When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is. When we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.
At their meeting in 1960, the American Association for the Advancement of Science resolved that it was the duty of scientists to inform the public of the dangers of bomb-testing and heard C. P. Snow predict as a matter of statistical certainty that some of the bombs would go off within ten years. I asked Margaret Mead—I think she was their president at that time—if this meant that scientists working to produce these deadly products should quit their jobs. “Certainly not,” she said, “it is their duty as scientists to inform the public.” But what simple soul would then believe them? Or, if one believed them, how to regard them except as monsters? Professor Mead’s theory, apparently, was that the public, if informed, would exert pressure on the governments; but the scientists did not exert the pressure that they had. “Why don’t the American and Russian scientists, who are so friendly,” I asked, “strike, exert their power, put a stop to it?” “That would be conspiracy,” said Professor Mead tartly. So it would.
I am again and again baffled how persons of intellect, of good intention, of strong conviction, reason in a way that must logically lead to an action, and yet do not act. This seems to me to be profoundly pathological, yet how to cure it? Such people are not hypocritical, so one cannot expose and shame them. I do not believe that they are merely timid and afraid of losing their jobs. They do not seem to suffer from the despairing idea that nothing can be done, since they speak up and urge us to do this and that. But they themselves seem to have lost the spring of initiative, the ability of moving themselves, which Aristotle singled out as a chief property of living animals.
1. Unitarians, etc.
To explore this pathology of professors and scientists, let us first consider a (perhaps) simpler group of well-intentioned, intelligent, solid citizens, whose ineffectuality seems to be explicable on more familiar social grounds. This group we may loosely identify as Unitarians, Universalists, Humanists, members of the Ethical Culture Society, many Quakers. They are more than a hundred thousand, educated far above the average, richer than the average, with considerable moral courage and high ideals of life. Why do they throw so little weight? We can think of half a dozen reasons.
In the first place, they have the defect of their virtues: they are decent and observe the rules of the game, even when the rules are manipulated against them. Suppose, for instance, they have been vehemently opposed to the bomb-shelters, following Mrs. Roosevelt, whom many of them respect as a leader. Nevertheless, when the government, by its characteristic arts of crash publicity and scientific quackery, manages to set a shelter program moving with popular acquiescence, soon our friends—again following Mrs. Roosevelt (and Margaret Mead)—bow to the “democracy” and agree to the bomb-shelters if they are community, rather than private, shelters. But contrast with this the behavior of certain high school youngsters in the New York City schools. A couple of years ago, to protest the shelter drills, these students wore blue arm bands, although that was forbidden; and in one school a few were suspended. By the next semester, the youngsters refused to participate in the drills altogether, and the principal of one school now asked them to wear blue arm bands to register their protest. But the students persisted in boycotting the drills and again a few were suspended. Now the principal has agreed for them not to take part in the drills, if only they do not obstruct the others. By this time the drills have become a farce and are so treated by the teachers who do not mark down the delinquents’ names. There has been a change of the rules not against the dissenters but for them.
Our Unitarians, etc. are balked also by their false Realism and Practicality. They remain in a framework of action even when it offers no possibilities for their kind of action. This occurs at every election. Our friends have an obsessional inability to refrain from marking a ballot, though they are offered no relevant candidates. They will not vote for a minor candidate because they do not want to throw away the vote; and they reason that not to vote at all is a futile protest. But the practical alternative is to actively not vote, to campaign against voting with an ad in the press and on TV, and picket a hundred feet from the polls crying “DON’T vote, till we get a candidate representing what we believe.” This would, of course, be scandalous—but not so scandalous as having to choose between a Kennedy and a Nixon.
False Practicality is sometimes the bathetic illusion of exerting possible influence if one “works within the system,” and naturally the major political parties use window-dressing to attract this kind of support. (Certainly conceited identification with the powerful works mightily in some of our academics and scientists.) In describing the American Communists of the 30’s, Harold Rosenberg has scathingly exposed their lust to be on the governing board, no matter what. But in general in America—perhaps because of the methods by which people get office—it is almost out of the question for anyone indignantly to resign; and our intellectuals agree that it would be imprudent for one to give up one’s chance of exerting influence! But of course one’s not resigning is what exerts a discouraging influence, for it means that no issue is really earnest.
