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Boas- ANTH53 - A. We (We M29 amp/am 2/ ff€€%n§%...

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Unformatted text preview: A. We (We M29 amp/am 2/ ff€€%n§% STABILITY OF CULTURE :33 CHAPTER VII STABILITY OF CULTURE WV“ N ISOLATED community that remains subject to , the same environmental conditions, and with- out selective mating, becomes, after a number of gen- erations, stable in bodily form. As long as there are no stimuli that modify the sooial structure and mental life the culture will also be fairly permanent. Primi— tive, isolated tribes appear to us and to themselves as stable, because under undisturbed conditions the processes of change of culture are slow. In the very earliest times of mankind culture must have changed almost imperceptibly. The history of man, of a being that made tools, goes back maybe 150,000 years, more or less. The tools belonging to this period are found buried in the soil. They are stone implements of simple form. For a period of no less than 30,000 years the forms did not change. When we observe such permanence among animals we explain it as an expression of instinct. Objectiver the toolmaking of man of this period seems like an in- stinctive trait similar to the instincts of ants and bees. The repetition of the same act without change, gen- 13: eration after generation, gives the impression of a biologically determined instinct. Still, we do not know that such a view would be correct, because we can- not tell in how far each generation learned from its predecessors. Animals like birds and mammals, act not only instinctively; they also learn by example and imitation. Horses and dogs learn to react to calls, or to the spoken word. English sparrows reared by canaries learn their song and call-notes. Parrots learn to imitate sounds. Apes even learn to use sticks or stones as tools. It seems likely that conditions were the same in early man. Even in the earliest remains differences may be found. While in some areas the typical form of an implement was the flint blade, in others it was the cleaver or coup-de-point. According to Menghin a culture based on the use of bone originated in arc- tic Asia, another one based on the manufacture of flint blades in Eastern Asia, and one based on the flint cleaver in India. The importance of the process of learning becomes more and more evident the nearer we approach the present period. The tools become more differentiated. Not all localities show the same forms, and it seems likely that if we could examine the behavior of man in periods one thousand years apart that changes I would be discovered. 136 ANTHROPOLOGY AND MODERN LIFE I Notwithstanding the rapid changes in many as- pects of our modern life we may observe in other respects a marked stability. Characteristics of our civilization are conflicts between the inertia of con- STABILITY OF CULTURE 13,7 servative tradition and the radicalism which has no respect for the past but attempts to reconstruct the future on the basis of rational considerations in- tended to further its ideals. These conflicts may be ob- served in education, law, economic theory, religion, and art. Discipline against freedom of control, sub- ordination under the public weal against individual freedom, capitalism against socialism, dogma against freedom of belief, established art forms against es- thetic expression subject only to individual whim, are some of these conflicts. They are possible only when in a rapidly changing culture the old and the new live side by side. ' For these reasons it is important to study the con- ' ditions that make for stability and for change; and to know whether changes are organically or cul- turally determined. Behavior that is organically determined is called instinctive. When the infant cries and smiles, when later on it walks, its actions are instinctive in this sense. Breathing, chewing, retiring from a sudden as- sault against the senses, approach towards desired objects are presumably organically determined. They do not need to be learned. Most of these actions are indispensable for the maintenance of life. We can 138 ANTHROPOLOGY AND MODERN LIFE never account for the reasons that prompt us to per- form acts organically determined. The stimulus pre- sents itself and we react at once, without conscious effort. Still, some of these reactions may be modified or even suppressed with impunity. Thus we may learn to overcome the reaction to fear. It is difficult to do so, but not impossible. On the ground of this experience we are inclined to consider every type of behavior that is marked by an immediate, involuntary reaction as instinctive. This is an error, for habits imposed upon us during infancy and childhood have the same characteristics. They determine the particular forms of our activities, even of those based on the structure of our organism. We must recognize that the specific forms of our ac- tions are culturally determined. We must eat in order to live. Arctic man is com- pelled by necessity to live on a meat diet; the Hindu lives on vegetal food-by choice. That we walk on our legs is organically condi- tioned. How we walk, our particular gait, depends upon the forms of our shoes, the cut of our clothing, the way we carry loads, the conformation of the ground we tread. Peculiar forms of motion may be, in part, physiologically determined, but many are due