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Social Sciences (part8)

It may be, as Edwards and the deconstructionists say, that objectivity does not exist. But the sciences, including the social sciences, try at least to maintain an objective stance, to use facts and statistics, and to keep themselves open to any possibility.

Return for a moment to the discussion of picking a topic: Note that whether you are writing a paper for English class or for sociology, you can find a pattern that runs through all of this by looking for the comparisons and contrasts. On one side is Nurse Ratched, a social constructionist if there ever was one, trying to reshape the broken products of society so that they can fit back in and be productive citizens. She undoubtedly is a stickler for good grammar too, a true snob who believes in structure. On the other side, we have Randle McMurphy celebrating his sexist, racist self without any concern for the consequences of his words and actions. He is an uneducated, antisocial essentialist who accepts himself as natural. His liberation from the mental hospital is the escape of the free soul from its constructed cage.

Anyone who has tried to walk around some of the mentally unstable people who live on the sidewalks of New York knows that the policy of opening up the mental wards and letting the inmates run free did not do either them or society much good. Yet we are a culture that celebrates individual freedom. We do not believe that anybody ought to be brainwashed by the state, but neither do we want teenagers who have been brainwashed by video games to shoot up their high school classmates. We want people to be moral without having to enforce the rules that would make them moral. We teachers want students both to be themselves and to follow our directions. We want both structure and freedom.

In any work of literature, or any other text, we can find this conflict between the need for structure and the desire to be free. When Huckleberry Finn begins to feel lonely out there on the river, he looks for security and structure in the families and small towns along the shore until they get too oppressive. He then has to run back to the natural river, and to Jim, where he can feel free and easy, until the loneliness gets to him again. At the end of the novel, he is offered a true home with people who love him, but the last line of the book is his determination not to let himself get civilized but to light out for the territory. Similarly, Thelma and Louise escape from the structure of their dreary lives and become outlaws until they are faced with a choice between the ultimate structure of prison and the ultimate liberation of death. They too light out for the territory. Similarly, many of the issues in the social sciences, in government and politics, deal with this tension between our need for community and our desire for individual freedom. Even literary theory, with its desire to escape the shackles of imposed meanings and tyrannical texts, has a bit of Huck Finn in it. But it also has more than a bit of the Widow Douglas trying to impose a new moral order on the deconstructed remains of the old.

The temptation to read this simply as the posturing of fools needs to be resisted. Far more is at stake. The reason the Air Force pays that much for a screw is because someone is making a profit of $372.15 per screw. That is real money going to a contractor who then pays back his old friends at the Air Force to say nothing of the congressmen who voted for the expenditure.

Rules and structure offer us stability, even if it is an artificial stability manipulated by elites. The alternative is the search for some essential authenticity either in the chaotic depths of the individual self or in the wilderness of nature. Thus, escape from the collective structure to the imperatives of the self leads to anarchy, which in time tends to be replaced by tyranny, and so the cycle begins again. If you can stand back from the details and try to get a sense of the larger patterns, you may, even in the most unexpected places, find familiar themes you can write about with passion.

Do not therefore be intimidated by complex books. Don't think you have to imitate them. Say it plain and say it proud.

Thank you.

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