Sunday, 21 February 2016

On Aggression. Militant Enthusiasm Part Two

            This is the second part of the extract of  Konrad Lorenz's On Aggression that was posted yesterday. Once again, I have edited and omitted some paragraphs in the text below. This is done for brevity and to remove passages that might prove confusing outside the context of the book. I strongly urge you to read the original work!

            Militant enthusiasm is particularly suited for the paradigmatic illustration of the manner in which a phylogenetically evolved pattern of behaviour interacts with culturally ritualized social norms and rites, and in which, though absolutely indispensable to the function of the compound system, it is prone to miscarry most tragically if not strictly controlled by rational responsibility based on causal insight. The Greek word enthousiasmos implies that a person is possessed by a god, the German word Begeisterung means that he is controlled by a spirit, a Geist, more or less holy. In reality, militant enthusiasm is a specialized form of communal aggression, clearly distinct from and yet functionally related to the more primitive forms of petty individual aggression. Every man of normally strong emotions knows, from his own experience, the subjective phenomena that go hand in hand with the response of militant enthusiasm. A shiver runs down the back, and, as more exact observation shows, along the outside of both arms. One soars elated above all the ties of everyday life, one is ready to abandon all for the call of what, in the moment of this specific emotion, seems to be a sacred duty. All obstacles in its path become unimportant, the instinctive inhibitions against hurting or killing one’s fellows lose, unfortunately, much of their power.

            Rational considerations, criticism, and all reasonable arguments against the behaviour dictated by militant enthusiasm are silenced by an amazing reversal of all values, making them appear not only untenable but base and dishonourable. Men may enjoy the feeling of absolute righteousness even while they commit atrocities. Conceptual thought and moral responsibility are at their lowest ebb. As a Ukrainian proverb says: ‘When the banner is unfurled, all reason is in the trumpet.’ The subjective experiences just described are correlated with the following, objectively demonstrable phenomena. The tone of the entire striated musculature is raised, the carriage is stiffened, the arms are raised from the sides and slightly rotated inwards so that the elbows point outwards. The head is proudly raised, the chin stuck out, and the facial muscles mime the ‘hero face’, familiar from the films. Down the back and along the outer surface of the arms the hair stands on end. This is the objectively observed aspect of the shiver! Anybody who has ever seen the corresponding behaviour of the male chimpanzee defending his band or family with self-sacrificing courage, will doubt the purely spiritual character of human enthusiasm. The chimp, too, sticks out his chin, stiffens his body, and raises his elbows; his hair stands on end producing a terrifying magnification of his body contours as seen from the front. The inward rotation of his arms obviously has the purpose of turning the longest-haired side outwards to enhance the effect. The whole combination of body attitude and hair-raising constitutes a bluff. This is also seen when a cat humps its back, and is calculated to make the animal appear bigger and more dangerous than it really is.

            Our shiver which, in German poetry, is called a heiliger Schauer, which means a ‘holy shiver’, turns out to be the vestige of a pre-human vegetative response of causing to bristle a fur which we no longer have. To the humble seeker of biological truth there cannot be the slightest doubt that human militant enthusiasm evolved out of a communal defence response of our pre-human ancestors. The unthinking single-mindedness of the response must have been of high survival value even in a tribe of fully evolved human beings. It was necessary for the individual male to forget all his other allegiances in order to be able to dedicate himself, body and soul, to the cause of the communal battle. ‘Was schert mich Weib, was schert mich Kind’ – ‘What do I care for wife or child’ says the Napoleonic soldier in a famous poem by Heinrich Heine, and it is highly characteristic of the reaction that this poet, otherwise a caustic critic of emotional romanticism, was so unreservedly enraptured by his enthusiasm for the ‘great’ conqueror as to find this supremely apt expression. The object which militant enthusiasm tends to defend has changed with cultural development. Originally it was certainly the community of concrete, individually known members of a group, held together by the bond of personal love and friendship. With the growth of the social unit, the social norms and rites held in common by all its members became the main factor holding it together as an entity, and therewith they became automatically the symbol of the unit. By a process of true Pavlovian conditioning plus a certain amount of irreversible imprinting these rather abstract values have in every human culture been substituted for the primal, concrete object of the communal defence reaction. This traditionally conditioned substitution of object has important consequences for the function of militant enthusiasm.

