On Being Human
by Ashley Montagu
(Henry Schuman, New York, 1951)
To be human is to be in danger. By virtue of his possession of a unique system, a nervous system which is much more plastic and educable than that of any other living animal, man is capable of confusing and endangering himself much more frequently.
So-called civilized man of the Western world has befuddled and endangered himself to such a degree that he stand today on the very brink of destruction - self-destruction.
Every human being is a problem in search of a solution.
The problem of modern man is the problem of human relations - of man’s relations to his fellow men and to himself.
The prejudices of a class have often been mistaken for the laws of nature.
Social Darwinism define the system of beliefs which has it that the same principles apply in the evolution and development of social as of biological life.
By those who misused it, Darwinism was offered as no mere apology. It was more positive than that, it was a validation, a biological justification for competition.
Co-operative behavior is at least as prominent a form of interaction between animals, as we find them under so-called “natural” conditions.
It was not that the Darwinists denied the existence of co-operation but that they neglected it in favor of a concept of natural selection which assumed too much, namely that life was a gladiatorial struggle for existence.
By “life” is meant that condition in which a body exhibits the functions of irritability (response to stimuli), motility (movement), and reproductivity (multiplication). An organism is that organization of interactive elements which displays the functions of life in a self-consistent manner. By “social” we mean all those interactions between organisms or groups in which needs are satisfied.
The fundamentally social nature of all living things has its origin in this physiological relationship between parent and offspring.
The original process of reproduction is a tension-reducing response.
The primary co-operative act is the reproductive act.
In the nature of the reproductive process we see, then, the basis for the development of social life.
The source of the social appetite of all living creatures is traceable to the way in which the living organism originates.
The process is always one of dependency and interdependency between parent and offspring. Dependency and interdependency are the indispensable conditions of life - and these are the conditions which all living organisms strive to maintain.
The solitary animal is, in any species, an abnormal creature.
The tendency to remain together is a fact.
With few exceptions, no animal avoids contact with its fellows, unless such contract under certain conditions happens to threaten it in some way.
The rive to form social aggregates is the same everywhere.
By their increasing ability to co-operate, develop specialized functions and increasingly complex relations.
A strong case can be made out for the organism as a form of society.
The units constituting human society are comparatively free, those constituting the organism are, for the most part, fixed.
Human society has assumed a unique form, it has become culturalized.
What is an optimal population size for different groups in nature will depend upon the group and its environment, but thus far the evidence strongly indicates that optimal numbers present in a given situation have certain positive survival values and definitely exert stimulating effects on the growth of individuals and the increase of populations.
This principle of co-operation is the fundamental principle which appears to have governed the relations of organisms from the very first.
The principle of co-operation is in a fair way to becoming recognized as the most important factor in the survival of animal groups.
Despite many known appearances to the contrary, human altruistic drives are as firmly based on an animal ancestry as is man himself. Our tendencies toward goodness, such as they are, are as innate as our tendencies toward intelligence.
Omitting important facts and basing their arguments on false premises, the tough Darwinians could only arrive at false conclusions.
Without this principle of co-operation, of sociability and mutual aid, the progress of organic life the improvement of the organism, and the strengthening of the species become utterly incomprehensible.
The greater the co-operative behavior exhibited by the members of any group, the more harmoniously socially organized is that group likely to be.
The probability of survival of individual or living things increases with the degree in which they harmoniously adjust themselves to each other and to their environment.
Natural selection favors the co-operative, as opposed to the disoperative, struggling for survival.
We begin to understand … that evolution itself is a process which favors co-operating rather than disoperating groups, and “fitness” is a function of the group as a whole rather than of separate individuals. The fitness of the individual is largely derived form his membership in a group.
There is not a shred of evidence that man is born with “hostile” or “evil” impulses which must be watched and disciplined.
Social life confers distinct biological advantages upon the animals participating in it.
The dominant principle of social life is not the struggle for existence, but co-operation is.
Without co-operation, without love, it is not possible to live - at best, it is possible only to exist.
A basic need may be defined as any urge or need of the organism which must be satisfied if the organism or the group is to survive.
The fats of man’s biological nature, what is, determine the direction his development as a person must take. That is to say, that what is here clearly determines what ought to be; in short, that the biological validation to the principle of o-operation, or love, in human life.
The best place for the infant is with its mother, and if its own mother is not available, with a foster mother, for what that infant must have is love.
Independence is positive and mature adaptation based on secure grasp of the self in relation to other people.
