Human Instincts in Reconstruction.
An Analysis of Urges and a Suggestion For Their Direction.
By William Henry Smyth
Note The author shows that the forces of the four great human instincts to live, to make, to take, to control are as essential in modern social life as at any time in the past. But all of these urges in a living democracy should be controlled without being controlled. To achieve this seeming paradox we must have a great national purpose, and unselfish leadership such as could come through a National Council of Scientists.
Mr. William Henry Smyth has been in general practice as a consulting engineer since 1879. He is the inventor of many machines and mechanical devices, including a system of raising water by direct explosion on its surface, the device being known as the "direct explosion pump." He has been an engineering expert in many patent cases, and is a frequent contributor to technical journals. As well as a pioneer in mechanics, Mr. Smyth is a pioneer in economics. He is a member of the leading scholarly associations in that field, including the American Economic Association and the Royal Economic Society of Great Britain.
Parts I, II and III appeared originally in "Industrial Management" of New York. The concluding PartIV has not heretofore been published and will appear exclusively in The Gazette. Editor.
Instincts are the most persistent human urge factors. Seemingly, they are less subject to change than even the most unchanging aspects of our physical environment.
The Instinct to Live (self-preservation) is as dominating today as in the days of our cave-man ancestors; the Instinct to Construct is as persistent in Man as in the beaver; the Mastery Instinct (desire to control others) is as vital as ever; the Thievish Instinct (desire to acquire and hoard) shows no change, and is the same old urge as that disclosed by the pre-man stores of insects, birds and various animals.
Indeed, without these primordial urges Man could not have developed, and the loss or atrophy of any one of them would probably mean the rapid extinction of the race. Thus it would seem that our fundamental instincts are essentially necessary to human continuance - at least, to our social existence. So let us look once more at these vital factors, in the light of recent events, in order to see what part they now take and are likely to play in our future social economy.
No lesson of the war, probably, is more obvious or more clearly defined than the rapid trend toward Skill as a predominating and controlling factor in our immediate social development.
Recorded history and archaeological investigation confirm the suggestion that in the matter of economic control of human activities and their products, the possession of this control has oscillated to and fro under the influence of one or other of the instinctive urges, so that characteristic types of men secured alternate mastery.
Starting in the pre-human period, before the dawn of definite self-consciousness, and continuing during eons in the twilight of human intelligence, raw brute force must have been the dominating economic factor.
The influence of Skill during this period was practically negligible, except in so far as it affected individuals. Of this the huge prolongation of the unchanging "Stone Age" is sufficient demonstration.
Contest With Cunning.
The gradual growth and rapid culmination of the Skill factor is an important consideration in our present inquiry and likewise in our Social Reconstruction problems. For while Purposive Skill is of slow development Purposive Cunning, on the contrary, is inherently otherwise. Indeed, Cunning and Purposiveness both imply mental alertness and hence are in some wise synonymous.
For these reasons, in the early stages of human development, raw strength and animal cunning must alone have contended to satisfy the other instinctive urges - to live, to control - practically uninfluenced by the relatively modern urge of Purposeful Skill.
Doubtless this simple conflict (of raw strength and brute cunning) waged with varying results, slowly oscillating, age by age and race by race, in favor of one or other human type as environmental conditions or racial admixtures gave one or other the advantage of circumstance.
And, as Economics implies: the usages, laws, and institutions where-by a community endeavors to organize its methods and means of living: those whose activities characterize the times initiate and administer its economics.
So, with these age-long oscillations of control types, economic institutions necessarily underwent like changes, conforming to the dominating human characteristics of each Age and Nation. That they did so oscillate and economically conform, in the vaguest dawn of human beginnings, is the teaching of archaeology.
During the past few thousand years the contest of Strength and Cunning is shown by reliable historical records to have oscillated with comparative rapidity between one and the other extreme - including considerable periods during which Strength and Cunning unified control by union of Church and State.
