Popular Science Monthly/Volume 73/October 1908/The Laws of Social Attraction


By Professor SIMON N. PATTEN


SCIENCE is a powerful transformer of human thought and yet it is remarkable how little direct influence it has on the affairs of life. We live from day to day under the guidance of the same feelings and motives that our ancestors had long before the sway of science was felt. A new discovery attracts our attention and evokes anticipation of great changes, only to drop out of view when the novelty is worn off. Much of this lack of interest is due to the fact that the adjustments that scientific laws demand were long since made in an unconscious way so that we already do what science prescribes. A cat that, falling, lands on its feet does all that a full knowledge of gravitation demands. Law thus has a reflective use in explaining what has happened, but seldom is a force in shaping action.

There is, however, one field to which science is being applied where this conclusion does not hold. Marriage is a subject of deep personal interest and it is also one of the few fields where real choice is increasing. From generation to generation the number of those grow who settle their marriage relations for themselves. Likes and dislikes play an ever-increasing role, while outside pressure—be it economic, social or moral—ceases to dominate choices to the degree it did. We are forced into subordination to environing conditions to an ever-increasing degree, but we get even, so to speak, by asserting our wills more freely in the choice of mates. The economic determination of daily life is thwarted by the impulses that determine love affairs. The one free epoch of a lifetime is often the days of courtship. Can laws be formulated that cover this epoch or is the mating of men and women a matter of chance?

A notable book has recently appeared which does much to put this problem on the new basis. In his "Sex and Character" Weininger assumes that the two sexes differ so fundamentally that every organ and even every cell reflects the peculiarities of the male and female plasms from which they arise, each representing the normal results that follow from the original differences in the sex cell. He holds, however, that there are few, if any, pure males or females, but that most men inherit some female characters while in women male characters are equally common. The ordinary woman is dominantly female, not purely so. The ordinary man in turn is dominantly male and yet some of his characters are female. If every man was a pure man and every woman a pure woman any man would be attracted by and suitable for any woman. There would be no basis for individual preference, because the qualities and impulses demanded would be found in any individual of the opposite sex. There would thus be no law of individual attraction. But with the intermediate forms—those partly male and partly female—each person likes in his mate the qualities he has not. Where he is male he demands female qualities in his mate, and where he is female he is attracted by a woman who in these respects has male qualities. A womanly man prefers a masculine woman and she in turn would be attracted by him because each finds qualities in the other that they do not possess. If the positive sign (+) he made to represent masculine characters and the negative (−) the womanly qualities then each fitting couple would have in the one a plus quality where the other had a minus quantity. Weininger states his law as follows: "For any true sexual union it is necessary that there come together a complete male (M.) and a complete female (F.) even although in different cases the M. and F. are distributed in different proportions." The truly male part of a man and the truly male part of his affinity will thus make an ideal man, while the truly female parts of the two make an ideal woman. Each wife should possess that amount of maleness that her husband lacks and he should be female to the degree and at those points where she is male. Where two people are male and female in the same qualities there will be sexual aversion with no inclination to mate.

The interest in this doctrine is increased by the application its author makes of it to the problem of woman's emancipation. The pure woman, he contends, does not want independence and equality with men. She is dominantly sexual and cares little for what is really foreign to her nature as a woman. It is the sexually intermediate forms that desire emancipation. To the degree that a woman has inherited qualities that are male she will have a deep-seated craving t<? acquire man's character and to have his freedom and ability. All successful women show the dominance of male characters. George Eliot, he tells us, had a broad massive forehead: her movements, like her expression, were quick and decided and lacked all womanly grace. It is this male element in women that longs for equality. The womanly woman never pays any special attention to art or to science, or if she does it is only as a means of attracting a person of the opposite sex. Women really interested in intellectual matters are sexually intermediate forms. The whole woman's movement is thus unnatural and artificial. It creates an undue amount of excitement that ends in hysteria. Any attempt to emancipate all women is sure to defeat itself by the artificiality and misery it creates.

This book is a contribution to the problems discussed, and yet I feel that it has been put in a wrong setting and is therefore capable of a different interpretation than that which its author gives. The difficulty in applying biological principles to sociological problems is so great that any slight error leads to radically false results. Social thinkers must use biology, but care must be taken not to isolate some one principle from related doctrines which if properly presented would vitiate the reasoning drawn from a narrow field. The qualities of mothers are inherited by sons and those of fathers by their daughters, so that if there are any special sex characters they would soon appear in persons of the opposite sex. We are thus intermediate forms with characters coming both from our fathers and mothers. But it does not follow from this that sexual affinity is due to this mixture: for this would assume that we have a special liking for qualities absent in ourselves. On the contrary, we like those like ourselves and have an aversion to those who present differences no matter how slight.

