22 June 2012

A Few Crude Needs, Wants, and Desires

Joseph Wood Krutch, Human Nature and the Human Condition (New York: Random House, 1959), pp. 108-10:
[S]ince the mid-nineteenth century, more and more fiction in all its forms has become more and more subservient to scientific, sociological, and psychological theories; the writer seems less anxious to have us recognize ourselves than to make sure that what he writes could be taken to illustrate some scientific or sociological thesis he has accepted. At least from the time of George Eliot onward, many of the most important novelists tended to assume that fiction should illustrate "laws." Zola's endlessly reiterated thesis is that heredity and environment determine the character and the conduct of his characters, who are thus predictable products which circumstance has produced. Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy is another extreme example in which the hero is presented as in no sense a moral agent but again as only what he cannot help but be. Even where the thesis is less explicit, the tendency is very often to stress, not the individuality of the characters, but the extent to which they illustrate the "plight of the worker," the "limitations of the bourgeois mentality" or the "psychology of the postwar generation." 
Thus literature has come to be a less and less effective corrective while the sociology upon which it leans so heavily becomes more and more drab as it more and more insolently disregards the intangibles and reduces human nature to the few crude needs, wants, and desires which it can recognize and measure. 
It cannot, so it seems, give any account of either man or human life which does not leave out nearly everything which makes living interesting, enjoyable or significant. Though the Sociological Man is not quite so simple as that Economic Man who is nothing except producer and consumer, he is less likely to be recognized as a mere abstraction. If he is more than merely producer and consumer he is nevertheless motivated only by "needs," subject only to "pressures," desirous only of such unexalted goods as "security" and "status."