Prior to the immediate present was a transition stage caused by the gradual weakening of the bond between Church and State, with a coincidental shifting of control favor of Cunning (under a changed and relatively modern guise representing the instinctive Urge Take) expressing itself as Commercialism. With this change came consequent modification of usages, laws, and institutions appropriate to its highest expression - Capitalism - capitalistic economics. The result of this last oscillation of control favor of (acquisitive) Cunning was that Germany became a nation of slaves, England a nation of paupers, France quit breeding, and the States went wealth crazy!
Challenge by Purposive Skill.
The war represents the conclusive termination (in this period) of the age-long contest of Force and cunning - for the control of men, and the products of their activity.
But this last and most spectacular conflict is complicated by the intrusion of the most modern and most, rapidly developing factor - Organized Purposive Skill.
Here, then, Skill enters the arena with a challenge to both earlier contestants - for the prize of human control, and mastery of the social machinery; enters that contest - than the race itself - the struggle to satisfy the primordial instinct : to Live - to Control - to Take.
Strength vs. Cunning vs. Skill.
Thus the contest has become a triangular fight between the Strong, the Cunning, and the Skilful; a fight in which raw brute force is a participant of rapidly diminishing importance - a modified continuation of the old time bloody contest, for a humanly undesirable outcome.
Cunning-control is today the victor, and in possession of the spoils - the financial wealth of the world. But all the evidence points to a short enjoyment and a losing fight against the organized forces of Purposeful Skill.
Creaking Capitalism Cracking.
Capitalism - under war stress - shows convincing evidence of inadequacy. The non-effectiveness of money and credit wealth has become so obvious as to procure the enactment of "Work or Fight" laws. Thus, into the discard went our pre-war money evaluation of men to be substituted by a standard which measures millionaire and hobo alike in accordance with their relative skill.
Our pre-war faith in the mysterious Magic of Money too received a staggering shock when all the private fortunes enmassed and all the billions of national credit combined utterly failed to add a single pound of much needed sugar to our limited supply, necessitating the "two pounds of sugar per person" apportionment - a commonplace vulgar fraction measure applicable to Financial Potentate and Weary Willie - alike!
Producer Versus Parasite.
On broader lines also the evidence points the same way: purposive skill is inherently productive, while purposeful cunning is naturally parasitic. Then, the capability of cunning to rule, and the continuance of its success in controlling others, resides in and depends upon the stupidity and illiteracy of the governed: mystery and magic are its weapons - equally in the realm of modern Finance as in the ancient Theocracies.
Skill implies the reverse of all this, for skill is intelligence physically manifested. It is knowledge of Nature's Laws utilized dexterously - and the spread of scientific information characterizes our age. Thus as the bulwarks of cunning-control crumble, the weapons of skill are multiplied and perfected.
So the outcome seems a foregone conclusion.
With this outcome, our methods of life will necessarily change. Capitalistic customs, laws, and institutions will be substituted by others differing as widely from those with which we are familiar as the motor ideas and ideals of purposeful cunning differ from those of purposeful skill.
"Work or Fight" Lesson.
Peradventure, the "Work or Fight" and the "2 pounds of sugar per person" measures are tonic foretastes of the coming Skill-Economics.
Obviously we are in transition to a new social order.
The signs of the times portend the dethroning of decadent acquisitive capitalism and the crowning of productive skill - Autocrat of the new Age - Artizanism.
This change has been in dubious process for years; the War has merely speeded its progress and made the outcome practically inevitable. But, whether it be brought about by evolution or revolution, or whether it comes in clean-cut aspect or befogged by irrelevant social factors and forces, it is in no sense a rational or final solution of our "social problem."
In any event, should Artizanism come, it will be merely another social spasm, probably shorter than, but equally as futile as, our present world-wide finance madness.
Instincts Not A Rational Basis.
While it is conceivable that human societies could be organized upon and with any one of the stated basic Instincts as dominant factor and raison d'etre; it is practically certain that any such national society would be quite ineffective, and transient. For obviously it would not and could not satisfy even our present limited intelligence, our rational imagination, or our modern spiritual ideals.
No very extended analysis would be required to show the validity of this proposition. The past has already demonstrated the insufficiency of societies based upon the Mastery Instinct - Autocracy. The present amply proves the failure of the Acquisitive Instinct as a social basis - Plutocracy.
