When the BBC decided to make a television program based on this book, the filming brought me face-to-face with the ultimate expressions of the urban dilemma. In the slums of Bombay—the largest slums in the world—I saw how human territories could be condensed to a degree that makes even old-fashioned zoo cages seem spacious. In Tokyo this miniaturization is taken to the limit in the amazing capsule hotels, where visitors are cocooned in tiny cells that look like air-conditioned coffins with cable TV.
Under normal conditions, in their natural habitats, wild animals do not mutilate themselves, masturbate, attack their offspring, develop stomach ulcers, become fetishists, suffer from obesity, form homosexual pair-bonds, or commit murder. Among human city-dwellers, needless to say, all of these things occur. Does this, then, reveal a basic difference between the human species and other animals? At first glance it seems to do so. But this is deceptive. Other animals do behave in these ways under certain circumstances, namely when they are confined in the unnatural conditions of captivity. The zoo animal in a cage exhibits all these abnormalities that we know so well from our human companions. Clearly, then, the city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo.
Imagine a piece of land twenty miles long and twenty miles wide. Picture it wild, inhabited by animals small and large. Now visualize a compact group of sixty human beings camping in the middle of this territory. Try to see yourself sitting there, as a member of this tiny tribe, with the landscape, your landscape, spreading out around you farther than you can see. No one apart from your tribe uses this vast space. It is your exclusive home-range, your tribal hunting ground. Every so often the men in your group set off in pursuit of prey. The women gather fruits and berries. The children play noisily around the camp site, imitating the hunting techniques of their fathers. If the tribe is successful and swells in size, a splinter group will set off to colonize a new territory. Little by little the species will spread.
Imagine a piece of land twenty miles long and twenty miles wide. Picture it civilized, inhabited by machines and buildings. Now visualize a compact group of six million human beings camping in the middle of this territory. See yourself sitting there, with the complexity of the huge city spreading out all around you, farther than you can see.
So much has happened in the past few thousand years, the urban years, the crowded years of civilized man, that we find it hard to grasp the idea that this is no more than a minute part of the human story.
The breakthrough was to come at the point where Africa, Asia and Europe meet. There, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, there was a small change in human feeding behaviour that was to alter the whole course of man’s progress. It was trivial enough and simple enough in itself, but its impact was to be enormous. Today we take it for granted: we call it farming.
The oldest known town arose at Jericho more than 8,000 years ago, but the first fully urban civilization developed farther east, across the Syrian desert in Sumer. There, between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the first empire was born, and the ‘pre’ was taken out of prehistory with the invention of writing. Inter-city co-ordination developed, leaders became administrators, professions became established, metalwork and transport advanced, beasts of burden (as distinct from food animals) were domesticated and monumental architecture arose.
It is only a partial truth to say that power corrupts. Extreme subjugation can corrupt equally effectively. When the bio-social pendulum swings away from active cooperation towards tyranny, the whole society becomes corrupt. It may make great material strides. It may shift 4,883,000 tons of stone to build a pyramid; but with its deformed social structure its days are numbered.
It has often been said that ‘the law forbids men to do only what their instincts incline them to do’. It follows from this that if there are laws against theft, murder and rape, then the human animal must, by nature, be a thieving, murderous rapist. Is this really a fair description of man as a social biological species? Somehow, it does not fit the zoological picture of the emerging tribal species. Sadly, however, it does fit the super-tribal picture.
Diversity, the differentiation of one culture from another, has, of course, been the very function of these patterns of behaviour. But in marvelling at their variety, one must not overlook their fundamental similarities. The customs and costumes may be strikingly different in detail from culture to culture, but they have the same basic function and the same basic forms. If you start by making a list of all the social customs of one particular culture, you will find equivalents to nearly all of them in nearly all other cultures. Only the details will differ, and they will differ so wildly that they will sometimes obscure the fact that you are dealing with the same basic social patterns.
We tend to think of language exclusively as a communication device, but it is more than that. If it were not, we should all be speaking with the same tongue. Looking back through super-tribal history, it is easy to see how the anti-communication function of language has been almost as important as its communication function. More than any social custom, it has set up enormous inter-group barriers. More than anything else, it has identified an individual as a member of a particular super-tribe, and put obstacles in the way of his defecting to another group.
