Science as Religion, Wishful Thinking?

My friend relayed some comedian’s joke to me about how a man meets his wife. The joke was, “I went to a dating site, put in ‘Jewish’ and my zip code.” So much for the mystery of romance! But it got me thinking about how complicated society has become, and whether or not love is so transparent. Durkheim, being concerned with religion’s roots in society, would probably think this to be a novel way for people to connect. After all, religion is the means by which people interpret what is sacred and profane. What else could you ask for in a partner but to have similar feelings about the world around us? This unscientific yet thought-provoking article reinforces this point.

Perhaps if you are not religious, you believe that love is not so simple. But if you’re not religious, then aren’t you probably going to look for an atheist or agnostic partner? If you think that society doesn’t need religion, or at least, that YOU don’t need religion, I would think it’d make it hard to stay with somebody who believes that heaven and hell are real and that Jesus is the only path to Truth. When you think about personality traits and preferences, it’s hard to think of a feature more fundamental to the health of a relationship than faith.

As society advances, I believe that religion’s function of condoning or prohibiting certain behaviors will only become more influential. The most educated among us will tap into all the newest knowledge and technology that the 21st century has to offer, while the least educated will be less altered by the wonders of the modern day. Religion will likely continue to exist to help people decide how they should feel about a changing world that they don’t fully understand. I don’t think science will ever replace religion as long as society is growing in complexity.

Dr. Nigel Barber challenges this point by explaining how, historically, religion helped us cope with problems of scarcity and preventable disease. He believes that these sources of anxiety that used to drive humans to look for God are less present now, making religion’s recent decline in popularity a sign of its inevitable demise. But new problems will always be presenting themselves, and I doubt humanity will ever believe itself capable of handling these problems on its own. If a high standard of living eliminates a need for religion, as Nigel Barber claims, why are wealthy and famous still plagued with emotional problems that lead them to cults like Scientology? Even though the scientific data on improving one’s mental health EXISTS, the ability to understand and apply it may not rest in the minds of chronically unhappy people.

Those with religious convictions are sometimes viewed as naive. However, if two people can share faith, they may have an easier time sharing their lives together. The unanswerable questions that religion wrestles with cannot be fully understood by anyone, so to claim superiority over those with faith is much more naïve than having it. As we now understand in this class, even scientific inquiry requires one to make assumptions that we cannot be sure of. To wrap our heads around mysteries like love, death, or human purpose, our mind must abbreviate facts by forming assumptions until those assumptions are proven to be untrue or unhelpful. So, while Durkheim believed that science would one day replace religion, I do not. People don’t even trust themselves to locate a suitable mate on their own without the assistance of a supernatural power, and that is precisely what nature has equipped them to do! I think that is the point of this post: Our minds are not naturally wired to be 100% scientific. To perpetually juggle all the facts of life within the framework of scientific inquiry..perhaps certain minds can achieve this, but I do not believe society ever will.


Karl Marx belie…

Karl Marx believed that the product of human labor was separate from and hostile toward its maker. The same might be said of the product of our commercial activities on the Internet. You might not believe that your institutional doppelgänger works against you, but it does not seem like a stretch to argue that the sum of your activity as a consumer—your social-media posts, credit history, the freakishly accurate profile advertisers have of you—is its own creature, and can move about independently of you. You can also assign any number of automated tasks to your doppelgänger, which it will perform tirelessly.

Think about this – ways in which Marx’s theory of the alienation of labor can now be extended to consumption.

The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf,” The New Yorker, March 27, 2014


Social Theory in Battlestar Galactica

I will admit it, I am a huge fan of Battlestar Galactica, at least of the newer version with Edward James Olmos.  In addition to being wonderfully nerdy, the show also has a lot to do with some of the different theories that we have been discussing in class, especially social order and conflict theory. 

For anyone who hasn’t seen the show, the basic premise is that the majority of humanity has been wiped out by their former robot slaves and the survivors are now on the run (in space!) and trying to rebuild their lives.  Rebuilding a society is not easy and the simplest thing to do would be to just rebuild the new society in the former one’s image.  Of course there are many people that are all for this very social order theory vision of how things should be; politicians and key members of the military especially.  However, there are a handful of people that are against this idea, either because they were directly oppressed by the former system or they recognized that others were being oppressed.

