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HOME > Classical Novels > The Unadjusted Girl > CHAPTER II THE REGULATION OF THE WISHES
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 One of the most important powers gained during the evolution of animal life is the ability to make decisions from within instead of having them imposed from without. Very low forms of life do not make decisions, as we understand this term, but are pushed and pulled by chemical substances, heat, light, etc., much as iron filings are attracted or repelled by a magnet. They do tend to behave properly in given conditions—a group of small crustaceans will flee as in a panic if a bit of strychnia is placed in the basin containing them and will rush toward a drop of beef juice like hogs crowding around swill—but they do this as an expression of organic affinity for the one substance and repugnance for the other, and not as an expression of choice or “free will.” There are, so to speak, rules of behavior but these represent a sort of fortunate mechanistic adjustment of the organism to typically recurring situations, and the organism cannot change the rule. On the other hand, the higher animals, and above all man, have the power of refusing to obey a stimulation which they followed at an earlier time. Response to the earlier stimulation may have had painful consequences and so the rule or habit in this situation is changed. We call this ability the power of inhibition, and it is dependent on the fact that the nervous system carries memories or records of past experiences. 42At this point the determination of action no longer comes exclusively from outside sources but is located within the organism itself.
Preliminary to any self-determined act of behavior there is always a stage of examination and deliberation which we may call the definition of the situation. And actually not only concrete acts are dependent on the definition of the situation, but gradually a whole life-policy and the personality of the individual himself follow from a series of such definitions.
But the child is always born into a group of people among whom all the general types of situation which may arise have already been defined and corresponding rules of conduct developed, and where he has not the slightest chance of making his definitions and following his wishes without interference. Men have always lived together in groups. Whether mankind has a true herd instinct or whether groups are held together because this has worked out to advantage is of no importance. Certainly the wishes in general are such that they can be satisfied only in a society. But we have only to refer to the criminal code to appreciate the variety of ways in which the wishes of the individual may conflict with the wishes of society. And the criminal code takes no account of the many unsanctioned expressions of the wishes which society attempts to regulate by persuasion and gossip.
There is therefore always a rivalry between the spontaneous definitions of the situation made by the member of an organized society and the definitions which his society has provided for him. The individual tends to a hedonistic selection of activity, pleasure first; and society to a utilitarian selection, safety first. Society wishes its member to be laborious, dependable, 43regular, sober, orderly, self-sacrificing; while the individual wishes less of this and more of new experience. And organized society seeks also to regulate the conflict and competition inevitable between its members in the pursuit of their wishes. The desire to have wealth, for example, or any other socially sanctioned wish, may not be accomplished at the expense of another member of the society,—by murder, theft, lying, swindling, blackmail, etc.
It is in this connection that a moral code arises, which is a set of rules or behavior norms, regulating the expression of the wishes, and which is built up by successive definitions of the situation. In practice the abuse arises first and the rule is made to prevent its recurrence. Morality is thus the generally accepted definition of the situation, whether expressed in public opinion and the unwritten law, in a formal legal code, or in religious commandments and prohibitions.
The family is the smallest social unit and the primary defining agency. As soon as the child has free motion and begins to pull, tear, pry, meddle, and prowl, the parents begin to define the situation through speech and other signs and pressures: “Be quiet”, “Sit up straight”, “Blow your nose”, “Wash your face”, “Mind your mother”, “Be kind to sister”, etc. This is the real significance of Wordsworth’s phrase, “Shades of the prison house begin to close upon the growing child.” His wishes and activities begin to be inhibited, and gradually, by definitions within the family, by playmates, in the school, in the Sunday school, in the community, through reading, by formal instruction, by informal signs of approval and disapproval, the growing member learns the code of his society.
