally reach a considerable number of motor neurons and through these reach many different muscles. These muscles will contract if the current-density ("strength") on their motor neurons is sufficiently high. But this muscular activity will be fortuitous, random, purposeless. As Sherrington has said, the impulses from any sensory cell can pass through the central nervous system and come out to any muscle whatsoever.
Our problem now is to find how any purposeful muscular activity is ever brought about. It is here that "learning" begins, and this learning depends on a simple principle, the "reflex-circle," which has been described by the Dutch physiologist, Dr. S. T. Bok. Let us consider the hand of a human foetus a few weeks before birth. The foetus is curled up rather snugly, and the little hand is commonly held in a lightly clenched position, the fingers bent over on the palm. When at any time a random motor impulse contracts a flexor muscle in one of the fingers, that finger will necessarily touch or press against the little palm. But this at once stimulates two sensory surfaces, the tip of the finger and the palm, and sends two sets of nerve impulses back to the central nervous system so quickly that the flexor finger-muscle is still pressing the finger on to the palm. For the central nervous system, and this is the exactly crucial point, these two incoming currents, from two particular sensory surfaces, are the instantaneous result of an outflow of current on a particular motor path (to a flexor muscle of a certain finger).
The synapses on the way to this particular muscle are at the moment carrying impulses, they are active or, according to a conception of Sherrington's, electrically "charged"; and this
( 179) means that for the time being they offer less resistance than do other, inactive synapses to the passage of further nerve-impulses. So that the two sets of sensory impulses which reach the central nervous system at just this moment encounter, in spreading, less resistance on the path to this particular finger muscle than they encounter in any other direction. Just these paths are at the moment "open," and they take more of the incoming currents than any other path takes. But this intensifies the flexor contraction, which in turn intensifies the finger and palm pressure and so intensifies the two incoming sensory impulses, which increase again the flexor contraction; and so on and on. This is the reflex-circle. It tends always not only to maintain but to intensify itself.
But those impulses from random sources which first opened the motor path to the flexor finger muscle may not and in general will not continue long. And without their support the reflex-circle may (at the outset) be unable to maintain itself; and then it weakens and fades out. For the synaptic charges unless maintained will soon subside.
As long as the reflex-circle is kept in action, however, another process is taking place. The dendrites at an active synapse are stimulated to grow, as C. U. Ariëns Kappers has shown, and they grow toward those axon endings from which they are receiving nerve-impulses. This growth is very slow; but it is permanent. It reduces the width and therefore the resistance of the synaptic gap. Therefore, each time a reflex-circle is set up, as described above, even for a short time, the slight growth of dendrites leaves a series of synapses of permanently lowered resistance along its course after all synaptic charges have subsided. The next time this same flexor muscle of the finger is the seat of a random contraction, the same reflex-circle will be set in action but this time more readily, for now at least some of the synapses along its route start with a lower resistance than they had at first. And the synaptic resistances along
( 180) this path will now be still further reduced, and permanently. Thus in time a pathway of exceptionally low resistance will be established, which runs from two sensory (tactile) surfaces, a spot on the palm and one on the inner surface of the particular finger-tip, through the central nervous system and out to the particular flexor finger-muscle with which the process started, that is, whose random contraction first caused those same two sensory surfaces to press against each other. And now, when-ever any light pressure is applied to either of these two sensory surfaces the flexor muscle will contract and bend the finger over on the palm.
We have considered only one flexor muscle of one finger. The four fingers have three joints each, and each joint has its flexor muscle. Random contraction of any one of these twelve flexor muscles will, in general, press the inner surface of one finger-tip against a corresponding spot on the palm, in precisely the same way as in the case already considered. A reflex-circle will be set up, and a pathway of permanently lowered resistance will be established from certain two sensory surfaces to that flexor muscle which, in contracting, brings just those two sensory surfaces into contact. After these twelve reflex-circles have been established ("learned"), all twelve can be set in action together by pressing some suitable object, such as a ruler, gently against either the palm or the palmar surfaces of the four finger-tips. All four fingers will bend on to the palm; that is, the hand will grasp the ruler.
Thus significant and "purposive" reflexes are developed ("learned") from purely random muscular contractions; or more exactly, from the sensory stimulations which, as we have seen, such random contractions directly effect. This grasping re-flex is so far developed in any healthy baby at birth, that the two little hands will close round a cane tightly enough to sup-port the baby's whole weight, hanging, for several minutes.
