( Originally Published 1920 )
Ever since man appeared on the earth he has felt the necessity of scapegoats. Frazer's monumental work "The Golden Bough" reveals thousands of obvious or subtle attempts on the part of mankind to saddle the responsibility for individual or group shortcomings on some unwilling or willing sacrificial victim, beast, man or god.
The Greek drama blamed fate, the Middle Ages the devil; one civilization sacrificed a goat whose death wiped off the sins of men; in another civilization, Jesus died to save mankind.
In our days, we no longer accuse the devil of causing our failures. "Popular science" spread thinly by Sunday newspapers and club lectures, supplies the masses with new impressive scapegoats.
"Racial traits," "inbreeding," "heredity," "environment," have been in a most hypocritical way substituted for the goat of old.
The pagan who sinned and, afraid of the impending reckoning, killed a goat in order to mollify some heavenly policeman, did not deny his guilt. The modern "sinner" who seeks excuses for his brutality or his lewdness in his heredity or his environment, is guilty of a much more complete flight from reality.
The pagan admitted that sinning was pleasant but could not be indulged in unless there was one more goat to be offered to the gods. The modern sinner is consciously in fear of sin, but unconsciously preparing his escape by heaping up guilt upon vague biological processes which he does not understand.
The pagan said: "I did not repress certain cravings and I am willing to pay the price." The modern sinner on the other hand says: "I could not repress certain cravings, because my ancestry, my bringing up or my environment have made it impossible for me to suppress such cravings."
If the modern sinner has a conscience, such a disclaimer of guilt may he perfectly honest and straightforward and constitute for the person making it a great danger.
The hypocrite who exploits heredity and other scapegoats as a convenient explanation for the gratification of his own cravings is probably safe. The ethically-minded person who believes that his heredity or some other biological factor has un-fitted him to repress unsocial, inadmissible cravings may undergo very torturing "soul struggles" and be defeated in life's battle.
Physical heredity cannot be denied and Mendel's experiments prove that it is ruled by absolute mathematical laws. Not only do we observe in nature that certain characteristics of the parents are reproduced in an invariable proportion of the off-spring, but we can, before crossing certain animal or vegetable species, predict accurately how many of the offspring will present certain characters and how many will not present such characters.
This is as far as heredity goes.. The transmission of mental characteristics is probably due to what Freud calls pseudo-heredity, that is to the influence wielded on the child by its environment, that environment consisting chiefly of the parents for the first years of the child's life.
Biologists generally agree that while inherited characters or congenital characters cannot be modified, acquired characters can be caused to disappear in later life.
Those who consider themselves as "burdened with a bad heredity" should ponder that fact.
They should remember that even a weak or defective organ, stomach or lungs, may be, not inherited from the parents, but acquired under the same unfavourable circumstances which caused that inferiority to establish itself in their parents' organism.
A changed environment, proper exercise and plenty of food have been known, together with imi tation of the proper model, to modify entirely the physical appearance of various races.
I have mentioned elsewhere that the so-called hereditary instincts can be absolutely "removed" by the influence of the environment.
When a messenger pigeon refuses to mate with its kind if hatched by a ring dove and then will only mate with ring doves, we must come to the conclusion that training is stronger than instinct.
When we observe that a change in temperature either shortens or prolongs the average life of a certain species or creates a different species, we must also conclude that environment is stronger than heredity.
Eggs from the same butterfly or puppae of the same species will give entirely different species at different temperatures.
The number of "hereditary characters" is de-creasing year after year as scientists become more thorough in their observations and include in their statistics a growing number of factors.
It was admitted for centuries that some inherited instinct caused fishes to rise to the surface of the waters at night and to go down to the bottom at dawn.
We know now that heredity has nothing to do with that phenomenon.
The presence of carbonic acid in water causes all aquatic animals to direct themselves toward the source of light. At night the waters of pools and rivers become charged with carbonic acid as the green aquatic plants cannot absorb that gas in the dark. Fishes and other organisms are affected by that excess of carbonic acid and are compelled to rise to the surface where the light, however feeble, is stronger than at the bottom.