            On the one hand, the abstract nature of its object can give it a definitely inhuman aspect and make it positively dangerous – what do I care for wife or child? – on the other hand, it makes it possible to recruit militant enthusiasm into the service of really ethical values. Without the concentrated dedication of militant enthusiasm neither art, nor science, nor indeed any of the great endeavours of humanity would ever have come into being. Whether enthusiasm is made to serve these endeavours, or whether man’s most powerfully motivating instinct makes him go to war in some abjectly silly cause, depends almost entirely on the conditioning and/or imprinting he has undergone during certain susceptible periods of his life. There is reasonable hope that our moral responsibility may gain control over the primeval drive, but our only hope of it ever doing so rests on the humble recognition of the fact that militant enthusiasm is an instinctive response with a phylogenetically determined releasing mechanism, and that the only point at which intelligent and responsible supervision can get control is in the conditioning of the response to an object which proves to be a genuine value under the scrutiny of the categorical question. Like the triumph ceremony of the greylag goose, militant enthusiasm in man is a true autonomous instinct: it has its own appetitive behaviour, its own releasing mechanisms and, like the sexual urge or any other strong instinct, it engenders a specific feeling of intense satisfaction. The strength of its seductive lure explains why intelligent men may behave as irrationally and immorally in their political as in their sexual lives. Like the triumph ceremony it has an essential influence on the social structure of the species.

            Humanity is not enthusiastically combative because it is split into political parties, but it is divided into opposing camps because this is the adequate stimulus situation to arouse militant enthusiasm in a satisfying manner. ‘If ever a doctrine of universal salvation should gain ascendancy over the whole earth to the exclusion of all others,’ writes Erich von Holst, ‘it would at once fall into two strongly opposing factions (one’s own true one and the other heretical one) and hostility and war would thrive as before, mankind being – unfortunately – what it is!’

            The first prerequisite for rational control of an instinctive behaviour pattern is the knowledge of the stimulus situation which releases it. Militant enthusiasm can be elicited, with the predictability of a reflex, when the following environmental situations arise. First of all, a social unit with which the subject identifies himself must appear to be threatened by some danger from outside. That which is threatened may be a concrete group of people, the family, or a little community of close friends, or else it may be a larger social unit held together and symbolized by its own specific social norms and rites. As the latter assume the character of autonomous values, in the way described in Chapter 5, they can, quite by themselves, represent the object in whose defence militant enthusiasm can be elicited. From all this it follows that this response can be brought into play in the service of extremely different objects, ranging from the sports club to the nation, or from the most obsolete mannerisms or ceremonials to the ideal of scientific truth or of the incorruptibility of justice.

            A second key stimulus which contributes enormously to the releasing of intense militant enthusiasm is the presence of a hateful enemy from whom the threat to the above ‘values’ emanates. This enemy, too, can be of a concrete or of an abstract nature. It can be ‘the’ Jews, Huns, Boches, Tyrants, etc., or abstract concepts like world capitalism, bolshevism, fascism and any other kind of -ism; it can be heresy, dogmatism, scientific fallacy or what not. Just as in the case of the object to be defended, the enemy against whom to defend it is extremely variable and demagogues are well versed in the dangerous art of producing supra-normal dummies to release a very dangerous form of militant enthusiasm.

            A third factor contributing to the environmental situation eliciting the response is an inspiring leader figure. Even the most emphatically anti-fascistic ideologies apparently cannot do without it, as the giant pictures of leaders displayed by all kinds of political parties prove clearly enough. Again the unselectivity of the phylogenetically programmed response allows for a wide variation in the conditioning to a leader-figure...

            ...A fourth, and perhaps the most important prerequisite for the full eliciting of militant enthusiasm is the presence of many other individuals all agitated by the same emotion. Their absolute number has a certain influence on the quality of the response. Smaller numbers at issue with a large majority tend to obstinate defence with the emotional value of ‘making a last stand’, while very large numbers inspired by the same enthusiasm feel an urge to conquer the whole world in the name of their sacred cause. Here the laws of mass enthusiasm are strictly analogous to those of flock formation described in Chapter 8; here, too, the excitation grows in proportion, perhaps even in geometrical progression, with the increasing number of individuals.

