ASHLEY MONTAGU

RECEPIENT OF THE 1995 HUMANIST OF THE YEAR AWARD

A COMMEMORATIVE ESSAY

by James W. Prescott, Ph.D.

Institute of Humanistic Science

Most of us are no longer really human, we have been deprived of our humanity. We have been dehumanized by the processes of conditioning, upbringing and socialization. We are no longer the organized authentic self which we were once capable of being… What we are born for is to live as if to live and love were one. Unless we learn that lesson “the goose is cooked” as it were.

From: Ashley Montagu, “Nurturing New Minds: A Conversation On Being Human” With: Michael Mendizza, Touch the Future. Spring 1994.

The 20th Century most assuredly will be known as the Century where Human Love became a fugitive from Justice and where Mother and Infant are featured on the “Most Wanted List”. Affectional bonding between mother and infant has been declared a crime against the State and Orwellian orphanages and day care centers have now become part and parcel of “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

As we look back over this past century, two men have emerged from the lands of Beowulf to give stark and prominent warnings and to wage battle against the dangers of the re-incarnated Mother of Grendel—her monster son—who together have brought fear and violence across the land. As we view this “Land of Violence” of this past century where parents kill children, children kill parents, and now children are killing children, we must ask what went wrong in this past century where humanity lost its humanity.

From my perspective, two Englishmen—who were born within two years of one another—have illuminated that path where humanity has lost its humanity. Alphabetically, the first of these Englishmen was John Bowlby, M.D., born in 1907, an English psychiatrist who served with the World Health Organization which published his pioneering study: Maternal Care and Mental Health (1951) which was later published in a less technical form as “Child Care and the Growth of Love” (Pelican, 1953). John Bowlby published numerous studies on maternal-infant care and their consequences for human development and society, e.g., Forty-four Juvenile Thieves (1944); Attachment and Loss, Vol 1: Attachment (1969) and Vol. 2: Separation and Loss (1973). His works were directed primarily toward health professionals.

Ashley Montagu, Ph.D., D.Sc., D.Litt. was born in 1905 and became an internationally renowned anthropologist who chose to direct his numerous published studies on the significance of the maternal-infant relationship for the human condition to the general public. Ashley Montagu has taught and lectured at Harvard, Princeton (where he was Chair, Department of Anthropology), University of California, New York University and many other institutions of higher learning. He has published over sixty books, among these: Life Before Birth; Touching: The Human Significance of The Skin; On Being Human; The Nature of Human Aggression; The Natural Superiority of Women; Growing Young; Living and Loving; The Peace of The World.; Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race; Human Evolution; The Elephant Man; and Anthropology and and Human Nature. He is co-author with Floyd Matson of The Human Connection and The Dehumanization of Man. He is the writer and director of the film “One World or None,” described as one of the best documentaries ever made.

The reasons for linking Ashley Montagu and John Bowlby is because of the extraordinary contributions that these two men have brought to understanding the importance of the maternal-infant relationship for what it means to be “human”; who have a common conservative English heritage; and both being born at the turn of the 20 Century. How is it possible that a conservative England could produce two men—at the beginning of the 20th Century—who would provide the scientific leadership and compassionate insights on the significance of the maternal-infant relationship for the future development of humanity; and whose works have been singularly influential in guiding the future directions of mental health professionals and of new generations throughout the world? Equally paradoxical, is that despite the extraordinary accomplishments of these two extraordinary Englishmen, the world’s leaders have refused to listen to their messages.

It is for these reasons, that the conferring of the 1995 Humanist of The Year Award to Ashley Montagu, Ph.D., D.Sc., D.Litt., by the American Humanist Association is so well-deserved, long over-due and so critical at this time of crises in human civilization where the roots of human love seem to have been uprooted with the consequence that humanity has lost its humanity.

Most humanists are not as familiar with Ashley Montagu and his works, as they should be, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to share some of the highlights of his life and my personal and professional experiences which I have had with Ashley Montagu over the years. This brief highlighting must necessarily be an injustice to his considerable accomplishments and can only serve as an introduction to his very rich life and significant contributions to humanity.