To put it cynically, one could say that nothing helps a leader like a good war. It gives him his only chance of being a tyrant and being loved for it at the same time. He can introduce the most ruthless forms of control and send thousands of his followers to their deaths and still be hailed as a great protector. Nothing ties tighter the in-group bonds than an out-group threat.
The dream of a peaceful, global super-tribe is repeatedly being shattered. It seems as if only an alien threat from another planet would provide the necessary cohesive force, and then only temporarily.
We are not equipped, like termites, to become willing members of a vast community. We are and probably always will be, at base, simple tribal animals.
Individuals living in a large urban complex suffer from a variety of stresses and strains: noise, polluted air, lack of exercise, cramping of space, overcrowding, over-stimulation and, paradoxically, for some, isolation and boredom.
You may think that the price the super-tribesman is paying is too high; that a quiet, peaceful, contemplative life would be far preferable. He thinks so, too, of course, but like that physical exercise he is always going to take, he seldom does anything about it. Moving to the suburbs is about as far as he goes. There he can create a pseudo-tribal atmosphere away from the strains of the big city, but come Monday morning and he is dashing back into the fray again. He could move away, but he would miss the excitement, the excitement of the neo-hunter, setting off to capture the biggest game in the biggest and best hunting grounds his environment has to offer.
In any organized group of mammals, no matter how cooperative, there is always a struggle for social dominance. As he pursues this struggle, each adult individual acquires a particular social rank, giving him his position, or status, in the group hierarchy. The situation never remains stable for very long, largely because all the status strugglers are growing older. When the overlords, or ‘top dogs’, become senile, their seniority is challenged and they are overthrown by their immediate subordinates. There is then renewed dominance squabbling as everyone moves a little farther up the social ladder.
10 Golden Rules
If you are to rule your group and to be successful in holding your position of power, there are ten golden rules you must obey. They apply to all leaders, from baboons to modern presidents and prime ministers.
1. You must clearly display the trappings, postures and gestures of dominance.
2. In moments of active rivalry you must threaten your subordinates aggressively.
The act of raising his voice, or raging, is only a weak sign in a leader when it occurs as a reaction to an immediate threat. It may also be used spontaneously or deliberately by a strong ruler as a general device for reaffirming his position. A dominant baboon may behave in the same way, suddenly charging at his subordinates and terrorizing them, reminding them of his powers. It enables him to chalk up a few points, and after that he can more easily get his own way with the merest nod of his head. Human leaders perform in this manner from time to time, issuing stem edicts, making lightning inspections, or haranguing the group with vigorous speeches. If you are a leader, it is dangerous to remain silent, unseen or unfelt for too long. If natural circumstances do not prompt a show of power, the circumstances must be invented that do. It is not enough to have power, one must be observed to have power. Therein lies the value of spontaneous threat displays.
3. In moments of physical challenge you (or your delegates) must be able forcibly to overpower your subordinates.
4. If a challenge involves brain rather than brawn you must be able to outwit your subordinates.
Many a powerful leader has survived occasional wrong decisions, made with style and forcefulness, but few have survived hesitant indecisiveness. The golden rule of leadership here, which in a rational age is an unpleasant one to accept, is that it is the manner in which you do something that really counts, rather than what you do. It is a sad truth that a leader who does the wrong things in the right way will, up to a certain point, gain greater allegiance and enjoy more success than one who does the right things in the wrong way. The progress of civilization has repeatedly suffered as a result of this.
5. You must suppress squabbles that break out between your subordinates.
6. You must reward your immediate subordinates by permitting them to enjoy the benefits of their high ranks.
The trouble is that a true leader cannot enjoy true friendship. True friendship can only be fully expressed between members of roughly the same status level. A partial friendship can, of course, occur between a dominant and a subordinate, at any level, but it is always marred by the difference in rank. No matter how well meaning the partners in such a friendship may be, condescension and flattery inevitably creep in to cloud the relationship.
7. You must protect the weaker members of the group from undue persecution.
8. You must make decisions concerning the social activities of your group.
9. You must reassure your extreme subordinates from time to time.
Human leaders, who may be characteristically tough and unsmiling with their immediate subordinates, frequently adopt an attitude of friendly submissiveness when coming into personal contact with their extreme subordinates. Towards them they offer a front of exaggerated courtesy, smiling, waving, shaking hands interminably and even fondling babies.