Let us consider random contractions of the extensor muscles
( 181) of the fingers. The contraction of an extensor muscle straightens or unbends its finger-joint, and will never bring the finger-tip to press against the palm. But it will often bring the outer (volar) side of the finger in contact with some external object; perhaps, in its confined position before birth, in contact with some other part of the infant's own body or, after birth, with bedclothes, pillows, etc. The reflex-circles which are developed by random contractions of extensor muscles of the fingers will necessarily involve sense-organs lying on the back or volar surfaces only of the fingers; and these latter will become connected through the central nervous system with those extensor finger-muscles whose contractions have brought just these volar surfaces into collision with outer objects, and so stimulated these surfaces. As a result, a gentle pressure on the outer or volar side of a baby's finger makes the finger unbend; and in .so doing it presses back against the pressure applied to it.
Similarly, any random movement of a baby's arm or leg is liable to bring some surface of the limb into collision with an outer object, and so to effect a stimulation (pressure) of that surface. This surface will necessarily be the one which happens to be carried foremost in each particular random movement; the rear surface will never collide with anything: So that the reflex which is developed, whether the muscles involved are at the wrist, elbow, shoulder, ankle, knee or hip, will always be such that the surface stimulated moves foremost, just as it did during the learning, and presses toward the stimulating pressure. It returns the pressure. In this way the entire surface of the limbs becomes "educated," so that stimulation of any spot on the skin excites a reflex which makes the member re-turn the pressure that stimulates it. Pressure on the soles of the feet, for instance, excites reflex extension (straightening) of the hip, knee, and ankle, the so-called "extensor thrust"; and our ability to stand and to walk is very largely due to this reflex.
Now this principle of reflex-circle is the basis of all early
( 182) learning in the child. It produces a vast substratum of reflexes, involving every sensory cell and every contractile (muscular) cell in the entire body, and countless pathways, of more or less lowered resistance, connecting the sensory with the motor elements. And this great substratum of reflexes, thus permanently established, determines the general characteristics of the individual's behavior through his entire life. As one physiologist, referring to the simpler reflexes, has expressed it: "Such is the groundwork on which the cerebral cortex, as on a piano, plays the most complicated melodies. . . ."  Thus, for instance, the grasping reflex and the extensor thrust of the legs are employed or "played upon" by the "higher centers" in almost every moment of waking life. And learning by the simple principle of reflex-circle extends to acquisitions which are more obviously related to the "mental" life than the illustrations so far adduced would suggest. For instance: a baby's breath comes in and goes out through a channel where it must pass several motile organs, such as the vocal cords, hard and soft palates, tongue, gums (teeth) and lips; and the muscles of these organs receive their quota of random innervations. So from time to time the baby's breath inevitably produces a sound; and it produces different sounds according to different random contractions taking place in these motile organs. If the baby's hearing is normal, each sound produced instantly stimulates the baby's own ears. And the sensory impulses so produced pass to the central nervous system and there find "open" the motor paths to precisely those muscles whose contraction has just forced the breath to produce this particular sound. A reflex-circle is started, and the sound just made will be made again; and again. This period in the baby's life is not an easy one for the mother,
( 183) who soon tires of the incessant "ma-ma-ma—"; "pa-pa-pa—"; "la-la-la—"; "goo-goo-goo—"; etc. But the mother is soon re-warded, for presently when she goes to the crib and says "Mamma's here," her precocious little darling actually and for the first time replies, calling her by name, "ma-ma—!" After its lalling and babbling exercises the infant has to repeat "mamma" whenever that sound stimulates its ears. It is now indifferent whether that sound proceeds from its own or its mother's throat. Such are the beginnings of speech. And deaf babies do not learn to speak.
The reflex-circle determines the general character of the re-actions of any of the higher organisms. And what that character is becomes evident from a consideration of the reflex-circle principle. In each case, as we have seen, learning is based on a random movement and on the resulting sensory stimulation which that movement causes to be impressed on the organism. If the random movement has no such result, there will be no significant learning. For it is precisely the stimulation that results from the random movement which acquires a pathway of lowered resistance through the central nervous system and out to the very muscles that have just made the random movement. This will produce the movement again, which will again (by collision or otherwise) bring about the same sensory stimulation. Thus after the circle has been permanently established (learned), pressure on the palm, for instance, makes the fingers bend over and put more pressure on the palm, pressure on the soles of the feet makes the legs straighten and receive more pressure on the soles of the feet, mild pressure on any dermal surface stimulates a reflex movement which carries the surface forward toward the pressure. Thus the spot pressed receives more pressure. So universal is this fact that the word "responsive" is seldom used of an avoidance reflex, which causes the organism
( 184) (or some part of it) to shrink away from a stimulus; although, strictly speaking, avoidance is a "response." Again, the child repeats the sound that stimulates its ears, that is, reacts so that it gets the same stimulus again. This is as true of drumming and thumping sounds as it is of lalling and babbling.
