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A Marginal Sociologist’s Musical Perspective on Humanism Vs. Rationalism: The Sad State of American Education That Has Failed To Separate The Two

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As a mobile marginal sociologist who likes to engage in conversation with anyone willing, I have more than a few adventures. As one great Sociology Professor at my university once told me, “to be a good sociologist you have to actually like people”. I take this advice to heart inside—and outside—of the classroom, and the last few days were no exception. In a few conversations with individuals involved in higher education in the United States I learned that higher education is not really education at all. Rather, it is a form of indoctrination. After all, how can an individual with a Master’s Degree not know who Nietzsche is? And how can someone receiving a liberal arts degree not know the distinction between humanism and rationalism? It is not because these people are dumb; quite contrary, they are intelligent people who are seeking to learn about a world that the educational system has—unfortunately—left behind. One reason may be that the educational system—in following the modern trend of rationalization that Sociologist Max Weber warned against—has failed to separate rationalism from humanism.

Since humans are not rational, humanism is not compatible with rationalism. The famous Turkish rock group MFÖ makes this point clear in the popular song “Ali Desidero”. While the video is an amusing throwback to mid-nineties Turkish pop, the lyrics are certainly prescient in that they show the odd form of confusion that defines the thoughts of the modern generation.

In the song the young man falls in love with a young lady in his neighborhood. The only issue is that the young man and the young lady come from different worlds: the young man is a self professed “simple man” hanging out at the coffee house watching football, while the young lady is a bit of an intellectual. Since the lyrics are clever (pointing out that the young man thinks Machiavelli is a footballer), they also point out the contradictions in the young lady’s intellectual thought:

Elbetteki feminist bir kız
Metafiziğe de inanmakta

Bir kusuru var yalnız kızın
Biraz entel takılmakta
Optimizt hem de pesimist biraz
idealizme de savunmakta
Ali Desidero Ali Desidero

Teoride desen zehir gibi
Pratik dersen sallanmakta
Bazen ben hümanistim diyor
Bazen rastyonalist oluyor
Değişik bir psikoloji
Bir felsefe idiotloji
İdiot idiot idiotloji

(Turkish Lyrics Courtesy Of: http://sarkisozuceviri.com/mfo-ali-desidero-sarki-sozleri/ )

 

Of course the girl is a feminist

She also believes in metaphysics

There is just one flaw with the girl

Shes a bit of an intellectual

She is an optimist, sometimes a pessimist

And defends idealism
Ali Desidero Ali Desidero

In terms of theory she’s got it down

In terms of the practical she’s a little shaky

Sometimes she says “I’m a humanist”

Other times she becomes a rationalist

It’s a different type of psychology

A philosophy, idiotology

Idiot idiot idiotology

(Author’s Translation. An alternative translation—which I did not enjoy—is available at http://lyricstranslate.com/en/ali-desidero-ali-desidero.html )

 

The kind of confusion that MFÖ sing about is not inherent to Turkish culture, it is a confusion that plagues much of the West (and yes, Turkey is part of the West in terms of its acceptance of globalized culture).  In the United States—and, arguably, most of the West—the education system is skewed to the political “Left”. Thus, it pushes a “humanist” idea while simultaneously pushing rationalization; it is characterized by a social science dominated by numbers. Sociologist C. Wright Mills was the first to point out the flaws of this kind of thought system in his famous work The Sociological Imagination by focusing on the academic field of Sociology:

…[S]ociology has lost its reforming push, its tendencies toward fragmentary problems and scattered causation have been conservatively turned to the use of corporation, army, and state . . . To make the worker happy, efficient, and co-operative we need only make the managers intelligent, rational, knowledgable (Mills, 1959: 92).

Here, Mills points out that socioligists began to serve the goals of the wider power elite in society—the corporations, the army, and the government—by pushing “rationalism”.  This has meant that:

[T]he human relations experts have extended the general tendency for modern society to be rationalized in an intelligent way and in the service of a managerial elite. The new practicality leads to new images of social science—and of social scientists. New institutions have arisen in which this illiberal practicality is installed: industrial relations centers, research bureaus of universities, new research branches of Corporation, air force and government. They are not concerned with the battered human beings living at the bottom of society—the bad boy, the loose woman, the migrant worker, the un-Americanized immigrant. On the contrary, they are connected, in fact and in fantasy, with the top levels of society. (Mills, 1959: 95).