10. You must take the initiative in repelling threats or attacks arising from outside your group.
A competitive profession or craft automatically provides it own social hierarchy. But even there the odds against achieving true leadership may be too great. This gives rise to the almost arbitrary invention of new sub-groups where competition may prove more rewarding. All kinds of extraordinary cults are set up — everything from canary-breeding and train-spotting to ufo-watching and body-building. In each case the overt nature of the activity is comparatively unimportant. What is really important is that the pursuit provides a new social hierarchy where one did not exist before. Inside it a whole range of rules and procedures is rapidly developed, committees are formed and—most important of all—leaders emerge. A champion canary-breeder or body-builder would, in all probability, have no chance whatsoever of enjoying the heady fruits of dominance, were it not for his involvement in his specialized sub-group.
The piling of old-adult honours on the heads of young-adult leaders, or the tolerant acceptance of the extremes of young-adult fashions and styles, has only led to further rebellious excesses. (If cannabis smoking is ever legalized and widely adopted, for example, an immediate replacement will be required, just as alcohol had to be replaced by cannabis itself.)
Dominance mimicry has, in fact, become a major preoccupation of the super-tribal status-seekers, and it is important to examine it more closely. First, it is essential to make a clear distinction between a status symbol and a dominance mimic. A status symbol is an outward sign of the true level of social dominance you have attained. A dominance mimic is an outward sign of the level of dominance you would like to attain, but have not yet reached. In terms of material objects, a status symbol is something you can afford; a dominance mimic is something you cannot quite afford, but buy all the same. Dominance mimics therefore frequently involve making major sacrifices in other directions, whereas true status symbols do not.
High-status wife wears a diamond necklace. Low-status wife wears a bead necklace. Both necklaces are well made; the beads are inexpensive, but they are gay and attractive and make no pretence to be anything other than what they are. Unfortunately, they have low status value, and the low-status wife wants something more. There is no law or social edict preventing her from wearing a diamond necklace. By working hard, saving every penny, and eventually spending more than she can afford, she may be able to acquire a necklace of small but real diamonds. If she takes this step, adorning her neck with a dominance mimic, she starts to become a threat to the high-status wife. The difference in their status displays becomes blurred. High-status husband therefore puts on the market necklaces of large, fake diamonds. They are inexpensive and superficially so attractive that the low-status wife abandons her struggle for real diamonds and settles for the fake ones instead. The trap is sprung. True dominance mimicry has been averted.
On the surface this is not apparent. The low-status wife, sporting her flashy fake necklace, seems to be mimicking her dominant rival, but this is an illusion. The point is that the fake necklace is too good to be true, when judged against her general way of life. It fools no one, and therefore fails to act as an aid in raising her status.
For the really serious status-climber, however, there is no rebellion. Nor, for him, do the cheap fakes provide a satisfactory answer. He sees them for what they are, a clever side-track, a mere fantasy version of true dominance mimicry. For him, the dominance mimics must be genuine articles, and he must always go one step further than he can afford, when purchasing them, in order to give the impression that he is slightly more socially dominant than he in fact is. Only then does he stand a chance of getting away with it.
The history of deliberate cruelty to other species has taken a strange course. The early hunter had a kinship with animals. He respected them. So, rather naturally, did the early farming peoples. But the moment that urban populations began to develop, large groups of human beings became cut off from direct contact with animals, and the respect was lost. As civilizations grew, so did man’s arrogance. He shut his eyes to the fact that he was just as much an animal as any other species. A great gulf appeared: now only he had a soul and other animals did not.
Trivial actions such as smoking a cigarette, chewing gum, or taking a drink, help to pacify the anxious. Tranquillizing Sex operates in the same way. The soldier at war, waiting for battle, or the business executive in the middle of a crisis, may seek momentary peace in the arms of a responsive female. The personal, emotional involvement can be at a minimum, the actions stereotyped. In a way, the more automatic it is the better, because his brain is already overinvolved and seeks only simplicity.
The woman (or man) who marries for money is, of course, functioning as a prostitute. The only difference is that whereas she, or he, receives indirect payment, the ordinary prostitute has to operate on a pay-as-you-lay basis. But whether the system is organized on long-term or short-term contracts, the function of the sexual behaviour involved is fundamentally the same.