No reflex-circle can be learned which has not this property. And how shall we name this property? One is at first tempted to call it outgoing or outreaching. But these terms will not quite do. Closing the fist is not exactly outgoing; nor is holding the lips, jaws, or legs pressed against each other (three definite reflex-circles) outgoing. Since there seemed to be no name in English for precisely the property in question, the late Professor H. C. Warren has suggested the term adience (ad + eo). Adience, then, is that property of all the early reflexes whereby the reflex gives or "inflicts" on the organism (reproduces, repeats, etc.) more of the very stimulus which touches off the reflex. So that "more" is bound to be more and more and more . .. And this adience is the basic characteristic of the activities of all the higher animals, including man.
Avoidance is the only apparent exception. Every moderate stimulus elicits adience, but if with "more and more and more" the stimulus becomes over-strong then each muscle which was engaged in the adient movement finds the impulses which activated it switched  over into the exactly antagonistic muscle; the adient movement is precisely reversed; and the sensory surface is withdrawn from the over-strong stimulus. Normally, only over-strong stimuli, as Sherrington has remarked, are avoided; and normally no avoidance reaction to the same stimulus at a moderate intensity is learned. Yet it can be: a child that has been severely burned will often exhibit avoidance on even seeing the object that caused the burn, and from a distance at which no warmth can be felt. The permanent fixation of a true
( 185) avoidance reflex, such as this, is unusual and unfortunate; and is commonly accounted a psychic trauma or wound. Apart from such cases, and from the normal reversal of reflexes under over-strong stimulation, all animal and human reflexes are adient, and pertinaciously adient. The so-called "higher processes," when they proceed to play upon the simpler reflexes as on a piano, have nothing but adience to play upon, to set in action. They are as sure to produce adience as a pianist is to produce sound. Moreover, that further learning which produces the "higher" processes is still entirely dependent, like the reflex-circle, on the growth of dendrites; and it appears in every way to confirm and to extend that same adience which is so infallibly a property of the great substratum of simpler reflexes. These "higher" processes often bring us to the necessity of choosing between two horns of a dilemma: we must select one thing and reject another. But such rejection is not avoidance; it is merely a lesser adience which has to yield to a stronger. If the preferred object is unobtainable, we at once find ourselves adient to the object which we have just rejected.
With this basic quality of adience once pointed out, it is easy to perceive the large adient element in human conduct at every phase, from infancy to old age. The cuddlesomeness and affectionate "responsiveness" of the infant lie in the fact that to any gentle, kindly stimulus the infant responds with a gentle adience. We call the little one naïve and innocent because no other reflexes as yet exist to overlie and obscure (as ulterior motives) this simple and spontaneous adience. And in later life the word caress means only to solicit gently a responsive adience, like that of a child. When the infant is a little older, its clinging quality and its persistent reiteration of sounds and repetition of many of its movements are still pure adience. As the infant becomes a child, his eager grasp and impulsive pressures are more forcible; and not infrequently destructive. He shows a general forwardness, not yet tempered by caution. When the child becomes a youth, his adience takes the form of curiosity
( 186) and acquisitiveness, enthusiasm for exploration and adventure. He collects postage-stamps, butterflies, etc.; and if he puts things together constructively, it is on an ever-expanding scale. He presses forward to an open road, pushing aside or overturning obstacles and thoughtlessly overriding the prerogatives of others.
All of these traits persist in the grown man, but in the man they take on a sterner coloring. Forwardness, curiosity, acquisitiveness, and enterprise are more determined than they were, and more resourceful. They now come to be called ambition, the lust for wealth and for power. If they are tempered by any-thing resembling a consideration for others, it is not by reason of any quality that is inherent in the organism, but by reason of an external factor of which we shall presently take account.
If now the reader will look squarely at this picture he will readily see that we possess a general term which accurately summarizes all these traits: and that general term is, precisely, egotism. I am not aware that there is any form of adience which is not self-interest, or any form of self-interest which is not directly traceable to adience. Adience, in short, is the physiological term, and egotism, selfishness, self-interest are the behavioristic and societal terms for one and the same thing. It may seem, on first thought, that scientific curiosity, for instance, is a very different thing from the lust for power; but it seems not so different to the animals that are mutilated and destroyed in research laboratories. They know only too well that scientific curiosity is an instance of the lust for power. And we, if we have had close contact with scientists, know that scientific ambition and prestige are commonly as grimly self-centered as the manoeuvres of any highwayman.
This basic egotism is the fundamental property of all behavior, whether of animals or men. And we have it now not as the mere name of an unexplained phenomenon, but we have it as a fact explained. We know that when we speak of egotism we are speaking of reflex behavior which is determined by an
( 187) antecedent growth of dendrites, under certain conditions which we also know. If we now seek to explain behavior in terms of self-interest we shall not be mouthing tautologies, for self-interest is the activity of neuromuscular pathways along which, under specified conditions, dendrites have been stimulated to grow. And if now the Monday Evening Club or all the Sun-day morning clubs together scoff and jeer, we shall preserve our equanimity. This basic egotism is the one essential due in the field of social psychology.
