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Individuality

( Originally Published 1957 )



A student of marriage, commenting on the rarity of divorce in ancient China as compared with modern Europe, writes: "There are several reasons for this, the main one being the great similarities of personalities, which do not express them-selves according to individual taste, but according to strict social rules. Consequently it does not make much difference to a man which woman he marries, for they are all more or less alike."

"Sexual choice" tends to become meaningless, of course, with the reduction of individuality. A society may develop and en-courage the free expression of individualities, or it may sup-press them. It is doubtful, however, that individuality becomes a major factor in attraction unless it is appreciated and socially cultivated. It has often been noted that strong amorous attachments tend to be linked with the higher degrees of civilization. To parallel this is the finding that "Modern civilized societies notably differ from primitive man's in their attitude toward the individual. . . . Earlier periods and primitive communities never ignored individuality, but they subordinated it to social status." The modern American emphasis on the development of "personality" may be related to the fact that it is among ourselves that the amorous experience has arisen to its most vital role in mating behavior.

Emil Lucka emphasized the importance of individuality the meaning of personality in his history of the emotional relationship between man and woman. A new perception of this human quality in Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries had as one of its greatest products, he suggests, the "spiritual" love of woman. He marks the relative impersonality of Chinese and Japanese society, as shown in the heroic (to us) self-giving of the Japanese soldier in war; "with the sacrifice of his individual life in the interest of the community, the Japanese instinctively yields the smaller value." (24) It is further seen, he believes, in the reported absence of shame with which Japanese women expose their bodies. The feeling of shame, being associated with the revelation of something "individual and intimate," cannot exist where there is little or no consciousness of personal separateness. Since love, as we know it, is founded on this realization of personality, "it is impossible for the modem East-Asiatic to know love in our sense."

Margaret Mead, in her study of the Samoans, has given a rich picture of a society in which the small importance of personality differences may be related to the character of the sex-emotional life. Here several circumstances in the experience of the growing child tend to keep awareness and appreciation of personality at a low level. The patterns of family life are such as to train him to think along lines of social division, group membership, and tabooed relationships, rather than of individual personalities. "By the time she reaches puberty the Samoan girl has learned to subordinate choice in the selection of friends and lovers to an observance of certain categories." With the lesser awareness of personality differences goes a lack of personalized feelings and attachments. The child learns early the lesson of not caring greatly, an attitude of shallowness and casualness in all personal relationships. This tends to be true of friendships as well as of sex relationships, but particularly of the latter. Here promiscuity, the short duration of sexual episodes, and the avoidance of emotional ties combine to make sexual experience "something which is valued in itself, and deprecated inasmuch as it tends to bind one individual to another."

Mead doubts that the meagerness of personalized relation-ship among the Samoans is altogether traceable to promiscuity in sexual behavior, and regards it as also a consequence of the general and cultivated indifference to personal individuality. In any case, sexual attraction, in this society, differs markedly from that in our own. The American family fosters, in a number of ways, an increasing awareness of the individual, and the child learns early to discriminate in his contacts with people. "Preference in physical make-up, in temperament, in character, develops and forms the foundations for a very different adult attitude in which choice plays a vivid role."

Romantic love as an exclusive and jealously possessive fixation is absent in Samoa, according to Mead. It is of interest to note, however, the occurrence of occasional "misfits" whose emotional responsiveness exceeded the limits of what the culture could provide, and who were, in consequence, frustrated and socially maladjusted. There were cases of "passionate jealousy," and there were girls "with a capacity for emotion greater than their fellows."

If, as Professor Burgess says, the romantic sentiment "tends to consider the person, not the type, and personal traits, as beauty, charm, individuality. . ." (8) then primitive behavior more familiar to moderns would be that of those natives of Melanesia among whom Malinowski found evidence of "pronounced appreciation of the personality loved," along with preferences of considerable power. Some degree of conscious appreciation of sex-aesthetic individuality is indicated in the highly detailed variety of traits affecting choice among these people to whom sexual emotion as we know it seems not altogether alien.

The general attitude toward individual differences thus provides an example of another of the factors that affect the growth of amorous emotion. It may also be seen as giving further meaning to the statement by Briffault that in "uncultured societies above the lowest levels personal preference and an emotional state analogous to what we term `falling in love' do occasionally exist among the young people . . . but these sentiments, owing to the unfavorable conditions for their development, seem to have no depth and no stability."



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