Ruth Benedict was part of the culture and personality school. She was concerned with the amount of integration in a particular society, and the correlation between the characteristics of a culture and the personality of the individuals within that society. The culture and personality school theorized that a society’s cultural theme has a profound impact on the personality of the individual and vice versa.
Benedict places great importance on the significance of custom, and the role it plays the development of culture and personality. In the Zuni Indian society of the American southwest, customs associated with ritual play the most important role in society. Benedict asserts that the amount of importance placed on ritual rather than wealth or power results in the individual personality of the Zuni people. In Zuni, “A man who thirsts for power or knowledge, who wishes to be as they scornfully phrase it “a leader of his people,” receives nothing but censure” (Benedict, 1934:99). They are a society of moderation in every sense, and Benedict states that “whether it is anger or love or jealousy or grief, moderation is the first virtue” (Benedict, 1934:106). The Zuni cultural theme of self-control fosters individuals with “a pleasing address, a yielding disposition, and a generous heart” (Benedict, 1934:99). Zuni society is classified as Apollonian in nature; the Zuni “keeps [to] the middle of the road, stays within the known map, does not meddle with disruptive psychological states” (Benedict, 1934:79).
In contrast, the now extinct Kwakiutl people of the northwest coast of America were almost diametrically opposed to the Zuni of the southwest. The Kwakiutl valued possession to an extreme, and strove for ecstasy in their supernatural rituals by the use of self-torture, even to the point of resorting to cannibalism. They searched for the supernatural in the horrible and forbidden. The entire culture was wrapped up in violence, from economic life and warfare to initiations and ceremonial dances. As a result of their violent tendencies, Kwakiutl adults were ruthless in their pursuit of validation in the form of material wealth. Besides gaining possessions, one had also to shame his rivals in order to maintain his wealth and prestige. It is stated that “the object of all Kwakiutl enterprise was to show oneself superior to one’s rivals” (Benedict, 1934:190). This could be achieved by presenting the rival with more wealth or property than could be reciprocated, or by the destruction of more of one’s own property than the rival could match. The personalities of Kwakiutl individuals corresponded to the values of society. They are Dionysian in nature; pursuing values “through the annihilation of the ordinary bounds and limitations of existence; he seeks to attain in his most valued moments escape from the boundaries imposed upon him by his five senses, to break through into another order of experience” (Benedict, 1934:78-79).
W.M. Whiting was an advocate of the socialization process and personality school, which theorized that parenting styles in infancy and childhood directly affected the personality of the individual in adulthood. As we have seen, individual personalities in adulthood have a relationship with culture.
The socialization process and personality school asserts that the nature of the gods in a particular culture is a reflection of the common parenting styles of that society. A belief in harsh, aggressive gods is attributed to harsh parenting practices in infancy and childhood. In the case of the Zuni Pueblos, this correlation certainly appears to be accurate. We learn that “the dancing gods are happy and comradely supernaturals” and “to impersonate them, therefore, is to give them the pleasure they most desire” (Benedict, 1934:68). The gods are benevolent; and while the Zuni recognize danger in the use of witchcraft, they do not fear the gods they pray to. It is possible to attribute this attitude to the upbringing of the Zuni children. Though whipping is done for ceremonial purposes, it “is never used as a corrective for children” (Benedict, 1934:69). Zuni children are raised in a matrilineal household, surrounded by the family of the mother. According to Whiting, when raised in larger households with more family members to care for the child, children are indulged to a greater degree than if they were brought up in smaller households.
The Kwakiutl, on the other hand, believed that physical pain and suffering were necessary in order to connect with the supernatural. Their gods were unsympathetic, as “supernatural beings were not supposed to have benevolent intentions” (Benedict, 1934:221). They were a harsh people who valued personal superiority above all else; if one could maneuver himself to a higher social standing by cheating another, he was considered a great man. From the description of the Kwakiutl culture, indulgent childrearing practices are hardly likely, and a correlation may be present.
Another point that Whiting makes is that the “supernaturals are more aggressive in societies which put strong pressure upon the boys for self-reliance and independence…for they assume that a belief in aggressive gods requires training a child to be independent and self-reliant so that he can cope with a hostile world as an adult” (Whiting, 484). This point can also be illustrated by the contrast between the Zuni and the Kwakiutl cultures. In Zuni culture, individuality is not a virtue. The most important aspect of life is ritual, in which conformity is stressed to an extreme. According to socialization process theory, this structure contributes to the belief in compassionate gods. The Kwakiutl are constantly striving for a higher level of social importance; are always trying to be better than one another. Individuality and independence are very important culture traits. It is not surprising, then, that their gods are believed to be ruthless.
Whiting postulates a correlation between household structure and aggression training. Though Zuni children are indulged in infancy and early childhood to some degree, living with extended family members requires a ‘no tolerance’ attitude toward aggressive behavior. Aggression cannot be indulged because close living quarters forbid it. We can therefore assume that the highly aggressive Kwakiutl culture would conform to a less extended living situation. Polygamy was practiced by the Kwakiutl, as there were extreme menstrual taboos which forced men to find alternative outlets for sexual energy during a wife’s menses. Also, multiple wives were desired as a way for a man to increase his status within the society. The combination of the importance of independence and the polygamous nature of the Kwakiutl contributed to a smaller household size; and the relative lack of fatherly participation due to polygamy is correlated with an increase in opportunity for aggression. Of course it is probable that many factors led to the aggressive nature of the Kwakiutl culture, but household size may well have played a significant role.
The polygamous nature of the Kwakiutl society may have also played a role in another important aspect of socialization process. Whiting postulated that in monogamous societies, the presence of a father figure contributed to a lower value of glory in war than in polygamous societies where the father figure was frequently absent tending to his other families. Though the Kwakiutl say, “we do not fight with weapons. We fight with property” (Benedict, 1934:189), their value of aggression in this asset warfare is extreme and may be due to a socialization process resulting from the practice of polygamy.
The Zuni, however, are “a ceremonious people, a people who value sobriety and inoffensiveness above all other virtues” (Benedict, 1934:59), and homicide is virtually unheard of. Zuni marriages are monogamous, and generally long and happy. Though they do not outlaw the killing of enemies, war is not mentioned in Patterns of Culture, and glory in war would certainly not be analogous to any other aspect of their culture.
Charles Harrington and W.M. Whiting
1961. Socialization Process and Personality. Psychological Anthropology. Dorsey Press.
1934. Patterns of Culture. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company.