Mind, Self and Society

AutorMead, George Herbert, 1863-1931
PealkiriMind, self, and society : from the standpoint of a social behaviorist / George H. Mead ; edited and with an introduction by Charles W. Morris
IlmunudChicago : University of Chicago Press, 1967, 1970
ViideMead, George Herbert 1970. Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Edited and with an introduction by Charles W. Morris. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

On a personal note, I've been wanting to read this book for the better part of my two years in college thus far. George Herbert Mead, his ideas and the ideas of his followers are practically unavoidable in the field of nonverbal communication (and/or semiotics). I'm thankful for Thomas A. Sebeok for possessing a copy of it in his extensive library and for donating that library to the department of semiotics. I'd also like to note that this is merely one of many good reads from the Chicago school (of symbolic interactionism). Thanks to Hewitt's Self and Society (1979) I am now aware that there are at least two more suchlike books available at TÜR: Cooley's Human Nature and the Social Order and Blumer's Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method.
Social psychology studies the activity or behavior of the individual as it lies within the social process; the behavior of an individual can be understood only in terms of the behavior of the whole social group of which he is a member, since his individual acts are involved in larger, social acts which go beyond himself and which implicate the other members of that group.
We are not, in social psychology, building up the behavior of the social group in terms of the behavior of the separate individuals composing it; rather, we are starting out with a given social whole of complex group activity, into which we analyze (as elements) the behavior of each of the separate individuals composing it. We attempt, that is, to explain the conduct of the individual in terms of the organized conduct of the social group, rather than to account for the organized conduct of the social group in terms of the conduct of the separate individuals belonging to it. For social psychology, the whole (society) is prior to the part (the individual), not the part to the whole; and the part is explained in terms of the whole, not the whole in terms of the part or parts. The social act is not explained by building it up out of stimulus plus response; it must be taken as a dynamic whole - as something going on - no part of which can be considered or understood by itself - a complex organic process implied by each individual stimulus and response involved in it. (Mead : 6-7)
The object of study (of social psychology); "interconnectedness" or "interrelatedness" of behavior - it's social character; individual acts are meaningful as long as they are part of a larger kind of action - social action; implicate: imply, involve. Putting the whole before the part and especially the "dynamic whole - something going on - a complex organic process" may well (be made to) relate to the behavioural sphere hinted at by Lotman.
We are reading the meaning of the conduct of other people when, perhaps, they are not aware of it. There is something that reveals to us what the purpose is - just the glance of an eye, the attitude of the body which leads to the response. The communication set up in this way between individuals may be very perfect. Conversation in gestures may be carried on which cannot be translated into articulate speech. (Mead 1970: 14)
These are quite bodacious propositions: is gestural communication perfect; can it really not be translated into articulate speech?
What, for example, is our experience that answers to clenching of the fist? Physiological psychology followed the action out through the nerves that came from the muscles of the arm and hand. The experience of the act would then be the sensation of what was going on; in consciousness as such there is an awareness of what the organ was doing; there is a parallelism between what goes on in the organ and what takes place in consciousness. This parallelism is, of cours,e not a complete parallelism. There seems to be consciousness corresponding only to the sensory nerves. (Mead 1970: 22)
In footnotes, the last remark is expanded: "We are conscious always of what we have done, never of doing it. We are always conscious directly only of sensory processes, never of motor processes; hence we are conscious of motor processes only through sensory processes, which are their resultants. The contents of consciousness have, therefore, to be correlated with or fitted into a physiological system in dynamic terms, as processes going on."
The human animal is an attentive animal, and his attention may be given to stimuli that are relatively faint. One can pick out sounds at a distance. Our whole intelligent process seems to lie in the attention which is selective of certain types of stimuli. Other stimuli which are bombarding the system are in some fashion shunted off. We give our attention to one particular thing. Not only do we open the door to certain stimuli and close it to others, but our attention is an organizing process as well as a selective process. When giving attention to what we are going to do we are picking out the whole group of stimuli which represent successive activity. Our attention enables us to organize the field in which we are going to act. (Mead 1970: 25)
In one fell swoop Mead brings together notions that I am rather familiar as focal and subsidiary attention, and sets a precedent in the form of the door metaphor which later probably evolved into the sensory gating metaphor. Attention as an organizing principle should also be kept in mind, as this links up with cultural activity.