Things finally come to a head over the same thing that causes so many conflicts in our society: fuel.  The entire group of survivors depends on the fuel that is refined by a relatively small sect of workers who are living under extremely brutal conditions.  Fuel refinement is dangerous and time consuming; many of these workers work eighteen hour days in life threatening conditions.  However, because of the necessity of the job, the “government” in place decides that the refinery workers must stay where they are and are no longer eligible to request job transfers.    Then finally, someone points out what should be obvious: if the entire society depends on the fuel the workers are refining, then that puts the workers in a pretty good place to negotiate for better treatment.  Fuel refinement stops and it seems that the social order theorists and the conflict theorists are at a stalemate.

But then, in a nod in the direction of Marxism, a solution is found; the refinery workers will continue doing their current jobs as long as their work days are shortened, their environment is made safer, and the option to transfer to different jobs is returned to them, with the provision that they train replacement staff.  In addition, there must be some equality in work; government workers must also start stepping in and doing some so called menial tasks, like taking out trash, etc.  It isn’t perfect, but it is a start. 

Although I am terrible at explaining stories and I’m sure this was quite rambling, the main point I am trying to get at is that there are many, many examples of the theories we are discussing in popular media.  Quite a few of these theories may seem very esoteric or even pointless, but they inform countless aspects of our everyday lives, including our favorite television shows.  Like Battlestar Galactica…


No Vouchers! Social Order vs Conflict in Education

I saw, on the way home, a car with a bumper sticker saying “No Vouchers”. While I agree with the sentiment, that’s for another discussion. It made me think about the issue of school vouchers  (money made available by the state for parents to partially fund their children’s attendance at private schools in lieu of public ones) and how it fits in to the theory we’ve talked about.

Conflict or social order? A social order perspective would seem to suggest that everyone should be socialized the same way. Looking at it through the lens of Durkheim, social orderists would want to promote organismal unity by socializing everyone in a controlled, uniform way.

So by creating a system where the state is forced to subsidize educational socialization of people outside of the state-created educational system, are we setting up conflicting systems? Does that harm organismal unity and set up conflict between the public school network and the private school network? If so, then people in favor of school vouchers would seem to be against a monolithic structure of cultural reproduction via education, favoring instead a system of many different alternatives means of such education.

It seems, though, that a lot of the people who favor private schools for reasons of religion do not want a plurality of voices. Indeed, some have objected to the use of vouchers to fund student attendance at private schools that are based in a religion other than theirs. So do people who favor school vouchers in order to promote unified education with a grounding in religion consciously hold a social order view? And if so, are they unthinkingly feeding in to a conflict view by promoting both their favored form of education against that of the state, and by promoting various forms of educational cultural reproduction in forms they never considered when pushing for the voucher system?

Perhaps concluding one way or another without actually asking those involved would be in line with Durkheim and functionalism or positivism in disregarding people’s own understandings of their motives.

Breeching Customer Service Expectations

In the fourth chapter of A Good Book, In Theory book we learned that people’s perceptions of reality govern ways that they act in social systems.  Breeching experiments are designed to help disrupt the rules of given situations that people take for granted.  After reading this chapter I learned that for the past seven years I have performed several breeching experiments at my place of employment.  I would like to share a few of them with you.  

1.  Breeching a register transaction

At the store that I work at it is customary for us to suggestive sell to the customer for every transaction.  Besides the usual no a large number of people would respond “not today”.  So I took it up on my self to challenge this response the next day I was at work.  Anytime that someone responded with “not today” when I suggestive sold I would respond in this manner. Early in my life I found that I have the ability to make myself tear up at will which came in handy for this experiment.  I would work up some tears and put on my most saddest face and ask the customer “if not today… than..than… when?” Many customers laughed and sometimes purchase a muffin.  Some looked shocked at my display and bought a muffin, which I am pretty sure was out of pity.  Then there were the customers that got angry and were not amused by my antics.  They would not buy a muffin threaten to tell the manager about me, and then do nothing.