            This is exactly what makes militant mass enthusiasm so dangerous. I have tried to describe, with as little emotional bias as possible, the human response of enthusiasm, its phylogenetic origin, its instinctive as well as its traditionally handed-down components and prerequisites. I hope I have made the reader realize, without actually saying so, what a jumble our philosophy of values is. What is a culture? A system of historically developed social norms and rites which are passed on from generation to generation because emotionally they are felt to be values. What is a value? Obviously, normal and healthy people are able to appreciate something as a high value for which to live and, if necessary, to die, for no other reason than that it was evolved in cultural ritualization and handed down to them by a revered elder. Is, then, a value only defined as the object on which our instinctive urge to preserve and defend traditional social norms has become fixated? Primarily and in the early stages of cultural development this undoubtedly was the case. The obvious advantages of loyal adherence to tradition must have exerted a considerable selection pressure.

            However, the greatest loyalty and obedience to culturally ritualized norms of behaviour must not be mistaken for responsible morality. Even at their best they are only functionally analogous to behaviour controlled by rational responsibility. In this respect they are no whit different from the instinctive patterns of social behaviour discussed in Chapter 7. Also they are just as prone to miscarry under circumstances for which they have not been ‘programmed’ by the great constructor, natural selection. In other words, the need to control, by wise rational responsibility, all our emotional allegiances to cultural values is as great as, if not greater than, the necessity of keeping our other instincts in check. None of them can ever have such devastating effects as unbridled militant enthusiasm when it infects great masses and overrides all other considerations by its single-mindedness and its specious nobility.

            It is not enthusiasm in itself that is in any way noble, but humanity’s great goals which it can be called upon to defend. That indeed is the Janus head of man: the only being capable of dedicating himself to the very highest moral and ethical values requires for this purpose a phylogenetically adapted mechanism of behaviour whose animal properties bring with them the danger that he will kill his brother, convinced that he is doing so in the interests of these very same high values...

            ... The fourth and perhaps the most important measure to be taken immediately is the intelligent and responsible channelling of militant enthusiasm, in other words helping a younger generation which, on the one hand, is highly critical and even suspicious and on the other emotionally starved, to find genuine causes that are worth serving in the modern world. I shall now proceed to discuss all these precepts one by one..... What is needed is the arousal of enthusiasm for causes which are commonly recognized as values of the highest order by all human beings, irrespective of their national, cultural or political allegiances. I have already called attention to the danger of defining a value by begging the question. A value is emphatically not just the object to which the instinctive response of militant enthusiasm becomes fixated by imprinting and early conditioning, even if, conversely, militant enthusiasm can become fixated on practically any institutionalized social norm or rite and make it appear as a value...However, I think we must face the fact that militant enthusiasm has evolved from the hackle-raising and chin-protruding communal defence instinct of our pre-human ancestors and that the key stimulus situations which release it still bear all the earmarks of this origin. Among them, the existence of an enemy, against whom to defend cultural values, is still one of the most effective. Militant enthusiasm, in one particular respect, is dangerously akin to the triumph ceremony of geese and to analogous instinctive behaviour patterns of other animals. The social bond embracing a group is closely connected with aggression directed against outsiders. In human beings, too, the feeling of togetherness which is so essential to the serving of a common cause is greatly enhanced by the presence of a definite, threatening enemy whom it is possible to hate. Also, it is much easier to make people identify with a simple and concrete common cause than with an abstract idea. For all these reasons, the teachers of militant ideologies have an enviably easy job in converting young people...The actual warmonger, of course, has the best chances of arousing militant enthusiasm because he can always work his dummy or fiction of an enemy for all it is worth....

...If I have just said that considerable erudition is necessary for anyone to grasp the real values of humanity which are worthy of being served and defended, I certainly did not mean that it was a hopeless task to raise the education of average humanity to that level, I only wanted to emphasize that it was necessary to do so. Indeed, in our age of enlightenment, human beings of average intelligence are not so very far from appreciating real cultural and ethical values.