to imitation. They are repeated so often that they become automatic. They come to be the way in which we move “naturally.” The response is as easy and as ready as an instinctive action, and a change from the acquired habit to a new one is equally diffi- STABILITY OF CULTURE r39 cult. When thoroughly established the level of con- sciousness of an automatic action is the same as that of an instinctive reaction. In all these cases the faculty of developing a cer- tain motor habit is organically determined. The par- ticular form of movement is automatic, acquired by constant, habitual use. This distinction is particularly clear in the use of language. The faculty of speech is organically determined and should be called, therefore, instinc- tive. However, what we speak is determined solely by our environment. We acquire one language or an- other, according to what we hear spoken around us. We become accustomed to very definite movements of lips, tongue and the whole group of articulating organs. When we speak, we are wholly unconscious of any of these movements and equally of the struc- ture of the language we speak. We resent devia- tions in pronunciation and in structure. As adults we find it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to acquire complete mastery of new articulations and new structures such as are required in learning a for— eign language. Our linguistic habits are not instinc- tive. They are automatic. Our thoughts and our speech are accompanied by muscular movements—some people would even say they are our thoughts. The kinds of movements are not by any means the same everywhere. The mobil- ity of the Italian contrasts strikingly with the re- straint of the Englishman. I40 ANTHROPOLOGY AND MODERN LIFE The human faculty of using tools is organically de- termined. It is instinctive. This, however, does not mean that the kind of tool developed is prescribed by instinct. Even the slightest knowledge of the de- velopment of tools proves that the special forms char- acteristic of each area and period depend upon tra— dition and are in no way organically determined. The choice of material depends partly upon environment, partly upon the state of inventions. We use steel and other artificially made materials; the African iron,, others stone, bone, or shell. The forms of the working parts of the implements depend upon the tasks they are to perform, those of the handles upon our motor habits. The same is ordinarily true of our likes and dis- likes. We are organically capable of producing and enjoying music. What kind of music we enjoy de- pends for most of us solely upon habit. Our harmo- nies, rhythms, and melodies are not of the same kind as those enjoyed by the Siamese and a mutual under— standing, if it can be attained at all, can be reached solely by long training. Whatever is acquired in infancy and childhood by unvarying habits becomes automatic. There is a negative effect of automatism, no less important than the positive one which results in the ease of performance. Any action that differs from those performed by us habitually strikes us immediately as ridiculous or objectionable, according to the emotional tone STABILITY OF CULTURE 14: that accompanies it. Often deviations from auto- matic actions are strongly resented. A dog taught to give his hind paw instead of the front paw excites us to laughter. Formal dress worn at times when the conventions do not allow it seems ridiculous. So does the dress that was once fashionable but that has gone out of use. We need only think of the hoop skirt- of the middle of the last century or of the bright colors of man’s dress and the impression they would create to-day. We must also realize the resistance that we ourselves have to appearing in an inappropri- ate costume. More serious are the resistances in matters that evoke stronger emotional reactions. Table manners are a good example. Most of us are exceedingly sen- sitive to a breach of good table manners. There are many tribes and people that do not know the use of the fork and who dip into the dish with their fingers. We feel this is disgusting because we are accustomed to the use of fork and knife. We are accustomed to eat quietly. Among some Indian tribes it is discour- teous not to smack one’s lips, the sign of enjoying one’s food. What is nauseating to us is proper to them. Still more striking is our reaction to breaches of modesty. We have ourselves witnessed a marked change in regard to what is considered modest, what immodest. A comparative study shows that modesty is found the world over, but that the ideas of what is modest and what immodest vary incredibly. Thirty I42 ANTHROPOLOGY AND MODERN LIFE years ago woman’s dress of to-day would have been immodest. South African Negroes greet a person of high rank by turning the back and bowing away from him. Some South American Indians consider it im— modest to eat in View of other people. Whatever the form of modest behavior may be, a breach of eti— quette is always strongly resented. This is characteristic of all forms of automatic behavior. The performance of an automatic action is accompanied by the lowest degree of consciousness. To witness an action contrary to our automatic be- havior excites at once intense attention and the strongest resistances must be overcome if we are re- quired to perform such an action. Where motor habits are concerned the resistance is based on