It may seem a bit far-fetched to suggest that the ability of the upper middle, and upper class Englishman to rule and govern subject peoples and to justify that rule, has, in the past at least, to some extent been due to such lac of sympathetic understand for others.
Every person is socially bound to the group in which he has been socialized. In this sense the “individual” is a myth. From the standpoint of the social situation there are no individuals, except as abstracted biological entities or for the quantitative purposes of a census.
A creature apart from a social group is nothing but an organic being. The member of a social group is a person, a personality developed under the molding influence of social interstimulation. The person is a set of social relationships.
They act as they do not because they are independent individuals, but because they are dependent persons bound to their social group and must maintain their relationships in that group in the manner, in each case, allowed and encouraged by the group.
Free will the person certainly does not have. The will that he has operates strictly within the limits determined by the pattern of the social group. What he has is the illusion of free will. The “spontaneous” conduct of the person is still conduct based on models established in a particular social group. In short, the person is an interdependent system of social relationships which may by abstraction along be recognized as a unit.
The biologically exclusive sacredness of the individual is a chimera not only as regards man but as regards all other animal groups.
The multi-cellular organism stood for a change, in so far, from conflict between cell and cell to harmony between cell and cell.
The binding to the individual to his groups represents, in fact, a loss if individual freedom and a gain in personal development through more or less complete identification with the social group. An identification in which the wholeness of the person is preserved only because it is a functioning part of a g5eater whole - society.
Individuation, as the development of personal identity, is neither the contrary nor the contradictory of social identification, it is social identification.
The individual - the set of physical and physiological functions - becomes a person with a definite identity only through the process of socialization - the process of becoming identified with a social group.
Society is made up of interacting selves, of men. It is men in interaction.
Persons, that is socialized individuals, come into being only through social interactions.
The physiological dependency of the foetus and the newborn becomes, in society, a socially organized dependency, a social dependency in which the interacting person finds the meaning of his life in his relations with other persons and their thoughts and activities.
The long period of dependency which is characteristic of the human infant generates social conditions leading to the peculiar developments of human culture.
The prolonged period of infant dependency produces interactive behavior of a kind which within the first six years of the child’s life determines the primary pattern of his subsequent social development.
The first conditioning which the child undergoes is this: that persons who have fairly consistently provided the infant with the means of satisfying its needs now become satisfying objects in themselves.
What human beings desire most of all is to have their needs satisfied, to be made secure.
Man does not want to be independent, free, in the sense of functioning independently of the interests of his fellows. This kind of negative independence leads to lonesomeness, isolation and fear. What man want s is that positive freedom which follows the pattern of his life as an infant within the family - dependent security, the feeling that one is a part of a group, accepted, wanted, loved and loving.
A person is not an object in itself, except for census purposes, but a function or activities which eh exhibits in interaction with other persons, that is to say the constituent interacting element of culture.
Personality is always a function of relations with other persons.
We love only those things upon which we are dependent - not, however, all tings upon which we are dependent: those which are associates with frustration we hate, but those which are associated with pleasure, either present recollected or anticipated, we love.
To love is to relate oneself to others.
Life is social and man is born to be social, that is, co-operative, an interdependent part of a whole, a working, interacting art of a community.
In seeing, hearing, and speaking, we bind ourselves to one another. Man only sees, hears, and speaks rightly when he is linked to others by his interest in the external world,
No isolated persons are to be found in the whole history of humanity. The evolution of humanity was only possible because mankind was a community.
The infant is not born with ego. It acquires its self from other selves long before it is aware of its own self. It’s ego, its self, develops only as the infant comes to recognize and adjust to reality.
In the cultures of the Western world particularly, the process of socialization while binding the person to his group, has actually the effect of rendering the person functionally asocial.
Man’s relation to man becomes disordered through the subordination of the human organism to the conditioned artificial affects and prejudices of the “I”-persona.
We are out of line with our evolutionary destiny, which is integration and co-operation, not disintegration and disoperation.
Our present-day burdens are the result of the lack of a thorough social education.
If we go on as we have been doing, the chances are fairly high that we will exterminate ourselves.
The view that the child is born egocentric, evil, in “sin,” is widely held, and it is nothing more than a projection upon the child of our own conditioning in egocentricity, in evil, in “sin.”
The infant soon learns that in order to be satisfied, in order to be loved, he too must satisfy, he to must love, he must satisfy the requirements of others, he must co-operate, he must actually give up or postpone the satisfaction of certain desires if he is to achieve satisfaction in others and if he is to retain the love of those whose love he needs.
Outside the family, as a “grown-up,” he secures the approval (love) of his fellows by conforming to the standards of the group.