In addition to the family we have the community 44as a defining agency. At present the community is so weak and vague that it gives us no idea of the former power of the local group in regulating behavior. Originally the community was practically the whole world of its members. It was composed of families related by blood and marriage and was not so large that all the members could not come together; it was a face-to-face group. I asked a Polish peasant what was the extent of an “okolica” or neighborhood—how far it reached. “It reaches,” he said, “as far as the report of a man reaches—as far as a man is talked about.” And it was in communities of this kind that the moral code which we now recognize as valid originated. The customs of the community are “folkways”, and both state and church have in their more formal codes mainly recognized and incorporated these folkways.
The typical community is vanishing and it would be neither possible nor desirable to restore it in its old form. It does not correspond with the present direction of social evolution and it would now be a distressing condition in which to live. But in the immediacy of relationships and the participation of everybody in everything, it represents an element which we have lost and which we shall probably have to restore in some form of co?peration in order to secure a balanced and normal society,—some arrangement corresponding with human nature.
Very elemental examples of the definition of the situation by the community as a whole, corresponding to mob action as we know it and to our trial by jury, are found among European peasants. The three documents following, all relating to the Russian community or mir, give some idea of the conditions under which a whole community, a public, formerly defined a situation.
4525. We who are unacquainted with peasant speech, manners and method of expressing thought—mimicry—if we should be present at a division of land or some settlement among the peasants, would never understand anything. Hearing fragmentary, disconnected exclamations, endless quarreling, with repetition of some single word; hearing this racket of a seemingly senseless, noisy crowd that counts up or measures off something, we should conclude that they would not get together, or arrive at any result in an age.... Yet wait until the end and you will see that the division has been made with mathematical accuracy—that the measure, the quality of the soil, the slope of the field, the distance from the village—everything in short has been taken into account, that the reckoning has been correctly done and, what is most important, that every one of those present who were interested in the division is certain of the correctness of the division or settlement. The cry, the noise, the racket do not subside until every one is satisfied and no doubter is left.
The same thing is true concerning the discussion of some question by the mir. There are no speeches, no debates, no votes. They shout, they abuse each other, they seem on the point of coming to blows. Apparently they riot in the most senseless manner. Some one preserves silence, silence, and then suddenly puts in a word, one word, or an ejaculation, and by this word, this ejaculation, he turns the whole thing upside down. In the end, you look into it and find that an admirable decision has been formed and, what is most important, a unanimous decision.[28]
26. As I approached the village, there hung over it such a mixed, varied violent shouting, that no well brought-up parliament would agree to recognize itself, even in the abstract, as analogous to this gathering of peasant deputies. It was clearly a full meeting today.... At other more 46quiet village meetings I had been able to make out very little, but this was a real lesson to me. I felt only a continuous, indistinguishable roaring in my ears, sometimes pierced by a particularly violent phrase that broke out from the general roar. I saw in front of me the “immediate” man, in all his beauty. What struck me first of all was his remarkable frankness; the more “immediate” he is, the less able is he to mask his thoughts and feelings; once he is stirred up the emotion seizes him quickly and he flares up then and there, and does not quiet down till he has poured out before you all the substance of his soul. He does not feel embarrassment before anybody; there are no indications here of diplomacy. Further, he opens up his whole soul, and he will tell everything that he may ever have known about you, and not only about you, but about your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Here everything is clear water, as the peasants say, and everything stands out plainly. If any one, out of smallness of soul, or for some ulterior motive, thinks to get out of something by keeping silent, they force him out into clear water without pity. And there are very few such small-souled persons at important village meetings. I have seen the most peaceable, irresponsible peasants, who at other times would not have thought of saying a word against any one, absolutely changed at these meetings, at these moments of general excitement. They believed in the saying, “On people even death is beautiful”, and they got up so much courage that they were able to answer back the peasants commonly recognized as audacious. At the moment of its height the meeting becomes simply an open mutual confessional and mutual disclosure, the display of the widest publicity. At these moments when, it would seem, the private interests of each reach the highest tension, public interests and justice in turn reach the highest degree of control.[29]
4727. In front of the volost administration building there stands a crowd of some one hundred and fifty men. This means that a volost meeting has been called to consider the verdict of the Kusmin rural commune “regarding the handing over to the [state] authorities of the peasant Gregori Siedov, caught red-handed and convicted of horse-stealing.” Siedov had already been held for judicial inquiry; the evidence against him was irrefutable and he would undoubtedly be sentenced to the penitentiary. In view of this I endeavor to explain that the verdict in regard to his exile is wholly superfluous and will only cause a deal of trouble; and that at the termination of the sentence of imprisonment of Siedov the commune will unfailingly be asked whether it wants him back or prefers that he be exiled. Then, I said, in any event it would be necessary to formulate a verdict in regard to the “non-reception” of Siedov, while at this stage all the trouble was premature and could lead to nothing. But the meeting did not believe my words, did not trust the court and wanted to settle the matter right then and there; the general hatred of horse-thieves was too keen....