You look for a book in a library and you carry a sort of mental image of the back of the book; you render yourself sensitive to a certain image of a friend you are going to meet. We can sensitize ourselves to certain types of stimuli and we can build up the sort of action we are going to take. (Mead 1970: 26)
These terms may come in handy when discussing how pseudo-scientific body language literature sensitizes readers to certain behaviours and not others, thus malforming attention to bodily movements, (especially reflexive) responses to these and thus somewhat derail normal conduct.
The body is not a self, as such, it becomes a self only when it has developed a mind within the context of social experience. (Mead 1970: 50)
Very general, very important.
Mind arises through communication by a conversation of gestures in a social process or context of experience - not communication through mind. (Mead 1970: 50)
Socialization (communication) precedes mind.
It is not essential the the individual should give an identical meaning to the particular stimulus in order that each may properly respond. People get into a crowd and move this way, and that way; they adjust themselves to the people coming toward them, as we say, unconsciously. They move in an intelligent fashion with reference to each other, and perhaps all of them think of something entirely different, but they do find in the gestures of others, their attitudes and movements, adequate stimuli for different responses. This illustrates a conversation of gestures in which there is co-operative activity without any symbol that means the same thing to all. (Mead 1970: 55)
Orienting response does not require significant symbolizing; responding to other's behaviour without common meaning is an example of a conversation of gestures.
Symbolization constitutes objects not constituted before, objects which would not exist except for the context of social relationships wherein symbolization occurs. Language does not simply symbolize a situation or object which is already there in advance; it makes possible the existence or the appearance of that situation or object, for it is part of the mechanism whereby that situation or object is created. The social process relates the responses of one individual to the gestures of another, as the meanings of the latter, and is thus responsible for the rise and existence of new objects in the social situation, objects dependent upon or constituted by these meanings. Meaning is thus not to be conceived, fundamentally, as a state of consciousness, or as a set of organized relations existing or subsisting mentally outside the field of experience into which they enter; on the contrary, it should be conceived objectively, as having its existence entirely within this field itself. The response of one organism to the gestures of another in any given social act is the meaning of or coming into being of the new object - or new content of an old object - to which that gesture refers through the outcome of the given social act in which it is an early phase. For, to repeat, objects are in a genuine sense constituted within the social process of experience, by the communication and mutual adjustment of behavior among the individual organisms which are involved in that process and which carry it on. Just as in fencing the parry is an interpretation of the thrust, so, in the social act, the adjustive response of one organism to the gesture of another is the interpretation of that gesture by that organism - it is the meaning of that gesture.
At the level of self-consciousness such a gesture becomes a symbol, a significant symbol. But the interpretation of gestures is not, basically, a process going on in a mind as such, or one necessarily involving a mind; it is an external, overt, physical, or physiological process going on in the actual field of social experience. Meaning can be described, accounted for, or stated in terms of symbols or language at its highest and most complex stage of development (the stage it reaches in human experience), but language simply lifts out of the social process a situation which is logically or implicitly there already. The language symbol is simply a significant or conscious gesture.
Two main points are being made here: (1) that the social process, through the communication which it makes possible among the individuals implicated in it, is responsible for the appearance of a whole set of new objects in nature, which exist in relation to it (objects, namely, of "common sense"); and (2) that the gesture of one organism and the adjustive response of another organism to that gesture within any given social act bring out the relationship that exists between the gesture as the beginning of the given act and the completion or resultant of the given act, to which the gesture refers. These are the two basic and complementary logical aspects of the social process.
