Mind Self and Society
Section 31 The Basis of Human Society: Man and the Vertebrates
We have seen that human society is organized on a principle different from the insect societies, which are based on physiological differentiation. Human individuals are identical in large respects with each other and physiologically differentiated relatively slightly. The self-conscious individual that goes to constitute such a society is not dependent upon the physiological differentiations, even where they exist, while in the insect community the very existence of the communities is dependent upon such physiological differentiation. The organization of social attitudes constituting the structure and content of the human individual self is effected both in terms of the organization of neural elements and their interconnections in the individual's central nervous system, and in terms of the general ordered pattern of social or group behavior or conduct in which the individual --as a member of the society or group of individuals carrying on that behavior - is involved.
It is true, also, that many vertebrate forms with the beginnings of a society do not depend on physiological differentiation. Such societies lower than man are relatively insignificant. The family, of course, is significant, and we can say that the family exists lower than man. There is not only the necessary relationship of parent and child which is due to the period of infancy, but also the relationship between the sexes, which may be relatively permanent, and which leads to an organization of the family. But there is not found an organization of a larger group on the basis solely of the family organization. The herd, the school of fishes, groups of birds, so far as they form loose aggregations, do not arise out of the development of a physiological function which belongs to the family. Such herds exhibit what we may call "instinctive relationships," in the sense that the forms keep together and seem to find in each other a stimulus for carrying on their own activity. Animals in a group will perform the grazing functions better than when alone. There seem to be instinctive tendencies on the part of these forms to move
(239) in the direction which other animals are moving, such as is found in any group of cattle drifting across the prairie together as they graze. The movement of one form is a stimulus to the other form to move on in the direction in which the other form is moving. That seems to be about the limit of that phase of herding. There are also forms huddled together in defense or in attack, as the herd which defends itself against the attack of the wolves, or the wolves running together in attacking the herd. But such mechanisms give relatively slight bases for organization, and they do not enter into the life of the individual so as to determine that life throughout. The individual is not determined through his relationship to the herd. The herd comes in as a new sort of organization and makes the life of the individual possible from the point of view of the defense from an attack, but the actual processes of eating and of propagation are not dependent on the herding itself. It does not represent such an organization of all the members as to determine the life of the separate members. Still more fundamentally, the family, so far as it exists among the lower forms, does not come in as that which makes possible the structure of the herd as such. It is true that in this massing together of cattle against the attack from outside the young form is put inside of the circle, and this is a development of the family relation, of that general attitude of parental care toward the young. But it is not an instinct which is here developed definitely into a process of defense or into a process of attack.
In the case of the human group, on the other hand, there is a development in which the complex phases of society have arisen out of the organization which the appearance of the self made possible. One perhaps finds in the relationship of the different members of the most primitive group attitudes of mutual defense and attack. It is likely that such co-operative attitudes, combined with the attitudes of the family, supply the situations out of which selves arise. Given the self, there is then the possibility of the further development of the society on this self-conscious basis, which is so distinct from the loose organization
(240) of the herd or from the complex society of the insects. It is the self as such that makes the distinctively human society possible. It is true that some sort of cooperative activity antedates the self. There must be some loose organization in which the different organisms work together, and that sort of cooperation in which the gesture of the individual may become a stimulus to himself of the same type as the stimulus to the other form, so that the conversation of gestures can pass over into the conduct of the individual. Such conditions are presupposed in the development of the self. But when the self has developed, then a basis is obtained for the development of a society which is different in its character from these other societies to which I have referred.
The family relation, you might say, gives us some suggestion of the sort of organization which belongs to the insect, for here we have physiological differentiation between the different members, the parents and the child. And in the mob we have a reversion to the society of a herd of cattle. A group of individuals can be stampeded like cattle. But in those two expressions, taken by themselves and apart from the self, you do not have the structure of a human society; you could not make up a human society out of the family as it exists in forms lower than man; you could not make up human society out of a herd. To suggest this would be to leave out of account the fundamental organization of human society about a self or selves.
There is, of course, in one sense, a physiological basis for human society, namely, in the development of the central nervous system, such as belongs to the vertebrates, and which reaches its highest development in man. Through the organization of the central nervous system the different reactions of the form may be combined in all sorts of orders, spatial and temporal, the spinal column representing a whole series of different possible reactions which, when excited, go off by themselves, while the cortical levels of the central nervous system provide all sorts of combinations of these various possible reactions. These higher levels of the brain make possible the variety of activities of the
(241) higher vertebrates. Such is the raw stuff, stated in physiological terms, from which the intelligence of the human social being arises.
The human being is social in a distinguishing fashion. Physiologically he is social in relatively few responses. There are, of course, fundamental processes of propagation and of the care of the young which have been recognized as a part of the social development of human intelligence. Not only is there a physiological period of infancy, but it is so lengthened that it represents about one-third of the individual's expectation of life. Corresponding to that period, the parental relation to the individual has been increased far beyond the family; the development of schools, and of institutions, such as those involved in the church and the government, is an extension of the parental relation. That is an external illustration of the indefinite complication of simple physiological processes. We take the care of an infant form and look at it from the standpoint of the mother; we see the care that is given to the mother before the birth of the child, the consideration that is given for providing proper food; we see the way in which the school is carried on so that the beginning of the education of the child starts with the first year of its life in the formation of habits which are of primary importance to it; we take into account education in the form of recreation, which comes one way or another into public control; in all these ways we can see what an elaboration there is of the immediate care which parents give to children under the most primitive conditions, and yet it is nothing but a continued complication of sets of processes which belong to the original care of the child.