The unit in human society is the individual man or woman, and the simplest social relation is found when any two persons are in such proximity that each acts as a stimulus on the other and so excites in the other some response; at first an attitude, and then overt behavior, conduct. This mutual relation between individuals, two by two, must never be lost sight of. If three or more individuals are in proximity, each is stimulated by every one of the others, and stimulated usually to diverse attitudes and lines of action. What he does, his actual response, will be a resultant, an algebraic sum, of the impulses which the others as stimuli excite in him. And the same is true for every other member of the group. The upshot of what all the individuals do, each under this multiple stimulation, is called societal behavior. And history is about nothing except just such societal behavior. But let us return to the simple dual relation, the fundamental unit of societal dynamics.
Each of any two individuals is adient to the other, unless one of them is so much more formidable that he stimulates the other to avoidance. Adience means approach and then appropriation, and the varieties, degrees, and disguises of this appropriation are innumerable. But any individual will appropriate to himself the person, the labor, the possessions, and the life of any other individual if he can, and if he has use for them in any further
( 188) adient enterprises of his own. Such is the plainest teaching of history; and history further teaches that this propensity knows no limit. If any man, other than the ever-voluble moron, seeks to darken counsel by denying this teaching, it is because he has projects of his own which he fears may come under scrutiny.
The aggression of one individual will arouse in the other avoidance, resistance, or counter-aggression, according to the strength and resourcefulness of the other individual. Aggression met by counter aggression is warfare in some degree, and the most unstable of social relations. But unless the aggression of one is met by resistance, and an adequate resistance, on the part of the other, some form of the master-slave relation will develop between them. This is likewise an unstable social relation; for the natural adiences of the under-dog are held down. And physiological adience is a living force; it is expansive and pushes for an open road. Whenever an obstacle is encountered, the result is pressure against the obstacle: to push it out of the way, to push through or round it, in some way to circumvent it. This pressure terminates only with the success or with the death of the exploited party. He will ceaselessly try, until he finds his own open road, or his grave. It is a situation of unrest. And this word is well employed in such expressions as "marital unrest," "industrial unrest," "social unrest."
No social equilibrium, no tolerable degree of stability, is to be found except where the opposing individuals, or the opposing parties or factions, are fairly well matched; so that each is able to resist effectively the adient (or the aggressive) propensities of the other. This situation is, of course, seldom realized. Yet it is not idle to point out that an approximate equality between the individuals who constitute a society, equality of physical and of mental power, is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition for social stability. Perhaps no one has pointed this out more explicitly than the late Félix Le Dantec, who calls
( 189) the power to resist aggression the "capacity to injure"; by which he does not at all mean an intention to injure, or any other sort of hatred. There is every difference between the stealthy fellow who plans to knife you, and the healthy strong man who has no such thought in his mind but who will strike you instantly if you strike him.
Le Dantec goes on to show that equal capacities to injure, the condition of social equilibrium, will not result in a social deadlock. It possibly would so result if the mystical democratic dogma, that all men are equal and alike, were true. But the great number of forces operating on our planet brings it about that not even any two of us are alike. We grow up with different interests and develop different aptitudes. One man likes to hunt, another likes to fish, and another likes to cultivate a farm or to build houses. Working with interest at his favorite game, every healthy individual produces more than he can use of one commodity, but nothing of many other commodities which he wants: the term "want" meaning a physiological readiness to seize and appropriate. So when men meet they exchange their produce; they barter. And if the capacity to injure is fairly equal among men, the mutual exchange will leave both parties satisfied: both have gained by the transaction. Such a social relation tends to be permanent; at least, unlike the master-slave relation, it leads to no tension, contains within itself no factor of disruption. It is a matter of daily observation that no friend-ship, marriage, business association, or other relation between human beings is in equilibrium and gives promise of enduring unless, first, each party is getting something (tangible or in-tangible) from the other, and unless, secondly, the commodities or benefits thus mutually exchanged are approximately equal in value. Man addresses himself to nature for what he can get, and he addresses himself to his fellow men with precisely the same intent, and never with any other. Man cannot but be adient and self-seeking.
But does this fundamental fact about the social relation even
( 190) begin to cover the field? It seems, at least, to be fairly swamped by other phenomena, and to lie hidden from men's minds. For as one approaches the social scene one encounters a most bewildering tumult and a veritable barrage of words, raucously shouted, so that one at first despairs of gaining any inkling of what is really taking place. Cries of divine guidance, tithes, disinterested leadership, taxes, bolshevism, confiscation, protective tariffs, industrialism, unemployment relief, capital levies, dictatorships, printing-press money, patriotism, repudiation of debts, uplift, depression, and so on fill the air. One recalls the Tower of Babel. But the Biblical story is partly untrue: words were made by mere men, and by mere men they are used. And to bandy words is to do not much. What else are these chattering humans doing beneath their distracting barrage?