The result of any given social act is definitely separated from the gesture indicating it by the response of another organism to that gesture, a response which points to the result of that act as indicated by that gesture. This situation is all there - is completely given - on the non-mental, non-conscious level, before the analysis of it on the mental or conscious level. Dewey says that meaning arises through communication. It is to the content to which the social process gives rise that this statement refers; not to bare ideas or printed words as such, but to the social process which has been so largely responsible for the objects constituting the daily environment in which we live: a process in which communication plays the main part. That process can give rise to these new objects in nature only in so far as it makes possible communication among the individual organisms involved in it. And the sense in which it is responsible for their existence - indeed for the existence of the whole world of common-sense objects - is the sense in which it determines, conditions, and makes possible their abstraction from the total structure of events, as identities whicha re relevant for everyday social behavior; and in the same sense, or as having that meaning, they are existent only relative to that behavior. In the same way, at a later, more advanced stage of its development, communication is responsible for the existence of the whole realm of scientific objects as well as identities abstracted from the total structure of events by virtue of their relevance for scientific purpose. (Mead 1970: 78-80)
The declaration that symbolization constitutes objects and situations might be the influence Mead was noted to have on social constructivists (e.g. Berger and Luckmann 1966). Meaning as a response of one organism to the behaviour of another is very much what Charles W. Morris tried to explain in his Signs, Language and Behavior (1949). The first main point is an important one, as it states that commonsensical knowledge is socially constructed. This might seem very obvious, but it is an important remark concerning the phenomena of "body language" - which is commonsensical beyond explanation (there could be a history of body language, but it would be a murky and inconsistent one).
The significant gesture or symbol always presupposes for its significance the social process of experience and behavior in which it arises; or, as the logicians say, a universe of discourse is always implied as the context in terms of which, or as the field within which, significant gestures or symbols do in fact have significance. This universe of discourse is constituted by a group of individuals carrying on and participating in a common social process of experience and behavior, within which these gestures or symbols have the same or common meaning for all members of that group, whether they make them or address them to other individuals, or whether they overtly respond to them as made or addressed to them by other individuals. A universe of discourse is simply a system of common or social meanings. (Mead 1970: 89)
Now, here, the universe of discourse is easily conflatable with other suchlike notions, e.g. Andreas Ventsel's (2009: 33) conflation of Foucault's discourse and Lotman's text or semiosphere makes perfect sense.
There is, of cousre, a fundamental likeness between voluntary attention and involuntary attention. A bright lift, a peculiar odor, may be something which takes complete control of the organism and in so far inhibits other activity. A voluntary action, however, is dependent upon the indication of a certain character, pointing it out, holding on to it, and so holding on to the response that belongs to it. That sort of an analysis is essential to what we call human intelligence, and it is made possible by language. (Mead 1970: 95)
The terms - voluntary and involuntary attention - should be kept in mind and tied to sign processes in semiotic discourse. Intelligence is here defined as the voluntary action of pointing out and holding on to stimuli - in other words, creating signs [märkama] out of raw stimuli, intentionally.
Ideas, as distinct from acts, or as failing to issue in overt behavior, are simply what we do not do; they are possibilities of overt responses which we test out implicitly in the central nervous system and then reject in favor of those which we do in fact act upon or carry into effect. The process of intelligent conduct is essentially a process of selection from among various alternatives; intelligence is largely a matter of selectivity. (Mead 1970: 99)
Definition of ideas as what we do not do is strange, and yet very obvious and true. Ideas are part of covert behavior; what is described here as testing out implicitly in the central nervous system we would probably call imagining. Intelligence consists here of selecting, and holding onto, various alternatives or alternative ways of conduct, and selecting the - to put a normative spin on it - appropriate one for overt behaviour. Also, the last remark - the relationship between intelligence and process of selection - vaguely reminds me a Lotmanian definition of intelligence as the base for cultural activity. This could be a misinterpretation (or a failing of memory), but it almost seems as if intelligence consists of accumulating a repertoire of responses, and playfully selecting (not to say appropriate, before there is no one-and-only correct course of action) one alternative; in essence, not following an automatic, but a considerate or mindfully chosen, course of action.
A trained body of troops exhibits a set of conditioned reflexes. A certain formation is brought about by means of certain orders. Its success lies in an automatic response when these orders are given. There, of course, one has action without thought. If the soldier thinks under the circumstances he very likely will not act; his action is dependent in a certain sense on the absence of thought. There must be elaborate thinking done somewhere, but after that has been done by the officer higher up, then the process must become automatic. (Mead 1970: 102)
The unthinking conduct of the soldier in carrying out the oder, so that the mere giving of the order involves its execution, is characteristic of the type of conduct in lower animals. (Mead 1970: 102)
What I want to insist upon is that the process, by means of which these responses that are the ideas or meanings become associated with a certain vocal gesture, lies in the activity of the organism, while in the case of the dog, the child, the soldier, this process takes place, as it were, outside the organism. The soldier is trained through a whole set of evolutions. He does not know why this particular set is given to him or the uses to which it will be put; he is just put through his drill, as an animal is trained in a circus. (Mead 1970: 105)
I knew something like this would pop up somewhere somewhen: a few notes on the automatism in military training.
