Synergy: Some Notes of Ruth Benedict1


  • 1

    For twenty-eight years we have held these notes of Ruth Benedict's Bryn Mawr lectures as we awaited publication of the complete series of lectures from which they were excerpted. Ruth Benedict's literary executrix, Margaret Mead, reports that unfortunately the original typescript of the lectures has disappeared; perhaps Ruth Benedict even destroyed it. Hence we may never see the lectures in their entirety. We believe that the following excerpts, incomplete though they may be, contain not only the gist of the series but her original words taken from the manuscript she prepared. All bracketed material in the following notes has been inserted by the editors, usually in order to supply context that missing passages would have provided. A very few grammatical changes have also been supplied by the editors.


Excerpts from 1941 lectures by Ruth Benedict call attention to the correlation between social structure and character structure, especially aggressiveness. Social orders characterized by high or low synergy, by a syphon or a funnel system of economic distribution, are compared for their different capacities to support or humiliate the individual, render him secure or anxious, or to minimize or maximize aggression. Religion, an institution in which people apotheosize the cooperation or aggression their cultural life arouses, differs between societies with high and low synergy.