Tag Archives: “social science”

It starts and ends with Nietzsche

I just read Maureen Mullarkey’s post “The Toxic Legacy of Rachel Carson” on First Things. Well-written and thought-provoking, as always. I will pursue the Rachel Carson references further. But it reinforces my beliefs about the ugly transformation of science in our time.

At least consciously, it starts with Nietzsche, who said what clever individuals have always believed: Truth may be awkward, annoying, and inconvenient; but what really matters is power. We say “What is Truth?”, when we would rather talk about what we want to do.   Truth is subjective illusion; power is real. You can tell because the powerful individual can silence the truthful individual.

Science, like religion, can easily find power more attractive than truth.

Once science served capitalism (e.g., Social Darwinism). Now it serves the New Elites (government bureaucracy, news and entertainment media, schools). Once the Comtian positivist invention “social science” was the leading edge of the science of power. Now it has expanded into any science that can be used to “save the world” (i.e., strengthen the New Elites), particularly the environmental sciences. As Francis Bacon observed long ago, “Knowledge (i.e. Truth) is Power.” But the knowledge/truth produced (on demand) by today’s “sciences” have several things in common. These sciences are highly speculative, often resulting from computer models extrapolating uncertain data into uncertain futures (global warming). Or they may be based on highly subjective “data” collected and massaged by agenda-pushing “scientists” (transgendering, i.e. genital self-amputation, is not a sign of mental illness). Either way, they are inherently untestable.

The distortions that result from such “science” can be seen in the now-discredited but very influential classics Coming of Age in Samoa (Margaret Mead), Silent Spring (Rachel Carson), or Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich). Or the timely and convenient findings that same-sex marriage is just fine for children. Wise judges such as Vaughn Walker, ruling that the voters of California have no right to decide so important a question, wrote:

“The gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s adjustment… The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology…Children do not need to be raised by a male parent and a female parent to be well-adjusted, and having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted.”

The worst effect that such empowerment of science is that once the New Elites close ranks around a satisfactory finding that confirms their ideology, the likelihood of contrary findings diminishes to the vanishing point. Vaughn Walker and Al Gore agree: once the science is settled beyond serious debate, so…Shut Up!   Imagine that you are a university researcher and your studies demonstrate that children need both mothers and fathers, or that CO2 plays a minimal role in global warming, or that homosexuality is not genetically but behaviorally caused. How eager will you be to publish, knowing that you will be blasted as a liar, a “science denier”, and a bigot; and knowing that funding for your next research grant will be limited to what you collect selling pencils on a street corner?  So the conclusions of “science” are not only untestable, but also irrefutable.

Originally truth was primarily moral: “the things we cannot not know”. As Aristotle demonstrated, science only added to this base of knowledge what we clearly see around us. We always knew right from wrong, evil from good, sense from nonsense. Of course there were also always those who knew the value of being able to muddle our sense of truth: men like the Greek Sophists (lawyers, activist judges, politicians, community organizers) whom Socrates/Plato fought against.

Now our only source of truth is “science”. (It earned its quotation marks when universities accepted “social science” as legitimate.) And science is only of real value when it disproves what we think we know (like children need mothers and fathers).

With all human institutions, what starts as pursuit of truth and freedom suffers a sea change when its initial triumphs carry it to power. As soon as that happens, the battle begins for the institution’s soul. Continue to pursue truth and freedom, or use the power to “improve the world” (i.e., strengthen the New Elites).

The battle for the soul of the institution can be brutal or it can be swift and painless. For in many minds, truth is less attractive than power (for power is never inconvenient to the powerful). And for many, truth is of value primarily as a means of achieving power. The illusion of Truth is just a means; Power is the end.

Which brings us right back to Nietzsche.

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What About the CHILDREN?

The Obama administration’s latest use of children as political props has, as usual, called forth much praise and very little outrage. We have become accustomed to such things. We hardly notice. And this latest is by no means the worst.

The irony is that while children are moved to the fore when useful as window dressing on issues to which they are peripheral, they are so often shoved off the stage when they are central to the issue.

EXAMPLE ONE: DIVORCE, also called dissolution of marriage. Marriage is an act of union between two adults, and so is its dissolution. As things now stand in America, children, if any, are collateral issues, like joint property. Their interests are to be addressed in working out the details, not in the basic decision to permit the dissolution.

