Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/334

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ciety is looking for. Indeed, this is the only way to describe the man—to actually find him. Society is essentially a growing, shifting thing. It changes from age to age, from country to country. The Greeks had their social conditions, and the Romans theirs. Even the criminal lines are drawn differently, somewhat, here and there; and in a low stage of civilization a man may pass for normal who, in our time, would be described as weak in mind. This makes it necessary that the standards of judgment of a given society should be determined by an actual examination of the society, and forbids us to say that the limits of variation which society in general will tolerate must be this or that.

We may say, then, that the man who is fit for social life must he born to learn. The need of learning is his essential need. It comes upon him from his birth. Speech is the first great social function which he must learn, and with it all the varieties of verbal accomplishment—reading and writing. This brings to the front the great method of all his learning—imitation. In order to be social he must be imitative, imitative, imitative. He must realize for himself by action the forms, conventions, requirements, co-operations of his social group. All is learning; and learning not by himself and at random, but under the leading of the social conditions which surround him. Plasticity is his safety and the means of his progress. So he grows into the social organization, takes his place as a socius in the work of the world, and lays deep the sense of values, upon the basis of which his own contributions—if he be destined to make contributions—to the wealth of the world are to be wrought out. This great fact that he is open to the play of the personal influences which are about him we call, in psychology, his "suggestiveness," and the influences themselves "suggestions"—social suggestions. These influences differ in different communities, as we so often remark. The Turk learns to live in a very different system of relations of "give and take" from ours, and ours differ as much from those of the Chinese. All that is characteristic of the race or tribe or group or family—all this sinks into the child and youth by his simple presence there in it. He is suggestible, and here are the suggestions; he is made to inherit, and he inherits. So it makes no difference what his tribe or kindred be; let him be a learner by imitation, and he becomes in turn possessor and teacher.

An entire department of so-called genetic pyschology is being written on this topic—the mode and method of the child's learning to be a man and a social man. I need not dwell upon it further here. But the case becomes more interesting still when we give the matter another turn, and say that in this learning all the members of society agree; allmust he horn to learn the same things. They enter, if so be that they do, into the same social in-