I had the pleasure and honor of first meeting Ashley Montagu in 1971 when I was part of a symposium that was organized by  Dr. Milton Diamond, Department of Anatomy and Reproductive Biology, University of Hawaii Medical School on the subject of Human Sexuality and Violence. Symposium participants included Dr. Milton Diamond, Dr. Ashley Montagu, Dr. Alan Bell, Betty Friedan and myself. What was so notable about this event was that Ashley Montagu’s book “Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin” has just been published by Harper and Row (1971); and the Time Life documentary “Rock A Bye Baby” had just been released where I had premiered its showing at the 1970 White House Conference on Children.

The film “Rock A Bye Baby” told the story of some of the scientific breakthroughs that were made on the effects of maternal-infant separation (isolation reared infant monkeys) upon the developing brain which were related to the adult pathological violence that results from the failure of affectional bonding in the maternal-infant relationship (failure of mother love). I established these studies through the Developmental Behavioral Biology Program which I created when I joined the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health (1966-1980)). The results of these studies were just being published and made known to the public at the same time that Ashley Montagu published his book on Touching.   We clearly had a common mission in life. In reminiscing with Dr. Diamond on this extraordinary symposium in 1971, he recalled it as “powerful and ground-breaking for its time.”

The timeliness of these two events could not have been more propitious because they so well reinforced each other, as the conference-symposia participants and attendees recognized, when they heard Ashley Montagu and then saw his message portrayed so dramatically in the film “Rock A Bye Baby.” This was the first demonstration in the primate that failure of “mother love” results in developmental brain dysfunction and damage which are directly related to the depression, alienation, movement stereotypes, self-mutilation and pathological violence that is directed against other animals, as a consequence of that first failure of affectional bonding between mother and infant.

It is well known that these isolation reared animals (Somatosensory Affectional Deprivation—SAD) fail to groom each other (a common social activity in primates) and are sexually dysfunctional. Isolation reared monkeys that are impregnated and give birth are invariably abusive and neglectful to their offspring which requires human intervention to prevent the death of the infant. The consequences of these failures of affectional bonding between mothers and infants have been fully documented in the human primate which includes child abuse and neglect and later juvenile delinquency; crime and violence, as well as the alcohol/drug abuse and addiction that are sought as self-medications for the emotional pain of loss of mother (and father) love.

I would emphasize, along with Ashley Montagu and John Bowlby, that the mother cannot be blamed as being primarily responsible for her failure to provide maternal love since her affectional life has been damaged through her own early life experiences of abuse and neglect and woman in modern societies do not receive the support they need to be mothers. We have often and rightly been reminded of that African proverb: “It takes an entire village to raise a child”.

For all of the above reasons (and others) it has always been a privilege and honor to share with Ashley Montagu his message to the world and this has led to several other programs that we have been involved together, e.g. a conference on violence at California State University, Northridge and a program on Global Peace that was given by Ashley Montagu at the Saddleback Community College on March 21, 1988. This program was co-sponsored by the Womens Center (Alma Vanas, Director)  and by the Institute of Humanistic Science. A video tape documentary of that program is available from the American Humanist Association and will be shown at the AHA Conference when  Ashley Montagu is presented with the 1995 Humanist of The Year Award. (The photograph of Ashley Montagu and myself was taken on the occasion of the Global Peace program).

I would be remiss in not mentioning that the Global Peace program by Ashley Montagu at Saddleback Community College was made possible by a grant from the Robbin Brandley Reilley Foundation. Robbin Brandley, the 23 year old daughter of Jack and Genelle Reilley of Laguna Beach, CA, was tragically stabbed to death in a parking lot at Saddleback Community College on January 18, 1986. Her murder remains unsolved.

In concert with Ashley Montagu and myself, Jack and Genelle Reilley have been emphasizing the failure of parenting in accounting for the epidemic of violence in our society.  In the words of Genelle Reilley: “Violence begets violence. We need to learn how to be peaceful. The colleges teach history—but that is what people were doing thousands of years ago. We need to begin to deal with how we got this way and what we can do about it.” “There aren’t any classes dealing with relationships and parenting—and that’s what life is all about.” “Nurturing should begin at birth and end at death—and our society is not doing that.” The Reilley’s attempt to have an academic curriculum on parenting and violence prevention established at the Saddleback Community College has, unfortunately, not been successful—even with the presence and urging of Ashley Montagu and the reminder of the murder of their daughter on the Saddleback Community College campus. It was reported that “college administrators have said the program would be be too costly and questioned its ability to attract students.” (1).