Although a full expression of sexuality involves the active participation of both sexes, it is nevertheless true to say that, for the mammalian female, the sexual role is essentially a submissive one, and for the male it is essentially an aggressive one. (It is no accident of legal jargon that when a man sexually ‘fondles’ an unwilling female, his action is referred to as an indecent ‘assault’.) This is not merely due to the fact that the male is physically stronger than the female. The relationship is an integral part of the nature of the copulatory act. It is the male mammal who has to mount the female. It is he who has to penetrate and invade his partner’s body. An over-submissive female and an over-aggressive male are simply exaggerating their natural roles, but an aggressive female and a submissive male are completely reversing their roles.
We can find examples of various kinds of improvements in phallic symbols taking place almost as we watch. The design of sports cars illustrates this well. They have always radiated bold, aggressive masculinity and have been considerably aided in this by their phallic qualities. Like a baboons penis, they stick out in front, they are long, smooth and shiny, they thrust forward with great vigour and they are frequently bright red in colour. A man sitting in his open sports car is like a piece of highly stylized phallic sculpture. His body has disappeared and all that can be seen are a tiny head and hands surmounting a long, glistening penis.
It is intriguing to discover that certain individuals with a demonstrably vast lust for power suffered from physical sexual abnormalities. The autopsy on Hitler, for instance, revealed that he had only one testicle. The autopsy on Napoleon noted the ‘atrophied proportions’ of his genitals. Both had unusual sex lives, and one is left to wonder just how much the course of European history would have been changed had they been sexually normal. Being structurally sexually inferior, they were perhaps driven back on to more direct forms of aggressive expression. But no matter how extreme their domination became, their urge for super-status could never be satiated, because no matter how much they achieved it could never give them the perfect genitals of the typical dominant male.
Man’s strengthened urge for novelty, his heightened curiosity and inventiveness, gave rise to a massive increase in Exploratory Sex. Because of its efficiency, the giant brain organized his life in such a way that man had more and more time to spare and a greater sensitivity available to him while filling it. Self-rewarding Sex, sex for sex’s sake, was able to blossom. If there was too much time to spare, then Occupational Sex could step in. If, by contrast, the increased strain of super-tribal pressures and stresses became too heavy, then there was always Tranquillizing Sex. The added complexities of super-tribal life brought increased division of labour and trading, and sexual activity became involved here too, in the form of Commercial Sex. Finally, with the vastly magnified dominance and status problems of the huge super-tribal structure, sex was increasingly borrowed for use in a non-sexual context, as all-pervading Status Sex.
Question: What is the difference between black natives slicing up a white missionary, and a white mob lynching a helpless Negro? Answer: very little — and, for the victims, none at all. Whatever the reasons, whatever the excuses, whatever the motives, the basic behaviour mechanism is the same. They are both cases of members of the in-group attacking members of the out-group.
We are not a mass-spawning species like certain kinds of fish that produce thousands of young in one go, most of which are doomed to be wasted and only a few survive. We are not quantity breeders, we are quality breeders, producing few offspring, lavishing more care and attention on them and looking after them for a longer period than any other animal. After devoting nearly two decades of parental energy to them it is, apart from anything else, grotesquely inefficient to send them off to be knifed, shot, burned and bombed by the offspring of other men.
Biologically speaking, man has the inborn task of defending three things: himself, his family and his tribe. As a pair-forming, territorial, group-living primate he is driven to this, and driven hard. If he or his family or his tribe are threatened with violence, it will be all too natural for him to respond with counter-violence.
What is it that makes a human individual one of ‘them’, to be destroyed like a verminous pest, rather than one of ‘us’, to be defended like a dearly beloved brother? What is it that puts him into an out-group and keeps us in the in-group? How do we recognize ‘them’? It is easiest, of course, if they belong to an entirely separate super-tribe, with strange customs, a strange appearance and a strange language. Everything about them is so different from ‘us’ that it is a simple matter to make the gross over-simplification that they are all evil villains. The cohesive forces that helped to hold their group together as a clearly defined and efficiently organized society also serve to set them apart from us and to make them frightening by virtue of their unfamiliarity. Like the Shakespearean dragon, they are ‘more often feared than seen’.
When the Roman Empire had conquered the world (as it then knew it), its internal peace was shattered by a series of civil wars and disruptions. When Spain ceased to be a conquering power, sending out colonial expeditions, the same thing happened. There is, unhappily an inverse relationship between external wars and internal strife. The implication is clear enough: namely that it is the same kind of frustrated aggressive energy that is finding an outlet in both cases. Only a brilliantly designed super-tribal structure can avoid both at the same time.