the difficulty of acquiring new habits, which -is the greater the older we are, perhaps less on account of growing inadaptibility than for the reason that we are con— stantly required toactand have no time to adjust ourselves to new ways. In trifling matters the resis- tance may take the form of fear of ridicule, in more serious ones there may be dread of social ostracism. But it is not only the fear of the critical attitude of society that creates resistance, it rests equally in our own unwillingness to change, in our thorough disap- probation of the unconventional. Intolerance of sharply divided social sets is often based on the strength of automatic reactions and upon the feeling of intense displeasure felt in acts opposed to our own automatism. The apparent fanaticism STABILITY OF CULTURE r43 exhibited in the persecution of heretics must be ex— plained in this manner. At a time when the dogma taught by the Church was imposed upon each indi— vidual so intensely that it became an automatic part of his thought and action, it was accompanied by a strong feeling of opposition, of hostility to any one who did not participate in this feeling. The term fanaticism does not quite correctly express the atti- tude of the Inquisition. Its psychological basis was rather the impossibility of changing a habit of thought that had become automatic and the conse- quent impossibility of following new lines of thought, which, for this very reason, seemed antisocial; that is, criminal. We have a similar spectacle in the present conflict between nationalism and internationalism with their mutual intolerance. Even in science a similar intolerance may be ob- served in the struggle of oppOSing theories and in the difficulty of breaking down traditional viewpoints. Both the positive and negative effect of automati- cally established actions implies that a culture replete with these must be stable. Every individual behaves according to the setting of the culture in which he hves. When the uniformity of automatic reaction is broken, the stability of culture will be weakened or lost. Conformity and stability are inseparably con- nected. Non—conformity breaks the force of tradition. . We are thus led to an investigation of the condi- tions that make for conformity or non-conformity. I44 ANTHROPOLOGY AND MODERN LIFE Conformity to instinctive activities is enforced by our organic structure, conformity to automatic actions by habit. The infant learns to speak by imita— tion. During the first few years of life the movements of larynx, tongue, roof of the mouth, and lips are gradually controlled and finally executed with great accuracy and rapidity. If the child is removed to a new environment in which another language is spoken, before the time when the movements of articulation have become stable, and as long as a certain effort in. speech is still required, the movements required by the new language are acquired with perfect ease. For the adult a change from one language to another is much more difficult. The demands of everyday life compel him to use speech, and the articulating or- gans follow the automatic, fixed habits of his child- hood. By imitation certain modifications occur, but a complete break with the early habits is extremely difficult, for many well-nigh impossible, and probably in no case quite perfect. Unwonted movements re- appear when, due to disease, the control of the central nervous system breaks down. Early habits control also the movements of the body. In childhood we acquire certain ways of hand- ling our bodies. If these movements have become automatic it is almost impossible to change to another style, because all the muscles are attuned to act in a fixed way. To change one’s gait, to acquire a new style of handwriting, to change the play of the muscles STABILITY OF CULTURE 145 of the face in response to emotion is a task that can never be accomplished satisfactorily. What is true of the handling of the body is equally true of mental processes. When we have learned to think in definite ways it is exceedingly difficult to break away and to follow new paths. For a person who has never been accustomed as a young child to restrain responses to emotions, such as weeping, or laughing, a transition to the restraints cultivated among us will be difficult. The teachings of earliest childhood remain for most people the dogma of adult life, the truth of which is never doubted. Recently the importance of the impressions of earliest childhood has been emphasized again by psychoanalysts. What- ever happens during the first five years of life sets the pace for the reactions of the individual. Habits established in this period become automatic and will resist strongly any pressure requiring change. It would be saying too much to claim that these habits are alone responsible for the reactions of the individual. His bodily organization certainly plays a part. This appears most clearly in the case of patho- logical individuals or of those unusually gifted in one way or another; but the whole population consists of individuals varying greatly in bodily form and func- tion, and since the same forms and faculties occur in many groups, the group behavior cannot be deeply influenced by structure. Differences must be due to culturally acquired automatic habits and these are among the most important sources of conservatism. ._-‘._...._-—. ._- -,_._.‘ - - ..._...- -muneg..M_—...