dijous, 10 d’abril de 2014

HUMAN NATURE DOES NOT CHANGE. OR, AT ANY RATE, HISTORY IS TOO SHORT FOR ANY CHANGES TO BE PERCEPTIBLE

The earliest known specimens of art and 
literature are still comprehensible. The fact that we can understand them 
all and can recognize in some of them an unsurpassed artistic excellence 
is prpof enough that not only men's feelings and instincts but also their 
intellectual and imaginative powers, were in the remotest times precisely 
what they are now. In the fine arts it is only the convention, the form, the 
incidentals that change: the fundamentals of passion, of intellect and 
imagination remain unaltered. 

It is the same with the arts of life as with the fine arts. Conventions and 
traditions, prejudices and ideals and religious beliefs, moral systems and 
codes of good manners, varying according to the geographical and histori- 
cal circumstances, mold into different forms the unchanging material of 
human instinct, passion, and desire. It is a stiff, intractable material 
Egyptian granite, rather than Hindu bronze. The artists who carved the 
colossal statues of Rameses II may have wished to represent the Pharaoh 
standing on one leg and waving two or three pairs of arms over his head, 
as the Indians still represent the dancing Krishna. But with the best will 
in the world they could not have imposed such a fonn upon the granite. 
Similarly, those artists in social life whom we call statesmen, moralists, 
founders of religions, have often wished to mold human nature into forms 
of superhuman elegance; but the material has proved too stubborn for 
them, and they have had to be content with only a relatively small altera- 
tion in the form which their predecessors had given it. At any given his- 
torical moment human behavior is a compromise (enforced from without 
by law and custom, from within by belief in religious or philosophical 
myths) between the raw instinct on the one hand and the unattainable

ideal on the other a compromise, in our sculptural metaphor, between 
the unshaped block of stone and the many-armed dancing Krishna. 

Like all the other great human activities, love is the product of unchang- 
ing passions, instincts, and desires (unchanging, that is to say, in the mass 
of humanity; for, of course, they vary greatly in quantity and quality 
from individual to individual), and of laws and conventions, beliefs and 
ideals, which the circumstances of time and place, or the arbitrary fiats 
of great personalities, have imposed on a more or less willing society. The 
history of love, if it were ever written (and doubtless some learned 
German, unread, alas, by me, has written it, and in several volumes), 
would be like the current histories of art a record of succeeding "styles" 
and "schools," of "influences/' "revolutions/* "technical discoveries/' 
Love's psychological and physiological material remains the same; but every 
epoch treats it in a different manner, just as every epoch cuts its unvarying 
cloth and silk and linen into garments of the most diverse fashion. By 
way of illustration, I may mention that vogue of homosexuality which 
seems, from all accounts, to have been universal in the Hellenic world. 
Plutarch attributes the inception of this mode to the custom (novel in the 
fifth century, according to Thucydides) of exercising naked in the 
palestra.* But whatever may have been its origin, there can be no doubt 
that this particular fashion in love spread widely among people who were 
not in the least congenitally disposed to homosexuality. Convention and 
public opinion molded the material of love into forms which a later age 
has chosen to call "unnatural." A recrudescence of this amorous mode 
was very noticeable in Europe during the years immediately following the 
war. Among the determining causes of this recrudescence a future Plutarch 
will undoubtedly number the writings of Proust and Andr Gide. 

The present fashions in love are not so definite and universal as those 
in clothes. It is as though our age were dubiously hesitating between 
crinolines and hobble skirts, trunk hose and Oxford trousers. Two distinct 
and hostile conceptions of love coexist in the minds of men and women, 
two sets of ideals, of conventions, of public opinions, struggle for the right 
to mold the psychological and physiological material of love. One is the 
conception evolved by the nineteenth century out of the ideals of 
Christianity on the one hand and romanticism on the other. The other 
is that still rather inchoate and negative conception which contemporary 

* Plutarch, who wrote some five hundred years after the event, is by no means 
an unquestionable authority. The habit of which he and Thucydides speak may 
have facilitated the spread of the homosexual fashion. But that the fashion existed 
before the fifth century is made snEciently clear by Homer, not to mention 
Sappho. Like many modern oriental peoples, the ancient Greeks were evidently, 
in Sir Richard Burton's expressive phrase, "omnifutuent." 





youth is in process of forming out of the materials provided by modern 
psychology. The public opinion, the conventions, ideals, and prejudices 
which gave active force to the first convention and enabled it, to some 
extent at least, to modify the actual practice of love, had already lost much 
of their strength when they were rudely shattered, at any rate in the minds 
of the young, by the shock of the war. As usually happens, practice pre- 
ceded theory, and the new conception of love was called in to justify 
existing postwar manners. Having gained a footing, the new conception is 
now a cause of new behavior, instead of being, as it was for the generation 
of the first world war, an explanation of wartime behavior made after fhe 
fact. 