The general class of falsely practical behavior is choosing the lesser of two evils; and there is current an abominable doctrine that only such choices indicate that a man is tough-minded and serious, rather than Utopian and dilettantish. (To do them credit, I do not think that the Unitarians, etc. accept this abomination of Dr. Niebuhr and the New Leader.) Let us be clear on what is involved here. Choosing the Lesser Evil does not mean accepting half a loaf, or one slice, or even the promise of a crumb tomorrow; it means swallowing a milder rat poison rather than a more virulent rat poison. But to be stuck with such a choice also means that we have long neglected our duty and interest; there are terrible unfinished situations which prevent the emergence of new possibilities. Then it is to this unfinished business that we must address ourselves, and not choose still another evil to avoid unfinished business. We cannot hope, after long neglect, to escape without suffering. Surely the history of colonialism and its breakdown has taught nothing else but this. Only penitence and magnanimity in making amends can now shorten the time of travail. Gimmicks, gradualism, puppet-rulers cannot avail. Since the French must quit Algeria in 1962, it would have helped them magnanimously to begin to do so in 1954. I will merely mention Cuba and South America. But of course the ne plus ultra of Choosing the Lesser Evil is accepting Deterrence as a policy, even though this policy is likely to produce the maximum calamity, and even though the first stroke of unfinished business in this area would be to call for a national and world-wide mourning for Hiroshima.
The False Realism of the better educated often amounts to a contempt for plain people and a pessimistic notion of democracy. It is thought that the “mass” of people are not up to ideal or magnanimous behavior; they must be won or pacified in terms of surface prejudices and venal interests; and our real aims must be concealed and debauched by Public Relations. Inevitably such behavior has caused a continual further debasement and confusion of the electorate. The result is that by now it is almost unknown for any genuine issue—an issue that could be decided by real evidence and real differences of interest—to be debated in an electoral campaign. But if there are no real issues, there is no possibility for an inventive or statesmanlike resolution of them. Yet these people who must be cajoled and tricked are no others than our neighbors who, individually or especially in small groups, are not morons if directly confronted. (In great numbers, to be sure, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.) One of the very few honest public figures whom I know, Congressman Kastenmeier of Wisconsin, has told me that the chief virtue is to be willing to lose; then if one finally wins, one is free and clean. In his opinion, his constituents do not agree with everything he speaks for, but there is mutual respect and they return him.
Finally, our Unitarians, etc. are saddled with their bourgeois and churchly respectability. They are embarrassed, for instance, to give themselves personally to a cause, to carry a sign on the street, rather than sending a telegram or contributing money for an ad. Therefore they do not get the moral and psychological support of solidarity, which comes only from commitment of one’s person with one’s fellows. Middle-class respectability is also squeamish about who its fellows are; it finds it hard to associate with young beards, jeans, and sandals. Nevertheless, it is a mistake for peace actions to discipline themselves to “respectability” in order to win bourgeois support. (Both SANE and the Committee for Non-Violent Action are susceptible to this temptation.) Discipline for such a motive takes the heart out of any committed behavior, which one must perform as one is, not as one wishes to appear for public relations. Let the others learn that peace is more important than proper clothes. Indeed, one of the most salutary effects of the movements for peace and for civil rights has been just to acquaint respectable people with rough facts; in many a middle-class family these days there has suddenly come to be a member in the common jail or out on bail.
Also, it is hard for respectable people to associate themselves with burning but “disreputable” causes. Peace and racial integration are now quite respectable; the repeal of the irrational sex and drug laws is much less so. Yet unfortunately, it is only if the respectable, the professionally competent, and the churches speak up on these laws that we will ever get rid of them.
