Social scientists can no longer be reproached for busying themselves with theoretical issues while ignoring the major problems confronting mankind. The ivory towers now stand abandoned; almost every scholar of note in the fields of sociology, psychology and anthropology concerns himself with how the studies devoted to the extension of man’s knowledge of man may advance solutions to the problems of a free society. The theoretical equipment developed in the study of the social life of Melanesians or the learning habits of rats is now turned on Western man. At the same time new theoretical approaches are being developed and applied, designed specifically for the special problems of our own society.
Those engaged in the various fields would freely concede that results to date are not world-shaking. What was suspected and what common sense asserted has in some cases been proved; some concepts have been more exactly defined and others have been shown to be invalid; what we knew generally has been made more explicit. Yet while the results are relatively meager, the promise is tremendous. Admitted that the study of man is some centuries behind the study of nature, yet it can no longer be denied that it is a science.
In this department, we will cover journals, monographs and other publications. We shall consider reports of original research and reports of discussions and conferences—whenever these point to an understanding of the major social problems facing our times. Some of the material treated will deal with problems directly affecting the Jewish group and its relations to society. Much will not have such special reference, but will be no less relevant to our problems: first, because, obviously, whatever affects mankind affects us; second, because no group has more at stake, has more reason to study and understand the changing trends and counter-trends of contemporary ideas. As a group, we seem to be particularly exposed to the social climate of our times, its changing winds and weather.
How far the academic ivory tower has been left behind by the social sciences this first monthly section of “The Study of Man” can serve to illustrate. In past months the social sciences have, among other problems, been dealing with proposals for the treatment of Germany, methods of training teachers for inter-cultural education and with problems of inter-group prejudices. In every case the proposals and their analysis stem directly from theoretical work in the past ten years.
During the summer of 1944, a series of meetings attended by a distinguished group of psychiatrists, psychologists and social scientists was held to consider what was to be done with Germany after the war. In the February Psychiatry, Prof. Talcott Parsons of Harvard presents the report he prepared for the Conference on “The Problem of Planned Institutional Change” (the full report including Professor Parsons’ paper is in the July American Journal of Orthopsychiatry). This paper includes the consensus of the Conference, as well as some proposals for the treatment of Germany, but it is besides this “a contribution to the theory of controlled institutional change”—which in more popular terminology is “social engineering” or “planning.”
“The principal emphasis of the conference was on the existence of a typical German character-structure which predisposes people to define all human relations in terms of dominance, submission and romantic revolt . . . (and which is) interdependent with an institutional structure of German society. . . .” The Conference asserts that almost any German, regardless of differences of sex, class, age and region, has a distinctive group of character traits as a German; and it is this, rather than “the particular recent situation in which the German nation has been placed, or . . . the character and policies of a particular political regime,” which is the primary source of German “aggressive expansionism.”
It is German character-structure, consequently, that must be changed, but it does not follow that it can be changed by a direct approach; since it is interdependent with the institutional structure of German society, the way to changing German character lies through changing German institutions.
This distinctive German character-structure has two components: “an emotional, idealistic, active, romantic” and “an orderly, hard-working, hierarchy-preoccupied, methodical, submissive, gregarious, materialistic.” The first, arising from certain features of child-rearing in Germany—they are left unspecified—and from tensions of living in German society, has generally had an apolitical outlet, through “cultural expression”; but the Nazis linked it closely to the second component: “The first task . . . is to disrupt this synthesis and create a situation in which the romantic element will again find an apolitical form of expression.” The second component is the more dangerous; it involves emphasis on status, rank in a hierarchy—whether it be party, military, state, industrial or family—rather than function. It is unclear as to how this type of character-structure—assuming the analysis to be true—can be shown to lead to the political behavior of modem Germany without taking into account other factors, but the implication of the conference report is that it does.
This is the diagnosis. And the cure is changing a society. This is where Prof. Parsons’ contribution to the theory of planned institutional change fits in. To Prof. Parsons, changing a society means changing its institutions—that is, changing the behavior expected of people in their roles as parents, workers, citizens and so forth. This behavior is evoked by a particular social situation combined with the individual’s own motivations. Since the social situation demanding a certain behavior of the individual is formed for the most part by the motivations of individuals like oneself, the two factors support each other, giving institutions their well-known stability and leading to the fact that what we “want” to do is generally what we “should” do.