Where such confusion threatens it is well to hold fast to physiology. This bewildering riot is the work of human beings endowed with adience, and we shall do well to cease to listen, for a time, and to watch what they are actually up to. Now the relation of mutual give and take is basic, and one of its earliest collective manifestations is the case of a group of sellers purveying to a larger and more scattered group of buyers; as where a commercial company, an organized group of producers and distributors, offers its wares to any and all who will buy. If buyer and seller have a like capacity to injure and if the commodity purveyed is strictly tangible, the buyer is able to know fairly well what he is getting, and that he is getting his money's worth. But if the commodity is intangible, the buyer knows far less and may in fact know nothing as to what he is getting; for the show-down in the case of an intangible is not easy, not positive, and it is seldom immediate. If you buy a dog-collar or a typewriter, you know that you are getting approximately your money's worth. But if at a more pretentious establishment you buy an Egyptian scarab warranted to be three thousand years old, or a picture guaranteed to be the work of Titian, you are running a great risk of being cheated. And if you send your son
( 191) to college and buy him an education, neither you nor he will perhaps ever know whether he received an education in any real sense of the word, or whether indeed one was even offered to him. Wherever the commodity bought is intangible the buyer needs, as a part of his "capacity to injure," the capacity to see through deception, the discernment to detect what is being done to him. For either party to a transaction will invariably get all that he can from the other, and in every possible way.
Nowhere is this more true than in the case of those two collective transactions which are called the church and the state. The commodities purveyed by these two institutions, namely safe conduct through all eternity and the protection of a good government, are of all commodities quite the most intangible. And these two, or any other, institutions are, if we brush aside the verbal cobwebs and see the actual facts, as strictly commercial enterprises as is a lottery, a soap factory or a peanut stand. The great unorganized group of buyers (communicants of a church, citizens of a state) pay dearly enough, one would sup-pose, for these two institutions to detect their commercial and self-interested basis.
It is to be observed that by as much as the commodity purveyed becomes intangible, by so much some more or less elaborate ideology plays an essential part in the transaction: connoisseurship in the case of works of art; astrologic lore in the case of fortune-telling; theories, legal fictions and dialectical intricacies in the profession of law; therapeutic doctrines and professional systems or "schools" in medicine; theologies, creeds and rituals in religion; constitutions, enactments, regulations and ideologies without end in government. How much of any ideology is scientific and true, and how much of it is humbug, is the all-important thing to determine. The non-scientific part (which is not infrequently the whole) of an ideology is always a specimen of wish-thinking which argues and "reasons" toward some millennial condition, some merely subjective dream of bliss. And this millennial hope, that is, the verbal patter which
( 192) conjures up the delectable delusion, is that intangible commodity which the profession or institution, for good hard cash and other valuable considerations, purveys.
It is further to be observed that as the commodity sold be-comes more intangible, the smaller and better organized group of sellers takes on a different color. The sellers are no longer manufacturers or producers; they are confidential advisers, professional counsellors, moulders of opinion, leaders of thought, builders of empire, lords of destiny. In short, they are shamans. They adorn themselves in prestigious raiment; they take to themselves fantastic epithets (All-Highest, Serene Majesty, Holiness, Lordship, Excellency, Highness, Honor, etc.); and, lo, they come clothed in power. All this you can study, in miniature and make-believe but down to the nicest detail, in the Lodge of your secret fraternal order. The shamans distil the millennial hope and exact in exchange not merely money but also power. The profits are not inconsiderable.
The case of institutions and their intangible commodities perfectly exemplifies the dual scheme, outlined above, in which two individuals, or groups of individuals, are adiently disposed toward each other; and in this case the larger group, the herd, seems seldom in the course of history to have possessed the "capacity to injure," the ability to protect itself against the aggressions and encroachments of the smaller but better organized group of "leaders" And wherever the respective capacities of these two parties to injure have not been tolerably well balanced, the stronger party has shown readiness to appropriate to itself anything pertaining to the other party.
Under the auspices of religion, when religious leaders had full sway, Christendom passed through a period known as the Dark Ages. And the history of these Ages copiously illustrates our thesis that adience unchecked soon becomes an aggressiveness that knows no limit. The church, or churches, are moribund today; the State has usurped their pretensions and their prerogatives. Today the leaders, political leaders now, have prac-
( 193) -tically full sway. We are well within the penumbra of a new Darkness. If reports are to be believed, the greater part of the countries that make up Western Civilization are working over-time to manufacture enough nitro-glycerine and poison-gas to exterminate their neighbors. This is at the direction of political leaders, but it is made possible by the mass-idiocy of the herds that, as often in the past, are everywhere actually begging to be led; "clamoring for a Caesar," as M. Gustave Le Bon has said. Western Civilization, Christendom, seems determined to destroy itself.
