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International Socialism, Summer 1967


Bert Bensen



From International Socialism (1st series), No.29, Summer 1967, p.35.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Nature and Human Nature
Alex Comfort
Weidenfield & Nicolson

It used to be that biologists attributed man’s social creations to the opposable thumb and gave precedence to the cerebrum over the gonads. Comfort is a Freudian biologist so not surprisingly he finds the fundamentals of human nature, environment and ecology in the evolution of sexuality. Sexuality should have its place in the story of what is man but Comfort goes too far in putting balls so much before brains.

A very interesting account of sexual evolution is set out in the opening chapters. Like Freud’s it is male orientated and up through the phylogenetic orders the emphasis is on how males use females. With the arrival of typically human sexuality the oedipal drama is given a Darwinian twist: oedipal anxiety is a built-in species characteristic having a purposive function. It is a ‘temporary organ’ needed to protect the young human male from the father’s sexual jealousy.

The writing throughout is chatty and off-hand and while that is much better than jargon there are too many asides, too many statements that go no place. It’s all right to lean across at a lunch discussion about ageing and say to a colleague, ‘Voronoff’s chimpanzee testicles could never have worked for fundamental reasons,’ but without lead-in or follow-through it is distracting and some readers might feel put down by this peppering with the momentously obscure or suspect mystification. Just why was Voronoff fiddling with chimps’ testicles?

In the last third of the book a reader will have to be very alert to make connections among what look like the unsorted outcroppings of Comfort’s ‘dream time.’ The phrase is sweet and means the contents of the Freudian unconscious but the care taken in earlier sections for the requirements of general communication was not taken later on.

Among the ideas presented are that in a society free of frustrations and deprivations there probably will be no need for government; that too many leaders are psychologically disturbed and use power for destructive personal expression; that we already know enough about psychopathology to get better ones and that what needs to be developed is a technology of emotions so that people can, live pleasurably and rationally yet still not have their dream time stifled and warped. Maybe so but ...

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Last updated on 5 May 2010