A moment's thought will show that a society based upon the Making Instinct would simply crumble in its formative process under the demands of our complicated modern mental make-up, for clearly this instinct provides inadequate Human scope - and hence presupposes parasitism in even more extended form than that of acquisitive Capitalism. And - worse than all - a society based upon the Instinct to Live and Propagate, would return us at once to the brute state from which we have arisen through ages of struggle, strife, and bloodshed.
Control Without Control.
Still, it is apparent that the basic instincts which urge "to live," "to make," "to take," "to control," are as useful, yes, are as essential in and to modern social life as they have been in all the past. But, while all are necessary, no one of them constitutes a proper basis - law of operation - for a rational human society organization. They are factors, necessary and desirable contributary parts, no one of which is inherently adapted to function as the machine's unifier, its strain and speed equalizer - its control element.
Thus, the determination of a suitable character of "control" element is seemingly the crux of our social problem; the problem of controlling with-out control, that old, old paradox: Freedom made effective by restraint - a paradox, however, which the war may have resolved for us, by demonstrating its non-existence.
It has, in somewise, answered our troublous question by clear definition in the statement of the Nation's object in going to war.
The war has answered the question, in another aspect, by the Nation's adoption of the method (forced upon it by logical compulsion) whereby success was achieved.
"To make the World safe for Democracy" is the clearest and most universally accepted statement of our purpose in going to war Self-government for Nations, Self-government for Individuals.
Concept of Control.
Control by others, then, is antithetical to the ideals for which we have waged this last, the greatest, and, it is hoped, the final bloody contest for Self-government.
Control is equally antithetical to our Ideals of Self-government whether the control is exercised by "others" characterized by the Instinct to live and breed the Masses; or whether the control is exercised by "others" characterized by the Instinct to Make the Skilled Artizan; or whether the control is exercised by "others" urged by the Instinct of Mastery - the Employers; or whether the control is exercised by "others" under their dominating Acquisitive Instinct - the Financiers.
Indeed, the concept: control by "others," is an idea inherent in and appropriate only to now discredited Autocracy a concept which the War has rendered an obsolete ideal if we are yet intelligent enough to profit by its costly teaching.
Discard Cave-Man Control.
To be rationally consistent this "control" concept should be as absent as it is obsolete (in fact and effect) in our inevitable reconstruction.
This Autocracy "control" concept must be thrown in the discard where we have dumped the European autocrats whose ideal it was - if our reconstruction efforts are intended to produce a rationally organized Modern Human Society; a Society founded upon the Ideals consecrated by the life blood of our bravest and best.
But our age-long familiarity with "control by others," in our halting progress, from brute beast to modern Man, has so deeply ingrained in our mental fiber this stone-age concept as to make it almost impossible for us to even conceive the idea of a society lacking this cave-man spiked-club element.
Yet, no fact and lesson of our participation in the War is more clear and free from doubt than the spontaneous acquiescence by the people of the United States rich and poor, artizan and laborer, alike in self-control, self-repression, self-dedication to the united will and unified purpose of the Nation.
No lesson of the War is more significant than: Given a National Purpose, intelligently comprehended and acquiesced in - only unselfish Leadership is needed, and neither control by force nor control by cunning is necessary to bring about the unification of effort needed to accomplish the Nation's Objective.
The significance of this lesson is the utter irrationality of national control in the hands of any class characterized by self-centered instincts, or that strength or skill or cunning should be dominating factors in the social structure.
Though none of these factors should dominate, each and all of these vital and necessary elements should have free scope for the socially effective outflow of its particular expression of life energy.
Second only in significance to the acquiescence and co-operation of the united people is the method irresistibly forced upon the Nation by the logic and necessities of its stupendous War problem.
First Real Nation.
This most modern economic institution, and the unified co-operation of the united people, are the two outstanding lessons of the War for us.
Taken together, they point significantly to the solution of our social problem — the lacking element which should and could consciously, deliberately, and rationally unify the basic instinctive urges into an harmonious direction of national effort and so produce a humanly efficient national organization — the first real Nation on earth!