The decisive moment has arrived; the head-man “drives” all the judges-elect to one side; the crowd stands with a gloomy air, trying not to look at Siedov and his wife, who are crawling before the mir on their knees. “Old men, whoever pities Gregori, will remain in his place, and whoever does not forgive him will step to the right,” cries the head man. The crowd wavered and rocked, but remained dead still on the spot; no one dared to be the first to take the fatal step. Gregori feverishly ran over the faces of his judges with his eyes, trying to read in these faces pity for him. His wife wept bitterly, her face close to the ground; beside her, finger in mouth and on the point of screaming, stood a three-year-old youngster (at home Gregori had four more children).... But straightway one peasant steps out of the crowd; two years before some one had stolen a horse from him. “Why should we pity him? Did he pity us?” says the old man, and stooping goes over to the right 48side. “That is true; bad grass must be torn from the field,” says another one from the crowd, and follows the old man. The beginning had been made; at first individually and then in whole groups the judges-elect proceeded to go over to the right. The man condemned by public opinion ran his head into the ground, beat his breast with his fists, seized those who passed him by their coat-tails, crying: “Ivan Timofeich! Uncle Leksander! Vasinka, dear kinsman! Wait, kinsmen, let me say a word.... Petrushenka.” But, without stopping and with stern faces, the members of the mir dodged the unfortunates, who were crawling at their feet.... At last the wailing of Gregori stopped; around him for the space of three sazen the place was empty; there was no one to implore. All the judges-elect, with the exception of one, an uncle of the man to be exiled, had gone over to the right. The woman cried sorrowfully, while Gregori stood motionless on his knees, his head lowered, stupidly looking at the ground.[30]
The essential point in reaching a communal decision, just as in the case of our jury system, is unanimity. In some cases the whole community mobilizes around a stubborn individual to conform him to the general wish.
28. It sometimes happens that all except one may agree but the motion is never carried if that one refuses to agree to it. In such cases all endeavor to talk over and persuade the stiff-necked one. Often they even call to their aid his wife, his children, his relatives, his father-in-law, and his mother, that they may prevail upon him to say yes. Then all assail him, and say to him from time to time: “Come now, God help you, agree with us too, that this may take place as we wish it, that the house may not be cast into disorder, that we may not be talked about by the people, that the neighbors may not hear of it, that the world may not 49make sport of us!” It seldom occurs in such cases that unanimity is not attained.[31]
A less formal but not less powerful means of defining the situation employed by the community is gossip. The Polish peasant’s statement that a community reaches as far as a man is talked about was significant, for the community regulates the behavior of its members largely by talking about them. Gossip has a bad name because it is sometimes malicious and false and designed to improve the status of the gossiper and degrade its object, but gossip is in the main true and is an organizing force. It is a mode of defining the situation in a given case and of attaching praise or blame. It is one of the means by which the status of the individual and of his family is fixed.
