Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Copycats By Instinct

Human relationships are so varied that they seem to defy explaining, let alone any reasonable basis which will survive hostile or even objective examination. However, some social phenomena, like style and popularity, can be understood as pretty much the same. Some can be paired or grouped around fear, of practical consequences or social rejection.

The behaviour of animals can readily be ascribed to instincts, while for ourselves we look for "reasons", as if we are governed by intelligence rather than instinct. However, there is a case to be made for much of our strange behaviour being grouped under instinct. A book, now about one hundred years old, made this case very well. The author was King George V's official doctor, Sergeant Surgeon to His Majesty. His own specialty was sub-cutaneous enervation. His lasting fame rests on an essay in sociology, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War.

This column is for the single purpose of urging my readers to read it. The author's name was Trotter. I have read it myself several times a year for over thirty years. I'll stop this now, and you go read.

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