The picture is not roseate. The shade of the late Mrs. Clem-ens "loathes and shudders over" it, no doubt, and deplores the mention of any part of it. Most Americans, especially those of the more leisured classes, are going blithely on with their childish amusements. Victims of the national comfort complex, they are as ignorant as the ostrich of what is in store for them. They will prefer to die so, at the gaming-tables or the races. Yet if there should be a single reader of these lines who feels that the present condition of society has for him more than a languid and academic interest, he will perhaps be willing to consider the subject for a few moments longer.
Three topics call for special study: ideologies, taken objectively, that is, as mental processes by which great masses of human beings are deluded; leadership, as an omnipresent human phenomenon; and the utter helplessness of the buyers, their lack of any "capacity to injure" the sellers. This last is the most concrete, the most difficult, and the most urgent question.
It is hard to hold ideologies off at arm's length and to study without being to some extent seduced by them; and specially when an ideology has become a national atmosphere, the familiar mentality and language of one or more nations. As a pertinent example, consider the slogan: "Dictatorship of the pro-
( 194) -letariat." As Prof. F. H. Giddings has remarked: "The phrase is a falsehood." It is self-contradictory; for a dictator is one and only one, while a proletarian is each and every one of a vast multitude. Yet how admirable an opiate for the masses! Each poor artisan, as the leader vociferates: "Arise ye prisoners of starvation! Arise, ye wretched of the earth! The proletariat shall be dictator!" swells to bursting with long-deferred hope: "Ah, now I, I at last, shall be dictator"; and casts his vote. The leader eagerly gathers up the ballots. "Thank you, my friends. Yes, I will consent to be, in place of all of you, your dictator"; and hastens away to the executive palace, to contrive new taxes and perfect his schemes for the general servitude, in "five-year" doses until the proletarians and farmers are inured to the yoke. No more laughable and unblushing millennial hope was ever concocted than the final stage of Communism: when, after ample time to get a surgeon's hook inserted in every nerve and fiber of the body-politic, the dictator and his associates promise voluntarily to remove all hooks and gracefully efface themselves, stepping down and out to the novel experience of anonymity and honest toil. The executive palace must fairly rock with merriment.
A travesty of the events? No, the actual events are a travesty on this! Anyone who will look into Leon Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution  will find that this Revolution, as of course every other revolution, was fought out by a few hundred delegates, i.e., leaders, supposed to "represent" millions of proletarian "dictators" scattered over a vast domain. But the art of "representing" a constituency, viewed realistically, is the art of catching (and retaining) the votes of that constituency. Any other notion of political representation is a fiction; as perhaps the notion that there is any collective will or mind to be represented is a fiction. And the art of one who would be the supreme
( 195) dictator is the art of catching the votes of the representing delegates. So far as leaders of an opposing faction go, Trotsky is alive to the facts: ". . . sick and tired of these bragging and narrow-minded leaders who fed them first with phrases and then with measures of repression" (p. 309); "... the millions of workers and peasants represented in this congress, whom they [delegates of the opposition] are ready now as always to turn over for a price to the mercies of the bourgeoisie . . ." (p. 311). But he views leadership of his own faction through other-colored glasses; as do all the rest of us mortals, always. In the speech last quoted from, he declares proudly: "We have tempered and hardened the revolutionary energy of the Peters-burg workers and soldiers. We have openly forged the will of the masses to insurrection...."Such is the "dictatorship" of the proletariat.