It is a difficult matter to state just what we mean by dividing up a certain situation between the organism and its environment. Certain object come to exist for us because of the character of the organism. Take the case of food. If an animal that can digest grass, such as an oz, comes into the world, then grass becomes food. That object did not exist before, that is, grass as food. The advent of the ox brings in a new object. In that sense, organisms are responsible for the appearance of whole sets of objects that did not exist before. The distribution of meaning to the organism and the environment has its expression in the roganism as well as in the thing, and that expression is not a matter of psychical or mental conditions. There is an expression of the reaction of the organized response of the organism to the environment, and that reaction is not simply a determination of the organism by the environment, since the organism determines the environment as fully as the environment determines the organs. The organic reaction is responsible for the appearance of a whole set of objects which did not exist before. (Mead 1970: 129)
This is strangely close to the Uexküllian Umwelt.
The organized community or social group which gives to the individual his unity of self may be called "the generalized other." The attitude of the generalized other is the attitude of the whole community. Thus, for example, in the case of such a social group as the ball team, the team is the generalized other in so far as it enters - as an organized process or social activity - into the experience of any one of the individual members of it. (Mead 1970: 154)
This is the notion which Charles Morris layd great stress on in the introduction. It reminds me of the notion of a "reference group".
We put personalities into the animals, but they do not belong to them; and ultimately we realize that those animals have no rights. We are at liberty to cut off their lives; there is no wrong committed when an animal's life is taken away. He has not lost anything because the future does not exist for the animal; he has not the "me" in his experience which by the response of the "I" is in some sense under his control, so that the future can exist for him. He has no conscious past since there is no self of the sort we have been describing that can be extended into the past by memories. There are presumably images in the existence of lower animals, but no idea or memories in the required sense. (Mead 1970: 183)
This passage would serve to instigate a loud outcry in many a animal rights supporters, but this is not the cause for citing it. Rather it may come in handy in discussing military training, since the soldier is in a sense lowered to the level of an animal: the future of the soldier does not exist as the military establishment projects only the future which contains an outbreak of war, in which case the soldier is doomed to death for whatever reason (protecting the fatherland and the like); and the past is not important, as the soldier was then not yet a soldier.
It is just as true in politics and religion in the putting of one sect over against the others. This took the place of the explusive expression of nationalism in the early period, the period of religious wars. One belonged to one group that was superior to other groups and could assert himself confidently because he had God on his side. (Mead 1970: 207)
This loosely links up with the first important tenet of politics (and, in a sense, religion also): self interest. As God is a figment of collective imagination, it serves the interests of the in-group (us or svoi).
Impulsive doncut is uncontrolled conduct. The structure of the "me" does not there determine the expression of the "I." If we use a Freudian expression, the "me" is in a certain sense a censor. It determines the sort of expression which can take place, sets the stage, and gives the cue. In the case of impulsive conduct this structure of the "me" involved in the situation does not furnish to any such degree this control. Take the situation of self-assertion where the self simply asserts itself over against others, and suppose that the emotional stress is such that the forms of polite society in the performance of legitimate conduct are overthrown, so that the person expresses himself violently. There the "me" is determined by the situation. There are certain recognized fields within which an individual can assert himself, certain rights which he has within these limits. But let the stress become too great, these limits are not observed, and an individual asserts himself in perhaps a violent fasion. Then the "I" is the dominant element over agianst the "me." Under what we consider normal conditions the way in which an individual acts is determined by his taking the attitude of the others in the group, but if the individual is not given the opportunity to come up against people, then there results a situation in which the reaction is uncontrolled. (Mead 1970: 210)
This is the case of non-conformism, or when the "I" and the "me" clash. The "me" being a censor of impulses links up nicely with self-censorship in social interaction.
Our manners are methods of not only mediating intercourse between persons but also ways of protecting ourselves against each other. A person may, by manners, isolate himself so that he cannot be touched by anyone else. Manners provide a way in which we keep people at a distance, people that we do not know and do not want to know. (Mead 1970: 218)
What a strange suggestion: the relationship of manners and #avoidance. I should keep in mind that manners and etiquette might be a worthwhile field of study.