This, I say, is an external picture of the sort of development that takes place in a central nervous system. There arc groups of relatively simple reactions which can be made indefinitely complex by uniting them with each other in all sorts of orders, and by breaking up a complex reaction, reconstructing it in a different fashion, and uniting it with other processes. Consider the playing of musical instruments. There is an immediate
(242) tendency to rhythmic processes, to use the rhythm of the body to emphasize certain sounds, movements which can be found among the gorillas. Then comes the possibility of picking to pieces the action of the whole body, the construction of elaborate dances, the relation of the dance to sound which appears in song, phenomena which get their expression in the great Greek dramas. These results are then externalized in musical instruments, which are in a way replicas of various organs of the body. All these external complications are nothing but an externalization in society of the sort of complication that exists in the higher levels of the central nervous system. We take the primitive reactions, analyze them, and reconstruct them under different conditions. That kind of reconstruction takes place through the development of the sort of intelligence which is identified with the appearance of the self. The institutions of society, such as libraries, systems of transportation, the complex interrelationship of individuals reached in political organizations, are nothing but ways of throwing on the social screen, so to speak, in enlarged fashion the complexities existing inside of the central nervous system, and they must, of course, express functionally the operation of this system.
The possibility of carrying this elaboration to the extent which has appeared in the human animal and the corresponding human society, is to be found in the development of communication in the conduct of the self. The arousing of the attitude which would lead to the same sort of action as that which is called out in the other individual makes possible the process of analysis, the breaking-up of the act itself. In the case of the fencer or boxer, where a man makes a certain feint to call out a certain response on the part of his opponent, he is at the same time calling out, in so far as he is aware of what he is doing, the beginning of the same response in himself. When he is doing that he is stimulating a certain area in the central nervous system which, if allowed to be the dominant area., would lead to the individual doing the same thing that his opponent does. He
(243) has taken his activity and isolated that particular phase of it, and in isolating that he has also broken up his response so that the different things he can do are within himself. He has stimulated those areas which answer to the different parts of the complex process. He can now combine them in various ways, and his combination of them is a process of reflective intelligence. It is a process which is illustrated most fully in a chess player. A good chess player has the response of the other person in his system. He can carry four or five moves ahead in his mind. What he is doing is stimulating another person to do a thing while he stimulates himself to do the same thing. That enables him to analyze his mode of attack into its different elements in terms of the responses coming from his opponent and then to reconstruct his own activity on that basis.
I have stressed the point that the process of communication is nothing but an elaboration of the peculiar intelligence with which the vertebrate form is endowed. The mechanism which can analyze the responses, take them to pieces, and reconstruct them, is made possible by the brain as-such, and the process of communication is the means by which this is brought under the control of the individual himself. He can take his response to pieces and present it to himself as a set of different things he can do under conditions more or less controllable. The process of communication simply puts the intelligence of the individual at his own disposal. But the individual that has this ability is a social individual. He does not develop it by himself and then enter into society on the basis of this capacity. He becomes such a self and gets such control by being a social individual, and it is only in society that he can attain this sort of a self which will make it possible for him to turn back on himself and indicate to himself the different things he can do.
The elaboration, then, of the intelligence of the vertebrate form in human society is dependent upon the development of this sort of social reaction in which the individual can influence himself as he influences others. It is this that makes it possible
(244) for him to take over and elaborate the attitudes of the other individuals. He does it in terms of the higher levels of the central nervous system that are representative of the reactions that take place. The reaction of walking, striking, or any simple reaction, belongs to the column at the stem of the brain. What takes place beyond this is simply the combinations of reactions of this type. When a person goes across the room to take up a book, what has taken place in his brain has been the connection of the processes involved in going across the room with those in taking up the book. When you take the attitude of another you are simply arousing the above responses which combine a reaction with different reactions to effect the necessary response. The centers involved in the combining of the responses of the lower forms answer to the higher mental processes, and make possible the elaboration of responses in these complex forms.
The human form has a mechanism for making these combinations within itself. A human individual is able to indicate to himself what the other person is going to do, and then to take his attitude on the basis of that indication. He can analyze his act and reconstruct it by means of this process. The sort of intelligence he has is not based on physiological differentiation, nor based upon herd instinct, but upon the development through the social process which enables him to carry out his part in the social reaction by indicating to himself the different possible reactions, analyzing them, and recombining them. It is that sort of an individual which makes human society possible. The preceding considerations are to be opposed to the utterly illogical type of analysis which deals with the human individual as if he were physiologically differentiated, simply because one can find a differentiation of individuals in the human society which can be compared with the differentiation in a nest of ants. In man the functional differentiation through language gives an entirely different principle of organization which produces not only a different type of individual but also a different society.