2. Professors & Social Scientists
In part, well-intentioned and radical professors are kept from decisive action by these same decencies, gullibilities, petty ambitions, and embarrassments. Their futility often has a similar middle-class background. To be more precise, I think that, as stronger-minded scholars, they are less hampered by moral respectability and mere appearances; but on the other hand, as organization men often working close to the disputed areas, they are more timid about losing their jobs. And as experts, as I have said, they are even peculiarly liable to fall into the trap of being “influential” though they do not determine policy, because they are exploited for their brains and not merely as prestigious names. An academic is likely to take enormous pride in seeing his brain child become great in the world, even as a monster.
Yet the professors are peculiarly puzzling. Their very energy of intellect drives them to make sense, and their ineffectuality is mysterious. Take, roughly as a group, the Committees of Correspondence, writers of newsletters that we circulate to put whatever intellect we have into relaxing the cold war and preventing the nuclear war. (The ambitious American Revolutionary title was chosen to fit the gravity of the task, but it is certainly pompous considering the activity of the members.) Pretty unanimously these correspondents agree that war is not thinkable as a policy; that deterrence is suicidal; that the garrison-state is undermining liberty and morality; that the American administration is not bona fide in its peace talks—it does nothing to reconvert the economy, it lies to us, etc.; and indeed, that national sovereignty must go. Nevertheless, whenever there is an actual event—a “crisis” in Berlin, a resumption of testing—at once the professors start over as if they had not made up their minds, and they bat it around in the terms of the front page of the Times. They argue the technical pros and cons; they sympathize with Jack Kennedy’s difficulties; they advise the government. They even go so far as to indulge in the speculations of wargame theory, their difference from the Rand Corporation being that the Rand people think we can win whereas our people prove that we must lose. In the New York Committee, of which I am a laggard member, the watchword is research. This means research not on how to make our wishes prevail, but on the inaccuracies of Herman Kahn!
Of course, professors are academics and suffer the moral hazards of that situation, the disconnection of thought and practice, the check-rein of administrators who make the important decisions, immurement with adolescents whom they can neither lead nor mix with, the vanity of classroom authority, and battles of book reviews. Also, there is little community of the faculty in American universities, and we suffer from the disastrous German rule of “academic freedom” that forbids faculty pronouncements in politics. As we have it in America, the academic environment is not calculated to produce commitment and engagement as a climax of intellectual conviction. (Under other circumstances, of course, academic society has been admirably apt for intellectual engagement.) Just as in their schools where the administration sets up the syllabus and the classes, the professors seem to require somebody else’s framework in order to act; they can think and criticize but they cannot initiate policy out of their own convictions. They demonstrate that the official position will ruin us, but they panic at any unofficial alternative.
Yet the pathology goes deeper than this environmental conditioning. There is a political pathology in the essence of contemporary social theory that makes revolutionary alternatives inconceivable to the social scientists. With the best will in the world they cannot see any source of power outside the established power, so there is no point in wishing or talking in other terms, even though the established power has no other raison d’être than to wage the cold war! The social scientists are balked by the narrowness of what they regard as admissible evidence. Contemporary social theory consists in analyzing the arrangement and possible rearrangement of units that are defined as entirely socialized to the system of society, or as deviant. The theory omits animal nature, which cannot be entirely socialized; it omits history, which tells us that men have been very different from those they are dealing with; it omits political philosophy, which tells what men ought to be if life is to be worth living; it omits poetic literature, which imagines other ways of being men. But if we omit these approaches and deal only with “men as they are,” we are soon left with the world of the front page and of TV, as if this were the real world. In that world there is no other power than the established power, of force, publicity, status, vested holdings, protocol, and the market. Of these, only the market offers free choices, of course powerfully manipulated; the rest are systematically imposed. On the other hand there are no conceivable viable alternatives that might newly spring from desire, community, compassion, productive function, jealous freedom, simple justice, utility, common sense, scholarship, tradition, etc. Such things are hardly mentioned on the front page, but sometimes in obituaries or as human interest.
Once, at a conference on disarmament at Columbia, I tried to introduce sexual and animal factors as relevant to the discussion of a psychotic system of theorizing. The response was merriment. This mirth was partly, of course, produced by the school-girlish embarrassment of professors and statesmen at the mention of copulation; but it was mainly that such factors do not occur, and perhaps cannot occur, in the discussions of the cold war in the New York Times or the Studies in Deterrence distributed by Naval Ordnance.
