Mind Self and Society
Section 33 The Social Foundations and Functions of Thought and Communication
In the same socio-physiological way that the human individual becomes conscious of himself he also becomes conscious of other individuals; and his consciousness both of himself and of other individuals is equally important for his own self-development and for the development of the organized society or social group to which he belongs.
The principle which I have suggested as basic to human social organization is that of communication involving participation in the other. This requires the appearance of the other in the self, the identification of the other with the self, the reaching of self-consciousness through the other. This participation is made possible through the type of communication which the human animal is able to carry out -- a type of communication distinguished from that which takes place among other forms which have not this principle in their societies. I discussed the sentinel, so-called, that may be said to communicate his discovery of the danger to the other members, as the clucking of the hen may be said to communicate to the chick. There are conditions under which the gesture of one form serves to place the other forms in the proper attitude toward external conditions. In one sense we may say the one form communicates with the other, but the difference between that and self-conscious communication is evident. One form does not know that communication is taking place with the other. We get illustrations of that in what we term mob-consciousness, the attitude which an audience will take when under the influence of a great speaker. One is influenced by the attitudes of those about him, which are reflected back into the different members of the audience so that they come to respond as a whole. One feels the general attitude of the whole audience. There is then communication in a real sense, that is, one form communicates to the other an attitude which the other assumes toward a certain part of the environment that is of importance to them both. That level of communication is found in forms of society which
(254) are of lower type than the social organization of the human group.
In the human group, on the other hand, there is not only this kind of communication but also that in which the person who uses this gesture and so communicates assumes the attitude of the other individual as well as calling it out in the other. He himself is in the rôle of the other person whom he is so exciting and influencing. It is through taking this rôle of the other that he is able to come back on himself and so direct his own process of communication. This taking the rôle of the other, an expression I have so often used, is not simply of passing importance. It is not something that just happens as an incidental result of the gesture, but it is of importance in the development of cooperative activity. The immediate effect of such rôle-taking lies in the control which the individual is able to exercise over his own response. The control of the action of the individual in a cooperative process can take place in the conduct of the individual himself if he can take the rôle of the other. It is this control of the response of the individual himself through taking the rôle of the other that leads to the value of this type of communication from the point of view of the organization of the conduct in the group. It carries the process of cooperative
(255) activity farther than it can be carried in the herd as such, or in the insect society.
And thus it is that social control, as operating in terms of self-criticism, exerts itself so intimately and extensively over individual behavior or conduct, serving to integrate the individual and his actions with reference to the organized social process of experience and behavior in which he is implicated. The physiological mechanism of the human individual's central nervous system makes it possible for him to take the attitudes of other individuals' and the attitudes of the organized social group of which he and they are members, toward himself, in terms of his integrated social relations to them and to the group as a whole; so that the general social process of experience and behavior which the group is carrying on is directly presented to him in his own experience, and so that he is thereby able to govern and direct his conduct consciously and critically, with reference to his relations both to the social group as a whole and to its other individual members, in terms of this social process. Thus he becomes not only self-conscious but also self-critical; and thus, through self-criticism, social control over individual behavior or conduct operates by virtue of the social origin and basis of such criticism. That is to say, self-criticism is essentially social criticism, and behavior controlled by self-criticism is essentially behavior controlled socially. Hence social control, so far from tending to crush out the human individual or to obliterate his self-conscious individuality, is, on the contrary, actually constitutive of and inextricably associated with that individuality; for the individual is what he is, as a conscious and individual personality, just in as far as he is a member of society, involved in the social process of experience and activity, and thereby socially controlled in his conduct.
The very organization of the self-conscious community is dependent upon individuals taking the attitude of the other individuals. The development of this process, as I have indicated, is dependent upon getting the attitude of the group as distinct from that of a separate individual-getting what I have termed a "generalized other." I have illustrated this by the ball game, in which the attitudes of a set of individuals are involved in a cooperative response in which the different rôles involve each other. In so far as a man takes the attitude of one individual in the group, he must take it in its relationship to the action of the other members of the group; and if he is fully to adjust himself, he would have to take the attitudes of all involved in the process. The degree, of course, to which he can do that is restrained by his capacity, but still in all intelligent processes we are able sufficiently to take the rôles of those involved in the activity to make our own action intelligent. The degree to which the life of the whole community can get into the self-conscious life of the separate individuals varies enormously. History is largely occupied in tracing out the development which could not have been present in the actual experience of the members of the community at the time the historian is writing about. Such an account explains the importance of history. One can look back over that which took place, and bring out changes, forces, and interests which nobody at the time was conscious of. We have to wait for the historian to give the picture because the actual process was one which transcended the experience of the separate individuals.
Occasionally a person arises who is able to take in more than others of an act in process, who can put himself into relation with whole groups in the community whose attitudes have not entered into the lives of the others in the community. He becomes a leader. Classes under a feudal order may be so separate from each other that, while they can act in certain traditional circumstances, they cannot understand each other; and then there may arise an individual who is capable of entering into the attitudes of the other members of the group. Figures of that
(257) sort become of enormous importance because they make possible communication between groups otherwise completely separated from each other. The sort of capacity we speak of is in politics the attitude of the statesman who is able to enter into the attitudes of the group and to mediate between them by making his own experience universal, so that others can enter into this form of communication through him.