Let us try to analyze these two coexisting and conflicting conceptions 
of love. The older conception was, as I have said, the product of Chris- 
tianity and romanticism a curious mixture of contradictions, of the 
ascetic dread of passion and the romantic worship of passion. Its ideal was 
a strict monogamy, such as St. Paul grudgingly conceded to amorous 
humanity, sanctified and made eternal by one of those terrific exclusive 
passions which are the favorite theme of poetry and drama. It is an ideal 
which finds its most characteristic expression in the poetry of that infinitely 
respectable rebel, that profoundly anglican worshiper of passion, Robert 
Browning. It was Rousseau who first started the cult of passion for pas- 
sion's sake. Before his time the great passions, such as that of Paris for 
Helen, of Dido for Aeneas, of Paolo and Francesca for one another, had 
been regarded rather as disastrous maladies than as enviable states of soul. 
Rousseau, followed by all the romantic poets of France and England, 
transformed the grand passion from what it had been in the Middle Ages 
a demoniac possession into a divine ecstasy, and promoted it from the 
rank of a disease to that of the only true and natural form of love. The 
nineteenth-century conception of love was thus doubly mystical, with 
the mysticism of Christian asceticism and sacramentalism, and with the 
romantic mysticism of Nature. It claimed an absolute rightness on the 
grounds of its divinity and of its naturalness. 

Now, if there is one thing that the study of history and psychology 
makes abundantly clear, it is that there are no such things as cither 
"divine" or "natural" forms of love. Innumerable gods have sanctioned 
and forbidden innumerable kinds of sexual behavior, and innumerable 
philosophers and poets have advocated the return to the most diverse kinds 
of "nature." Every form of amorous behavior, from chastity and mono- 
gamy to promiscuity and the most fantastic "perversions/' is found both 
among animals and men. In any given human society, at any given 
moment, love, as we have seen, is the result of the interaction of the 


unchanging instinctive and physiological material of sex with the local 
conventions of morality and religion, the local laws, prejudices, and ideals. 
The degree of permanence of these conventions, religious myths, and 
ideals is proportional to their social utility in the given circumstances of 
time and place. 

The new twentieth-century conception of love is realistic. It recognizes 
the diversity of love, not merely in the social mass from age to age, but 
from individual to contemporary individual, according to the dosage of 
the different instincts with which each is born, and the upbringing he has 
received. The new generation knows that there is no such thing as Love 
with a large L, and that what the Christian romantics of the last century 
regarded as the uniquely natural form of love is, in fact, only one of the 
indefinite number of possible amorous fashions, produced by specific 
circumstances at that particular time. Psychoanalysis has taught it that 
all the forms of sexual behavior previously regarded as wicked, perverse, 
unnatural, are statistically normal (and normality is solely a question of 
statistics), and that what is commonly called amorous normality is far 
from being a spontaneous, instinctive form of behavior, but must be 
acquired by a process of education. Having contracted the habit of talking 
freely and more or less scientifically about sexual matters, the young no 
longer regard love with that feeling of rather guilty excitement and 
thrilling shame which was for an earlier generation the normal reaction to 
the subject. Moreover, the practice of birth control has robbed amorous 
indulgence of most of the sinfulness traditionally supposed to be inherent 
in it by robbing it of its socially disastrous effects. The tree shall be known 
by its fruits: where there are no fruits, there is obviously no tree. Love has 
ceased to be the rather fearful, mysterious thing it was, and become a per- 
fectly normal, almost commonplace, activity an activity, for many young 
people, especially in America, of the same nature as dancing or tennis, a 
sport, a recreation, a pastime. 

Such, then, are the two conceptions of love which oppose one another 
today. Which is the better? Without presuming to pass judgment, I will 
content myself with pointing out the defects of each. The older concep- 
tion was bad, in so far as it inflicted unnecessary and undeserved sufferings 
on the many human beings whose congenital and acquired modes of love- 
making did not conform to the fashionable Christian-romantic pattern 
which was regarded as being uniquely entitled to call itself Love. The new 
conception is bad, it seems to me, in so far as it takes love too easily 
and lightly. On love regarded as an amusement the last word is surely 
this of Robert Burns: 



I waive the quantum of the sin, 

The hazard of concealing; 
But oh! it hardens all within 

And petrifies the feeling.

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