When we use the word ‘’modern‘’ to describe something,
it’s ususlly a positive.
We’re very appreciative and even a little smug about the miracles of
modern science, modern technology,
and even the superiority of modern viewpoints.
But what if in speeding towards a new and ever better future,
we’ve left some important truths about ourselves behind?
One of people who best help us to explore this problem is Margaret Mead,
perhaps the most famous anthropologist in the world.
Margaret Mead was born in the USA in 1901,
the oldest of five children.
Her father was a professor of finance and her mother was a sociologist.
After studying psychology as an undergraduate,
Mead began a PhD in the relatively new field of anthropology.
Her supervisor Franz Boas
was the founder of the discipline in the United States.
Unlike earlier anthropologists who’d imagined that civilization was progressing in a linear fashion,
from barbarism to savagery to civilization,
Boas argued that the world was teeming with separate cultures,
each with their own unique perspectives, insights, and deficiencies.
The modern western world was not the pinnacle of human achievement
but simply one specific example of what humans could get up to.
Boas suggested that Mead travel for her field work to Samoa,
a few tiny volcanic tropical islands in the center of the Pacific Ocean.
Mead was particularly interested in primitive communities,
because she believed that such isolated cultures
could serve as laboratories
that would reveal ways of living
that the modern world had forgotten about but needed to remember.
Starting in 1925
and lasting until the beginning of World War II,
Mead lived in Samoa in a highly authentic way for long periods.
She learned the languages, dressed like a local,
and even carried babies around by having them cling to her neck.
Mead became fascinated by Samoan attitudes to sex in particular.
In the book that made her name
“Coming of Age in Samoa” published in 1928,
Mead describe Samoan culture as far more open and comfortable with sex
than the modern United States.
Little children in Samoa knew all about masturbation
and learned about intercourse and other acts through first-hand observation,
but thought of it as no more scandalous or worthy of comment than death or birth.
Homosexuality was incidental but also not a matter of shame.
And people’s orientations fluctuated naturally throughout their lives
without defining them.
This intrigued and inspired Mead
who herself led rather unconventional life,
simultaneously involved with successive husbands
and an ever-present female lover,
another famous anthropologist, called Ruth Benedict.
Mead argued that the Samoan approach to sex
made adolescence far easier for girls there,
because there was little pressure for them
to conform to particular kinds of sexuality.
They were neither pressured to abstain from sex
nor to achieve particular milestones
like having boyfriends or getting married.
Gradually, Mead got interested in gender roles
and discovered that modern societies are far more rigid
in this area than primitive ones.
For example, Americans tend to think of men as productive, sensible and aggressive,
例如 美国人往往认为男性有效率 理智而好斗
while women are often told that they are more frivolous, peaceful, and nurturing.
而女性常被人说轻浮 平和 有爱心
But in her 1935 book
“Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies’’,
Mead studied tribes in Papua New Guinea
and recorded that in the Arapesh tribe
both men and women were peaceful and nurturing,
while among the Mundugumor tribe,
men and women were both ruthless and aggressive.
In short, Mead suggested that
no gender traits are ever simply human nature.
They are all instead simply possibilities,
which are either taught encouraged or shunned by any given culture.
Mead’s striking conclusion
is that it isn’t gender that makes women curl their hair or listen to people’s feelings,
or race that makes some nations regularly attack their neighbors.
Rather, it’s the social expectations and norms
that have developed slowly over centuries
and which have laid the groundwork for each individual’s psychological makeup.
’We must recognise’, she reminded her readers,
’that beneath the superficial classifications of sex and race’
’the same potentialities always exist,
recurring generation after generation’
’only to perish because society has no place for them’
Mead herself learned so much from her anthropological subjects.
She brought up her daughter according to some of the parenting ideas
of the primitive people she work with, like breastfeeding on demand,
which she helped to popularize in modern-day America.
During World War II, access to the South Pacific was impossible,
so Mead began to study more complex cultures like her own.
After the war, Mead worked for the US military,
studying Russian responses to authority,
in order to try to predict what the Soviets might do during the Cold War.
She grew increasingly famous,
traveling widely, giving lectures, and teaching at universities.
四处旅行 开设讲座 在大学教书
For fifty years, from 1928 until her death in 1978,
she worked on and off for the American Museum of natural history in New York City
as a curator for their special projects.
She wrote 20 books in all and was award 28 honorary degrees.
Mead’s work helps us to use the experiences of other nations and people
as a storehouse of good ideas.
’’As the traveler who has once been from home
is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep,’’ She suggested,
“So a knowledge of another culture
will always sharpen our ability to scrutinize our own more steadily.”
In doing so, she suggested we will always uncover and support
undeveloped human potential forgotten
in our rush towards modernity.