The vast importance of media of communication such as those involved in journalism is seen at once, since they report situations through which one can enter into the attitude and experience of other persons. The drama has served this function in presenting what have been felt to be important situations. It has picked out characters which lie in men's minds from tradition, as the Greeks did in their tragedies, and then expressed through these characters situations which belong to their own time but which carry the individuals beyond the actual fixed walls which have arisen between them, as members of different classes in the community. The development of this type of communication from the drama into the novel has historically something of the same importance as journalism has for our own time. The novel presents a situation which lies outside of the immediate purview of the reader in such form that he enters into the attitude of the group in the situation. There is a far higher degree of participation, and consequently of possible communication, under those conditions than otherwise. There is involved, of course, in such a development the existence of common interests. You cannot build up a society out of elements that lie outside of the individual's life-processes. You have to presuppose some sort of cooperation within which the individuals are themselves actively involved as the only possible basis for this participation in communication. You cannot start to communicate with people in Mars and set up a society when you have no antecedent relationship. Of course, if there is an already existing community in Mars of the same character as your own, then you can possibly carry on communication with it; but a community that lies entirely outside of your own com-
(258) -munity, that has no common interest, no cooperative activity, is one with which you could not communicate.
In human society there have arisen certain universal forms which found their expression in universal religions and also in universal economic processes. These go back, in the case of religion, to such fundamental attitudes of human beings toward each other as kindliness, helpfulness, and assistance. Such attitudes are involved in the life of individuals in the group, and a generalization of them is found back of all universal religions. These processes are such that they carry with them neighborliness and, in so far as we have co-operative activity, assistance to those in trouble and in suffering. The fundamental attitude of helping the other person who is down, who finds himself in sickness or other misfortune, belongs to the very structure of the individuals in a human community. It can be found even under conditions where there is the opposing attitude of complete hostility, as in giving assistance to the wounded enemy in the midst of a battle. The attitude of chivalry, or the mere breaking of bread with another, identifies the individual with the other even if he is an enemy. Those are situations in which the individual finds himself in an attitude of cooperation; and it is out of situations like that, out of universal cooperative activity, that the universal religions have arisen. The development of this fundamental neighborliness is expressed in the parable of the good Samaritan.
On the other hand, we have a fundamental process of exchange on the part of individuals arising from the goods for which they have no immediate need themselves but which can be utilized for obtaining that which they do need. Such exchange can take place wherever individuals who have such surpluses are able to communicate with each other. There is a participation in the attitude of need, each putting himself in the attitude of the other in the recognition of the mutual value which the exchange has for both. It is a highly abstract relationship, for something which one cannot himself use brings him into relationship with anybody else in exchange. It is a
(259) situation which is as universal as that to which we have referred in the case of neighborliness. These two attitudes represent the most highly universal, and, for the time being, most highly abstract society. They are attitudes which can transcend the limits of the different social groups organized about their own life-processes, and may appear even in actual hostility between groups. In the process of exchange or assistance persons who would be otherwise hostile can come into an attitude of cooperative activity.
Back of these two attitudes lies that which is involved in any genuine communication. It is more universal in one respect than religious and economic attitudes, and less in another. One has to have something to communicate before communicating. One may seemingly have the symbol of another language, but if he has not any common ideas (and these involve common responses) with those who speak that language, he cannot communicate with them; so that back even of the process of discourse must lie cooperative activity. The process of communication is one which is more universal than that of the universal religion or universal economic process in that it is one that serves them both. Those two activities have been the most universal cooperative activities. The scientific community is one which has come to be perhaps as universal in one sense, but even it cannot be found among people who have no conscious signs or literature. The process of communication is, then, in one sense more universal than these different cooperative processes. It is the medium through which these cooperative activities can be carried on in the self-conscious society. But one must recognize that it is a medium for cooperative activities; there is not any field of thought as such which can simply go on by itself. Thinking is not a field or realm which can be taken outside of possible social uses. There has to be some such field as religion or economics in which there is something to communicate, in which there is a cooperative process, in which what is communicated can be socially utilized. One must assume that sort of a cooperative situation in order to reach what is called
(260) the "universe of discourse." Such a universe of discourse is the medium for all these different social processes, and in that sense it is more universal than they; but it is not a process that, so to speak, runs by itself.
It is necessary to emphasize this because philosophy and the dogmas that have gone with it have set up a process of thought and a thinking substance that is the antecedent of these very processes within which thinking goes on. Thinking, however, is nothing but the response of the individual to the attitude of the other in the wide social process in which both are involved, and the directing of one's anticipatory action by these attitudes of the others that one does assume. Since that is what the process of thinking consists in, it cannot simply run by itself.
I have been looking at language as a principle of social organization which has made the distinctively human society possible. Of course, if there are inhabitants in Mars, it is possible for us to enter into communication with them in as far as we can enter into social relations with them. If we can isolate the logical constants which are essential for any process of thinking, presumably those logical constants would put us into a position to carry on communication with the other community. They would constitute a common social process so that one could possibly enter into a social process with any other being in any historical period or spatial position. By means of thought one can project a society into the future or past, but we are always presupposing a social relationship within which this process of communication takes place. The process of communication cannot be set up as something that exists by itself, or as a presupposition of the social process. On the contrary, the social process is presupposed in order to render thought and communication possible.