2. Breeching in a customer conversation about expired food

At the store I work at hot food can only be out under the warmer for a certain amount of time.  It must then be removed marked down as waste then thrown out.  This process has intrigued some customers to ask what happens to the food that is expiring,and if they can have said item for free since we are throwing it way.  The usual response to this questions from the workers, in the kitchen, is that it is against company policy to give expired food to customers for the liability purposes about food born illnesses.  When customers have asked me why don’t we give out  expiring items instead of my throwing them away. I abruptly respond with crushing an expired item in my hand, and (with a stern look) state we do not tolerate failure!

3. Breeching the use of a hairnet

At the company I work hairnets are to be worn with working with any food products.  For women they must have their hair tied back and wear a hairnet.  For men they must have their hair in a hairnet, and if you have any facial hair you must wear and an accompanying beard-net.  I have found that the hairnets are large enough the stretch over my entire head, and when I do this and customers ask why I have that in my head I either tell them I am a bee keeper, or I’m a robber…stick em’ up!  I also found it quite interesting that the beard-nets are in the shape of white triangles.  I will sometimes wear one of them over my hairnet tilted to one side, which in Japanese folklore the white triangle on someone’s head meant they are a ghost. I would then be told my my assistant manager ” Jay stop it!  You are not a ghost, and nobody gets what you are doing anyway!”             

El Chapo: A Social Order of His Own

In the last week of February, Mexican marines captured Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, international drug lord and, apparently, a local hero. Over 1000 people have protested his imprisonment with signs that read ‘We love Chapo’, ‘We want Chapo free’, and other such slogans. Investigators have deduced, from the testimony of many protesters, that Guzman’s friends and family are almost certainly paying people to take part in this uproar. However, I think it is worth pending your belief of that fact, as it would be in the best interest of these investigators to downplay any actual sympathy for Guzman that exists in the community. They’ve claimed that sums of 700 pesos are being offered to potential protesters, amounting to approximately 50-55 U.S. Dollars. Over 200 of these ‘activists’ have been detained, so it is not a bounty that comes without considerable risk. Perhaps Marx would look directly at poverty and desperation in the community as an explanation for why people were willing to accept these risks, but I feel like Durkheim might have looked less at the reward and more at the social function of the movement, the feeling that people are getting by participating in this event that flies in the face of the Mexican government. Why might people feel a compulsion to support Guzman, beyond the guarantee of cash?

El Chapo grew up poor in a rural community in La Tuna, Badiraguato, Sinaloa, Mexico. He reportedly dropped out of school in 3rd grade to work with his father and was known to be abused at home. As he got older, he was an accessory to his father’s petty crimes and watched him spend most of their earnings on liquor and women. At age 15, he cultivated his own marijuana plants with his distant cousins and at 20, he left his home town and aligned with organized criminals through his uncle’s connections. After unprecedented acceleration in his drug dealing syndicate, he was imprisoned in 1993, to escape in 2001 with the aid of prison guards he had paid off. His ability to rise above the law on countless others occasions has been credited to bribery aimed at government officials in Mexico. 69% of Mexicans believe this billionaire has been propped up by corrupt members of the Mexican government.

A Boston-based company called Jana conducted a survey that said that 44% of Mexicans believe El Chapo should be extradited to America for trial, as he would face drug trafficking charges that would almost certainly stick. So, it can be said that many people in Mexico are fully aware of the fact that a man who is responsible for countless drug-related murders needs to face justice. But there is still an enormous mistrust of the government among the Mexican people because of the effectiveness of Guzman’s bribery. For people to have enough faith in the social order to support the prosecution of criminals, they need to believe that the government is not itself guilty of failing to apprehend individuals simply because they are wealthy and powerful. I think we can agree, too, that this is not only an issue in Mexico.

In this country, many subcultures exist in defiance of the law. This is not simply because of disagreement with the laws that are put forward by the government, but it is often a recognition of the contradictions that exist between the rules that the common rabble are forced to follow and the rules that the ruling class follow, which seem to constantly shift to support their whims. I believe these protests to release El Chaps are as much motivated by money as they are by a dissatisfaction with the current administration.