Ethos and Schismogenesis

It would be an oversimplification—it would even be false —to say that science necessarily advances by the construction and empirical testing of successive working hypotheses. Among the physicists and chemists there may be some who really proceed in this oithoclox manner, but among the social scientists there is perhaps not one. Our concepts are loosely defined—a haze of chiaroscuro prefiguring sharper lines still undrawn—and our hypotheses are still so vague that rarely can we imagine any crucial instance whose investigation will test them.

The present paper is an attempt to make more precise an idea which I published in 193620 and which has lain fallow since that time. The notion of ethos had proved a useful conceptual tool for me, and with it I had been able to get a sharper understanding of Iatmul culture. But this experience by no means proved that this tool would necessarily be useful in other hands or for the analysis of other cultures. The most general conclusion I could draw was of this order: that my own mental processes had certain characteristics; that the sayings, actions, and organization of the Iatmul had certain characteristics; and that the abstraction, "ethos," performed some role—catalytic, perhaps—in easing the relation between these two specificities, my mind and the data which I myself had collected.

Immediately after completing the manuscript of Naven, I went to Bali with the intention of trying upon Balinese data this tool which had been evolved for the analysis of Iatmul. For one reason or another, however, I did not do this, partly because in Bali Margaret Mead and I were engaged in devising other tools — photographic methods of record and description—and partly because I was learning the techniques of applying genetic psychology to cultural data, but more especially because at some inarticulate level I felt that the tool was unsuitable for this new task.

It was not that ethos was in any sense disproved—indeed, a tool or a method can scarcely be proved false. It can only be shown to be not useful, and in this case there was not even a clear demonstration of uselessness. The method remained almost untried, and the most I could say was that, after that surrender to the data which is the first step in all anthropological study, ethological analysis did not seem to be the next thing to do.

It is now possible to show with Balinese data what peculiarities of that culture may have influenced me away from ethological analysis, and this demonstration will lead to a greater generalization of the abstraction; ethos. We shall in the process make

* This essay appeared in Social Structure: Studies Presented to A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, edited by Meyer Fortes, 1949. It is reprinted by permission of the Clarendon Press. Preparation of the essay was aided by a Guggenheim Fellowship.

20 G. Bateson, Naven, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1936.

certain heuristic advances which may guide us to more rigorous descriptive procedures in dealing with other cultures.

(1) The analysis of Iatmul data led to the definition of ethos as "The expression of a culturally standardized system of organization of the instincts and emotions of the individuals."21

(2) Analysis of Iatmul ethos — consisting in the ordering of data so as to make evident certain recurrent "emphases" or "themes"—led to recognition of schismogenesis. It appeared that the working of latmul society involved inter alia two classes of regenerative22 or "vicious" circles. Both of these were sequences of social interaction such that A's acts were stimuli for B's acts, which in turn became stimuli for more intense action on the part of A, and so on, A and B being persons acting either as individuals or as group members.

(3) These schismogenic sequences could be classified into two classes: (a) symmetrical schismogenesis, where the mutually promoting actions of A and B were essentially similar, e.g., in cases of competition, rivalry, and the like; and ( b) complementary schismogenesis, where the mutually promoting actions are essentially dissimilar but mutually appropriate, e.g., in cases of dominance-submission, succoring-dependence, exhibitionism-spectatorship, and the like.

(4) In 1939 a considerable advance was made in defining the formal relations between the concepts of symmetrical and complementary schismogenesis. This came from an attempt to state schismogenic theory in terms of Richardson's equations for international armaments races23. The equations for rivalry evidently gave a first approximation to what I had called "symmetrical schismogenesis." These equations assume that the intensity of A's actions (the rate of his arming, in Richardson's case) is simply proportional to the amount by which B is ahead of A. The stimulus term in fact is (B —A), and when this term is positive it is expected that A will en-gage in efforts to arm. Richardson's second equation makes the same assumption mutatis mutandis about B's actions. These equations suggested that other simply rivalrous or competitive phenomena—e.g., boasting — though not subject to such simple measurement as expenditure on armament, might yet when ultimately measured be reducible to a simply analogous set of relations.

