The Material Causes Underlying the Present World Troubles


By ALES HRDLICKA, Anthropologist Broadcast under the auspices of the Fight for Freedom Committee, Columbia Broadcasting System, September 28, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 25-26.

TO know the meaning of freedom, it is necessary to try to understand the present horrible attack upon it. Under the actual and ever increasing havoc in the world, the mind of every normal man is burdened with deep sorrow, distress, and apprehension, which dominate all other concerns; and gropes for an answer as to why all this has come, how in this time of the world it was possible, and what will be the final results. To discuss at such time to a general audience any lesser subject would seem trivial.

This does not mean that there is reason for outright pessimism. Humankind from its start has passed through crisis after crisis, and it has not only survived them all, but in thelong run, even if not steadily or evenly, has progressed on its way to its still distant and unknown but surely high goal. It will survive now and will yet, like the phoenix, come out from the fire cleaner and stronger. But individually one cannot help but reflect on the vast crime and pity of it all, and seek both the causes and the remedy. Let us look closely at the facts.

A large part of the world is ill, terribly ill; ill on one side with the destructive delirium of war and with the worst that is in man let loose, and on the other side with dejection and mental as well as physical suffering. Ideals, realizations that it took ages to reach or build, are tottering, or

being shackled; and to the peoples of Europe, above all to the offenders, there is no true way out in sight, no clear star of hope to which they could attach their souls.

Nor is the rest of humankind quite well, including ourselves. Even in this country of countries there are cropping up, under the increasing stresses, clouds of ignorance, selfishness, bias, lack of cohesion.

What then is the matter with mankind. Is it unable to carry on in its own progress? Has it become exhausted, like an individual under at last an unbearable burden, by the steady advance forward and upward, and is this a violent disordered reaction?

An approach to an answer, if possible, can only be expected it would seem from science, and particularly from that branch of research which deals, from normal as well as medical points of view, with Man individually, with human groups, with humankind in general. And this branch perhaps may approximate an answer.

It should be realized by all those who ponder over present conditions that Man is no special perfect creation, but, though the highest, yet physically and especially mentally still a very imperfect product of nature. This recognition is now thoroughly demonstrable and however uncertain may yet be some of the details, no rational doubt on the main point is possible. Man therefore is still an unfinished, imperfect being, particularly intellectually; and for this reason alone is subject to serious errors.

The second fact is that Mankind is still quite young. The modern types of men have all come into being within the last 30,000 years, which for a species is a short period; and even of this barely one fifth has seen the development of civilization. In the second place therefore Man is still near to his savage ancestry and when the veneer of civilization gives away under some stress, only too apt to revert.

The next factor is that men, naturally, are not equal either physically, or in their strength, or mentally, but show, as all other creatures do, a wide range of inborn individual differences. In the third place, therefore, even under the most normal conditions, there are wide differences in human minds, as there are in the bodies; the direct consequence of which, even if uncomplicated by other factors, is a large variety of views and feelings on most subjects, which can readily lead to antagonism.

And the fourth fact, and one of much consequence, is that civilized man in the course of time has in many cases become weakened or more or less deranged, physically as well as mentally, through disease, strains, and other adverse agencies, so that in the most civilized nations hardly a single individual today may be said to be absolutely normal. This alone is often sufficient for abnormal acts, which, if on the part of an influential or especially clever individual, may lead to grave results.

These are the basic sources of Man's differences in behavior, and they are sufficient for much trouble. There are many contributory agencies, demographic, economic and others, but they are secondary.

Thus man is not born perfect, or civilized, but an imperfect savage, and if left alone would remain such a savage. Civilization is acquired. It may be defined as the art of living, under the conditions of highly organized human society, in conformity with its laws and to the best possible both individual and general advantage.

But to live thus the little savage must be trained, trained by the parents, the schools, the church, associations, all other cultural agencies, in employment, and through general experience. As he is trained, indoctrinated and given examples from the birth on, so will he develop, his innate individuality furnishing only the coloring, flavoring and intensity.

It is thus that, under true enlightenment, are built up in him inhibitions and safeguards against his imperfections, and honesty, discipline, friendliness, civic virtue, with all the rest of the attributes that distinguish real civilization. It is thus also that, when the agencies acting upon him are unfavorable, he develops blind selfishness, artificial greed for possession and power, and viciousness, which lead him to becoming the cunning and ruthless criminal, the gangster, local or international. And it is thus that under mischievous plans, whole generations of youngsters can be fanaticized for any plausible cause that is beyond their ready comprehension.

These are the truths. And from them arise with clearness and force the precepts for the sanation and proper bringing up of the little newborn more or less defective savage. Precepts for bringing him to and keeping him in the best possible health, arming him with the needed inhibitions, safeguarding him from untoward associations, furnishing him with healthy vents for his animal exuberance, inculcating into him discipline, fairness, love of work, friendliness towards all of his fellow beings, love of everything sound and beautiful; and training him in a congenial and fitting occupation, which will fill contentedly a large part of his life, and assure his material needs.

That is the broad and only way towards raising a line of really civilized beings, men and women who will approach true freedom, true democracy, true devotion to their family at large which is their country; beings fortified against their imperfections, emancipated from savagery. Raise all human beings thus and you will have world democracy, and as long as such raising be kept on, freedom in the world from rapacity and piracy, and a lasting wholesome peace.

To the extent to which these principles have failed to be acted upon, or been perverted, to that extent the different peoples of today, including our own, are defective. And it is of but limited use to try to improve the adults by laws or exhortation, their defects are already ingrained and largely incurable. With imperfectly civilized human materials great goals can be reached only under some great mental arousing, otherwise only laborious and limited progress, with many setbacks, is to be expected.

As in Medicine however so in Social Science the diagnosis and even the cure of the case are but the first, though all important, steps. The ultimate aim is the prevention of the trouble for the future.

Already now and in many places, both here and abroad, much thought is being given as to how, when the war exhausts itself, to make a lasting peace. This is in much the same class with the endeavor after a wave of crime to make new laws. Both are necessary and the better they will be the more effective. But neither touches the roots of the evil, or can lastingly prevent its recurrence.

The present critical state of human affairs is due fundamentally to mental human defects, and to as yet imperfect evolution and civilization. There is no cure for it except by superior wisdom and conduct. To prevent its recurrence in the future the only effective remedy in the long run will be to so strengthen general civilization that no such series of crimes may again be possible. And such strengthening must be applied to the young, much more than to the older. If all the advanced nations apply themselves, or be made to apply, towards a genuinely humanitarian and otherwise perfected raising of the young, no more of such international piracy and crime will be possible. The chief fruit of the peace when this comes should be not merely a new political League of Nations, but a League with full power to supervise a general enlightened humanitarian bringing up of the child. After the current dire experiences the task should not be impossible. There lies the road towards a true lasting freedom. . . .