Divorce involving only two married adults, at least one of whom is unhappy with the marriage, is one thing. It is hard to think of any reason why law or society should stand in their way.

But what about the other kind of divorce? What if it means the breakup of a family with children, often because one of the adult partners (usually the husband) is tired of the responsibilities and limitations imposed upon him by his role in the family.

The results of such “divorce” is all around us. Poverty in the US is largely caused by fathers abandoning (or being thrust from) families and leaving behind single mothers with children.  It is the result of easy divorce.

Of course, it is also the result of easy breakups of unwed cohabitation “families”, where no formal divorce is required because no formal marriage was thought necessary. And it is increasingly the result of single women making a choice to bear children without a resident father at all. But all these phenomena may be regarded as facets of a generalized downgrading of the importance of the “traditional family”, and especially of the role of the father, as a general concern of society.

We have taken the sexual and libertarian mantra that society should not interfere in the “private affairs of consenting adults,” put the children out of our minds, and gotten to our present state of affairs.

Yet no legislature, as far as I know, has ever seriously debated treating adult divorce as one thing (tolerable as being of no concern to society), and family destruction/abandonment as the terrible destructive act that it is.
Such is the confusion caused when our language is used to facilitate this child vanishing act.

EXAMPLE TWO: GAY MARRRIAGE.

In the cause of ending the cruel persecution of gay people, “civil union” laws were proposed. While they were being adopted or considered in many states, it was proclaimed that only full “marriage rights” were acceptable.

The debate proceeded like this:

“Children are the real point of marriage,” the traditionalists said.

“What about childless couples? Aren’t they married?” the advocates countered. “Marriage, like sex, is about consenting adults. Besides, science shows that children only need caring adult parents, not mothers and fathers.”

And so, a few shoddy social-science “studies” supporting their position are cited. Contrary studies (and common sense) are ignored or brushed aside.

The courts have led the way in airbrushing children out of the picture of marriage. In a typical example, when the Iowa Supreme Court decided that marriage is not an institution between man and woman and that society has no interest in the traditional family, it cited:

 “an abundance of evidence and research, confirmed by our independent research, supporting the proposition that the interests of children are served equally by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents. On the other hand, we acknowledge the existence of reasoned opinions that dual-gender parenting is the optimal environment for children. These opinions, while thoughtful and sincere, were largely unsupported by reliable scientific studies. The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and a father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.” (April 3, 2009, p.54; my emphasis. No information regarding the court’s “independent research” is provided.)

And, by a remarkable bit of circular sophistry, each debate victory reinforces the other. Because marriage isn’t about children, gay couples can marry. And because gay couples can marry, they must be free to adopt children (like any other married couple). Gay adoption is OK because children don’t need mothers and fathers. And because gay adoption is OK, gay marriage must be OK too, so that the children will have families. Not that there is anything wrong with single parents…

And so on.

Burke, PABGoo-ism, and Sophistry

Front Porch Republic has an excellent essay by Mark A. Signorelli entitled “A Burke For Our Times.”   It is worth a read.   Edmund Burke’s politics were based on an unblinking understanding of the reality of human nature, an understanding now sadly in decline.

It is generally assumed that a recognition of the dark side of human nature gives to conservatives a sour, gloomy, negative view of human society.   Even the briefest reading of Burke makes it clear that the truth is the opposite.  As Reinhold Niebuhr put it,   “Both the majesty and the tragedy of human life exceed the dimensions within which modern culture seeks to comprehend human existence.”  Rawls is certainly a case in point.

In contrasting the Rawlsian concept of human nature as unimportant on the one hand, and multiculturalism on the other, Signorelli fails to note the shallowly-thought but deeply-ingrained underpinning of multiculti thought.

This is, of course, the cheery world view which believes that “People Are Basically Good” (hence “PABGoo”; see below). PABGoos believe that all our problems are caused by bad political or economic systems, or not enough social science grants or psychotherapy or public education or whatever. The fact that it is publicly refuted countless times a day in every city on the globe has not stopped PABGoo-ism from becoming the default feel-good philosophy of our age.

