The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

September 1, 2013

September 1, 1848

Auguste Forel was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Zurich. Forel (September 1, 1848 to  July 27, 1931) was an enthusiastic scientist and his research underlay the discovery of a particular type of cell, the neuron. This research involved dissecting cats and kittens, and observing the inmates of the mental hospital he ran, and his studies of insects, and ants. He saw similarities between human society and ant hive behavior. 

Auguste Forel's book, translated under the title The Sexual Question, in 1908, envisages how a free and frank discussion of sexuality would change society. The excerpt here is interesting beyond the racist views so common in that time.

.... it is a real pity to see so many healthy, active and intelligent girls become old maids, simply because they have no money and do not wish to throw themselves at the first scamp who comes. It would be far better to allow a little free polygamy, with complete equality of the two sexes and certain legal precautions, than to lose so much good seed and grow so many weeds. ....

At the end of a few centuries our descendants might recognize the happiness that they owe to our efforts. They would also no doubt be astonished at being descended from such a race of barbarians, and at having so many drunkards, criminals and imbeciles among their ancestors. The mingling of mysticism in sexual life, which now exists under the name of religion, would appear to them almost the same as idolatry and the practice of "magicians" among savage races appears to us.

As to the effects of alcoholic drinks and prostitution, these would give them almost the same impression as the instruments of torture of the Middle Ages which we see exhibited in museums, or the horrors of the Inquisition, or burning at the stake for witchcraft.

Many of my readers will no doubt regard my comparisons as exaggerated or fanatical, because, imbued as we are with contemporary thought, we cannot, without a great effort of imagination and having at our disposal much experience and many objects of comparison, identify ourselves with the thought of the past or that of the future. I recommend persons who cannot appreciate this fact to read the "Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin," by Harriet Beecher-Stowe (not the novel itself). This book contains numerous documents relating to the time of negro slavery before the American war of secession. When they read what happened at that time, for example, advertisements in the public journals of dogs trained to track escaped slaves, they will perhaps agree with me. Pious pastors then gave their support to slavery, as they often do now to alcohol. What now appears to us as monstrous seemed then quite natural.

....After human selection, I consider pedagogic reform in the sexual and other domains as the most important of positive reforms.... ...

Society should devote all its care to the good general education of the body and mind of children. It should do everything possible to develop harmoniously the intelligence, sentiments, will, character, altruism and aesthetics,..... Every good hereditary type should be given the opportunity for free expansion, by means of rational education and work.
The outward life of man is largely influenced by events of the moment; but his inner life is determined by memories of the past combined with heredity, and thus gives rise to efforts toward the future. The past should never be allowed to dominate the present or the future, but should combine past experience with new impressions, and constitute a prolific source of ideas and resolutions.

The marriage of the future pre-supposes people to be completely instructed from their childhood in natural sexual intercourse and its eventual dangers. It pre-supposes man brought up without alcohol or other narcotics, possessing the right to utilize the produce of his work for life and the maintenance of his own person, but not that of capitalizing for himself or his children, nor of making legacies to others, i.e., of founding by the aid of money a power for the exploitation of others. Everyone will know from his childhood that work is a necessary condition for the existence of all.

Brought up in common with absolutely equal rights, girls and boys will be aware of the differences in their life tasks, such as differences of sex and individuality indicate them. Till the age of sixteen, or perhaps longer, they will have been instructed in the schools by simultaneous development of intelligence, bodily and technical exercises, aesthetics, moral and social sentiments and will. Without frightening them with the specter of eternal punishment, and without alluring them by the promise of paradise after death, they will have been taught that the object of our transient individual existence is continual effort to attain a pure human ideal. They will have learnt to find the truest satisfaction in the accomplishment of their different duties, and in work in common for the benefit of society. They will also have learnt to despise frivolity and luxury, to attach no importance to personal property and to put all their ambition into the quantity and quality of their work.

The sexual appetite will manifest itself in different individuals at different ages. Trained from childhood not to yield to every desire, but to subordinate their appetites to the welfare of the community, they will not yield immediately. Moreover, they will know the signification of this appetite. They will also know that their patience will not be tried too long, and that they may speak openly on sexual subjects to their masters and parents and even to their companions of the opposite sex.

What will be the consequences of such a state of things? Attachments will be formed early. But, instead of making all kinds of calculations concerning money, social position, etc.; instead of concealing their thoughts in the form of conventional politeness; instead of avoiding an honest explanation of the knotty point, or, at the most passing over this explanation like a cat on hot cinders; instead of trying to dazzle by their charms the one they wish to capture, the lovers of the future will be much more frank because they will have less reason to dissimulate. ....

Auguste Forel's real imaginative power is visible through the silliness in this quote. And it is both amusing and touching to discover that long before many of his fellow scholars,  Forel rejected eugenics. In 1920 he became a follower of the Bahá'í Faith.

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