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A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance CompanyExecutive offices, Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Pres. THE CIVILIZED IDENTITY SOCIETY By William Glasser, M.D. Copyright 1972 Saturday Review, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of SATURDAY REVIEW and the author, a California psychologist. Dr. Glasser’s forthcoming book, THE IDENTITY SOCIETY, develop and elaborate on the concepts discussed in this essay. So quickly that few have recognized what is happening, a society that had lasted for 10,000 years has begun to dissolve. In its place, a new society has been growing up, one in which the mores, habits, and goals of a hundred centuries are being profoundly altered. Some might take longer than others to recognize this colossal reorientation; many will undoubtedly spend the rest of their lives resisting the new direction of humanity. But it is real. This, of course, is not the first time that a significant new pattern of social organization has evolved. In the approximately four million years that have transpired since man has been considered a more or less distinguishable entity, I believe there have been three other societal transfigurations of comparable magnitude. I call the earliest human society the primitive survival society. It lasted three-and-a-half million years. During that long period, man’s primary goal in life was survival in a rigorous, often hostile, environment. He was able to survive because he cooperated intelligently with other members of the species in defending against predatory animals, in killing other creatures for food, in rearing the helpless human young, and in helping his fellows in myriad ways to overcome individual weaknesses. When men failed to cooperate with one another, they suffered, and sometimes they died. During those several million years, the need for intelligent cooperation became built into the human nervous system by the normal evolutionary process of natural selection. From the little we now know about these primitive strivings, we can see that as early man cooperated successfully he was able to enjoy increasing periods of rest and of freedom from stress. During these off-hours, he learned to enjoy the company of his fellows, and that enjoyment motivated him to cooperate still further. Men were helping one another not just to survive but also to feel more pleasure. As pleasure occurred more and more frequently during the millenniums of man’s slow acquisition of competence in overcoming surrounding dangers, the ancient need for intelligent cooperation evolved into a sister need: the need for the human individual to be involved in the affairs of other individuals. About 500,000 years ago, in pursuit of this need, man evolved what I call the primitive identity society. This was undoubtedly a natural evolution of man with time on his hands. We have some evidence that primitive identity man lived peacefully in a fairly abundant, nonstressful environment. Although there was conflict in his life, it bore little resemblance to the incessant struggle endured by primitive survival man. Able to take survival at least partially for granted, primitive identity man developed other priorities. He finally found time to have a little funto love and be loved, to become involved, or, for those who could not, to learn the pain of loneliness. He formulated complex kinship systems, ornate rituals, ceremonies, dances, and religious beliefs. He learned how to use both his brain and his body for enjoyment and pleasure. High on the list of pleasure activities was sex. If an unrestrained enjoyment of that activity led to the creation of large families, no matter. There was plenty of room to spread out. So few people existed that children could grow up and leave homefind a new territory and form their own nonstressful but generally complex society just as their grandparents and parents had done. These were the years in man’s evolution when intelligence, applied at leisure, produced not merely cooperation, but probably music, magic, religion, art, and poetry as well. Wars or conflicts between groups during this time were identity wars fought for personal status rather than for power. Wars were neither organized nor lengthy; people did not systematically kill or enslave each other, nor did they prey wantonly upon one another. There was no need to do so. Even the cannibals who ate the flesh of their human victims did so not to survive but to obtain for themselves the spiritMa sense, the identityof the persons eaten. One lingering example of a primitive identity society is that of the Cheyenne Indians of the Great Plains in North America. The Cheyenne were typical Plains Indians. Their problem of survival was solved by an annual cooperative buffalo hunt in which thousands of animals were killed. Some aspects of the hunt itself make more sense in terms of identity than in terms of survival. For example, though the hunt’s proceeds were divided evenly among the tribe’s families, each young warrior strove to kill as many buffalo as he could so as to enhance his social standing in the tribe. Warfare, which occupied much of the rest of the year, was embellished with displays of bravery that did little to ensure victory; bravery became an end in itself. Thus, prestige drives overrode the more limited military requirements, making war a deadly game rather than a quest for power or property. The Kung bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa are a similar example of a primitive identity society that has endured into the twentieth century. Having no single source of food equal to the buffalo, they hunt continually during most of the year. About 80 per cent of their food is supplied by the women, who gather edible plants and nuts; only 20 per cent is gained by hunting. Because most of the game animals are divided equally among the members of the tribe, the hunter receives no larger share than any other male. Still, because of great social pressure, the male spends most of his time hunting. If survival were primary, if the male were not concerned with his image, he would be better off gathering. At one time, there were a large number of primitive identity cultures. Their populations tended to be small, and put little pressure on available food resources. As leisure time for personal involvement increased, these cultures developed more and more complex ways to maintain or enhance their role or identity. Compared with the way most people live today, it was a good life. Over the period of the past several thousand years, however, primitive identity societies ended in many parts of the world, when population increased, until man outstripped the environment’s capacity to furnish him abundant food. The discovery of agriculture, an important means of survival, caused