In my opinion, the political pathology of the present social scientific method is of high importance, so let me give a few random examples of it. Here are some “Psychological Observations on the Student Sit-in Movement,” by Drs. Jacob Fishman and Fredric Solomon. The gist is that the Negro sit-ins are a “pro-social acting out,” like delinquency acting out deprivation, unconscious parental wishes, aggression and rebellion, but consciously based on moral imperatives, “the goals of conscience representing traditional Christian morality and the highest principles of traditional American democracy.” In brief, for these Negro students, “Public action toward social goals is their way of at least temporarily resolving problems of identity, super-ego formation, and aggression.” (In like manner, a more assertive behavior of the professors would betoken an unfinished neurotic situation.) In this analysis there is no mention of simple justice—that is, whether traditional Christian morality and American democracy are true or good. There is no mention of human indignation at being insulted; nor of the ingenuous political effort of youth to make a safer and happier world. I doubt that identity can be merely the resolution of an “inner” problem rather than also something to be discovered-and-created, in a community, by a man.
Sometimes the method is almost ludicrous. Criticizing a commodity-oriented suburb, Maurice Stein points out that “The accumulation of appliances can never render cooking permanently meaningful as long as the woman is unsure of its relation to her feminine identity”—and he proceeds to borrow from Erik Erikson the thought that “Identity depends on the accessibility of roles in which acceptance by significant others is assured.” This has merit, but oddly, at no point in the discussion does Professor Stein once mention food, feeding, or good cooking, although in the end it must be these that make cooking meaningful and guarantee acceptance, and make the cook proudly feel that she is somebody. It is characteristic of our social scientists never to mention the function, the satisfaction (or danger), the process, the product, or the utility. This leaves out most of the things by which we could actively change anybody’s “acceptance” or “rejection.” There is no factual criterion outside the system of roles to justify liquidating some of the roles.
Let me give another example along the same lines. In our economic and industrial relations a workman has no say in the utility of the product or the technique of the process; therefore his foreground criterion for a job is “security.” But under normal conditions, a workman is secure if what he makes is necessary, so that his work is wanted; and if the process employs his aptitudes, so that it is he who is wanted. Yet in management and labor unions both, our social engineers do not think in these terms. Rather, they take the secondary sentiment of “security” as the ultimate desire of the man, and make no effort to cope with the real irk of the job. Men socialized to an unsatisfactory situation are mistaken for “men as they are.”
(We Utopians are said to want the ideal, which is unrealistic, for society can never provide more than the tolerable. The charge is false. We would be quite content with the tolerable, which would allow individuals to make something of themselves if they have it in them. But it is the way of the present democracy-by-consent to settle for the not-intolerable, for the system to oppress as far as it can without arousing a squawk. Inevitably, as we see in our urbanism, people become inured and resigned to a greater and greater degree of the not-intolerable. Yet none of this will seem important to a sociologist until there is a fantastic explosion.)
In an essay on Vassar, Theodore New-comb points out that “Students and faculty are two societies occupying the same territory.” So Professors Jencks and Riesman of Harvard: “Professors and students know one another as ambassadors from mutually fearful cultures.” Pursuing this notion of the colleges “as they are,” the social scientists then try to devise a system of education in terms of acculturation of the alien tribes. But by so doing they neglect the possibility of making a good university, one founded on a more correct anthropology, namely that the students and teachers are one society, the students growing up and learning from the teachers as veterans. In the analysis of the professors, the youth sub-culture is taken as irreducible, whereas this sub-culture is in fact their reaction to being balked by adult society. And the teachers are relegated to being forever academics, but it is their embarrassment, timidity, and lack of function in the world that make them so.