In THE PEACE OF THE WORLD, published in Japan in 1986, Ashley Montagu had the following to say:

Humanity is at a crossroads, and by humanity I mean you and me and every human being on this earth. The choice is between the road which leads to international peace and personal fulfillment, or, extinction of all life upon planet Earth. This is a unique and terrifying choice, but it is not the first time that humans, individuals and populations, have been faced with terrifying choices, and have come through triumphantly. (Preface).

In his chapter “What Ought We to Do?”, Ashley Montagu states:

We should by this time know what human beings are for. They have evolved as cooperative creatures, and their further biosocial evolution quite clearly lies with the further development of their cooperative capacities. This is what human beings are for. And it is upon the solid foundations of the development of their cooperative capacities that all their other capacities may be developed. We need, then, to recognize that the rearing and education of children must be designed to enable them to realize their cooperative capacities to the optimum. And by “cooperative capacities” we mean the ability to love. (p.30).

In LIVING AND LOVING, also published in Japan in 1986, Ashley Montagu provides the following commentary on “The Origins of Aggression”:

The findings on children in every culture who have been deprived of love, whether it be in a home, an institution, or whatever situation, are identical. Such children, by virtue of the fact that they have not been loved, don’t learn how to love others. Their expected satisfactions have been thwarted. They have been frustrated and if the frustrations are sufficient in quantity during particular critical developmental periods, the response is invariably the same. The response is then with a mechanism which is calculated to elicit and evoke the love and attention which has been withheld. This response we call aggression or aggressive behavior (p. 17).
and
In spite of the current pop anthropology associated with the names of Robert Ardrey, Konrad Lorenz, Desmond Morris, and others, purveying the view that man is an innately aggressive creature, and that much of his cruelty can be explained by his being driven by a powerful “instinct of aggression,” the evidence, in fact, points in quite another direction. The evidence, at least as some of us see it, indicates that, as a consequence of humanity’s unique evolutionary history as a highly cooperative creature, the drives of infant and child are oriented in the direction of growth and development in love and cooperation. This is not a popular view, and, indeed, the pervasiveness of the opposite view is so ancient, and fortified by time and tradition—namely, that man is a sinful, ornery creature, evil, as St. Paul declared, in the flesh—that anyone who maintains the view that potential human beings are born with their needs all oriented in the direction of love, the need not only to be loved but also to love, is likely to be dismissed as a “romantic.” (pp.39-40).

In many cultures, the newborn’s and child’s intrinsic orientation and direction toward love, (and later in development, sexual love), is profoundly damaged through the barbarous acts of torture which are inherent in the rituals of genital mutilation. In his distinguished address “Mutilated Humanity” before the Second International Symposium On Circumcision in San Francisco (May 1991), Ashley Montagu observed:

I think it would be greatly to our advantage if, instead of calling ourselves Homo Sapiens, we called ourselves Homo Mutilans, the mutilating species, the species that mutilates both mind and body, often in the name of reason, of religion, tradition, custom, morality and law.  Were we to adopt such a name for our species, it might focus our attention upon what is wrong with us, and where we might begin setting ourselves right. It is characteristic of our much confused species that we should, in many parts of the world, begin the process of mutilation with male circumcision.
In the category of bodily mutilations, neonatal circumcision appears to belong in a class by itself, for it is by far and away the earliest age at which the mutilation is performed…
By circumcision we understand the cutting away in the male of the whole or a part of the foreskin of the penis. In the female the operation is properly described as excision and consists of the abscission of either a part or the whole of the external genitalia; to this is frequently added the operation of infibulation, the sewing together of the parts of the vulva leaving only a small opening for the release of urine and menstrual blood.
Infibulation, “the locking of the gate,” as one Egyptian woman put it, represents the male invention of an artificial chastity girdle. Together excision and infibulation are known as Pharaonic circumcision, from the fact that it is first known to have been practiced in the time of the Pharaohs. As a generic term both operations may be referred to as circumcision
Of recent years we have suddenly discovered that the abuse of children is rather more frequent than was generally believed. But with the exception of a few heroic people like Fran Hosken, who, without institutional support of any kind, has for many years valiantly attempted to draw the attention of the world to the atrocities committed upon young girls in the form of circumcision, there have been very few activists to protest against circumcision, male or female. Today, now that child abuse has come to be recognized as a widespread psychopathy in America, it may be easier for people to perceive circumcision as a form of child abuse (emphasis added)…

What is called for is a well thought out approach to the eradication of antiquated beliefs and practices which cause so much needless suffering, mutilation, tragedy, and death; an approach which takes into consideration all those factors I have mentioned, and more. We can begin with carefully designed programs, possibly under the auspices of the United Nations, or a similar body, with the purpose of rendering obsolescent the practice of circumcision, an archaic ritual mutilation which has no justification whatever, and no place in a civilized society.