The doctrine of sexual affinity should be so restricted that it will conform to sociological and psychological laws as well as to those of biology. This can be done by keeping in mind a distinction that Weininger has overlooked. Were all characters natural and none acquired, we might assume that they were male or female. But acquired characters can not thus be divided. They are carried along by a social heredity which impresses its effects on both sexes alike. Weininger assumes, however, that all characters are due to differences in germ cells and that every one in his development reveals the tendencies active in them. These tendencies, however, are thwarted by adverse conditions, so that each individual at maturity is either far short of his full development or has been pressed in other directions than forces of the original germ cell would dictate. Differences between men are thus due not merely to variations in germ cells, but to defects which arise out of bad conditions. Persons with the same germ cells may differ more radically at maturity than they differ from those whose germ cells represent some variation in the species. Food, housing, light, air and disease are of prime importance in creating the peculiarities which appear at maturity. The modifications which culminate in some variations of the racial type are in any age too slight to be of importance in accounting for the marked differences which appear in mature men and women. These differences are defects due to bad conditions, not peculiarities of germ cells. They represent retardations in development, not modification of the racial type. We are all short some characters which our heredity would reveal if conditions favored and these shortages are of such infinite variety that scarcely two individuals are alike.

It is generally admitted that improvements in the human race can be made by crosses increasing the number of natural characters. But is sexual affinity a peculiar bond that adds to the attractiveness of other stocks and races or is it an index of defects imposed on individuals of the same stock by shortcomings of their environment? Is an affinity a person of the other sex just like ourselves in heredity, but with other defects, or is this affinity a person of other stock or race enclosed and harmonized by the influence of the same environment? The answer to these questions is to be found not in biological studies of germ cells, but in psychology and physiology. An affinity is a strong dominating form of attachment which suppresses the ordinary thought processes and puts in their place many unique emotions and illusions. We immediately recognize the abnormality of the actions of two such people and know that only the breaking of the spell will restore them to normal life. It is thus a feeling akin to hysteria and has the same general causes. Like listeria, it is not a character, but an abnormality. It is a state of deficient emotional control—a paralysis of the higher centers that should dominate thought and activity. Irritability, passion, uncontrollable sex feelings and hysteria all represent the lack of something that is normally present, not the presence of characters absent from normal people. They are manifestations of retardations through which people fail to reach a full development. Defects represent the loss of characters due to this retardation. The higher centers fail to act with sufficient promptness and the retarded person falls under the control of strong persistent feelings that upset normal thought and control. In the parts where defects appear instead of positive characters, emotion and hysteria control instead of reason.

These persons with abnormal tendencies are aroused and dominated by the fully developed people of their own type; they have an aversion to people of other types. If a person is naturally musical, but through some defect or disease his powers are practically dormant, he will be lifted into a new realm by persons of great musical power. The capacity to enjoy music is in this defective person; it is made dormant by adverse conditions, but it can be aroused by contact with musical talent; and is forced by the new stimulus and excitement through a rapid development. There seems to be a miraculous change and with it a tremendous emotional outburst. The strong thus exert a tonic influence over the weak and retarded of their own type. The hero is not a super-man; he is the normal man; his followers are just like him in character and heredity. The defects of environment and personal development have kept them from attaining his level and give to him a dominance over their lives through the stimulus towards a better self-expression than his example and life give. The instantaneous conversion of religion does not come to the normally developed man, but he can stimulate a conversion in defective, retarded people of his own type. Strong emotions, irresistible impulses, instantaneous changes, self-subordination to heroes and mob rule, are thus marks of defective development and of abnormal growth.

Sexual attraction is strongest between two people of the same stock with different defects. Whoever has a character of normal excellence will arouse, stimulate and subordinate one of the opposite sex who has this character in some retarded or abnormal form. If two people of the same stock have different defects each will control and arouse the other where he is normal and his mate is abnormal. The feeling of affinity is greatest when half of the faculties of each is dormant, while the normal part of each complements that of the other. Weininger asserts that two affinities taken together would show the characters of a normal man and a normal woman. I contend that the sum of their characters equals that of one normal person. He thinks that the children of these affinities will be stronger and better than the average of mankind because the qualities of their parents make a normal man and a normal woman. I contend that these children will be below the average because both of the parents are defective and the children will be subject to even more retardation in development. Let us assume that in two families on intimate terms the wife of one finds that the other man is her affinity and wants a child by him and that her husband assents promising to raise the child as his own. Weinmyer would say that this love child would be above the average of the two families, stronger in intellect and body. In my opinion it would be weaker and more defective. From his position this act should be commended; from mine it should be punished.