The community also, particularly in connection with gossip, knows how to attach opprobrium to persons and actions by using epithets which are at the same time brief and emotional definitions of the situation. “Bastard”, “whore”, “traitor”, “coward”, “skunk”, “scab”, “snob”, “kike”, etc., are such epithets. In “Faust” the community said of Margaret, “She stinks.” The people are here employing a device known in psychology as the “conditioned reflex.” If, for example, you place before a child (say six months old) an agreeable object, a kitten, and at the same time pinch the child, and if this is repeated several times, the child will immediately cry at the sight of the kitten without being pinched; or if a dead rat were always served beside a man’s plate of soup he would eventually have a disgust for soup when served separately. If the word “stinks” is associated on people’s 50tongues with Margaret, Margaret will never again smell sweet. Many evil consequences, as the psychoanalysts claim, have resulted from making the whole of sex life a “dirty” subject, but the device has worked in a powerful, sometimes a paralyzing way on the sexual behavior of women.
Winks, shrugs, nudges, laughter, sneers, haughtiness, coldness, “giving the once over” are also language defining the situation and painfully felt as unfavorable recognition. The sneer, for example, is incipient vomiting, meaning, “you make me sick.”
And eventually the violation of the code even in an act of no intrinsic importance, as in carrying food to the mouth with the knife, provokes condemnation and disgust. The fork is not a better instrument for conveying food than the knife, at least it has no moral superiority, but the situation has been defined in favor of the fork. To smack with the lips in eating is bad manners with us, but the Indian has more logically defined the situation in the opposite way; with him smacking is a compliment to the host.
In this whole connection fear is used by the group to produce the desired attitudes in its member. Praise is used also but more sparingly. And the whole body of habits and emotions is so much a community and family product that disapproval or separation is almost unbearable. The following case shows the painful situation of one who has lost her place in a family and community.
29. I am a young woman of about twenty; I was born in America but my parents come from Hungary. They are very religious.... When I was fourteen I became acquainted in school with a gentile boy of German parents. He was a very fine and decent boy. I liked his company 51... and we became close friends. Our friendship continued over a period of several years, unknown to my parents. I did not want to tell them, knowing quite well that they would not allow my friendship to a gentile.
When we grew older, our friendship developed into ardent love and one year ago we decided to marry—without my parents’ consent, of course. I surmised that after my wedding they would forgive my marrying a non-Jewish young man, but just the opposite turned out. My religious parents were full of scorn when they learned of my secret doings, and not only did they not forgive me but they chased me out of the house and refused to have anything to do with me.
To add to my misfortune, I am now being spurned by my friend, my lover, my everything—my husband. After our marriage he became a different man; he drank and gambled and called me the vilest names. He continually asked why he married a “damned Jewess”, as if it were my fault alone. Before our marriage I was the best girl in the world for him and now he would drown me in a spoonful of water to get rid of me. Fortunately I have no child as yet.
My husband’s parents hate me even more than my husband and just as I was turned out of the house for marrying a gentile, so he was shown the door by his parents for marrying a Jewess.
Well, a few months ago my husband deserted me and I have no idea of his whereabouts. I was confronted by a terrible situation. Spurned by my own relatives and by my husband’s, I feel very lonely, not having some one to tell my troubles to.
Now, I want you to advise me how to find my husband. I do not want to live with him by compulsion, nor do I ask his support, for I earn my living working in a shop. I merely ask his aid in somehow obtaining a divorce, so that I may return to my people, to my God and to my parents. I cannot stand the loneliness and do not want to be hated, denounced and spurned by all. My loneliness will drive me to a premature grave.
52Perhaps you can tell me how to get rid of my misfortune. Believe me, I am not to blame for what I have done—it was my ignorance. I never believed that it was such a terrible crime to marry a non-Jew and that my parents would under no circumstances forgive me. I am willing to do anything, to make the greatest sacrifice, if only the terrible ban be taken off me.[32]
In the following the writer is not the father of the girl who has just told her story, but he might well be. His statement shows the power of family and community customs in determining emotional attitudes.