It is toward those objectives that on the occasion of the awarding of the 1995 Humanist of The Year Award to Ashley Montagu by the American Humanist Association that the Institute of Humanistic Science, The Humanist Fellowship of San Diego and the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC) has submitted to the membership of the AHA for approval the ASHLEY MONTAGU COMMEMORATIVE RESOLUTION TO END THE GENITAL MUTILATION OF CHILDREN WORLDWIDE.

This RESOLUTION has become even more urgent with the increasing number of Ethiopian, Somalian, Sudanese, Nigerian and other African immigrant communities in the United States who are subjecting their daughters born in the United States to genital mutilations within the United States. In my recent discussions with Marilyn Milos, R.N., Director, NOCIRC, and with an Ethiopian nurse, Meserak (Mimi) Ramsey, LVN, Santa Clara County Hospital, I was informed that there are approximately 10,000 immigrant Africans in Santa Clara County alone where most of them maintain female genital mutilation rituals within their communities.

In this past year of 1994 at Santa Clara County Hospital, some 4-5 children who were treated at that hospital were discovered to have been subjected to female genital mutilation which shocked the attending physicians. One 16 year old was admitted to the emergency room for complications of an apparent pregnancy but which represented a swollen abdomen with accumulated menstrual and urine fluids that could not be passed through the restricted infibulated opening. Surgical reopening of the sealed vaginal orifice resulted in a massive discharge of accumulated menstrual and urine fluids. In non-emergency medical conditions, physicians are prevented from conducting corrective surgeries on these minor children without parental permission since parents insist they remain infibulated so that they can be proven to be virgins and, thus, eligible for marriage within their community.

It must be emphasized that it is the men who are ultimately responsible for these atrocities, as they insist upon having virgins upon their wedding bed. The genital mutilation of infibulation must represent the cruelest form of chastity belt ever invented by man to assure the virginity and chastity of women; and the other cruelties of female genital mutilation which are also designed to destroy female sexual pleasure must stand with equal condemnation. It is well known that “sexual purity” and the reduction and/or elimination of sexual passion and pleasure through genital mutilations are the religious reasons for these barbaric practices in both males and females throughout the world.

Given the nature of infibulation, it is only a matter of time (usually at puberty with the onset of menstruation) that additional significant medical emergency problems will appear which will require corrective surgery (supra). The paramount ethical/medical question involving the discovery of infibulated minors in this country is: When should corrective surgery be conducted in the minor child to prevent the certain occurrence of medical emergencies which can be life-threatening in the infibulated menstruating child? State and/or Federal laws should contain provisions to remove parental authority to block corrective surgeries in their infibulated children. This situation is not different, in principle, from the State denying parents the religious right to deny their children blood transfusions which are necessary for the health and life of the child.

Mimi Ramsey informed me that there are some 3-4 immigrant African children born each week in Santa Clara County Hospital alone which suggests the number of children that will be targeted for female genital mutilation within the larger communities of Santa Clara County. These numbers need to be projected to the United States as a whole to indicate the magnitude of this country’s developing problem with the crimes of female genital mutilation.

The magnitude of trauma associated with genital mutilations cannot be overestimated, particularly in the female child. Mimi Ramsey described to me her own genital mutilation experience which involved not only the removal of the clitoris and labia minora but included a red hot needle being applied to the exposed raw nerve endings of the ablated clitoris (cauterization), thus assuring that she would never experience sexual pleasure. As a member of the Christian Coptic religion she was not infibulated. Female children of the Muslim religion are commonly subjected to infibulation. In Ethiopia, approximately 80% are Christian Coptic;10% Muslim; and 10% other. Mimi also informed me that when the Communists took control of Ethiopia in 1974 female genital mutilation was abolished but was reinstated with the ouster of the Communists in 1991.