The human species, as it began to spread out over the globe, started to form distinctive sub-species, just like any other animal. Three of these, the (white) Caucasoid group, the (black) Negroid group and the (yellow) Mongoloid group, have been highly successful. Two of them have not, and exist today as only remnant groups, shadows of their former selves. They are the Australoids—the Australian Aborigines and their relatives — and the Capoids — the southern African bushmen. These two sub-species once covered a much wider range (the bushmen at one time owning most of Africa), but they have since been exterminated in all but limited areas.
Cold climates have been subdued by everything from clothing and log fires to central heating; hot environments have been tamed by refrigeration and air-conditioning. The fact, for instance, that a Negro has more cooling sweat glands than a Caucasoid, is rapidly ceasing to have any adaptive meaning.
Germans are said to be laboriously, obsessively methodical, Italians to be excitedly emotional, Americans to be expansive and extrovert, British to be stiff and retiring, Chinese to be devious and inscrutable, Spaniards to be haughty and proud, Swedes to be bland and mild, French to be querulous and argumentative, and so on.
Many young birds, when they hatch from the egg, must immediately form an attachment to their mother and learn to recognize her. They can then follow her around and keep close to her for safety. If newly hatched chicks or ducklings did not do this, they might easily become lost and perish. They are too active and mobile for the mother to be able to keep them together and protect them without the assistance of imprinting. The process can take place in literally a matter of minutes. The first large moving object that the chicks or ducklings see, automatically becomes ‘mother’. Under normal conditions, of course, it really is their mother, but in experimental situations it can be almost anything. If the first large moving obj ect that incubator chicks see happens to be an orange balloon, pulled along on a piece of string, then they will follow that. The balloon quickly becomes ‘mother’. So powerful is this imprinting process, that if, after some days, the chicks are then given a choice between their adopted orange balloon and their real mother (who has previously been kept out of sight), they will prefer the balloon. No more striking proof of the imprinting phenomenon can be provided than the sight of a batch of experimental chicks eagerly pattering along in the wake of an orange balloon and completely ignoring their genuine mother near by.
The socialization phase for domestic dogs lasts from the age of twenty days to sixty days. If domestic puppies are completely isolated from man (being fed by remote control) throughout this period, they emerge at the other end as virtually wild animals. If, however, they are reared in the presence of both dogs and men, then they are friendly towards both.
During the early months of its life a human baby passes through a sensitive socialization phase when it develops a profound and long-lasting attachment to its species and especially to its mother. As with animal imprinting, the attachment is not totally dependent on physical rewards obtained from the mother, such as feeding and cleaning. The exposure learning typical of imprinting also takes place. The young baby cannot keep close to the mother by following her like a duckling, but it can achieve the same end by the use of the smiling pattern. Smiling is attractive to the mother and encourages her to stay with the infant and play with it. These playful, smiling interludes help to cement the bond between the child and its mother. Each becomes imprinted on the other and a powerful reciprocal attachment develops, a persistent bond that is extremely important for the later life of the child. Infants that are well fed and cleaned, but are deprived of the ‘loving’ of early imprinting, can suffer anxieties that stay with them for the rest of their lives. Orphans and babies which have to live in institutions, where personal attention and bonding are unavoidably limited, all too frequently become anxious adults. A strong bond cemented during the first year of life will mean a capacity for making strong bonds during the adult life that follows.
For a minority of individuals the nature of the first sexual experience can have a psychologically crippling effect. Instead of becoming imprinted with the image of a particular mate, this type of individual becomes sexually fixated on some inanimate object present at the time.
In many instances it can be traced to the first ejaculation of a young adult male, which often occurs in the absence of a female and without the usual pair-bonding preliminaries. Some characteristic object that is present at the moment of ejaculation instantly takes on a powerful and lasting sexual significance. It is as if the whole imprinting force of pair-bonding is accidentally channelled into an inanimate object, giving it, in a flash, a major role for the rest of the person’s sexual life.
Rubber goods are particularly common, for instance. The significance of this will become clearer if we examine a few specific cases of fetish development.