If I am right, Weininger is also in error in regard to woman's emancipation. He starts with the thought that the characters of men and women are different and that the emancipated woman is an intermediate form having masculine qualities. In the development of his thesis, however, he shifts over to the assumption that all positive characters are masculine and that the pure woman is nothing more than sexuality. This failure to find definite characters in woman shows the falsity of the assumption that characters are the result of sex heredity. The undeveloped man is dominated as much by sexual impulses as is the retarded woman. Positive characters that raise them above their sexual appetites come to women as to men only by the process of development. The environment of women, however, is more defective than that of men and the drains on her system are more severe. Few women go far in their development before defects become so numerous as to check further progress. If they escape these set-backs they develop the same characters that appear in men who have an unobstructed development. The emancipated woman is thus not the hysterical woman out of her normal place, but the woman with a more favorable environment than her sisters have. Her gains in character due to these better conditions lift her to the plane of the normal man and give her his characters.

If sexual affinity is due to complementary defects and not to complementary characters it is but an example of the general law of social attraction. A social leader is not a man with additional powers to those possessed by his followers. He has a full development of all the possibilities of his heredity while they have many of these qualities, dormant or partially developed. The defective have the capacity to feel, but not the power to see or to express. They admire those who can do what they desire and feel should be done, but which they can not of themselves execute. Social affinity is thus the bond that unites the defective to the normal. The defective follow leaders not because they are imitative, but because they are stimulated and aroused. Imitation is a habit that increases the regularity of life. Emotion and hysteria result from defects that promote irregular spasmodic action. They become social only through the presence of normal individuals who subordinate the weak and defective to their own ideals. Retarded development, defects, lack of control, strong emotion and hysteria are the roots out of which social attraction grows, and the resulting law is quite as fundamental as is the law of imitation upon which so much of social thought rests.

The law of social affinity is a law not of human nature, but a law of deficit: for defects are due not to heredity, but to a bad environment. It is said that a hive of bees is a group of degenerate creatures in which just one individual is fully developed; the others are what they are and do what they do because they have not had enough food. A human society is not in so bad a shape, but individuals having their innate powers fully developed are so rare that men regard them as heroes or demigods. What these few become is the standard to which all might attain if environment, health, nurture and education were given them. We need better feeding more than better breeding. Were a higher type of beings demanded it could be secured only through the slow process of biological development, but if noble qualities are already a gift of heredity kept from expressing themselves through defective conditions, we have it in our power to lift the whole of humanity to its natural level. Income and nurture lie at the basis of social progress. To lose these essential conditions means a retarded development, unrestrained emotions and a lack of rationality in action. Reason controls the normal man; primitive emotions and hysteria control the abnormal.

Social attraction binds these defective creatures to their superiors and thus preserves the race from social degeneration, but it does not prevent physical degeneration. Sexual affinity is strongest between those with complementary defects, and hence a steady decline in phisical vigor follows emotional marriages. The weak man or woman is absorbed in one individual and hates or at least is indifferent to mankind. Normality and great physical vigor tend in the opposite direction. They displace hysterical emotions with a vivid power of idealization by which the whole race becomes the object of thought; the gentle but vivid emotion of love that results goes out to all mankind and becomes personal only incidentally if at all. Love and hysteria are thus at opposite poles of physical vigor. Through idealization love imposes qualities on others they do not have and diminishes the antipathy of people to those of other stocks. It improves the race by favoring marriages that are real crosses, thus giving to children new and better qualities. The source of love is thus positive and within one's self while that of an affinity is negative, being aroused only by the presence of another defective individual. Love thus elevates and broadens while an absorbing affinity narrows and degrades.

In primitive times when the defective could not survive, emotional marriages like an emotional religion had certain advantages, and it is evident why they were both popular and useful, but when the dominance of humanitarian motives allows the weak to arrive at maturity, the power of affinity both in marriage and in religion becomes a potent force for evil. The broader interests of the race are subordinated to a narrow family and sectarian life. Vivid emotion and hysteria localize and isolate mankind into opposing groups. The marriage of affinities and the inbreeding of religious sectarians cut down the birth rate and reduce the vigor of each generation. There is thus a force that prevents degeneration even where the reduction of disease and humanitarian motives tend to permit the survival of the weak. Race suicide does in a generation what disease and brutality would have done in a few years. The increase in the number of normal people would lift men above the dangers of hysteria and degeneration and substitute rational methods for the primitive impulses that control our social life; social attraction based on a love for dissimilar people would then displace the power of affinity binding together people of the same stock. This higher bond can be secured only by transforming the defects due to economic deficits into the positive characters that would come of themselves if the mass of the people had income and leisure. Health, vigor, idealization and the love of those dissimilar to ourselves are steps in progress that follow the appearance of an economic surplus. The misleading impulses of hysteria and the narrowing grasp of affinity are the forces that mislead men in their marriage relations. Set them aside and eugenic marriages will be as common as now they are rare.