Iz Derevni: 12 Pisem


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In the discussion of some question by the mir [organization of neighbors] there are no speeches, no debates, no votes. They shout, they abuse one another, they seem on the point of coming to blows; apparently they riot in the most senseless manner. Someone preserves silence, and then suddenly puts in a word, one word or an ejaculation, and by this word, this ejaculation, he turns the whole thing upside down. In the end you look into it and find that an admirable decision has been formed, and, what is most important, a unanimous decision.1

It is significant in this connection that the nervous mechanism which directs the impulses and activities is partly on a reflex basis and, where the activity has successive stages, the principle of "chain reflex" operates, whereby the completion of one stage of the performance touches off the next stage. F. H. Herrick2 has pointed out, for example, that the nest building of some birds consists of a cycle of as many as five stages, and if the activity is interrupted at any point it is necessary to begin the whole process again. A parallel of this is seen in the case of simple people giving testimony in court. They are not able to continue if interrupted, or to omit stages in the narrative and come to the point, but must start again at the beginning. There is thus an organic resistance to the violation of the order of the components of a complex reaction.

Furthermore, if we examine the sustaining incentives of all goal seeking and adjustive striving we find that they rest on an unrationalized, reflex, and emotional basis. All action patterns are derived from the impulses operating in hunting, killing, capturing, and captivating activities, whether motivated by the hunger or the sex drive. These are the primary "pursuits" and the term has by an appropriate feeling been transferred to more social and abstract pursuits—the pursuit of learning, the pursuit of riches, the pursuit of fame, etc. The close of a pursuit is primarily a "kill" (or capture) and for making a kill by man or animal a technique is required involving hand and muscular coordination and timing in striking or grasping. The success or failure of the action represents a life or death situation. Hence our admiration of skillful technique on any level. At one time I witnessed a gun fight where A fired a bullet which passed between the heart and the left arm of B. A then turned and ran, and B, in a split second, fired a shot shattering A’s backbone. In this case life and death were very impressive from the standpoint of technique.

Our admiration for the skill and nerve of the two-gun man or the clever or daring outlaw or burglar may even supersede our judgment of moral values. Performances in baseball, tennis, golf, billiards, rifle shooting, archery, chess, cards, fishing, etc., the chagrin and contraction of the cat that misses its kill, the elation and expansion of the player who "stops the show," the sustaining curiosity, absorption, and jealousy in scientific pursuits and in all problems and goal seekings, are derivatives of the primary drives and have also the unrecognized semblance of life and death. Not only does the substitute or "sporting" pattern of life and death activity sustain the performer but the feeling of the technique of the performance is transferred to the spectators.

These are the concrete aspects of the process, but if we generalize the statement and view life as a continuous striving for adjustment it is plain that all techniques, including language for argumentation, mathematics for calculation, law and medicine for control of given situations, economic techniques for the accumulation of material values conferring status and advantage, and all idealism are aspects of the adjustive conflicts, sustained by the unconscious impulses. The emotional components of the reactions are not consciously analyzable but are in the structure of the organism.

1Engelgardt, A.N.n/an/an/an/a, [From the Country: 12 Letters], 315.

2Jour. Animal Behavior, 1: 168; Sci., N.S., 25: 645.


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Chicago: "Iz Derevni: 12 Pisem," Iz Derevni: 12 Pisem in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed May 28, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=WEQHD5I2P9CDT42.

MLA: . "Iz Derevni: 12 Pisem." Iz Derevni: 12 Pisem, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 28 May. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=WEQHD5I2P9CDT42.

Harvard: , 'Iz Derevni: 12 Pisem' in Iz Derevni: 12 Pisem. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 28 May 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=WEQHD5I2P9CDT42.