A twelve-year-old boy was playing with a fox-fur coat when he experienced his first ejaculation. In adult life he was only able to achieve sexual satisfaction in the presence of furs. He was unable to copulate with females in the ordinary way. A young girl experienced her first orgasm when clutching a piece of black velvet as she masturbated. As an adult, velvet became essential to her sexually. Her whole house was decorated with it and she only married in order to obtain more money to buy more velvet. A fourteen-year-old boy had his first sexual experience with a girl who was wearing a silk dress. Later, he was incapable of making love to a naked female. He could only become aroused if she was wearing a silk dress. Another young boy was leaning out of a window when his first ejaculation occurred. As it happened, he saw a figure moving past in the road outside, walking on crutches. When he was married he could only make love to his wife if she wore crutches in bed. A nine-year-old boy was playing with a soft glove against his penis at the moment of his first ejaculation. As an adult he became a glove-fetishist with a collection of several hundred gloves. All his sexual activities were directed to these gloves.
A third major influence in the creation of a persistent homosexual is the childhood assessment of the roles of his or her parents. If a child has a weak father who is dominated by the mother, it is particularly likely to get the masculine and feminine roles confused and reversed. This then tends to lead to a choice of the wrong sex as a pair-bond partner in later life.
There are a few cases of persistently homosexual animals, however, in instances where special social experiments have been carried out. If young mallard ducklings, for example, are kept in all-male groups of from five to ten individuals for the first seventy-five days of their lives, and never encounter a female of their species during that time, they become permanently homosexual. When released on to a pond as adults, now with both males and females present, they completely ignore the females and set up homosexual pair-bonds between themselves.
Just as a pseudo-parent, such as the duckling’s orange balloon, has certain key qualities that make it suitable for mal-imprinting (it is a large moving object), so the pseudoinfant becomes more suitable if it possesses certain qualities typical of the human infant. Human babies are helpless, soft, warm, rounded, flat-faced, big-eyed, and they cry. The more of these properties a young animal possesses, the more likely it is to encourage the setting up of a parent-offspring bond with a mal-imprinted human foster parent. Many young mammals have nearly all these properties and it is extremely easy for a human being to become mal-imprinted with them in a matter of minutes. A soft, warm, big-eyed fawn bleating for its mother, or a helpless, rounded puppy crying for a missing bitch, projects a powerful infantile image which few human females can resist. Since some of the childlike properties of such animals are even stronger than those of a real human baby, the exaggerated stimuli from the pseudo-infant can frequently become more powerful than the natural ones, and the mal-imprinting becomes intense.
A wild dog’s face is far too pointed, arid a little genetic plastic surgery is needed here, too. No matter if it deforms the jaws and makes feeding difficult, it has to be done. And so the Pekinese has its face squashed flat and childlike. Again there is an added bonus, because this also makes it more helpless and more dependent on its pseudo-parent for providing suitably prepared food, another essential parental activity. And there sits our Pekinese pseudo-infant, softer, rounder, more helpless, bigger-eyed and flatter-faced, ready to set up a powerful mal-imprinted bond in any susceptible adult human who happens along. And it works. It works so well that they are not only mothered, but also live with humans, travel with them, have their own (veterinary) doctors, and are frequently buried in graves like humans and even left money in wills like real human offspring.
We have to face the fact that, living in a human zoo, we are inevitably going to suffer from many abnormal relationships. We are bound to be exposed in unusual ways to unusual stimuli. Our nervous systems are not equipped to deal with this and our patterns of response will sometimes misfire. Like the experimental or zoo animals, we may find ourselves fixated with strange and sometimes damaging bonds, or we may suffer from serious bond confusion. It can happen to any of us, at any time. It is merely another of the hazards of existing as an inmate of a human zoo. We are all potential victims, and the most appropriate reaction, when we come across it in someone else, is sympathy rather than cold intolerance.
In its zoo cage, a wild cat may be seen to throw a dead bird or a dead rat up into the air and then leap after it and pounce on it. By throwing the prey, the cat can put movement and therefore ‘life’ back into it, giving itself the chance to perform a ‘kill’. In the same way, a captive mongoose can be seen ‘shaking to death’ a piece of meat. Observations of this kind extend to domestic animals as well. A pet dog, pampered and well fed, will drop a ball or a stick at its master’s feet and wait patiently for the object to be thrown. Once it is moving through the air or across the ground, it becomes ‘prey’ and can be chased after, caught, ‘killed’ and brought back again for a repeat performance. The domestic dog may not be hungry for food, but it is hungry for stimulation.