Prof. Parsons examines in some detail the “vested interest” reaction which is the main bulwark of a threatened status quo. “To attempt to deprive a person or a group of something in which they enjoy a vested interest . . . involves not only the frustrations dependent on deprivation . . . but also . . . outrages the moral sentiments surrounding the claim to legitimacy. The resistance of the peoples or groups affected is thus strengthened by their sense of injustice. Furthermore, the same fact enables them to rally support for their claims from people who do not share the same interests . . . finally . . . among those who oppose a vested interest group there is likely to be an element of guilt arising from the fact that they share the same value patterns.” Frustrated administrators—and revolutionists—would do well to study this little outline of the perils awaiting those who attempt structural changes in society.
But this is the less hopeful side of the situation. Prof. Parsons also points out that “every at all complex society contains very important elements of internal conflict and tension . . . [this] almost certainly means that there are allies within the social system itself which can be enlisted on the side of change.”
Change itself can be effected in two ways, theoretically: by changing the objective situation or by changing the motivations of people, their subjective attitudes. Proposals to destroy the heavy industry of Germany, for example, are in the first category; plans for “democratic re-education” are in the second.
Prof. Parsons himself is wary of the subjective approach: “The view so common among Americans that it is ‘conversion’ to democratic values which is the key to bringing Germany ‘around’ is one of the most dangerous misconceptions currently in the air. To attempt to do so by propaganda or another means of indoctrination would almost certainly intensify a tendency toward ideological reaction. . . .” This warning is supported by one of the best-founded conclusions of social science: that the “reasonableness” of propaganda or education is irrelevant to its acceptance or rejection. If the beliefs one is trying to inculcate do not fill social and individual needs, then they will be rejected.
Concerning the situational approach, Parsons asserts that of the four key institutions which have been discussed as possible carriers of social change in Germany—the family, the formal educational system, the state and the economic-occupational structure—the last is the most promising. It is here that the crucial change from “status” to “function” can be introduced with the least resistance, and has the greatest reverberations throughout the social structure. For example, we cannot modify the domineering role of the father in the German family directly, but by reducing the tension he feels about the status connected with his job, we reduce his need to be dominant at home. Parsons envisages this change as necessitating an increase in the number of “functional roles” (jobs) in German industry and an actual increase in Germany’s war-making power: “The essential thing is that there should be a policy of fostering a highly productive, full-employment, expanding economy for Germany.” When it is still by no means certain that America itself will have such an economy, it will seem utopian to many to think that such a policy is within the realm of possibility for Germany.
The Conference makes use of one of the most important concepts developed in the social sciences—that which Erich Fromm calls “character-structure” and Abram Kardiner, “basic personality.” Fromm means by his term the characteristics of individuals formed under similar conditions of development and living, and uses it to explain the political behavior of the German middle class. He emphasizes character differences between classes, but assuming similar conditions for all classes in a nation, there appears to be no reason why a national character-structure transcending class should not develop. Kardiner’s concept of “basic personality” grew out of the analysis of the “primitive” societies studied by anthropologists. By analyzing institutions and beliefs he discovered the type of personality that was shared to some extent by all members of a society, and later isolated specific factors in infancy and childhood—for example, the way discipline was enforced—that played a predominant role in forming this group personality.
Kardiner’s work makes possible a thoroughly scientific validation of the view that a specific character-structure is at the root of German political activity. But the fact is, that today we have very little of the information necessary to find out whether there is a German character-structure, and what it is. We know more about the character-structure of the people of Alor in the Dutch East Indies than about that of the Germans.
Consequently, the description of German character-structure given by the Conference must be highly speculative. It appears to conform—in specialized terminology—to the popular view of the German as hard, domineering, formal, methodical, and at the same time mystical and romantic. The emphasis on “status” as against “function” would seem to hold true for all Western society; in which case how could it be used to explain the specifically German? It seems premature as yet to ascribe the German explosion to a German character. This criticism, however, would not invalidate Prof. Parsons’ analysis of how social changes can be planned, since it would hold no matter what character-structure or character structures existed in Germany.
“Workshops in intergroup education,” i.e., institutes training teachers to teach tolerance, have been conducted since the summer of 1941 by the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Bureau for Intercultural Education. Fourteen workshops were scheduled for last summer (no more than two in one summer had been held previously). The May Journal of Educational Sociology is devoted entirely to the description and evaluation of workshops of previous years and the plans for those held this summer.
Dr. Hilda Taba, who has been most active in training teachers in intercultural education, describes the workshop she conducted at Harvard in 1944., Twenty-six teachers attended, representing a wide range of ethnic groups, different sections of the country and different levels of tolerance and ability. Each participant came with a practical project to be worked out at the workshop and applied in the coming school year. In addition to help with the individual projects, the workshop leaders tried to increase the participants’ general knowledge of the nature of group prejudice and to teach the use of the various educational tools applied in this field (these are mainly “units on contributions of various culture groups”).