Thus, neglecting history, animal and social nature, political philosophy, and poetry, the social scientists are left with a closed society in which nothing is possible but a better arrangement of the same forces. People’s opinions, prejudices, neuroses, and fears as revealed by questionnaires and depth-questionnaires will fairly reflect the same structure of society—what else would they reflect? But indeed, the questions themselves usually offer only the usual choices. Only the “No Opinion” gets outside the box. Tests of personality are not used for therapy, as they were designed, to open new possibilities for removing personality blocks, but are used precisely for social engineering, to facilitate a more painless and “efficient” adjustment of the same personalities to the same system. Not surprisingly people increasingly do not adjust—the most recent study says that 80 per cent of persons in midtown Manhattan are nutty—but this is again taken not as a defect in our way of life but as a defect in our way of socializing people to that way of life.
Then suddenly some of the professors notice that the system as a whole is drifting toward disaster. The cold war is “escalating.” They cry out in alarm. They underwrite ads in the Times. They form Committees of Correspondence. All this is earnest, courageous, non-conforming. But they do not, apparently they cannot, think, or step, outside the framework of the drifting system. The cold war escalates further, but their response does not escalate further. They do not say “I won’t.” They do not invent.
3. Practical Syllogism
To explain all this, we must explore ahead. The professors are balked more by their habits of thought than by their middle-class and academic habits of life. They are intellectuals; inquiry is their existential commitment; if they could habitually think differently, they would eventually live differently. What is the background of their frustrating kind of thought?
The problem can be defined pretty sharply: they reason practically but do not come to a conclusion of practice. Consider a practical syllogism of a simple form: “I want an X,” “Here is an X,” then the conclusion from these premises is not another proposition, but an action—to take the X and use it. (So negatively: “This behavior is disadvantageous,” “I could stop it,” then the conclusion is in fact to stop.) Psychosomatically, the meaning of this simple logic is clear. Where does the energy of action come from? The desire expressed in the first premise is the energy of the action of the conclusion. The second premise, that gathers information about the environment, is also selected and attended to because of the desire in the major. And finally, the act, the climax of practical reasoning, is the release to activity of the motoric system that has been held in check during the verbal part. Now let us consider this verbal part. Why does the man verbalize his experience at all? Presumably the speaker says “I want” as a request or a demand on another, and meanwhile holds his own motor behavior in check, waiting for a response. “Here is, etc.” is seeking orientation: to ascertain the availability, permissibility, location which must be determined for action. Since there is a problem, there is a delay called “thinking”; since there is a useful interpersonal context, there is speech; but the solution of the problem is a feelingful and appropriate action. On the whole, practical reasoning, like any other normal act, is an integration of feeling, sensation, and motor behavior, usually in a community.
In recent models of practical reasoning, however, there is an extraordinary emphasis on a stage called “deciding” or “decision-making.” To quote one of the writers on administration, John Corson: “Decision-making is the central and continual business of every human enterprise.” What is implied in this astonishing proposition? Normally, apart from obsessionals, deciding is not a major part of practice.
There is, in the present economic and social arrangements, a high concentration of control of capital, a large (and usually excessive) component of frozen capital regarded as an investment that must pay off, a top-down management of the machinery, long-chain bureaucracy, considerable ignorance and indifference of most workers as to what the enterprise is about, and almost total ignorance of everybody as to what they as persons are about. The style of the products is largely built into the machinery; the style of life into the relations of production; and the style of thought is predetermined by the system itself. Indeed, the limits of choice, of deciding, are narrowly set by what the predetermined thought and style of the system can allow as alternatives. The choice of one or another of the limited alternatives is called “decision-making” and it seems to be vastly important because it “influences” so vast a machine; but of course the influence is slight, because nothing can be decided that differs from what the machine will accept as a program to operate with. The machine itself cannot be much altered because it is so heavily capitalized and must pay off. And the system of relations as a whole is so tightly controlled and so complicated that it “goes by itself.” Little is really decided, but deciding stands out as an act peculiarly potent, important, and free simply because it is so isolated from the matrix of immediate desire, concrete perception, inventive thought, motoric strength and rhythm that constitutes ordinary practical and intellectual life. Managers are prestigious because they are the remnants of men, whereas the others are not men at all.