Niebuhr:  “No accumulation of contrary evidence seems to disturb modern man’s good opinion of himself...The question therefore arises how modern man arrived at, and by what means he maintains, an estimate of his virtue in such pathetic contradiction with the obvious facts of his history.  One possible and plausible answer is that the great achievement of modern culture, the understanding of nature, is also the cause of the great confusion of modern man: the misunderstanding of human nature.”

In other words, our respect for the accomplishments of science has led us into the false worship of the sophistry that goes by the name of “social science”.

Signorelli skillfully posits the difference between a “principle-based” philosopher like Rawls and a reality-based philosopical citizen like Burke.  Rawls’ belief in the eventual promise of science explaining man to himself is an unacknowledged act of charming, childlike faith.  But the effects on society are not so charming.

“Social science” is in fact a uniquely modern form of sophistry.  It takes the forms, language, and prestige of science, and puts it to use in the service of any political, economic, or social movement willing to pay the “research” bill.  Plato’s Republic describes the Athenian sophists in terms that make clear their kinship with the modern social-scientific advocate.

The role of “social science” in overthrowing all the accumulated understanding of human nature is clearest in our modern judicial lawmaking.   When a social element wishes to overthrow an institution firmly established throughout human history, it does so on the basis of “social science.”  When the Iowa Supreme Court decided that marriage is not an institution between man and woman and that society has no interest in the traditional family, it cited

“”an abundance of evidence and research, confirmed by our independent research, supporting the proposition that the interests of children are served equally by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents.  On the other hand, we acknowledge the existence of reasoned opinions that dual-gender parenting is the optimal environment for children.  These opinions, while thoughtful and sincere, were largely unsupported by reliable scientific studies.  The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and a father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.”   (April 3, 2009, p.54; my emphasis)

Burke would have known what to say about such social-scientific nonsense put forth by sophistic advocates whose major goal is the destruction of all natural law and inherited wisdom.  In fact, he did say it.  Reflections on the Revolution in France is a truly great work.

UPDATE:

As if to drive home the point about the convenience of “social science” and its ability to prove whatever you need it to prove, read this from yesterday’s Science Daily.

College professors and students are in an arms race over cheating. Students find new sources for pre-written term papers; professors find new ways to check the texts they get for plagiarized material. But why are all these young people cheating? A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests one reason: income inequality, which decreases the general trust people have toward each other.

Got it?  Schoolkids cheat because of rich people!  Thanks, social scientists.

Becoming a Political Agnostic

When I graduated from college, I was agnostic on the question of God and religion, and 100% certain about everything else.

This was especially so about politics and economics. “Social science” clearly bore the only real truths.   So I knew that only a selfish, evil, or stupid person could fail to see these plain truths.  I knew that humanity was a malleable object which we, the clever enlightened ones, could mold, shape, and adapt to our higher purpose.  Our purpose was whatever we decided it to be, so I felt no need to search for any purpose higher than my own preference.

And so, I set about building a better world – that is, one more suitable to my tastes and more likely to place a high value on someone like, say, me.

A lot has happened since then, and I have observed and thought about some of it.  I am now a believer in religion and a near-believer in God (more – much, much more – on this later). So it is no surprise that I have grown agnostic on all politics, economics, and virtually everything else I was once so certain about.  (Indeed, I find that “social science” may be the least scientific thing ever thought up. More later.)

In political debates, I see few issues on which I can whole-heartedly take sides. I see few politicians on whom I would comfortably confer even a small amount of power.

But I know with absolute certainty that men will always make themselves miserable in the absence of a legitimate and consistent system of morality.

What else do I know?

I know that men are driven to make themselves the center of as much of the world as possible. The will to power, egotism, libido dominandi, call it what you will.  It makes men selfish, uncaring, and aggressive.  This drive can be described in evolutionary terms as easily as in religious ones (All the great apes display conduct that is chillingly familiar in these terms.)

I know the institutions of our civilizations are all constructed to restrict these urges and to channel them toward positive results.  Family, religion, government, society of peers, all reward good behaviors, punish bad ones, and attempt to channel energies away from destruction.

I may know a few other things too.  But I don’t yet know the big thing, the thing I really want to know.  I’m still searching.  And I’m getting too old to be too casual about the search.