This was in the fateful first hours of the October Revolution and before the Congress of Soviets which opened on the 25th, in Smolny. On the second day, "The evening session of the Congress was to create a cabinet of ministers. M-i-n-i-s-t-e-r-s? What a sadly compromised word! It stinks of the high bureaucratic career, the crowning of some parliamentary ambition. It was decided to call the government the Soviet of Peoples Commissars: that at least had a fresher sound." (p. 322.) And it would better fool the dictator-proletariat into forgetting about all the high bureaucratic careers. "Lenin, whom the Congress has not yet seen," has returned from exile and hiding, and is now produced. This grand panjandrum of the occasion, impressive not by reason of jewels or insignia of rank but by reason of his audacity and fervor, is "apparently oblivious to the long-rolling ovation, which lasted several minutes. When it finished, he said simply, `We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order? . . . The speaker began immediately by reading the draft of a declaration to be published by the government still to be elected. The text had not been distributed, technical equipment being still very weak. The Congress drank in every word
( 196) of the document as pronounced." (pp. 323-4.) Some day the delegates will tell the "dictator" what they have decided to do to him, now that Lenin has graciously imparted his instructions to the delegates. So pleasing is the prospect that "The whole praesidium, with Lenin at its head, stood and sang with excited enraptured faces and shining eyes." (p. 328.) Presently, "Lenin is again in the tribune—this time with the little sheets of a decree on land. . . . The essence of the decree is . . .: `The landlord's property in the land is annulled immediately and without any indemnity whatever. The landlord, appanage, monastery and church estates with all their goods and chattels are given in charge of . . . The confiscated property is placed as a national possession under the protection of the local soviets. The land of the rank-and-file peasants and rank-and-file Cos-sacks is protected against confiscation.'" (p. 330.) But this last not for long! At this very moment the life of the Congress and the lives of all participants were hanging by a thread. It would be madness to forfeit the votes of the rank-and-file peasants and Cossacks: these were delighted to see the feudal and ecclesiastical holdings "nationalized." But they must be for the present fooled into supposing that they themselves would remain undisturbed. "It still remained to determine in experience how the peasants themselves would understand the conversion of the land into `the property of the whole people.' " (p. 332.) The proletarian power could preserve itself only by pretending for the moment to give the peasants their long-cherished "agrarian revolution." "The peasant had to be taken as the revolution found him. Only a new régime could re-educate him. . . . The decree together with the instructions meant that the dictatorship of the proletariat assumed an obligation not only to take an attentive attitude toward the interests of the land laborer, but also to be patient of his illusions as a petty proprietor. . . . The collated instructions were anything but the last word. They represented merely a starting-point which the workers agreed to occupy while helping the peasants to realize their progressive
( 197) demands, and warning them against false steps. 'We must not ignore,' said Lenin in his speech, `the resolutions of the lower [formidably numerous] ranks of the people, even though we are not in agreement with them.' . . . Opportunism? No, it was revolutionary realism." (pp. 332-3.) "Henceforth the agrarian revolution is legalized [i.e., the peasants are tricked into sup-porting the Soviets], and therewith the revolution of the proletariat acquires a mighty basis." (p. 334) Thus the Soviets craftily utilized the peasants' envy and hatred of the propertied classes in order to seize this property, and after that to pry the poor peasant himself off his own bit of earth. "Arise, ye wretched of the earth." Yes indeed, arise and be "educated," while we snatch even the earth out from under you.
This case is cited here to show that the political problem of how the many are to be one is not solved by employing a collective noun which seems to be in the singular number, because it lacks the letter "s," as a designation for the many; such nouns as proletariat, totalitarian state, party, class, nation, people, mankind, man. Such a verbal expedient serves only to delude the many: for a time! And this instance sufficiently illustrates the scope, the nature, and the purpose of ideologies.
The history of this tragic piece of nonsense, running back to Karl Marx and back still further to Babeuf and his associates in the French Revolution, has been most succinctly and luminously traced by M. Louis Rougier in two works, both of which well repay study. For, as one is dismayed to discover, our own Declaration of Independence is traceable historically to the same source. M. Rougier, specially in the Mystique démocratique, rather nicely separates the wheat from the chaff; and one comes to realize that the democratic ideology was by no means born with Babeuf. The early Greek city-states were familiar with one or another variant of it, and occasionally put it into practice. And always the weakness of the democratic idea, the destruction
( 198) of democracies, has been the incapacity of the citizens to prevent the usurpation of tyrannical power by a leader, or a small group of leaders.
The Greeks learned all that need be learned of the psychology of leadership, and have transmitted it to us. In Book V, Chap. XI of his Politics, Aristotle gives us "the ancient prescriptions for the preservation of a tyranny, in so far as this is possible; viz., that the tyrant should lop off those who are too high; he must put to death men of spirit; he must not allow common meals, clubs, education, and the like; he must be upon his guard against anything which is likely to inspire either courage or confidence among his subjects; he must prohibit literary assemblies or other meetings for discussion, and he must take every means to prevent people from knowing one another (for acquaintance begets mutual confidence). . . . A tyrant should also endeavor to know what each of his subjects says or does, and should employ spies, . . .; for the fear of informers pre-vents people from speaking their minds, and if they do, they are more easily found out. Another art of the tyrant is to sow quarrels among the citizens; friends should be embroiled with friends, the people with the notables, and the rich with one another. Also he should impoverish his subjects; he thus provides money for the support of his guards, and the people, having to keep hard at work, are prevented from conspiring. The Pyramids of Egypt afford an excellent example of this policy; also . . . all these works were alike intended to occupy the people and keep them poor. Another practice of tyrants is to multiply taxes, after the manner of Dionysius of Syracuse, who contrived that within five years his subjects should bring into the treasury their whole property. The tyrant is also fond of making war in order that his subjects may have something to do and be always in want of a leader...."
"Again, the evil practices of the last and worst form of democracy are all found in tyrannies. . . ."