The matter was, however, not so clear in the case of complementary schismogenesis. Richardson's equations for "sub-mission" evidently define a phenomenon somewhat different from a progressive complementary relationship, and the form of his equations describes the action of a factor "submissiveness" which

22 The terms "regenerative" and "degenerative" are borrowed from communications engineering. A regenerative or "vicious" circle is a chain of variables of the general type: increase in A causes increase in B; increase in B causes increase in C; .. increase in N causes increase in A. Such a system, if provided with the necessary energy sources and if external factors permit, will clearly operate at a greater and greater rate or intensity. A "degenerative" or "self-corrective" circle differs from a re-generative circle in containing at least one link of the type: "increase in N causes decrease in M." The house thermostat or the steam engine with a governor are examples of such self-correcting systems. It will be noted that in many instances the same material circuit may be either regenerative or degenerative according to the amount of loading, frequency of impulses transmitted around the path, and time characteristics of the total path.

23 L. F. Richardson, "Generalized Foreign Politics," British Journal of Psychology, Monograph Supplement xxiii, 1939.

slows down and ultimately reverses the sign of warlike effort. What was, however, required to describe complementary schismogenesis was an equational form giving. a sharp and discontinuous reversal of sign. Such an equational form is achieved by supposing A's actions in a complementary relationship to be proportional to a stimulus term of the type (A — B). Such a form has also the advantage of automatically defining the actions of one of the participants as negative, and thus gives some mathematical analogue for the apparent psychological relatedness of domination to submission, exhibitionism to spectatorship, succoring to dependence, etc.

Notably this formulation is itself a negative of the formulation for rivalry, the stimulus term being the opposite. It had been observed that symmetrical sequences of actions tend sharply to reduce the strain of excessively complementary relationships between persons or groups.24 It is tempting to ascribe this effect to some hypothesis which would make the two types of schismogenesis in some degree psychologically incompatible, as is done by the above formulation.

(5) It is of interest to note that all the modes associated with the erogenous zones,25 though not clearly quantifiable, define themes for complementary relationship.

(6) The link with erogenous zones suggested in 5, above, indicates that we ought, perhaps, not to think of simple rising exponential curves of intensity limited only by factors analogous to fatigue, such as Richardson's equations would imply; but rather that we should expect our curves to be bounded by phenomena comparable to orgasm—that the achievement of a certain degree of bodily or neural involvement or intensity may be followed by a release of schismogenic tension. Indeed, all that we know about human beings in various sorts of simple contests would seem to indicate that this is the case, and that the conscious or unconscious wish for release of this kind is an important factor which draws the participants on and prevents them from simply withdrawing from contests which would otherwise not commend themselves to "common sense." If there be any basic human characteristic which makes man prone to struggle, it would seem to be this hope of release from tension through total involvement. In the case of war this factor is undoubtedly often potent. (The real truth—that in modern warfare only a very few of the participants achieve this climactic release — seems hardly to stand against the insidious myth of "total" war.)

(7) In 1936 it was suggested that the phenomenon of "falling in love" might be comparable to a schismogenesis with the signs reversed, and even that "if the course of true love ever ran smooth it would follow an exponential curve."26 Richardson27 has since, independently, made the same point in more formal terms. Paragraph 6, above, clearly indicates that the "exponential curves" must give place to some type of

25 E. H. Homburger, "Configurations in Play: Psycho-logical Notes," Psychoanalytical Quarterly, 1937, vi: 138-214. This paper, one of the most important in the literature seeking to state psychoanalytic hypotheses in more rigorous terms, deals with the "modes" appropriate to the various erogenous zones — intrusion, incorporation, retention, and the like — and shows how these modes may be transferred from one zone to another. This leads the writer to a chart of the possible permutations and combinations of such transferred modalities. This chart provides precise means of describing the course of the development of a large variety of different types of character structure (e.g., as met with in different cultures).

curve which will not rise indefinitely but will reach a climax and then fall. For the rest, however, the obvious relation-ship of these interactive phenomena to climax and orgasm very much strengthens the case for regarding schismogenesis and those cumulative sequences of interaction which lead to love as often psychologically equivalent. (Witness the curious confusions between fighting and lovemaking, the symbolic identifications of orgasm with death, the recurrent use by mammals of organs of offense as ornaments of sexual attracttion, etc.)

(8) Schismogenic sequences were not found in Bali. This negative statement is of such importance and conflicts with so many theories of social opposition and Marxian determinism that, in order to achieve credibility, I must here de-scribe schematically the process of character formation, the resulting Balinese character structure, the exceptional in-stances in which some sort of cumulative interaction can be recognized, and the methods by which quarrels and status differentiation are handled. (Detailed analysis of the various points and the supporting data cannot here be reproduced, but references will be given to published sources where the data can be examined.)28

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