The lacking element? — the element which is adapted to assume the function and position to be vacated by the obsolescent autocratic concept — arbitrary "control" — the element capable of controlling without control, of making Freedom effective. Democracy a living fact as well as a noble Ideal!
In this, as in many other seemingly difficult problems of long standing, the solution has evaded us by reason of its very obviousness. Such a unifying factor has always existed in plain view — unutilized in its proper function of Social Strain Equalizer. Indeed, this urge factor, more even than the Instincts — "to Live," "to Make," "to Take," "to Control" — is the most universal and most humanly characterizing trait of that most marvelous complex — Man.
Desire to Know.
I refer to Curiosity — curiosity rationalized into Desire to Know.
Desire to Know, while equally urgent for gratification, inherently lacks the undesirable and inappropriate qualities which render the other human Instincts unsuitable as organizing and strain equalizing factors in the social structure. Also it possesses qualities and attributes which make it peculiarly adapted to perform the rationally harmonizing function so irrationally assumed in all earlier social organizations under the guise of Forceful and Cunning Control.
Desire to Know is as imperative in its demands as any of the self-centered motor Instincts — to live, to make, to take, to control — but it is impersonal; while It is as aggressive as other Instinctive Urges, characteristically its energies and activities are directed at Nature, not in aggression on human opponents; hence it engenders no human strife; and while it drives furiously, it drives none but its possessor — in the pursuit of Knowledge.
Desire to Know, while profoundly interested in all that pertains to Human Life and living — to eugenics and racial development — characteristically its possessor would risk his own life in the pursuit of Knowledge.
Desire to Know, though urgently interested in Nature's Laws and in all that concerns the correct making and constructing of things, characteristically lacks desire to make or construct things, but seeks only systematized concepts of Knowledge.
Desire to Know, while deeply interested in all that pertains to the desirable things of the world and to economic affairs, characteristically lacks the thievish impulse — the Instinct to Take, to acquire physical possession: supremely acquisitive it craves only to acquire Knowledge.
Desire to Know, while surpassingly Masterful, desires no mastery of Men; it craves instead, God-like insight, pre-vision, prophecy power in the boundless realms of Knowledge.
Here then is an indomitable Urge lacking all the inappropriate qualities of the strife producing Autocratic Force-and-Fear Control motor concept of Social Organization, and possessed of all the unifying qualities of Social Leadership.
A Human Society or Nation is sanely designed and rationally organized on correct principles only when it has a Purpose, and (as in the case of a well considered machine) only when full cognizance is taken of all its contributory elements, together with their essential functions and their proper co-ordination.
A National Objective.
A truly efficient National Organization would facilitate (not suppress or prohibit) the expression of all inherent Instinctive Urges, rationalizing their outflowing life energy (by sane institutional conventions) into unification in a fully predetermined National Purpose.
In a crude but clearly perceptible manner the United States, during the War, gave suggestion of such an Ideal Social Arrangement.
It had a defined and universally accepted purpose:
Its Scientific (Desire to Know) Men and its Scientific Societies were (more or less) organized into a Unifying and Advisory Board to formulate and suggest methods and means for sane living and to accomplish the predetermined purpose of the Nation.
We have accomplished the object of the War:
We have made the World safe for Democracy.
Now, let us inaugurate a Democracy - a Democracy with an object for its existence - a Democracy with a Purpose.
By the peril to its life, the Nation has been shocked into momentary sanity. Let us while still rational, rationally take to heart the lessons which the War has taught at so staggering a cost:
First: The need of a National Purpose; a purpose based upon peace and rational Human Development; a purpose as inspiring and as unifying as War for Democracy, and as high as our highest Ideals of Life.
Second: The need of a Supreme National Council of Scientists supreme over all other National Institutions to advise and instruct us how best to Live, and how most efficiently to realize our Individual and our National Purpose and Ideals.
But, First and Last, a unifying National Objective.
Fernwald, Berkeley, December, 1918.
IS IT RATIONAL TO BASE HUMAN SOCIETY ON ANIMAL INSTINCTS?