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(February 2000) [Printed in "Reality Module No.14."]
Am I Qualified to Write About Sociology?
In a moment of anger a friend declared that I was unqualified to write or talk about sociology because I have not studied it at tertiary level and did not have a formal qualification in sociology.
In a sense we are all amateur sociologists. It is a consequence of living in a society. None of us are, for example, natural particle physicists because the world of quarks and gluons and such does not directly touch on our experience, but we all understand families, authority figures, the art of persuasion, and the importance of communication - and all our lives are touched by the realities of social conventions, politics and economics. Thus we all have a grasp of some of the basics of sociology.
I have an intense curiosity about many things, including this civilisation we live in at the end of the twentieth civilisation. I am interested in its nature, its history, and the ways in which it may change. (Intensely interested - I want to know about this network of social interactions I live inside of!)
In my scrapbooks, amongst other things, I gather and read newspaper articles about social issues. Some of them are about odd things which I like to wonder about, others are about issues such as poverty, unemployment and trends in the world of work - which I feel I need to know about because they touch on my own life.
I have read many books about social issues, and have read a textbook on sociology, Although I am an intellectual and not an academic I feel that there are some things I am able to write about.
Let's look at:
Despite it's thoroughly-undeserved "Mickey Mouse" reputation - sociology is an extremely important discipline. It is important because it strives to bring order & understanding to the complex structures which overlap & constantly interact to form human societies - and in a larger historical sense - human civilisations.
It is important because only by beginning to understand society can we begin to properly understand its problems (which are people's problems) and begin to perceive all the possible solutions.
It is only through social research & speculation that we have a hope-in-hell of achieving a better society - i.e. one where both the average and the minimum levels of human happiness are increased. (Politics won't solve the problems - its focus is too short term. Economics won't solve the problems - it focusses on only a portion of the issues. Science and technology won't solve the problems - they are too rarely directly focussed on human problems. Psychology & religion only focus on part of the picture.) Only Sociology tries to include everything - all the factors. It attempts to model the whole of human civilisation - in all its dynamic complexity (internal & external), and as with all models it will be used both for prediction & as a testing-ground for suggested improvements.
The diffusive nature of sociology doesn't make it "Mickey Mouse" science - it makes it tough, brain-building stuff - as long as it is approached properly, and the right questions are asked.
There are three reasons why I write essays about social issues:
1). Anger - at the way things sometimes are.
2). A Desire for Reform - looking at why & where society needs to be changed.
3). A Need to Get To The Causes Behind The Conditions - To know something about why things have become the way they are.
My essays on "Democratic Humanism" have been my slow attempt to work out a template for a new society which will allow the "maximum amount of happiness for the maximum number of people." (It is an attempt to put genuine human needs first, and to have everything else - including the operations of economics - subserviant to that purpose.)
It is easy to map out genuine human needs - I had Maslow to thank for that. But the search for a genuine alternative (or a mutated outgrowth) to our contemporary Western civilisation has caused me to tackle issues relating to economics and politics. Areas where I am aware of my ignorance! My essay on 'Economic Rationalism' ("RM10") required me to undertake research in the area of economics. A future essay will require me to look at a range of political philosophies - and their corresponding alternative models of society.
I enjoy studying. I have a keen mind and I love intellectual challenges and learning new things, but I see two great dangers:
1). Not getting the whole picture! (If I lack the necessary overview of a discipline - I may not realise I am researching only one side of a debate! It is like thinking fungi and flowering plants represent all of biology.) This problem is tackled by starting with the general and only then moving onto the specific.
2). Knowledge blind spots! (This is incidious. If you know you are ignorant you can do something about it, but if you don't know you are ignorant....! There is either a thin veneer of a false [simplistic] belief, or a total gap where even the name of the discipline is unknown). This can only be tackled by reading in a broad range of subjects - ending up with a smattering of knowledge on all subjects. Like spraying a stencil - the existing gaps will become more apparent.
There are about THIRTY intelligences in ANZAPA, and about SIXTY souls who read my fanzine. Each of you has unique life experiences, and competences. I cannot create "Democratic Humanism" alone - there are gaps in my knowledge of which I am unaware. I need feedback and information from you people who know things which I do not in order to minimise my foolishness.
To the experts I leave the work of determining the details of the new social models. I acknowledge their insights gained by a keen knowledge of the problems in all their dimensions. I leave them the hard work of travelling from sketch to protype to working society.
All I can ultimately do is shine a torch in a particular direction and say "Look there!" Other people will dig and uncover the treasures buried there. (I can only imagine what those will be.)
Any essays in the Democratic Humanism series.
Copyright © 2000 by Michael F. Green. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: 30 June 2003