            There are at least three great human enterprises, collective in the truest sense of the word, whose ultimate and unconditional value no normal human being can doubt: Art, the pursuit of beauty; Science, the pursuit of truth; and, as an independent third which is neither art not science, though it makes use of both, Medicine, the attempt to mitigate human suffering...

...Of course, education alone, in the sense of the simple transmission of knowledge, is only a prerequisite to the real appreciation of these and other ethical values. Another condition, quite as important, is that this knowledge and its ethical consequences should be handed down to the younger generation in such a way that it is able to identify itself with these values. I have already said what psycho-analysts have known for a long time, that a relation of trust and respect between two generations must exist in order to make a tradition of values possible. I have already said that Western culture, even without the danger of nuclear warfare, is more directly threatened by disintegration because of its failure to transmit its cultural and even its ethical values to the younger generation. To many people, and probably to all of those actively concerned with politics, my hope of improving the chances of permanent peace by arousing, in young people, militant enthusiasm for the ideals of art, science, medicine and the like, will appear unrealistic to the point of being fatuous. Young people today, they will argue, are notoriously materialistic and take an insuperably sceptical view of ideals in general and in particular of those that arouse the enthusiasm of a member of the older generation. My answer is that this is quite true, but that young people today have excellent excuses for taking this attitude. Cultural and political ideas today have a way of becoming obsolete surprisingly fast; indeed there are few of them on either side of any curtain that have not already done so. To the extra-terrestrial observer, in whose place we should be trying to put ourselves, it would seem a very minor issue whether capitalism or communism will rule the world; since the differences between the two are rapidly decreasing anyhow. To such an observer the great questions would be, first, whether mankind can keep its planet from becoming too radio-active to support life, and secondly whether mankind will succeed in preventing its population from ‘exploding’ in a way more annihilating than the explosion of the Bomb.

            Apart from the obvious obsolescence of most so-called ideals, we know some of the reasons why the younger generation refuses to accept handed down customs and social norms (pages 254–6). I believe that the ‘angry young men’ of Western civilization have a perfectly good right to be angry with the older generation and I do not regard it as surprising if modern youth is sceptical to the point of nihilism. I believe that its mistrust of all ideals is largely due to the fact that there have been and still are so many artificially contrived pseudo-ideals ‘on the market’, calculated to arouse enthusiasm for demagogic purposes. 

            I believe that among the genuine values here discussed science has a particular mission in vanquishing this distrust. Honest research must produce identical results anywhere. The verifiability of science proves the honesty of its work. There is no mystery whatsoever about its results; where they are met with obstinate incredulity they can be proved by incontestable figures. I believe that the most materialistic and the most sceptical are the very people whose enthusiasm could be aroused in the service of scientific truth and all that goes with it.

             Of course, it is not to be suggested that all of the earth’s population should engage in active scientific research, but scientific education might very well become general enough to exert a decisive influence on the social norms approved by public opinion. I am not speaking, at the moment, of the influence which a deeper understanding of the biological laws governing our own behaviour might have, a subject I shall discuss later on, but of the beneficial effect of scientific education in general sense that its content will stand the test of Kant’s categorical question, will act as an antidote to national or political aggression.

            Dr J. Hollo, an American physician, has pointed out that the militant enthusiasm by which a man identifies himself with a national or political cause, is so dangerous mainly for the one reason that it excludes all other considerations the moment it is aroused (by the mental processes described on pages 259–60). A man really can feel ‘wholly American’ when thinking of ‘the’ Russians or vice versa. The single-mindedness with which enthusiasm eliminates all other considerations and the fact that the objects of identification happen, in this case, to be fighting units, make national and political enthusiasm actually dangerous, to the point of its being ethically questionable Humanistic ideals of this kind must become real and full-blooded enough to compete, in the esteem of young people, with all the romantic and glamorous stimulus situations which are, primarily, much more effective in releasing the old hackle-raising and chin-protruding response of militant enthusiasm. Much intelligence and insight, on the side of the educator as well as on that of the educated, will be needed before this great goal is reached.  