In the morning, the supply of acid decreases rapidly and all the organisms regain their freedom and can seek safety in the deeper strata of the water.
By liberating large quantities of carbonic acid in the water during the day, one can compel all the aquatic organisms to rise to the surface, and by directing at night a strong light on the waters, which facilitates the absorption of carbonic acid by green plants, one can, on the contrary, cause the fishes to remain at the bottom.
It is not improbable that in a few years, many obscure facts attributed to heredity or to instincts will be traced to physical or chemical phenomena which can be PRODUCED or REMOVED at will.
A French scientist, Pouchet, has noticed that certain fishes reproduce the colour or pattern of the aquarium in which they are kept PROVIDED THEY CAN SEE IT. Blind fishes of the same species, kept in the same aquarium, retain the whitish or greyish colour they had when they first came out of the egg. The so-called protective colouring of certain animals, the seasonal changes observed in the plumage of the ptarmigan, may not be more than mere unconscious imitation of the environment, devoid of any purpose. A very illuminating case of what we might call metachemistry.
Insanity, feeble-mindedness or criminality are not inherited characters. They are often acquired through either imitation or suggestion or both.
The insane and the criminal solve their problems by following the line of least resistance and least effort. The children they bring up are likely, unless some healthier influence is exerted on them, to solve their problems in the same way, the only way which observation has made thoroughly familiar to them.
Auto-suggestion and involuntary suggestion by others play a powerful part in the acquisition of criminal or neurotic traits. In a crisis, the individual weakened by his superstitious belief in heredity, may either commit a crime or merge into a neurosis because his father, mother or grandfather established such a precedent.
That precedent may not be more than a legend perpetuated by inaccurate, stupid or gossipy relatives.
A man guilty of some act of brutality is easily catalogued in family archives as a man of criminal instincts. A man of rather morose disposition very often has his trouble diagnosed by amateur psychiatrists in his family circle as melancholia.
A romantic legend may form after his death around his actual biography and invest some detail of behaviour, which on one occasion impressed the beholders, with the dignity of a life-long habit or of a serious mental disturbance.
The stupid parent who vents his anger on his offspring by making remarks such as "You are as crazy as your father (mother, uncle, aunt)," "You will end in jail as your uncle did," may start a train of suggestive thought which is highly dangerous.
I have known personally three brothers who were brought up by an exceptionally idiotic mother and who on several occasions had themselves committed to an insane asylum when they lost their money or their jobs. None of them succeeded in remaining "insane" for any length of time, although all of them repeated constantly that they were "going crazy like their father." Inquiry showed that their father, who died when they were very young, had several fits of blues coinciding with slumps in the family's finances but never showed at any time any "insane" traits.
Men and women have been known to reproduce in their behaviour certain habits bad or good of their grandparents. Investigation showed in many of them, and would probably have shown in every one of them, that they were obsessed by the old belief that genius or vice, etc., "skips a generation."
"Racial psychology," a limited form of "mental" heredity, is, like heredity proper, a weapon directed against our enemies and a scapegoat for our own sins. To the honest psychologist, so-called racial traits amount merely to different sets of bad manners tolerated or encouraged in one community, discouraged and held shameful in other communities owing to reasons of temperature, climate, food supply, etc.
The unconscious makeup of all races, however, is the same the world over as a careful analysis of all folk traditions, legends, religions, superstitions, ritual, neurotic psychology, etc., proves abundantly. It is as silly to expect a certain form of behaviour from one individual because he is a Jew or an Irishman as it would be for a Jew or an Irishman to excuse a certain form of behaviour of his on the plea that his antecedents determined certain psychological processes.
Inbreeding is another cause for worry which neurotics are likely to seize upon as a conscious screen for their unconscious strivings to escape reality.
There is absolutely no evidence of a scientific nature that the marriage of blood relations is productive of insanity or feeble-mindedness in the offspring.
