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|Title||:||On Being Human|
|Number of Pages||:||496 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
|Last checked||:||21 Minutes ago!|
On Being Human Reviews
This concise and well-written book (1950 edition) expresses a point of view about human nature that largely, it seems, permeates our culture. Montagu takes on the rawest Darwinian perspective that has us in a competitive struggle for existence, that lauds those who are successful, and that has little regard for the losers.That view is wrong Montagu argues. For him, the essence of life is a coming together. It’s cooperation and cooperation, for us, is shorthand for love. His last chapter recommends a social engineering approach to counter “moneytheism” (“a profit-motive, economic-struggle-for-existence society…a predatory society, a class-and-caste society, a divisive society….”) in favor of an system that has us and teaches us to love one another. “The idols of the market place must yield to those of humanity,” he writes. “Man is born for co-operation, not for competition or conflict. This is a basic discovery of modern science. It confirms a discovery made some two thousand years ago by one Jesus of Nazareth. In a word: it is the principle of love which embraces all mankind. It is the principle of humanity, of one world, one brotherhood of peoples.”Montagu grounds his perspective in biology, beginning with the reproductive act where there’s “a relationship between parent and off spring” and this “is the foundation of the social relationship which characterizes all living organisms.” With humans, the individual depends on the parent and then the group for survival and well-being. This dependence means there is no “I”. “I” is defined by the group and what it provides.Montagu’s humanitarian intent is admirable. He’s right to push the cooperative point, but he goes to the opposite extreme. Scientifically ("modern science"), he argues, life is cooperative, not competitive. I don’t know how that argument works. How do you eliminate predator-prey relationships? Ecosystems are tied together by both cooperation and competition. How can you cherry pick one and ignore the other?In his emphasis on the central role of the group, Montagu eliminates the biological self. If there’s no “I” who or what is dependent? Other than a list of physiological needs that require satisfaction, he says that we are the product of a relationship outside of ourselves. But if we have physiological needs that require satisfaction, why is this not self-interest and why is that not a biological self? Physiological needs are too easily relegated to “mere biology.” Do we parse too tightly the body’s content? Don’t our basic needs also include the non-physiological needs for nurture, security, sex and defense? Doesn’t our physiological substrate support these non-physiological needs in an integrated (cooperative) way? Do we work to work, or do we work to get food energy and to keep the body comfortable (i.e., satisfying our physiological needs)?Montagu, appropriately, notes the group’s influence in molding us into who we are. He grounds that perspective in biology (this is our “social appetite”), but it’s a body that is absent a core, the biological self. Quoting a 1939 expert, Montagu agrees that “‘The group…is genetically prior to personality.’” This is the blank slate. “Free will the person certainly does not have,” Montagu states. “The Will that he has operates strictly within the limits determined by the pattern of the social group.” Such is the power of the group that, Montagu writes, “Man does not want to be independent, free, in the sense of functioning independently of the interests of his fellows.”Contrast this with Darwin and you get a different picture. Darwin argues that our social emotions merge us with the group so that there’s little distinction between self and other. So far, so good. Montagu agrees, to a point, but he eliminates the self’s interest. There’s no self to have an interest. For Darwin the self merges with the group because it’s in its interest to do so. We survive and thrive that way. We also know from Freud of the tension between id and superego. There’s an inborn self in there someplace that displays an acute tension between the self’s interest as opposed to the group’s interest. Darwin’s point about our social nature was made primarily in the context of our inherent tribalism. Whereas we may be socially given to brother- and sisterhood, that applies to our group only. Non-groups are viewed quite the opposite, but Montagu has us operating in universal brotherhood.Rather than the “struggle-for-existence” model or “no self model”, a more accurate picture might be that human nature is variable and has both components, and some have more of one than another, with most of us lying someplace in between. In our history, we certainly see both strains and everything in between. But this third perspective hinges on the presence of a biological self that is disposed to cooperate or compete or to operate some place in between depending on situation and disposition. Montagu’s picture has two negative consequences. First, the self is defined by others. Who really wants that? Must we suffer because we are different? Now Montagu’s advocacy for social engineering becomes ominous. Do we become a cipher for civilization? Who defines what being civilized is – old school disciplinarians, fuddy-duddies, religious purists, advertisers, deep voiced Orwellians, and people with false smiles? Second, assuming a good human nature and putting the blame for social ills on bad societal structures, can we really assume that anti-capitalist social structures will be free of the abuses of self-interest? Isn’t there a lesson or two from cults and communism? Here again, a third model is preferable. It’s checks and balances. Our founding fathers and Churchill (view of democracy) were probably right because they were realistic and accepted human imperfection, and they were not ideological about who we are and who we might be.
IN this short and stimulating book anthropologist Montagu seeks to explicate the Greek text that to be human is to be a social animal. His extended essay borders on the realm of "social biology." The importance of cooperation derives from even the earliest life which was collective in nature. Even the simplest biological organism must cooperate with its fellows to keep its species alive. Cells are necessarily social phenomena since they must band together and work in harmony if life is to be preserved. Most beasts roam together. Few range, solitary, haunted by a drive to make their own individual fortunes. The men who do, like tortured animals, are driven by the burr of a past without love. Citizens Kane, we must deduce, are unnatural creatures, working against the main drift of society. Montagu offers the results of studies of parent-less or unwanted children to show how the drive for personal rather than social welfare has its roots in lovelessness. Only by teaching to a new generation the importance of love in social relations can we keep our civilization from the abyss, Montagu concludes this odd, didactic piece. Somehow, perhaps by the force of his idealism, he overcomes the nagging quality that his suppositions and premises lead him to ignore any evidence to the contrary. This was an intriguing, if flawed adventure in theorizing about Man.
I find it difficult to give a book a bad rating when you agree with it.
Brilliant overview of human nature fusing biology, psychology, sociology and philosophy