"Such are the notes of the tyrant and the arts by which he
( 199) preserves his power; there is no wickedness too great for him. All that we have said may be summed up under three heads, which answer to the three aims of the tyrant. These are, ( 1 ) the humiliation of his subjects; he knows that a mean-spirited man will not conspire against anybody; (2) the creation of mistrust among them; for a tyrant is not overthrown until men begin to have confidence in one another; ... (3) the tyrant desires that his subjects shall be incapable of action, for . . . they will not attempt to overthrow a tyranny if they are powerless. Under these three heads the whole policy of a tyrant may be summed up, and to one or other of them all his ideas may be referred: (1) he sows distrust among his subjects; (2) he takes away their power; (3) he humbles them."
We further learn from Aristotle that the evils of leadership are found, as indeed we must already have suspected, not alone in democracies or tyrannies but also in any form of government whatsoever. The nature of kingly leadership is brought out, rather amusingly, in a small volume which is commonly attributed to Voltaire. A monarch (the King of Prussia ?) is sup-posed to be conversing informally with his nephew. "Of Politics. Since it is agreed among men that it is a contemptible and criminal act to impose upon one's fellow, it has been necessary to find some term to smooth the thing over: and the word politics has been chosen. Little by little this word has come to be used only of Sovereigns, because one cannot in decency call us scoundrels or knaves. Be that as it may, here are my views on politics.
"I understand, my dear Nephew, by the word politics, that one must always seek to dupe others. It is the way, not to gain the advantage but merely to come out even. For, be advised, all states on earth pursue the same course. Now, this principle once
( 200) accepted, do not blush to contract alliances with a view to your own advantage exclusively. Do not make the stupid blunder of not repudiating them when you see that it will be to your interest to do so; and above all follow vigorously this maxim, that to despoil our neighbours deprives them of the means to injure us. Politics, to speak exactly, builds up and perpetuates Kingdoms. Therefore, my dear Nephew, you must understand it and work it on a large scale."
The leader, in short, is the man whose only thought is to dominate his fellows; his scheme of life is the "pecking-order," and his sole aim is to rise, by pecking others, as high as he can within this order. His only education lies in the art of buffeting and parrying the buffets of rival leaders and the art of hood-winking the masses whom he would lead. He is of the aggressive type, and exhibits physiological adience, selfishness, in its crudest and most unmitigated form. When his aggressiveness is not held within bounds by other men's "capacity to injure," his ambition becomes furious and insatiable: he is eager to appropriate the persons, the labors, the possessions, and the lives of his fellow men. Always with a pretended alibi, of course: it is for the glory of God, for the welfare of the State, for the aggrandizement of the party, the solidarity of his union, his college or his club; always impersonally and for "the good of the cause."
What, lastly, of this utter helplessness of the buyers, the masses, their lack of any "capacity to injure" the sellers? The ancient maxim, "Divide and rule," gives us the clue that perhaps the helplessness of the masses lies in their divisions, their lack of cohesion. And indeed it is notorious that wherever men live in amity, exchanging their labors and commodities honestly and equitably, there the professional leader can make no headway. A group of persons must lack cohesion, must be divided by mutual jealousies, distrusts, and hatreds, before any broad program of leadership can be feasibly undertaken. Other-wise it is held in abhorrence and derision. Hence the maxim:
( 201) you must divide before you can rule them, and also before you can sell them an ideology.
Now the elementary adience, as previously mentioned, develops into intelligence as the individual grows and learns. And intelligence is no less self-interested than primitive adience, but it is more farsighted. It knows that bandying blows does not produce food and raiment. The growth of intelligence is merely the continuance of learning by the adient organism. And our problem comes down to this simple fact, that the human race has not yet learned what the essential mechanism of leadership is. When it learns that, if it ever does so, it will have passed a very critical point in its evolution. If one looks into the psychology of primitive magic, one discovers that the primitive man consults his shaman from the same motive which impels us to resort to some leader. He feels helpless in some situation and instead of studying the situation empirically ("realistically") to learn what he shall best do, he languidly calls for someone else to tell him: he seeks professional advice. The someone else is not genuinely interested in solving his problem, but is of course delighted to take his money. The great modern superstition, our magic, is to turn at every juncture to some professional, some leader, and a thousand rationalizations are in the air to make such a course seem reasonable. Our mod-ern civilization is at every point actually founded upon this superstition. It is this contemporary magic and the terrific cultural compulsives which surround it, that call for the closest study by anyone who realizes that the present situation is critical.
There is another way of life, remote from modern magic. This way has been finely sketched by Professor Kallen in his altogether penetrating and luminous study, Individualism. But it cannot be quite adequately imparted in words. One must study earnestly the vile diabolism which underlies our modern magic, and then construct for oneself the picture of a society in which men should renounce this magic and pursue a wiser, more far-sighted self-interest.