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Theory of the Leisure Class, The

The animistic habit of mind may occur in the early, undifferentiated form of an inchoate animistic belief, or in the later and more highly integrated phase in which there is an anthropomorphic personification of the propensity imputed to facts. The industrial value of such a lively animistic sense, or of such recourse to a preternatural agency or the guidance of an unseen hand, is of course very much the same in either case. As affects the industrial serviceability of the individual, the effect is of the same kind in either case; but the extent to which this habit of thought dominates or shapes the complex of his habits of thought varies with the degree of immediacy, urgency, or exclusiveness with which the individual habitually applies the animistic or anthropomorphic formula in dealing with the facts of his environment. The animistic habit acts in all cases to blur the appreciation of causal sequence; but the earlier, less reflected, less defined animistic sense of propensity may be expected to affect the intellectual processes of the individual in a more pervasive way than the higher forms of anthropomorphism. Where the animistic habit is present in the naive form, its scope and range of application are not defined or limited. It will therefore palpably affect his thinking at every turn of the person's life—wherever he has to do with the material means of life. In the later, maturer development of animism, after it has been defined through the process of anthropomorphic elaboration, when its application has been limited in a somewhat consistent fashion to the remote and the invisible, it comes about that an increasing range of everyday facts are provisionally accounted for without recourse to the preternatural agency in which a cultivated animism expresses itself. A highly integrated, personified preternatural agency is not a convenient means of handling the trivial occurrences of life, and a habit is therefore easily fallen into of accounting for many trivial or vulgar phenomena in terms of sequence. The provisional explanation so arrived at is by neglect allowed to stand as definitive, for trivial purposes, until special provocation or perplexity recalls the individual to his allegiance. But when special exigencies arise, that is to say, when there is peculiar need of a full and free recourse to the law of cause and effect, then the individual commonly has recourse to the preternatural agency as a universal solvent, if he is possessed of an anthropomorphic belief.

The extra-causal propensity or agent has a very high utility as a recourse in perplexity, but its utility is altogether of a non-economic kind. It is especially a refuge and a fund of comfort where it has attained the degree of consistency and specialization that belongs to an anthropomorphic divinity. It has much to commend it even on other grounds than that of affording the perplexed individual a means of escape from the difficulty of accounting for phenomena in terms of causal sequence. It would scarcely be in place here to dwell on the obvious and well-accepted merits of an anthropomorphic divinity, as seen from the point of view of the aesthetic, moral, or spiritual interest, or even as seen from the less remote standpoint of political, military, or social policy. The question here concerns the less picturesque and less urgent economic value of the belief in such a preternatural agency, taken as a habit of thought which affects the industrial serviceability of the believer. And even within this narrow, economic range, the inquiry is perforce confined to the immediate bearing of this habit of thought upon the believer's workmanlike serviceability, rather than extended to include its remoter economic effects. These remoter effects are very difficult to trace. The inquiry into them is so encumbered with current preconceptions as to the degree in which life is enhanced by spiritual contact with such a divinity, that any attempt to inquire into their economic value must for the present be fruitless.

The immediate, direct effect of the animistic habit of thought upon the general frame of mind of the believer goes in the direction of lowering his effective intelligence in the respect in which intelligence is of especial consequence for modern industry. The effect follows, in varying degree, whether the preternatural agent or propensity believed in is of a higher or a lower cast. This holds true of the barbarian's and the sporting man's sense of luck and propensity, and likewise of the somewhat higher developed belief in an anthropomorphic divinity, such as is commonly possessed by the same class. It must be taken to hold true also—though with what relative degree of cogency is not easy to say—of the more adequately developed anthropomorphic cults, such as appeal to the devout civilized man. The industrial disability entailed by a popular adherence to one of the higher anthropomorphic cults may be relatively slight, but it is not to be overlooked. And even these high-class cults of the Western culture do not represent the last dissolving phase of this human sense of extra-causal propensity. Beyond these the same animistic sense shows itself also in such attenuations of anthropomorphism as the eighteenth-century appeal to an order of nature and natural rights, and in their modern representative, the ostensibly post-Darwinian concept of a meliorative trend in the process of evolution. This animistic explanation of phenomena is a form of the fallacy which the logicians knew by the name of ignava ratio. For the purposes of industry or of science it counts as a blunder in the apprehension and valuation of facts. Apart from its direct industrial consequences, the animistic habit has a certain significance for economic theory on other grounds. (1) It is a fairly reliable indication of the presence, and to some extent even of the degree of potency, of certain other archaic traits that accompany it and that are of substantial economic consequence; and (2) the material consequences of that code of devout proprieties to which the animistic habit gives rise in the development of an anthropomorphic cult are of importance both (a) as affecting the community's consumption of goods and the prevalent canons of taste, as already suggested in an earlier chapter, and (b) by inducing and conserving a certain habitual recognition of the relation to a superior, and so stiffening the current sense of status and allegiance.