But there are good reasons to suspect that feeble-mindedness leads to unions between blood relations and in many cases to incestuous unions. Parent fixation being stronger in neurotics than in normal individuals, the family complex is bound to attract related neurotics to each other. The result is that the children whom they procreate may be born normal but are brought up by their neurotic parents to adopt neurotic forms of action and thought.
Goddard, who has made exhaustive studies of feeble-mindedness, has reached the conclusion that the feeble-minded are constantly thrown together, congregate in certain places and intermarry more than normal individuals.
That each neurotic family trains its children to one peculiar form of abnormal behaviour is well illustrated by the history of the sinister Juke family propagated by incestuous descendance: all the descendants of Ada were criminals, the descendants of Belle, exhibitionists or rapists, the descendants of Effie, beggars.
As against the tragic results of inbreeding among the inferior, we may remind the reader of the remarkable results of inbreeding among individuals of superior stock.
In Athens and her suburban communities between 530 and 430 B. C., that is during the heyday of Hellenic brilliancy, there was a small population from which came about fifteen of the most remarkable geniuses the world has ever known.
Inbreeding was the custom, marriage with half-sisters being lawful, and unions with aliens being discouraged.
The decline of the Hellenic civilization was not brought about by any racial decay but by the overwhelming pressure of primitive races of a more savage type invading a highly cultured region much as the desert sand gradually invaded the centres of culture of Mesopotamia and North Africa.
Some of the most wonderful specimens of agricultural products or animal breeds have been obtained through continual inbreeding. It is not therefore inbreeding which influences the mental quality, nor even the fact that one of the parents or both are neurotically inclined, but the fact that children are trained in a neurotic way.
Re-education, however, mental or physical, is fortunately a possibility which should never be overlooked.
We are born with general physical tendencies, that is, we reproduce closely the general type of the human variety to which we belong. We receive the bony, muscular and nervous structure of what will, according to the pains we' take, become a statue or a scarecrow.
Imitation is mostly unconscious and a negative way of dealing with problems. Our parents are the first models presented to us by nature while we are casting about for some one to imitate. But they need not remain the only models from which we shall shape our statue.
Our parents may have fleshless limbs and poor lungs. But we can go to a gynasium, run around the track, lift weights, breathe fresh air, at least all night long, regulate our diet scientifically, walk to and from work.
Our parents may be abnormal mentally, but libraries, lecture halls and meeting places will bring us into contact with active men and women who are normal and whom we can imitate, dispelling thereby the mental ghosts who thrive in the home atmosphere.
Animals are creatures of their environment and according to whether that environment is favourable or unfavourable, they die out or survive. Man is the creator of his environment and can change his surroundings at will.
Most of our heredity is a pseudo-heredity which, being simply the shaping influence of our environment, can be defeated as soon as we realize that it is not working for our welfare.
One question every one of us must ask himself frequently is: "Am; I myself, or am I imitating, some one and if I am imitating some one, am I following the line of least resistance?"
Another question is: "Do I believe in a certain thing or have I accepted this belief at some one's suggestion, and if so, what necessary task am I trying to shirk?"
One of Kempf's patients let her parents bring her up as a perfectly irresponsible woman and later, when that irresponsibility made her married life very unpleasant, instead of re-educating herself and solving her problems in a positive, constructive way, she accepted her relatives' dictum, that "she was crazy," and became "crazy."
Kempf re-educated her; after becoming herself, she threw off the yoke of suggestion imposed upon her by silly relatives.
The day when the combined power of imitation and suggestion is realized, the knowledge of our abnormal ascendance will not trouble us. Instead of discouraging us and of causing us to say neurotically: "What can I do against such odds?" we shall study carefully the ways in which our progenitors or parents deviated from the normal standard and consciously train ourselves to avoid their physical and mental errors.
Heredity shall cease to be a menace and shall become in certain cases a warning and a guide.
When insight has delivered us from the absurd belief in fate, in the devil or some other overpowering metaphysical force which shall crush us and compel us to do what unconsciously we are craving to do, we shall be better off for an accurate knowledge of our so-called hereditary handicaps. We shall not allow ourselves to use them neurotically as scapegoats.