Only those sectors of the super-tribe that are enduring what we would call severe hardship are working totally for survival. Even they, however, will be forced to indulge in the Stimulus Struggle when they can spare a moment, for the following special reason: The primitive, hunting tribesman may have been a ‘survival-worker’, but his tasks were varied and absorbing. The unfortunate subordinate supertribesman who is a ‘survival-worker’ is not so well off. Thanks to the division of labour and industrialization, he is driven to carry out intensely dull and repetitive work—the same routine thing day after day, year after year— making a mockery of the giant brain housed inside his skull. When he does get a few moments to himself, he needs to indulge in the Stimulus Struggle as much as anyone else in our modern world, for the problem of stimulation is concerned with variety as well as amount, with quality as well as quantity.
The unskilled workman is likely to become a skilled dancer; the skilled businessman is likely to be an unskilled dancer. In both cases the individual achieves a balance which is, of course, the goal of the Stimulus Struggle.
Many zoo animals use visitors to relieve the boredom. If they ignore the people who walk by their cages they are liable to be ignored in return, but if they stimulate them in some way, then the visitors will stimulate them back. It is surprising what you can get zoo visitors to do, if you are an ingenious zoo animal. If you are a chimpanzee or an orangutan and you spit at them, they scream and rush wildly about. It helps to pass the day.
Clearly, it is possible to improve on nature, a fact which some have found distasteful. But the reason is simple: each animal is a complex system of compromises. The conflicting demands of survival pull it in different directions. If, for example, it is too brightly coloured, it will be detected by its predators. If it is too drably coloured, it will be unable to attract a mate, and so on.
Clearly, it is possible to improve on nature, a fact which some have found distasteful. But the reason is simple: each animal is a complex system of compromises. The conflicting demands of survival pull it in different directions. If, for example, it is too brightly coloured, it will be detected by its predators. If it is too drably coloured, it will be unable to attract a mate, and so on. Only when the pressures of survival are artificially reduced will this system of compromises be relaxed.
There are other examples, but these will suffice. Clearly, it is possible to improve on nature, a fact which some have found distasteful. But the reason is simple: each animal is a complex system of compromises. The conflicting demands of survival pull it in different directions. If, for example, it is too brightly coloured, it will be detected by its predators. If it is too drably coloured, it will be unable to attract a mate, and so on. Only when the pressures of survival are artificially reduced will this system of compromises be relaxed. Domesticated animals, for instance, are protected by man and no longer need fear their predators. Without risk, their dull colours can be replaced by pure whites, gaudy piebalds and other vivid patterns. But if they were turned loose again in their natural habitat, they would be so conspicuous that they would quickly fall prey to their natural enemies.
When selected stimuli are magnified artificially to become super-normal stimuli, the effect can be further enhanced by reducing other (non-selected or irrelevant) stimuli. By simultaneously creating sub-normal stimuli in this way, the super-normal stimuli appear relatively stronger. This is the principle of stimulis extremism.
If we wish to be entertained by books, plays, films, or songs, we automatically subject ourselves to this procedure. It is the very essence of the process we call dramatization. Everyday actions performed as they happen in real life would not be exciting enough. They have to be exaggerated. The operation of the stimulus extremism principle ensures that irrelevant detail is suppressed and relevant detail is heightened and made more extravagant.
If this seems strange, it is worth recalling the case of the experimental birds. The gull chicks were prepared to respond to a substitute for their parents that consisted of something as remote from an adult gull as a stick with three red spots on it. Our reactions to the highly stylized rituals of an opera are no more outlandish.
The visual arts, throughout much of their history, have been pervaded by this device of stimulus extremism. Super-normal and sub-normal modifications abound in almost all the earlier art forms. As the centuries passed, however, realism came more and more to dominate European art. The painter and the sculptor became burdened with the task of recording the external world as precisely as possible. It was not until the last century, when science took over this formidable duty (with the development of photography), that artists were able to return to a freer manipulation of their subject-matter. They were slow to react at first, and although the chains were broken in the nineteenth century, it was not until the twentieth century that they were fully shaken off. During the past sixty years wave after wave of rebellion has occurred as stimulus extremism has reasserted itself more and more powerfully. The rule once again has become: magnify selected elements and eliminate others.
If we are over-stimulated during the day, our brains taking in a mass of new information, much of it conflicting and difficult to classify, we go to bed in much the same condition as the chaotic office was left in at the end of the working day. But we are luckier than the over-worked office staff. At night-time someone comes into the office inside our skull and sorts everything out, files it neatly away and cleans up the office ready for the onslaught of the next day. In the brain of the human animal this process is what we call dreaming. We may obtain physical rest from sleep, but little more than we could get from lying awake all night. But awake we could not dream properly. The primary function of sleeping, then, is dreaming rather than resting our weary limbs.