From this quote we see that the “rationalization” of society has come at the expense of what Mills calls “the battered human beings living at the bottom of society”; this is—quite clearly—far from humanist.  In fact, to Mills, the political philosphy of those subscribing to this mode of thought is “contained in the simple view that if only The Methods of Science, by which man now has come to control the atom, were employed to ‘control social behavior,’ the problems of mankind would soon be solved, and peace and plenty assured for all” (Mills, 1959: 113). The problem with the mode of thought that Mills criticizes is, of course, the fact that human beings are not atoms. Since human beings have a minds of their own, no type of scientific rationalization can control them; to do so would mean to treat all human beings as if they were all uniform (like the aforementioned atom). This negates the diversity of humanity, and understanding this simple fact means understanding humanism; it also means that humanism is not compatible with—nor analogous with—rationalism.

A recent news story shows the problems with confusing humanism and rationalism. On 4 July 2017 The Canadian government agreed to pay a Canadian national—who admitted to killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan—the whopping sum of 10 million US dollars. According to a CBC editorial, Omar Khadr deserved this payday—despite being a murderer and a terrorist—because he was mistreated as a Candian citizen. According to Amnesty International, Mr. Khadr’s “rights were violated” (despite the fact that he admitted to killing another human being). Although those who approve of the Candian government’s settlement may see the decision as a rational, one (since Mr. Khadr’s human rights were violated) as well as a humanist one (since he was a child soldier at the time of the murder), they miss the absurdity of a terrorist being paid over ten (10!) million dollars after killing someone. This is not rational, nor is it humanist (especially if we take into account the feelings of the family members of the man Mr. Khadr killed!), and that is why this one case serves as a perfect example of the risks inherent in conflating humanism with rationalism.

To continue with the musical theme, I will offer another small example from American country music. While writing I was listening to Luke Combs’ “When It Rains It Pours” on Youtube and—like any good sociologist—I perused the comments section. In it, I came across a gem where a user asks “Is it wrong If [sic] I like this kind of music and am black?”. Of course, fellow Youtube users responded in the right way: You can like any kind of music regardless of your skin color! Thats the point of a free—and humanistic—society. However, one reason this type of comment may have been posted, is that the rationalists (due to their obsession with the classifcation of human beings) like to believe that  “rap music is for black people” and “country music is for white people”. This is, of course, absurd, yet (sadly) there are many sociology articles out there that deride country music as being “white” music and for not being “inclusive” enough.

 

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Without digging into the academic works, this blog will serve as a useful example of this type of misinformed thought. The author complains that African-American country artist Darius Rucker’s songs“contain the same themes of family, whiskey drinking, heartbreak, and Southern culture (such as the food, chivalry, clothes) and the same avoidance of touchy subjects as those of any white artist”. That Mr. Rucker is not fitting into his racial stereotype—by avoiding racial topics in his songs—is apparently offensive to the blog’s author. It is just one more sad example of the toxicity of rationalization at work, since the blogger assumes that a black singer needs to sing about “black” topics to fit into his “category” as a black country music artist. With all due respect to the sociologists, I prefer a humanistic approach—not confused with rationaliztion—which allows singers to sing about whatever they please, regardless of their race. And yes, us listeners can listen to whtatever we like, regardless of our race as well. Such is the beauty of a humanist perspective; it is a perspective that unifies unlike the divisive perspectives of rationalism.

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A Marginal Sociologist’s Take On America V: Dispatches from the (Battle)Field of Academia

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A few weeks ago I woke up to some very alarming news reporting that the San Francisco Teacher’s Union was offering a lesson plan to area high school teachers that describes U.S. President-elect Donald Trump a “racist and sexist man”. Regardless of one’s political beliefs, such indoctrination of high school students is reprehensible. To me it seems like an attempt to re-engineer society in the way that communist societies did. A quote I have used before, from Miroslav Vanek and Pavel Mucke’s Velvet Revolutions explains it nicely:

Among other things, they launched a campaign against ‘reactionary’ values and ‘bourgeois and petit-bourgeois relics,’ with the goal of controlling as many ‘human souls’ as possible and creating a ‘new human being’ within a ‘progressive’ society constructed (or rather re-arranged) according to the Soviet Model (Vanek and Mucke 2016, 10).

I have seen these sentiments in my own graduate seminars, when a student proposed that the best way to end discrimination in America was to “educate them at an early age”. She proposed teaching children as young as five about same-sex marriage. While her aims are certainly noble, I can think of at least a few parents who wouldn’t be very happy with this—and rightly so. Parents have a right to raise their own children as they see fit, that is not the state’s job. I argued that engineering societies—through education—is a slippery slope but it, predictably, fell on deaf ears.

