A Science for Everyone

Thoughts on Banning Theories

I’m a sociologist.  I use theory to explain human behavior.  As a profession, we recognize our basic paradigms – Structural Functionalism, Conflict theory, and Symbolic Interaction.  In my use of these, Conflict theory is essentially the back of Structural Functionalism – one shows how societies work, function and their structure, while the other looks at the spots and time when conflict takes over.  Symbolic interaction deals with the fact that socially, we communicate with symbols.

I am more comfortable with conflict theory and symbolic interaction – but that doesn’t mean I can afford to ignore the Structural Functionalism paradigm.  It does explain some portion of our social world.  It’s basic Durkheim – and his thoughts are basic to my discipline.  He looked at how society worked.  Karl Marx, with conflict theory, looked at the spots where society did not work.  Karl, who wrote the four volume Das Kapital, essentially spent a lifetime studying capitalism and it’s flaws, it’s weaknesses.  He seems better recognized for the 50 pages of the Communist Manifesto – yet it does seem a little unfair that his major work is less recognized.

Still, it was conflict theorists who developed Critical Theory – Adorno, Foucault, etc.  Critical Theory differs from the paradigms I prefer in that it looks at critiquing and changingCritical theory society. My perspective is that my discipline should focus on understanding or explaining society.  No matter how good I am, I prefer not to make the decisions on how people should live.

That doesn’t mean there is no place in my world for Critical Theory.  Adorno’s work on the authoritative personality has a place to meld in with the basic social conflict paradigm.  Critical Race Theory operates from the assumption that a society based on values and beliefs that grew in Europe needs drastic change to improve society, based on race.  To my way of thinking, its origins with the legal profession move into a system of analysis that is scientifically weak – the idea of the “reasonable man” that is basic to legal understanding is not the same as scientific method. 

While it may be correct – but I want to examine the premise with a value-neutral approach and dig out as many statistics as I can.  My disagreement is not that the theoretical approach is useless – instead, my disagreement is that the methodology lacks scientific rigor.

I have the same problem with Creation Science – the folks who provide the answers tend to have arguments that are, at best, weakly supported.  That doesn’t mean I want to eliminate the theory – someone in the future may do a better job with it.  Likewise, I may see a better scholar working with Critical Race Theory.  To move away, into physics, Maxwell’s demon did provide an explanation that violated the second law of thermodynamics.  The fact that the little demon didn’t have face validity hasn’t stopped physicists from refuting the explanation for a century and a half.  We don’t need to ban theories – we need to test them responsibly.

A lot of people have attempted to use the concepts in Marx’ Communist Manifesto – so many that we can use the data we can harvest as if it were quasi-experimental.  I’ve watched communism work on Hutterite colonies – but it has several unique attributes that aren’t present in the Soviet system, or Cuba, etc.  While most Hutterite Colonies are successful, they include a religious commitment toward communal ownership, and I haven’t seen any colonies with walls to keep people from leaving. 

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