30. [My daughter has married an Italian who is a very good man].... My tragedy is much greater because I am a free thinker. Theoretically, I consider a “goi” [gentile] just as much a man as a Jew.... Indeed I ask myself these questions: “What would happen if my daughter married a Jewish fellow who was a good-for-nothing?... And what do I care if he is an Italian? But I can not seem to answer these delicate questions. The fact is that I would prefer a refined man; but I would sooner have a common Jew than an educated goi. Why this is so, I do not know, but that is how it is, of that there is no doubt. And this shows what a terrible chasm exists between theory and practice!...”[33]
The tendency of communities and families to regulate so minutely the behavior of all their members was justified by the fact that in case of poverty, sickness, death, desertion, or ruin the community or family assumed the burden, “submitted to the yoke”, as they expressed it. In case No. 31 the former members of a community still support an abandoned child though they are in America and the child in Europe.
5331. In the year 1912 in a little [Russian] village a father abandoned his family, a wife and three children. Of the children two were girls and the third was a boy six months old. The mother worried along with the children and finally in despair she changed her religion and married a Christian from a neighboring village. The children she simply abandoned.
Of course the community of the village where this happened took care of the three abandoned children. They gave them out to families to be reared, and the village paid for them by the month. My mother was by no means a rich woman and felt the need of money, so she took the boy, for which the community paid.
For some years everything went well, until the great World War broke out. The village in question was impoverished by the war and was plundered by various bands of pogromists. Great numbers of Jews were killed and the community was destroyed.
My mother no longer received the monthly payment for the child; there was no one to make the payment. But my mother did not have the heart to throw the poor child into the street. They had become attached to each other, the child to my mother whom he called “mamma” and my mother to the child. So my mother kept the child without pay. That is, she and the child hungered and suffered together. Now, dear editor, I come to the point.
The family of the writer of these lines was scattered. My father died at home. I and two sisters are now in America. My mother and the child are still in the old home. Of course we send our mother money for her support and this means that we support not only our mother but also the child of strangers. But it has never occurred to us here in America to reproach our mother because we are compelled to send money for a strange child.
On the contrary, we understand that it is our duty not to behave like murderers toward the innocent, helpless victim 54of the present social conditions whom fate has thrown upon us. But the following is also true:
We have heard that the child’s father is in America, somewhere around New York, and that he is very rich. So we think that it is no more than right that the father of the child shall take the yoke from us who are strangers and support his own child. I will say that I and my two sisters are simple working people. Every cent that we earn is worked for with our ten fingers. Therefore, I appeal to the father of our mother’s ward to take over the responsibility for his child, which is without doubt his duty.[34]
As far as possible the family regulates its affairs within itself without appealing to the community and thus subjecting itself to gossip. Situations arising within the family where members are not in agreement, where a conflict of wishes is involved, are defined through argument, ordering and forbidding, remonstrance, reproof, entreaty, sulking, tears, and beatings. But as a last resort a member of a family may provoke gossip, appeal to the community. In case No. 32 the woman defines the situation to her deserting husband publicly. She does it very tactfully. She uses every art, reminder, and appreciation to influence his return. She wishes to avoid a public scandal, reminds him of the noble professions he has always made as man and father, pictures the children as grieving and herself as ashamed to let them know, and believes that he is fundamentally a fine man who has had a moment of weakness or suffered a temporary madness—so she says. In addition the powerful newspaper through which she seeks publicity will define the situation to the erring husband. Presumably he will return.
5532. I come to you with the request that you will write a few words to my husband. He has a high opinion of the answers that you give in Bintel Brief and I hope that some words from you will have a good effect on him so that we shall be able to avoid a public scandal. In the meantime I am containing my troubles but if matters get worse I shall have to turn to people for help. I will say that my husband and I always lived a good life together. He always condemned in the strongest terms those fathers who leave their children to God’s mercy. “Children,” he said, “are innocent and we must take care not to make them unhappy”—that was the way he always talked. And now he has himself done what he always condemned and regarded as the greatest meanness.
The last night before he went away my husband kissed our youngest daughter so much that she is now sick from longing for him. The older girl is continually asking, “When will father come?” I am frightfully upset by the unexpected misfortun............
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