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Saturday, 20 February 2016

On Aggression. Militant Enthusiasm Part One

            Yesterday I completed my reading of Konrad Lorenz's On Aggression. The last couple of chapters are well worth reading, as indeed is the whole book. Below is the first part of another extract from the book. The second part will be posted within a day or two. I have edited and omitted some paragraphs in the text below. This is done for brevity and to remove passages that might prove confusing outside the context of the book. I strongly urge you to read the original work!

            As already mentioned, norms of social behaviour developed by cultural ritualization play at least as important a part in the context of human society as instinctive motivation and the control exerted by responsible morality. Even at the earliest dawn of culture, when the invention of tools was just beginning to upset the equilibrium of phylogenetically evolved patterns of social behaviour, man’s newborn responsibility must have found a strong aid in cultural ritualization. Evidence of cultural rites reaches back almost as far as that of the use of tools and of fire. Of course we can expect prehistorical evidence of culturally ritualized behaviour only when ritualization has reached comparatively high levels of differentiation, as in burial ceremonies or in the arts of painting and sculpture. These make their first appearance simultaneously with our own species and the wonderful proficiency of the first-known painters and sculptors suggests that even by their time, art had quite a long history behind it. Considering all this, it is quite possible that a cultural tradition of behavioural norms originated as early as the use of tools or even earlier.

            Through the processes described in Chapter 5, customs and taboos may acquire the power to motivate behaviour in a way comparable to that of autonomous instincts. Not only highly developed rites or ceremonies but also simpler and less conspicuous norms of social behaviour may attain, after a number of generations, the character of sacred customs which are loved and considered as values whose infringement is severely frowned upon by public opinion. As also has already been hinted in Chapter 5, sacred custom owes its motivating force to phylogenetically evolved behaviour patterns of which two are of particular importance. One is the response of militant enthusiasm by which any group defends its own social norms and rites against another group not possessing them; the other is the group’s cruel taunting of any of its members who fail to conform with the accepted ‘good form’ of behaviour. Without the phylogenetically programmed love for traditional custom human society would lack the supporting apparatus to which it owes its indispensable structure. Yet, like any phylogenetically programmed behaviour mechanism, the one under discussion can miscarry. School classes or companies of soldiers, which can both be regarded as models of primitive group structure, can be very cruel indeed in their ganging up against an outsider. The purely instinctive response to a physically abnormal individual, for instance the jeering at a fat boy, is absolutely identical, as far as overt behaviour is concerned, with discrimination against a person who differs from the group in culturally developed social norms – for instance a child who speaks a different dialect.

            The ganging up against an individual diverging from the social norms characteristic of a group, and the group’s enthusiastic readiness to defend these social norms and rites, are both good illustrations of the way in which culturally determined conditioned stimulus situations release activities which are fundamentally instinctive. They are also excellent examples of typical compound behaviour patterns whose primary survival value is as obvious as the danger of their misfiring under the conditions of the modern social order. I shall have to come back later on to the different ways in which the function of militant enthusiasm can miscarry and to possible means of preventing this eventuality. Before enlarging on this subject, however, I must say a few words about the functions of social norms and rites in general.

            First of all I must recall to the reader’s memory the somewhat surprising fact, mentioned in Chapter 5: we have no immediate knowledge of the function and/or survival value of the majority of our own established customs, notwithstanding our emotional conviction that they do indeed constitute high values. This paradoxical state of affairs is explained by the simple fact that customs are not man-made in the same sense as human inventions, are, from the pebble tool up to the jet plane. There may be exceptional cases in which causal insight gained by a great lawgiver determines a social norm. Moses is said to have recognized the pig as a host of the Trichina, but if he did, he preferred to rely on the devout religious observance of his people rather than on their intellect when he asserted that Jehovah himself had declared the porker an unclean animal. In general, however, it is quite certain that it hardly ever was insight into a valuable function that gave rise to traditional norms and rites, but the age-old process of natural selection. Historians will have to face the fact that natural selection determined the evolution of cultures in the same manner as it did that of species.