Oppressive, stereotyped, and ultra-conservative social institutions - like the church - which by their more or less rigid and inflexible unprogressivness crush or blot out individuality, or discourage any distinctive or original expressions of thought and behavior in the individual selves or personalities implicated in and subjected to them, are undesirable but not necessary outcomes of the general social process of experience and behavior. There is no necessary or inevitable reason why social institutions should be oppressive or rigidly conservative, or why they should not rather be, as many are, flexible and progressive, fostering individuality rather than discouraging it. (Mead 1970: 262)
He goes on to discuss how the social institutions are nevertheless necessary for the formation of the self, but that is not what is interesting here. I rather like the way he describes institutions here, as inhibiting originality and instigating conformity. The example here is church, but it could equally be the university, the army, or any long-lasting social organization. The notions used here are sufficiently general to be applicable to a variety of phenomena.
A person learns a new language and, as we say, gets a new soul. He puts himself into the attitude of those that make use of that language. He cannot read its literature, cannot converse with those that belong to that community, without taking on its peculiar attitudes. He becomes in that sense a different individual. You cannot convey a language as a pure abstraction; you inevitably in some degree convey also the life that lies behind it. (Mead 1970: 283)
This sounds a bit like Edward T. Hall, who studied the cultural differences (or lifestyles) of people speaking different languages. In Birdwhistellian sense this is easy to express: a linguistic community also has its peculiar kinesic traits.
We always present ourselves to ourselves in the most favorable light possible; but since we all have the job of keeping ourselves going, it is quite necessary that if we are to keep ourselves going we should thus present ourselves to ourselves. (Mead 1970: 307)
At first sight this sounds like something Erving Goffman might have written; upon elaboration it sounds more like Foucault's Hermeneutics of the Subject: his subject must relate to itself, just as Mead's self must present itself to itself.
The caste distinction of the early warrior class was one which separated its members from the community. Their characters as soldiers differentiated them from the other members of the community; they were what they were because they were essentially different from others. Their activity separated them from the community. They even preyed upon the community which they were supposed to be defending, and would do so inevitably because their activity was essentially a fighting activity. With the development of the national army which took place at the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was the possibility of everyone's being a warrior, so that the man who was a fighting man was still a person who could identify himself with the other members of the community; he had their attitudes and they had the attitude of the fighting man. Thus the normal relationship between the fighting man and the rest of the community was one which bound people together, integrated the army and the body of the state, instead of separating them. (Mead 1970: 319)
A note on the national army. By warrior class, I presume Mead means the likes of Spartan warriors, who indeed (if memory does not betray) stole and pillaged their communities.
There are, of course, experiences which are necessarily confined to a particular individual, and which cannot in their individual character be shared by others; e.g., those which arise from one's own organism, and affective experiences - feelings - which are vague and incapable of reference to an object, and which cannot be made common property of the community to which one belongs (such mystical experience are in part responsible for the assumption of a spiritual being - a God - who can enter into and comprehend these emotional states.) But these states either have, or are assumed to have, objective reference. (Mead 1970: 339)
This remark on God having access to subjective sensations brings to mind the latin "Cum ergo Dominus sit cordis inspector omni tempore, non est deneganda poenitentia postulanti." To wit, God has access to all, or to abbreviate: "God is the observer of the heart." This perspective can be found in Augustine.
The distinction ofgreatest importance between types of conduct in human behavior is that lying between what I will term the conduct of the "biological individual" and the conduct of the "socially self-conscious individual." The distinction answers roughly to that drawn between conduct which does not involve conscious reasoning and that which does, between the conduct of the more intelligent of the lower animals and that of man. While these types of conduct can be clearly distinguished from each other in human behavior, they are not on separate planes, but play back and forth into each other, and constitute, under most conditions, an experience which apepars to be cut by no lines of cleavage. (Mead 1970: 347)
This is the earliest distinction on this topic (instrumental vs symbolic behavior) I have met thus far.
Man's implements are elaborations and extensions of his hands. (Mead 1970: 363)
Yet another neat way to name the tendency of increasing distance between the human body and what the body is functionally doing. Implements here are extrabodily devices or physicla gadgets elsewhere (Leopold, Ivanov). I still believe that somewhere somewhen I'll come across an elaboration of the ways in which the human body is distanced from physical contact or activity.


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