To conform means the willingness to forego certain satisfactions in order to obtain others, to suffer a certain amount of deprivation and thwarting of satisfactions as a discipline which my ultimately lead to what are socially esteemed as greater rewards.
In order to be successfully social, one must have learned to love by having been loved; that, indeed, society is based on love, in fact is but a developed form of love.
Hatred is love frustrated.
Aggression is but a technique or mode of seeking love.
Man’s need for society and his need for love are one and the samehting.
Whatever is opposed to love, to goodness, and to co-operation is disharmonic, unviable, unstable, and malfunctional - evil.
All of man’s natural inclinations are toward the development of goodness, toward the continuance of states of goodness and the discontinuance of unpleasant states.
The biological basis of love consists in the organism’s drive to satisfy its basic needs in a manner which causes it to feel secure. Love is security.
The emotional need for love is as definite and compelling as the need for food.
It has been shown that when the needs of the developing social organism are inadequately satisfied, that is, where there have been too many frustrations - thwartings of expected satisfactions - where there has been a privation of love, the organism becomes disordered, anxious, tense, fearful, and hostile. This, in fact, is more or less the state into which most human beings in the Western world today have fallen.
Co-operative, social behavior is … as old as life itself, and the direction of evolution has, in man, been increasingly directed toward the fuller development of co-operative behavior.
When social behavior is not co-operative, it is diseased.
To love thy neighbor as thyself is not simply good text material fo Sunday morning sermons but perfectly sound biology.
Men who do not love one another are sick … from a diseae which has been enculturated within them by the false values of their societies.
His combativeness and competitiveness arise primarily from the frustration of his need to co-operate.
Our world at the present time is largely directed by criminally irresponsible adventurers and cynical and complacent men who have grown old in the way of self-interest and ultranationalism.
The life of every human being is a part of our own, for we are involved in mankind. Each one of us is responsible for the other.
All human beings want to be good. All human beings want to be happy. Their biological drives are calculated to achieve those ends. But most human beings in our culture are confused about means and ends in doing good and in securing happiness. Evil means are often used to secure “good” ends, and so-called “good” means are sometimes used to secure evil ends.
The trouble with most of us is not that we have no values but that we have too many of the wrong kind.
Words have no meaning other than the action they produce.
The principal function of the teacher is, or should be, to help prepare the child for living a humane and co-operative life, not to infect his mind with the antihuman virus of racism.
The anything but princely stipends with which he is rewarded for his services suggest that our society does not recognize the true value or function of the teacher.
The school is a place of instruction. It is not really a place of education in the proper sense of that word - in the sense of bringing out the best in a person.
The very large amount of mental disorder, nervous tension, conflict, fear, anxiety, frustration and insecurity which occurs in Western society is largely due to the failure of the values in which we have been conditioned since infancy - false values by which we seek to live.
Man is born for co-operation, not for competition or conflict.
The measure of a person’s humanity is the extent and intensity of his love for mankind.
The school beyond all else must be considered as a place of education in the art and science of being a person, the practice of human reactions.
We must train for humanity, and training in reading, writing, and arithmetic must be given in a manner calculated to serve the ends of that humanity. For all the knowledge n the world is worse than useless if it is not humanely understood and humanely used.
An intelligence that is not human is the most dangerous thing in the world.
If the structure of society is such that it makes of life a struggle for bare physical existence, in which frustration and insecurity are maximized, in which the person is left to sink or swim entirely alone, there is little time and no incentive to lead the good life. In an industrial civilization with its emphasis on success in terms of material values, success is generally achieved in material terms at the expense of truly human values.
Western society, in short, does not encourage the development of goodness because goodness is not what that society is interested.
The idols of the market place must yield to those of humanity.
Those who would have us believe that almost everything in the world is determined by economics are wrong.
I you identify human nature with economics, with production, you make of a man a commodity, and you create a system of material values which readily lends itself to exploitation.
The motives of human beings everywhere are human, not economic. They are made to become economic only in societies in which moneytheism is the prevailing religion
We must remove economics as the dominant motive from human relations and make human relations the dominant motive in economics
A profit-motive, economic-struggle-for-existence society is a predatory society a class-and-caste society, divisive society, in which each person is an isolate preying upon and preyed upon by others.
The American stress on pecuniary success and ambitiousness for all thus invites exaggerated anxieties, hostilities, neuroses, and antisocial behavior.
The problem we have to solve is first and foremost the problem of how we can rebuild our society in terms of human values in which human relations are given a chance to function as they should.
If we would have happy human relations, we must have a society based on human relations and not on economics.