Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ashley Montagu

RMJ at Adventus has been pondering the article (mentioned below) by Steven Pinker on "The Moral Instinct" featured in last weekend's New York Times Magazine. I hope to address it further later, but for now, let me offer a voice from the past, whom I recall from my days as an anthropology student reading anthropology and sociobiology and their conflicts over theories of the source and nature of aggression in humans.

Here from A Commemorative Essay, by James W. Prescott, Ph.D., are some notable quotes from Montagu:

In his chapter “What Ought We to Do?”, Ashley Montagu states:
We should by this time know what human beings are for. They have evolved as cooperative creatures, and their further biosocial evolution quite clearly lies with the further development of their cooperative capacities. This is what human beings are for. And it is upon the solid foundations of the development of their cooperative capacities that all their other capacities may be developed. We need, then, to recognize that the rearing and education of children must be designed to enable them to realize their cooperative capacities to the optimum. And by “cooperative capacities” we mean the ability to love. (p.30).

In LIVING AND LOVING, also published in Japan in 1986, Ashley Montagu provides the following commentary on “The Origins of Aggression”:

The findings on children in every culture who have been deprived of love, whether it be in a home, an institution, or whatever situation, are identical. Such children, by virtue of the fact that they have not been loved, don’t learn how to love others. Their expected satisfactions have been thwarted. They have been frustrated and if the frustrations are sufficient in quantity during particular critical developmental periods, the response is invariably the same. The response is then with a mechanism which is calculated to elicit and evoke the love and attention which has been withheld. This response we call aggression or aggressive behavior (p. 17).
In spite of the current pop anthropology associated with the names of Robert Ardrey, Konrad Lorenz, Desmond Morris, and others, purveying the view that man is an innately aggressive creature, and that much of his cruelty can be explained by his being driven by a powerful “instinct of aggression,” the evidence, in fact, points in quite another direction. The evidence, at least as some of us see it, indicates that, as a consequence of humanity’s unique evolutionary history as a highly cooperative creature, the drives of infant and child are oriented in the direction of growth and development in love and cooperation. This is not a popular view, and, indeed, the pervasiveness of the opposite view is so ancient, and fortified by time and tradition—namely, that man is a sinful, ornery creature, evil, as St. Paul declared, in the flesh—that anyone who maintains the view that potential human beings are born with their needs all oriented in the direction of love, the need not only to be loved but also to love, is likely to be dismissed as a “romantic.” (pp.39-40).

In many cultures, the newborn’s and child’s intrinsic orientation and direction toward love, (and later in development, sexual love), is profoundly damaged through the barbarous acts of torture which are inherent in the rituals of genital mutilation. In his distinguished address “Mutilated Humanity” before the Second International Symposium On Circumcision in San Francisco (May 1991), Ashley Montagu observed:

I think it would be greatly to our advantage if, instead of calling ourselves Homo Sapiens, we called ourselves Homo Mutilans, the mutilating species, the species that mutilates both mind and body, often in the name of reason, of religion, tradition, custom, morality and law.� Were we to adopt such a name for our species, it might focus our attention upon what is wrong with us, and where we might begin setting ourselves right. It is characteristic of our much confused species that we should, in many parts of the world, begin the process of mutilation with male circumcision.
From Ashley Montagu, Receipient of the 1995 Humanist of the Year Award, A Commemorative Essay, by James W. Prescott, Ph.D., Institute of Humanistic Science

1 comment:

o-mom said...

Anyone who wants to know the nature of "man" should raise children, not just observe them. I don't know about your authors, but my guess is if they did, they did it from a distance. Their writings bring to mind an observation from the 3rd of us, that children are born savages and it is up to us to civilize them. I would like to posit a corolary to that; if you want to know about love and its limits work among the mentally ill and criminals.