But the decision-maker, the administrator, is only a remnant. He has little personal desire or concern for the goal; he knows little about the information that comes to him in a form so highly processed that it has often lost the essence of the reality; nor is it he who implements the decision, so that he does not grow by practice. In brief, our present style of big practical judgment—corporate, mechanical, managerial—is, psychosomatically, a trivial remnant of normal practice; but it does satisfy the illusory conceit of being a big wheel.
Return now to our professors. My guess is that they, whose private lives are usually pretty restricted, have become so mesmerized by this big style that they no longer remember what it feels like simply to reason and act. Secondarily they rationalize their avoidance of important life-choices by saying that only “big” decision-making has public consequences. In my opinion, even this rationalization is an error, because straightforward reasonable practice has great rhetorical force (especially by contrast), whereas corporate, managerial, and public-relations decisions are rightly taken whence they come, as making little significant difference.
(By the way, I do not believe that an advanced technology necessarily involves what I have been describing: concentrated management, bureaucracy, alienation of labor, and the emasculation of practical reasoning to decision-making. Quite the contrary, these are by and large inefficient, unexperimental, uncritical, and discouraging to invention. I write this paragraph because I have learned from experience that to point out structural defects of the present social arrangements is at once to be called a machine-breaker who wants to return to something called the Middle Ages. This is again an example of mesmerized superstition.)
Another important factor in the professors’ behavior is their disposition to verbalize experience and keep it verbalized, rather than to use speech as an action upon others. They shun any argument ad hominem. “Communication” comes to mean the exchange of ideas from one head to another with each person’s character-defense left intact and his pattern of behavior unaltered. Speakers put only their formulation at stake, not their lives, their fortunes, or their sacred honor. When they come to share a common idea, it is with the same detachment. Since they have staked nothing and have not committed their persons in their speech, their agreement gives them no strength of solidarity, and there is no engagement in the action that would normally follow on agreement.
This is, of course, what is meant by an argument being academic; since nothing is changed by it, it is always possible to reverse positions and argue the contrary. (It is a good teaching method for the freshman and sophomore years.) Faculty meetings, with their departmental courtesy, are a training-ground: one is supposed to excel in speech in one’s field, but it is bad form to insist on anything, for the sake of action, that would invade somebody else’s preserve. Scholarly detachment is necessary for intellectual consideration, but finally the flow of words must come home to oneself, in action or character-change; otherwise we have mere conversation-pieces and ping-pong, a speech-game designed for ceremony, or to show off, or at best to one-up and establish a pecking order.
Effective speech, however, is a personal contact and the grounds of personal contact, whether affectionate or aggressive, are psychosexual and communal. Until our mores become sexier, dirtier, friendlier, and angrier, we cannot expect intellectual speech to be ad hominem. Yet if argument is not at least potentially ad hominem, the speaker’s lurking motivations and deep-grained habits are never brought into the foreground, challenged, and tested. And without felt motivation and felt attitude, new reasoning cannot pass into new practice.
To think and then act requires faith. A man must believe that he and his peers, correcting one another’s reasoning, and making it common and public, have finally as good a sampling of reality as there is. And they are as adequate judges of it as there are, for any other judgments are merely made by other groups of men who, one has reason to suspect, might be more ignorant or fraudulent. And most important, a man must believe that the world is a world for him; if he exercises initiative and takes a step, his action will have an effect, however small, in the same real world. He will not suddenly be without ground underfoot. Faith is animal faith, as Santayana said, but it is also a ground of poetry, according to philosophy, in the stream of history. It is humane. A man has faith that if he is well-intentioned, rational, not fanatical, he is not alone; there is a human community that is thinking the same thoughts as himself and his friends, and ready to act in concert. Of course I do not know where such faith in the nature of things and in the human community comes from, nor how it can be infused. It is faith. It seems to me to be the most proximate cause of initiative. It is not very helpful of me to end these reflections with a confidence that I cannot transfer from my breast to yours. But at least I have tried to show how the conditions of our society discourage it, my hope being that we can then learn to stand out of the way.
The Ineffectuality of Some Intelligent People
When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is. When we treat him as if…
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