Social Sciences 


Social Sciences (part4)

If we don't have free will, then can we really be free? The Communists during the cold war argued that we Americans only imagine we are free, that we are brainwashed into believing this. What is more, the very forces that brainwash us into believing we are free also control our every desire. Americans, they say, are so bombarded by advertising and other manipulative techniques that we are in fact all puppets of capitalism. B. E Skinner, the father of American behaviorism, wrote a scandalous book tided Beyond Freedom and Dignity, which following on his famous Walden II, argued that freedom is an illusion and we would all be better off if society were arranged by behavioral scientists so that the conditioning that is the inevitable source of our thoughts and feelings would be a product of central planning rather than the random chaos we enjoy now. Here, perhaps, is a clue as to why so many social scientists are Marxists. If we are each socially constructed, then freedom truly is a myth. Since we are all brainwashed anyway, why not let the over-educated experts who know best do it right?

Once the idea is at least being chewed on that we are not in control of our own thoughts, the next question is, "All right, where do our thoughts come from?" If we are as programmed as a bee crossing a cow pasture, where did this programming originate? Here we have two choices: The programming is either innate and we are born with it as a gift from the universe, or it is a product of our experiences interacting with our environment. The debate between the essentialists and the social constructionists therefore turns out to be but another version of the great, eternal debate between nature and nurture. Here is where the fan begins.

Despite what your freshman sociology professor might have told you, the debate between nature and nurture has not been settled. In the 1950s, when white male pigs were in charge, the prevailing notion was that human beings are shaped by natural urges over which we must exercise control. It was an era in which people believed in nature's power but tried to resist it, seeing it as evil. Among other things, the experience of World War II had taught Americans that under the thin surface of self-control and rationality, human beings were raging beasts. It was a lesson not soon forgotten. Human society, they said, must exercise the discipline to train people to be civilized.

But the children of that generation, raised in comfort in suburbia, forgot the lesson and turned on the structures of society with which their parents had hoped to keep the irrational under control. To us baby boomers, the rules were not keeping us from evil but reinforcing the evils of segregation, racism, and war. We boomers of the 1960s embraced nature as a force for good rather than as a monster to be restrained under lock and key. The civil rights movement, freeing black Americans from repression, can be seen as a product of this process. If, as James Baldwin said to many whites, black Americans symbolize the primitive emotions of the self, it makes sense that the 1950s snobs would want to repress them and the 1960s slobs would want to set them free. Where our parents had tried to tuck it all in, we baby boomers let it all hang out.

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