The American Humanist Association must take the national and international initiative by passing the ASHLEY MONTAGU COMMEMORATIVE RESOLUTION TO END THE GENITAL MUTILATION OF CHILDREN WORLDWIDE; and to reaffirm its support for the “Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995” which was reintroduced on February 14, 1995 in the House of Representatives as H.R. 941, 104th Congress, 1st Session, by Representative Schroeder (for herself, Miss Collins of Michigan, Mrs. Morella and Ms Rivers). This specific federal legislation (as H.R.3247) was previously endorsed by the American Humanist Association at its 1994 annual meeting.

Parallel efforts must be made at the State level. North Dakota is the first and only state to pass legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation (Senate Bill No. 2454, Fifty-fourth Legislative Assembly). I will be seeking similar legislation for the State of California which will also provide for corrective surgery without parental permission that is necessary for the health and life of the child.  Fran Hosken and many others have well documented the crippling effects and loss of life due to female genital mutilation, particularly when it involves pharaonic circumcision (infibulation).

In concluding this brief sketch of the life and the purpose of life of this extraordinary man, Ashley Montagu, I want to share his words which describe his relationship with his parents and how—given that parent-child relationship—there remains the mystery of how Ashley Montagu has become the most articulate scientist on human nurturance, compassion and love. The following is taken from his conversation with Michael Mendizza, Touch The Future: (Spring 1994).

I was born in June, 1905 in London, England to a poor working class Jewish family. By the time I was 14, my life had become intolerable. My father was very difficult, I think he meant well but didn’t understand me. He’d take my books, that I borrowed from the public library, and tear them to pieces, which he eventually had to pay for. So I used to read under a lamp in the street. He knew nothing about children anymore than my mother did.
My parents thought something was wrong because I had nothing to say to them and they had nothing to say to me. I felt that I was living in an occupied country, occupied by tyrants who gave all sorts of orders which didn’t make any sense to me, which I had to obey without question.
This puzzled me—why human beings were the way they were? Men would come up to me grasp me by the cheek give me a tremendously painful whirl, sometimes flick my ear and muss up my hair and say “what a nice boy you are”. I was nice because I didn’t talk much.
Trying to understand why women and men were as they were led to my book, The Natural Superiority of Women, why education wasn’t what it should be led to my book, Education and Human Nature in the Direction of Human Development, why aging isn’t what it should be led to, Growing Young, and so on.
So I studied anatomy, embryology and zoology and the science of heredity. At the same time I studied cultural anthropology and the history of science and medicine. All that early experience determined what I would become by way of solving this question, “what are human beings born for?”…
If you would understand what human beings are born for, you first must understand what they’re born as, and this is what I have dedicated myself to, to attempt to show that we are borne with the capacity to love. But we will never know how to love unless we are taught to love, unless we learn to love others who know how to love. (emphasis added).

In conclusion: the American Humanist Association by conferring the 1995 Humanist of The Year Award upon Ashley Montagu, Ph.D., D.Sc., D. Litt., has—by that act—graced not only Ashley Montagu but also itself because it has permitted a Trojan Horse to enter the Humanist camp of Rationalism—a Trojan Horse to vanquish the myth that Humanism is primarily defined by Reason alone where Love has remained a lonely and abandoned orphan of Humanism.

The time has come for a transformation of contemporary Humanism where Love is the full and equal Sister of Brother Rationalism. We are all indebted to Ashley Montagu for his extraordinary contributions to humanity and for reminding us Rational Humanists that not by Reason alone shall we enter the Promised Land; and that we need to reclaim our abandoned and orphaned Sister called Love.

If we don’t, as Ashley Montagu has reminded us, “Our goose is cooked!“

Woman knows what true love is; let her not be tempted from her knowledge by the false idols that man has created for her to worship. Woman must stand firm and be true to her own inner nature; to yield to the prevailing false conception of love, of unloving love, is to abdicate her great evolutionary mission to keep human beings true to themselves, to keep them from doing violence to their inner nature, to help them to realize their potentialities for being loving and cooperative. Were women to fail in this task, all hope for the future of humanity would depart from the world.

—Ashley Montagu
The Natural Superiority of Women
1952; Rev. Ed. 1974




The times call for the social scientist who controls at a good level the many different sciences that deal with human nature. In this area Ashley Montagu is our, and the world’s best man.

—John Dollard
Yale University
The New York Times Book Review

(1). Material on the Reilleys was taken from an article by Kristen Kemper “Murder victim’s parents seek peace of mind.” SBV/RSM News. November 30,1988.

—17 March 1995



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