As regards the point last named (b), that body of habits of thought which makes up the character of any individual is in some sense an organic whole. A marked variation in a given direction at any one point carries with it, as its correlative, a concomitant variation in the habitual expression of life in other directions or other groups of activities. These various habits of thought, or habitual expressions of life, are all phases of the single life sequence of the individual; therefore a habit formed in response to a given stimulus will necessarily affect the character of the response made to other stimuli. A modification of human nature at any one point is a modification of human nature as a whole. On this ground, and perhaps to a still greater extent on obscurer grounds that can not be discussed here, there are these concomitant variations as between the different traits of human nature. So, for instance, barbarian peoples with a well-developed predatory scheme of life are commonly also possessed of a strong prevailing animistic habit, a well-formed anthropomorphic cult, and a lively sense of status. On the other hand, anthropomorphism and the realizing sense of an animistic propensity in material are less obtrusively present in the life of the peoples at the cultural stages which precede and which follow the barbarian culture. The sense of status is also feebler; on the whole, in peaceable communities. It is to be remarked that a lively, but slightly specialized, animistic belief is to be found in most if not all peoples living in the ante-predatory, savage stage of culture. The primitive savage takes his animism less seriously than the barbarian or the degenerate savage. With him it eventuates in fantastic myth-making, rather than in coercive superstition. The barbarian culture shows sportsmanship, status, and anthropomorphism. There is commonly observable a like concomitance of variations in the same respects in the individual temperament of men in the civilized communities of today. Those modern representatives of the predaceous barbarian temper that make up the sporting element are commonly believers in luck; at least they have a strong sense of an animistic propensity in things, by force of which they are given to gambling. So also as regards anthropomorphism in this class. Such of them as give in their adhesion to some creed commonly attach themselves to one of the naively and consistently anthropomorphic creeds; there are relatively few sporting men who seek spiritual comfort in the less anthropomorphic cults, such as the Unitarian or the Universalist.

Closely bound up with this correlation of anthropomorphism and prowess is the fact that anthropomorphic cults act to conserve, if not to initiate, habits of mind favorable to a regime of status. As regards this point, it is quite impossible to say where the disciplinary effect of the cult ends and where the evidence of a concomitance of variations in inherited traits begins. In their finest development, the predatory temperament, the sense of status, and the anthropomorphic cult all together belong to the barbarian culture; and something of a mutual causal relation subsists between the three phenomena as they come into sight in communities on that cultural level. The way in which they recur in correlation in the habits and attitudes of individuals and classes today goes far to imply a like causal or organic relation between the same psychological phenomena considered as traits or habits of the individual. It has appeared at an earlier point in the discussion that the relation of status, as a feature of social structure, is a consequence of the predatory habit of life. As regards its line of derivation, it is substantially an elaborated expression of the predatory attitude. On the other hand, an anthropomorphic cult is a code of detailed relations of status superimposed upon the concept of a preternatural, inscrutable propensity in material things. So that, as regards the external facts of its derivation, the cult may be taken as an outgrowth of archaic man's pervading animistic sense, defined and in some degree transformed by the predatory habit of life, the result being a personified preternatural agency, which is by imputation endowed with a full complement of the habits of thought that characterize the man of the predatory culture.

The grosser psychological features in the case, which have an immediate bearing on economic theory and are consequently to be taken account of here, are therefore: (a) as has appeared in an earlier chapter, the predatory, emulative habit of mind here called prowess is but the barbarian variant of the generically human instinct of workmanship, which has fallen into this specific form under the guidance of a habit of invidious comparison of persons; (b) the relation of status is a formal expression of such an invidious comparison duly gauged and graded according to a sanctioned schedule; (c) an anthropomorphic cult, in the days of its early vigor at least, is an institution the characteristic element of which is a relation of status between the human subject as inferior and the personified preternatural agency as superior. With this in mind, there should be no difficulty in recognizing the intimate relation which subsists between these three phenomena of human nature and of human life; the relation amounts to an identity in some of their substantial elements. On the one hand, the system of status and the predatory habit of life are an expression of the instinct of workmanship as it takes form under a custom of invidious comparison; on the other hand, the anthropomorphic cult and the habit of devout observances are an expression of men's animistic sense of a propensity in material things, elaborated under the guidance of substantially the same general habit of invidious comparison. The two categories—the emulative habit of life and the habit of devout observances—are therefore to be taken as complementary elements of the barbarian type of human nature and of its modern barbarian variants. They are expressions of much the same range of aptitudes, made in response to different sets of stimuli.


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