Dr. Taba’s workshop—most of those being held this summer are modelled on it—emphasizes a practical project. A different type of workshop, putting a greater emphasis on “theory,” is that planned for the University of Chicago and described by Allison Davis and Robert Havighurst. “Theory” means the new science that is emerging from psychology, sociology and anthropology (called “Human Development” at Chicago and “Human Relations” at Yale). Three basic concepts of the science are emphasized at the Chicago workshop: heredity (limitations of race for the explanation of group differences); social structure (“as a system of relationships and statuses which largely determine both social behavior and emotional patterns”); and cultural learning (“culture as a learned way of life, a basic system of social habits and values”). Participants further learn to use tests which enable one to measure how much each group likes or dislikes the others and to discover the stereotypes each group has of itself and others. “Finally, this approach implies new methods of teaching. Discussion and the socialized interview must be developed. . . .” The new methods are not further specified.
Teachers coming out of this workshop should be adept in discovering to what extent little Irish children hate little Jewish children, and why, in the nature of things (this being given by the three basic concepts; which tell us that each niche in the system of castes, classes and ethnic groups into which we are born implies the hatred, distrust, respect or fear of other castes, classes and ethnic groups) this must be so, but will be stumped by the problem of what to do about it; while teachers coming out of Dr. Taba’s workshop should skilfully run plays, projects, etc., in which all the little Czech, Italian, Greek and Jewish children supply bits of half-remembered Old World ethnic cultures to make up a rather unreal picture of “America.” Neither one, nor a combination of the two, seems to promise a perceptible reduction of group hatreds.
An unintentioned critique of this program of intercultural education is to be found in the first issue of the new Journal of Social Issues, one of two on “Racial and Religious Prejudice in Everyday Living” edited by Gene Weltfish (Columbia University anthropologist who was co-author of The Races of Mankind pamphlet). The issue contains an article on “The Causes of Group Antagonisms” (a synthesis of twelve contributions by prominent psychologists and anthropologists), four fictional sketches illustrating prejudice with appended “what can be done” notes by experts, and a concluding section-like the first a group product—on what facts are still to be investigated and what type of action will work.
“The Causes of Group Antagonisms” summarizes what by now is well-known: that “every tribe, state and nation has its own style of group antagonisms” (and consequently explanations of prejudice in terms of a “natural” distrust of the foreigner or the minority are untrue); that prejudice against a group is hardly affected by experience, pleasant or unpleasant, with individual members of that group; that the force behind group hatred is supplied by individual frustration, and that in America this frustration is most likely due to failure to achieve the success and security held out to all by the “American Dream.”
The conclusion for Jews seems to be that the only way to reduce anti-Semitism is either to change the “American style” of group antagaonisms, in which the Jew now holds the number-two position, or to reduce the frustrations that support group antagonisms.
The contributors to the Journal are consequently not overly hopeful of the possibilities of intercultural education that does neither of these: “. . .many educational attempts which seem to make a contribution in this direction [reducing group antagonisms] have no effect when measured against these criteria [changing behavior]. Certain types of emotional appeal fade quickly in their effect; logical intellectual approaches frequently fail to have any influence on behavior or attitude. . . .”
The scientists suggest that “we need more facts about the pattern of prejudice and discrimination in different cultures to aid us in getting perspective on educational possibilities in working with ‘human nature’ in our own culture.” Differences in the “pattern of prejudice” are of some importance; group antagonisms are by no means everywhere the same. Ruth Benedict points out that in Europe, majorities have tried forcibly to assimilate minorities by interdicting the practice of the minority language and culture. In America, on the other hand, minorities want to be completely indistinguishable from the majority. Solutions of minority problems are consequently quite different in Europe and America.
Dr. Benedict also points out that the “scapegoat syndrome” (relieving frustration by aggression against a scapegoat) is not found in Japan. Whether or not this is so, the suggestion that we study societies in which our forms of prejudice do not exist to get ideas on how to attack them certainly seems valuable.
The conclusion of this group of scientists is that “many individuals must go through what amounts to a therapeutic experience rather than the more typical conception of an educational procedure before . . . prejudices can be yielded up for new constructive sources of satisfaction.” But can we find anything more satisfying than prejudice as an outlet for frustration? If not, must not the attack be on the frustration rather than the form of its expression?