Margaret Mead


American Cultural Anthropologist and Psychologist

Author Quotes

In contrast to our own social environment which brings out different aspects of human nature and often demonstrated that behavior which occurs almost invariably in individuals within our society is nevertheless due not to original nature but to social environment; and a homogeneous and simple development of the individual may be studied.

Man's role is uncertain, undefined, and perhaps unnecessary. By a great effort man has hit upon a method of compensating himself for his basic inferiority. Equipped with various mysterious noise-making instruments, whose potency rests upon their actual form's being unknown to those who hear the sounds ? that is, the women and children must never know that they are really bamboo flutes, or hollow logs, or bits of elliptic wood whirled on strings ? they can get the male children away from the women, brand them as incomplete, and themselves turn boys into men. Women, it is true, make human beings, but only men can make men.

Our goal was to translate aspects of culture never successfully recorded by the scientist, although often caught by the artist, into some form of communication sufficiently clear and sufficiently unequivocal to satisfy the requirements of scientific enquiry.

The liberals have not softened their view of actuality to make themselves live closer to the dream, but instead sharpen their perceptions and fight to make the dream actuality or give up the battle in despair.

There has been an increased but still rather limited response to general systems theory, as variously reflected in the work of Bateson, Vayda, Rappaport, Adams, and an interest in the use of computers, programming, matrices, etc. But the interaction between general systems theory (as represented, for example, by the theoretical work of Von Bertalanffy) has been compromised, partly by the state of field data, extraordinarily incomparable as it inevitably is, as well as historical anthropological methods of dealing with wholes. General systems theory has taken its impetus from the excitement of discovering larger and larger contexts, on the one hand, and a kind of micro-probing into fine detail within a system, on the other. Both of these activities are intrinsic to anthropology to the extent that field work in living societies has been the basic disciplinary method. It is no revelation to any field-experienced anthropologist that everything is related to everything else, or that whether the entire sociocultural setting can be studied in detail or not, it has to be known in general outline.

We women are doing pretty well. We're almost back to where we were in the twenties.

In every human society of which we have any record, there are those who teach and those who learn, for learning a way of life is implicit in all human culture as we know it. But the separation of the teacher's role from the role of all adults who inducted the young into the habitual behavior of the group, was a comparatively late invention. Furthermore, when we do find explicit and defined teaching, in primitive societies we find it tied in with a sense of the rareness or the precariousness of some human tradition.

Many societies have educated their male children on the simple device of teaching them not to be women.

Our treatment of both older [people and children] reflects the value we place on independence and autonomy. We do our best to make our children independent from birth. We leave them all alone in rooms with the lights out and tell them, Go to sleep by yourselves. And the old people we respect most are the ones who will fight for their independence, who would sooner starve to death than ask for help.

The natives are superficially agreeable, but they go in for cannibalism, headhunting, infanticide, incest, avoidance and joking relationships, and biting lice in half with their teeth

There is no evidence that suggests women are naturally better at caring for children ... with the fact of child-bearing out of the center of attention, there is even more reason for treating girls first as human beings, then as women.

We won't have a society if we destroy the environment

In the modern world we have invented ways of speeding up invention, and people's lives change so fast that a person is born into one kind of world, grows up in another, and by the time his children are growing up, lives in still a different world

Mothers are a biological necessity; fathers are a social invention.

Our young people are faced by a series of different groups which believe different things and advocate different practices, and to each of which some trusted friend or relative may belong. So a girl's father may be a Presbyterian, an imperialist, a vegetarian, a teetotaler, with a strong literary preference for Edmund Burke, a believer in the open shop and a high tariff, who believes that women's place is in the home, that young girls should wear corsets, not roll their stockings, not smoke, nor go riding with young men in the evening. But her mother's father may be a Low Episcopalian, a believer in high living, a strong advocate of States' Rights and the Monroe Doctrine, who reads Rabelais, likes to go to musical shows and horse races.

The negative cautions of science are never popular. If the experimentalist would not commit himself, the social philosopher, the preacher, and the pedagogue tried the harder to give a short-cut answer.

There is no necessary connection between warfare and human nature. Human nature is potentially aggressive and destructive and potentially orderly and constructive.

What are the rewards of the tiny, ingrown, biological family opposing its closed circle of affection to a forbidding world of the strong ties between parent and children, ties which an active personal relation from birth until death?... Perhaps these are too heavy prices to pay for a specialization of emotions which might be bought about the other ways, notable through coeducation. And with such a question in our minds is interesting to note that a larger family community, in which there are several adult men and women, seems to ensure the child against the development of the crippling attitudes which have been labeled Oedipus complexes, the Electra complexes, and so on.

In this book I am concerned with certain kinds of communication: communication between parents and children, between associates of the same status, between members of different societies and, through the mediation of various kinds of coding?tools, art, script, formulas, film?between cultures distant from each other in time and place. I shall be concerned to show that we must deal not only with evolutionary sequences, in which our ability to articulate and codify parts of the culture enormously increases our ability to intervene in the cultural process, but also with the coexistence at any period of history of earlier forms of communication side by side with later ones.

Much of the ill-tempered railing against women that has characterized the popular writing of the last two years is a half-hearted attempt to find a way back to a more balanced relationship between our biological selves and the world we have built. So women are scolded both for being mothers and for not being mothers, for wanting to eat their cake and have it too, and for not wanting to eat their cake and have it too.

Partly as a consequence of male authority prestige value always attaches to the activities of men.

The notion that we are products of our environment is our greatest sin; we are products of our choices.

There is no reason to think a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens cannot change the world; Indeed, that's the only thing that ever has.

When human beings have been fascinated by the contemplation of their own hearts, the more intricate biological pattern of the female has become a model for the artist, the mystic, and the saint. When mankind turns instead to what can be done, altered, built, invented, in the outer world, all natural properties of men, animals, or metals become handicaps to be altered rather than clues to be followed. Women want mediocre men, and men are working hard to be as mediocre as possible.

In this very special form, feedback became part of the jargon of Group Dynamics, which has also assumed many of the characteristics of a cult in the efforts made to conserve some of the rigor of procedure with which Kurt Lewin and the experimentalist, Alex Bavelas, had attempted to imbue it. In this case, far from serving as a catalyzing, high-level theoretical tool, the term feedback has become a jargon-catchall for any kind of report back to government, management, the subjects of an experiment, subjects during an experiment, and so on. Stripped of its intellectual potential, the term knocks about the corridors of Unesco and for the most part those who use it have no idea that this bit of enjoined, Group Dynamic-recommended behavior is in any way related to the forbidding cross-disciplinary integration known as cybernetics.

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American Cultural Anthropologist and Psychologist