            In both cases the great constructor has produced results which may not be the best of all conceivable solutions but which at least prove their practicability by their very existence. To the biologist who knows the ways in which selection works and who is also aware of its limitations it is in no way surprising to find, in its constructions, some details which are unnecessary or even detrimental to survival. The human mind, endowed with the power of deduction, can quite often find solutions to problems which natural selection fails to resolve. Selection may produce incomplete adaptation even when it uses the material furnished by mutation and when it has huge time periods at its disposal. It is much more likely to do so when it has to determine, in an incomparably shorter time, which of the randomly arising customs of a culture make it best fitted to survival. Small wonder indeed if, among the social norms and rites of any culture, we find a considerable number which are unnecessary or even clearly inexpedient and which selection nevertheless has failed to eliminate. Many superstitions, comparable to my little greylag’s detour towards the window, can become institutionalized and be carried on for generations. Also, intra-specific selection often plays as dangerous a role in the development of cultural ritualization as in phylogenesis. The process of so-called status-seeking, for instance, produces the bizarre excrescences in social norms and rites which are so typical of intra-specific selection.

            However, even if some social norms or rites are quite obviously maladaptive, this does not imply that they may be eliminated without further consideration. The social organization of any culture is a complicated system of universal interaction between a great many divergent traditional norms of behaviour, and it can never be predicted without a very thorough analysis what repercussions the cutting out of even one single part may have for the functioning of the whole. For instance, it is easily intelligible to anybody that the custom of head-hunting, widely spread among tropical tribes, has a somewhat unpleasant side to it, and that the peoples still adhering to it would be better off, in many ways, without it. The studies of the ethnologist and psycho-analyst Derek Freeman, however, have shown that head-hunting is so intricately interwoven with the whole social system of some Bornean tribes that its abolition tends to disintegrate their whole culture, even seriously jeopardizing the survival of the people.

            The balanced interaction between all the single norms of social behaviour characteristic of a culture accounts for the fact that it usually proves highly dangerous to mix cultures. To kill a culture it is often sufficient to bring it into contact with another, particularly if the latter is higher, or is at least regarded as higher, as the culture of a conquering nation usually is. The people of the subdued side then tend to look down upon everything they previously held sacred and to ape the customs which they regard as superior. As the system of social norms and rites characteristic of a culture is always adapted, in many particular ways, to the special conditions of its environment, this unquestioning acceptance of foreign customs almost invariably leads to maladaptation. Colonial history offers abundant examples of its causing the destruction not only of cultures but also of peoples and races. Even in the less tragic case of rather closely related and roughly equivalent cultures mixing there usually are some undesirable results, because each finds it easier to imitate the most superficial, least valuable customs of the other. The first items of American culture imitated by German youth immediately after the last war were gum-chewing, Coca-cola drinking, the crew cut and the reading of coloured comic strips. More valuable social norms characteristic of American culture were obviously less easy to imitate.

            Quite apart from the danger to one culture arising from contact with another, all systems of social norms and rites are vulnerable in the same way as systems of phylogenetically evolved patterns of social behaviour. Not being man-made, but produced by selection, their function is, without special scientific investigation, unknown to man himself, and therefore their balance is as easily upset by the effects of conceptual thought as that of any system of instinctive behaviour. Like the latter, they can be made to miscarry by any environmental change not ‘foreseen’ in their ‘programming’, but while instincts persist for better or worse, traditional systems of social behaviour can disappear altogether within one generation, because, like the continuous state that constitutes the life of an organism, that which constitutes a culture cannot bear any interruption of its continuity.