It is interesting that we are much less sympathetic towards a man who fails to adjust to a low level of activity than we are to one who fails to adjust to a high level. A bored and listless man annoys us more than a harassed and overburdened one. Both are failing to tackle the Stimulus Struggle efficiently. Both are liable to become irritable and bad-tempered, but we are much more prone to forgive the over-worked man. The reason for this is that pushing the level up a little too high is one of the things that keeps our cultures advancing. It is the intensely over-exploratory individuals who will become the great innovators and will change the face of the world in which we live. Those who pursue the Stimulus Struggle in a more balanced and successful way will also, of course, be exploratory, but they will tend to provide new variations on old themes rather than entirely new themes. They will also be happier, better adjusted individuals.
Many people have puzzled over the secret of creativity. I contend that it is basically no more than the extension into adult life of these vital childlike qualities. The child asks new questions; the adult answers old ones; the childlike adult finds answers to new questions. The child is inventive; the adult is productive; the childlike adult is inventively productive. The child explores his environment; the adult organizes it; the childlike adult organizes his explorations and, by bringing order to them, strengthens them. He creates.
Modem schools and universities may not sting their students with ants but, in many ways, the educational system today shows striking similarities to the earlier tribal initiation procedures. To start with, the children are taken away from their parents and put in the hands of super-tribal elders— the academics— who instruct them in the ‘secrets’ of the super-tribe. In many cultures they are still made to wear a separate uniform, to set them apart and strengthen their new allegiance. They may also be encouraged to indulge in certain rituals, such as singing school or college songs.
If we are not careful, the human zoo will become increasingly like a Victorian menagerie, with tiny cages full of twitching, pacing captives.
As one rebel planner pointed out, a straight path between two buildings may be the most efficient (and the cheapest) solution, but that does not mean that it is the best path from the point of view of satisfying human needs. The human animal requires a spatial territory in which to live that possesses unique features, surprises, visual oddities, landmarks and architectural idiosyncrasies. Without them it can have little meaning. A neatly symmetrical, geometric pattern may be useful for holding up a roof, or for facilitating the pre-fabrication of mass-produced housing-units, but when such patterning is applied at the landscape level, it is going against the nature of the human animal. Why else is it so much fun to wander down a twisting country lane? Why else do children prefer to play on rubbish dumps or in derelict buildings, rather than on their immaculate, sterile, geometrically arranged playgrounds?
Huge tower blocks of repetitive, uniform apartments have proliferated in many cities as a response to the housing demands of the swelling super-tribal populations. The excuse has been slum clearance, but the results have all too often been the creation of the superslums of the immediate future. In a sense they are worse than nothing because, since they falsely give the impression of progress, they create complacency and deaden the chance of a genuine advance.
The whole nature of city-complexes must be re-examined. The harassed citizens of the human zoo must in some way be given back the ‘village-community’ feeling of social identity. A genuine village, seen from the air, looks like an organic growth, not a piece of slide-rule geometry, a point which most planners seem studiously to ignore. They fail to appreciate the basic demands of human territorial behaviour.
The architectural environment should make its impact second by second and minute by minute as we travel along our territorial tracks, the pattern changing subtly with each new line of vision. As we turn a comer, or open a door, the last thing our navigational sense wants to be faced with is a spatial configuration that drearily duplicates the one we have just left. All too frequently, however, this is precisely what happens, the architectural planner having loomed over his drawing-board like a bomber-pilot sighting a target, rather than attempting to project himself down as a small mobile object travelling around inside the environment.
The politicians, the administrators and the other super-tribal leaders are good social mathematicians, but this is not enough. In what promises to be the ever more crowded world of the future, they must become good biologists as well, because somewhere in all that mass of wires, cables, plastics, concrete, bricks, metal and glass which they control, there is an animal, a human animal, a primitive tribal hunter, masquerading as a civilized, super-tribal citizen and desperately struggling to match his ancient inherited qualities with his extraordinary new situation. If he is given the chance he may yet contrive to turn his human zoo into a magnificent human game-park. If he is not, it may proliferate into a gigantic lunatic asylum, like one of the hideously cramped animal menageries of the last century.