-.-.,.-w.-...‘H.__.cum... - .A. J l mg e se exggrien rtain fixtent‘ swa, I ~ wordsg.’ To .- ' STABILITY OF CULTURE I 3 pserv 10 of he ymbl _ Wor th onl b s at ‘fluece n.2- hvior tis r er ar 7.?- ._i y oect' e smbo , j ch as --i e ._ ti a1 or he r-i oss, or '3 ed .::ry L-mus' al for s hat '- ave ttaied The uniformity of automatic reaction of the whole society is one of the strongest forces making for stability. When all react in the same way it becomes difficult for an individual to break away from the common habits. In a complex culture in which diverse attitudes are found the probability of change must be much greater. This is strikingly illustrated by the contrast be- tween the culture of primitive tribes and our modern civilization. Our society is not uniform. Among us even the best educated cannot participate in our whole civilization. Among primitive tribes the differences in occupations, interests, and knowledge are compara- tively slight. Every individual is to a great extent familiar with all the thoughts, emotions, and activities of the community. The uniformity of behavior is simi— lar to that expected among ourselves of a member of a SOCial “set.” A person who does not conform to the habits of thought and actions of his “set” loses stand- 154 ANTHROPOLOGY AND MODERN LIFE ing and must leave. In our modern civilization he is likely to find another congenial “set” to the habits of which he can conform. In primitive society such sets are absent. With us the presence of many groups of different standards of interest and behavior is a stimulus for critical self-examination, for conflicts of group interests and other forms of intimate contact are ever present. Among primitive people this stimu— lus does not occur within the tribal unit. For these reasons individual independence is attained with much greater difficulty and tribal standards have much greater force. Individual independence is the weaker the more markedly a culture is dominated by a single idea that controls the actions of every individual. We may illustrate this by the example of the Indians of the northwest coast of America and of those of the Plains. The former are dominated by the desire to obtain social prominence by the display of wealth and by occupying a position of high rank which depends upon ancestry and conformity to the social require- ments of rank. The life of almost every individual is regulated by this thought. The desire for social pres- tige finds expression in amassing riches, in squander- ing accumulated wealth, in lavish display, in outdoing rivals of equal rank, in marrying so as to insure rank for one’s children, more even than in a set of rich young people in our cities who have inherited wealth and who lose caste unless they come up to the social pace of their set. The uniformity of this background STABILITY OF CULTURE 155 and the intensity with which it is cultivated in the young do not allow other forms to arise and keep the cultural outlook stable. Quite similar observations may be made among the natives of New Guinea, among whom display of wealth is also a dominating passion. Quite different is the background of life of the Indians of the Plains. The desire to obtain honors by warlike deeds prompts thoughts and actions of every- one. Social position is intimately bound up with suc- cess in war, and the desire for prominence is incul- cated in the mind of every child. The combination of these two tendencies determines the mental status of the community and prevents the development of different ideals. Again different are conditions among the sedentary tribes of New. Mexico. According to Dr. Ruth L. Bunzel the chief desire of the Zufii Indian is to con- form to the general level of behavior and not to be prominent. Prominence brings with it so many duties _ and enmities that it is avoided. The dominating in- terest in life is occupation with ceremonialism and this combined with fear of outstanding responsibility gives a steady tone to life. The fundamental contrast between Pueblo formal- ism and the abandon to exaltation of other Indian tribes has been set forth clearly by Dr. Benedict. Among the Pueblos there is no desire to cultivate customs that lead to individual or mass excitement, no use of drugs to produce ecstasy, no orgiastic I 56 ANTHROPOLOGY AND MODERN LIFE dance, no self-torture, no self-induced vision, traits that are common to almost all other Indian tribes. No less instructive is the fundamental role played by the idea of the sacredness of persons of high rank, expressed particularly by the taboo of their persons and of objects belonging to them, that prevails prac- tically all over Polynesia and that must be an ancient trait of Polynesian culture. In all these cases the uniformity of social habits and the lack of examples of different types of be- havior make deviations difficult and place in an anti- social class the individual who does not conform, even if his revolt is due to a superior mind and to strength i of character. HM...“ ast bil' in e co . a if 51 . lug: es't r STABILITY OF CULTURE 157 ' :: pnts in honalsi whi 3 ., - a ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/30/2008 for the course ANTH 053 taught by Professor Richard during the Spring '08 term at Pacific.

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Boas- ANTH53 - A. We (We M29 amp/am 2/ ff€€%n§%...

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