            Several coinciding factors are at present threatening to interrupt the continuity of our Western culture. There is, in our culture, an alarming break of traditional continuity between the generation born in about 1900 and the next. This fact is incontestable; its causes are still doubtful. Diminishing cohesion of the family group and decreasing personal contact between teacher and pupil are probably important factors. Very few of the present younger generation have ever had the opportunity of seeing their fathers at work, few pupils learn from their teachers by collaborating with them. This used to be the rule with peasants, artisans and even scientists, provided they taught at relatively small universities. The industrialization that prevails in all sectors of human life produces a distance between the generations which is not compensated for by the greatest familiarity, by the most democratic tolerance and permissiveness of which we are so proud. Young people seem to be unable to accept the values held in honour by the older generation, unless they are in close contact with at least one of its representatives who commands their unrestricted respect and love. Another probably important factor contributing to the same effect is the real obsolescence of many social norms and rites still on aggression valued by some of the older generation. The extreme speed of ecological and sociological change wrought by the development of technology causes many customs to become maladaptive within one generation. The romantic veneration of national values, so movingly expressed in the works of Rudyard Kipling or C. S. Forrester, is obviously an anachronism that can do nothing but damage today. Such criticism is indubitably over-stressed by the prevalence of scientific thought and the unrelenting demand for causal understanding, both of which are the most characteristic, if not the only, virtues of our century. However, scientific enlightenment tends to engender doubt in the value of traditional beliefs long before it furnishes the causal insight necessary to decide whether some accepted custom is an obsolete superstition or a still indispensable part of a system of social norms. Again, it is the unripe fruit of the tree of knowledge that proves to be dangerous; indeed I suspect that the whole legend of the tree of knowledge is meant to defend sacred traditions against the premature inroads of incomplete rationalization. As it is, we do not know enough about the function of any system of culturally ritualized norms of behaviour to give a rational answer to the perfectly rational question what some particular custom is good for, in other words wherein lies its survival value. When an innovator rebels against established norms of social behaviour and asks why he should conform with them, we are usually at a loss for an answer. It is only in rare cases, as in my example of Moses’ law against eating pigs, that we can give the would-be reformer such a succinct answer as: ‘You will get trichinosis if you don’t obey.’ In most cases the defender of accepted tradition has to resort to seemingly lame replies, saying that certain things are ‘simply not done’, are not cricket, are un-American or sinful, if he does not prefer to appeal to the authority of some venerable father-figure who also regarded the social norm under discussion as inviolable. To anyone for whom the latter is still endowed with the emotional value of a sacred rite, such an answer appears as self-evident and satisfactory; to anybody who has lost this feeling of reverence it sounds hollow and sanctimonious. Understandably, if not quite forgivably, such a person tends to think that the social norm in question is just superstition, if he does not go so far as to consider its defender as insincere. This, incidentally, is very frequently the main point of dissension between people of different generations.

            All this applies unrestrictedly to the ‘solidified’, that is to say institutionalized, system of social norms and rites which function very much like a supporting skeleton in human cultures. In the growth of human cultures, as in that of arthropods, there is a built-in mechanism providing for graduated change. During and shortly after puberty human beings have an indubitable tendency to loosen their allegiance to all traditional rites and social norms of their culture, allowing conceptual thought to cast doubt on their value and to look around for new and perhaps more worthy ideals.

            There probably is, at that time of life, a definite sensitive period for a new object-fixation, much as in the case of the object-fixation found in animals and called imprinting. If at that critical time of life old ideals prove fallacious under critical scrutiny and new ones fail to appear, the result is that complete aimlessness, the utter boredom which characterizes the young delinquent.

             If, on the other hand, the clever demagogue, well versed in the dangerous art of producing supra-normal stimulus situations, gets hold of young people at the susceptible age, he finds it easy to guide their object-fixation in a direction subservient to his political aims. At the post-puberal age some human beings seem to be driven by an overpowering urge to espouse a cause, and, failing to find a worthy one, may become fixated on astonishingly inferior substitutes. The instinctive need to be the member of a closely knit group fighting for common ideals may grow so strong that it becomes inessential what these ideals are and whether they possess any intrinsic value. This, I believe, explains the formation of juvenile gangs whose social structure is very probably a rather close reconstruction of that prevailing in primitive human society.

            Apparently this process of object-fixation can take its full effect only once in an individual’s life. Once the valuation of certain social norms or the allegiance to a certain cause is fully established, it cannot be erased again, at least not to the extent of making room for a new, equally strong one. Also it would seem that once the sensitive period has elapsed, a man’s ability to embrace ideals at all is considerably reduced. All this helps to explain the hackneyed truth that human beings have to live through a rather dangerous period at and shortly after puberty. The tragic paradox is that the danger is greatest for those who are by nature best fitted to serve the noble cause of humanity. The process of object-fixation has consequences of an importance that can hardly be overestimated. It determines neither more nor less than that which a man will live for, struggle for and, under certain circumstances, blindly go to war for. It determines the conditioned stimulus situation releasing a powerful phylogenetically evolved behaviour which I propose to call that of militant enthusiasm.

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