 

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s very readable novel Herland was assigned in one of my seminars and—if one gets past the extreme feminist perspective—one can see that Gilman is warning against a totalitarian, and borderline fascistic, society where the community, rather than families, educate children. The only result is a sort of brainwashing, where all emotions—specifically human emotions like love—have been erased. Of course my fellow sociologists could not see this, they could only opine on how utopic a society without men would be. They could only opine on how a misogynist male rapist is the same as the misogynist male who opens the door for a woman because “she is too weak”. As much as they may not like it, I personally will continue to open doors for women. It is, after all, the right thing to do to help out fellow human beings—male or female.

To me this kind of discourse, at a university no less, is disturbing. It is a totalitarian thought process completely detached from reality; this kind of societal engineering is the purest form of the rationalized society Max Weber warned against. The worst thing is that this hate emanates from ostensibly “progressive” people; the people who organize cry-ins and lobby for “safe spaces”, the same people who have made “I’m offended” the new buzz phrase of America. But do they ever stop to think about how equating rapists with those who open doors for women is problematic? Or that saying “being white is racist” is a racist statement in and of itself? The short answer is…they don’t.

At a small get-together with friends a few weeks ago the conversation came to my personal life. A student I am friendly with asked me if I was worried about my (Turkish) girlfriend coming to visit me in the U.S. I asked why I would be afraid? The student said “Because Trump will put her in a camp for being a Muslim”. I wanted to ask the person to specify what kind of camp—labor or death—but resisted. The truth is, this kind of discourse is offensive to me; insinuating that someone I love could be murdered is extremely hurtful. But I don’t blame this person for their misguided views since it isn’t their fault.

Arguably, it all boils down to the failure of America’s education system. Examples have been pouring in from campuses all across America in recent days. At UNLV, a math professor was shamed for daring to use the term “illegal aliens” rather than the politically correct “undocumented immigrants” on his personal Facebook page. Apparently, free speech is no longer the norm on American campuses. At my former school, the University of Texas, a professor of philosophy admitted that he cannot teach his course because of political correctness. Professor Daniel Bonevac said:

Students clam up as soon as conversation veers close to anything controversial and one side might be viewed as politically incorrect. The open exchange of ideas that used to make courses such as Contemporary Moral Problems exciting doesn’t happen […] For decades the University of Texas at Austin has been an ideal place to do that. Students bring a wide range of opinions. They’re open-minded. They argue for their own views vigorously while listening carefully to the other side and treating its advocates respectfully […] One or two students who don’t share those qualities mentioned above can shut down discussion and destroy such a course.

I can sympathize with Professor Bonevac because I have seen this toxic environment in my own classes.

The worst part is that, even when the metaphor of “battleground” used above becomes real, educators still don’t know how to react. After a brutal attack on students at Ohio State University, one student said administrators “are more scared of the Right and Trump than they are of this terrorist attack that just happened on our campus. It’s sickening to me because I feel like they are gambling with my life in order to reach this multiculturalism lie that they worship in all of my classes — and it’s crazy.” If you don’t believe it, just look at a Facebook post from The Ohio State University’s Director of Residence Life.

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A Strange Post Made Stranger By the #Hashtags. Image Courtesy Of: http://usherald.com/liberal-apologists-already-urging-sympathy-osu-terror-attacker/

 

In short, this is ridiculous. There was a vicious attack, yet instead of condemning it a University official is saying something quite different. In a bid to pay respects to the attacker, the University is actually insulting the victims. It is an odd situation indeed, and it shows a fundamental lack of moral sense. The question is, how did we get here? I would argue that it is a result of the  most glaring example of America’s failure to educate: the censorship of literature.

I am a proponent of literature since I believe that the best fiction can tell a person more about life than most positivist social science research. Auguste Comte may argue with me but I stand with my perspective, especially after a Virginia school district decided to erase certain literary masterpieces from their curriculum: “The Accomack County Public Schools (Virginia) have banned the classic books The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird because a parent complained about the racial slurs contained in them”.

This is saddening news since it doesn’t bode well for the American education system. Two weeks ago I saw at my own university library the perils of this failure to recognize literature’s value. I asked the student working at the front desk for a copy of The Great Gatsby. The student asked me the author, and I—incredulous—just said “Fitzgerald”. The response? “Which one…F. Scott?”. The idea of a university student not knowing the author of one of the most enduring classics of American literature is disconcerting to say the least. Education is not just about 2+2 being 4 or elementary Spanish or French. It is also about achieving a certain level of culture, a view of the world that only literature can provide.

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A Masterpiece. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4671.The_Great_Gatsby

It would be helpful if educators focused less on political indoctrination and more on making the students of our country well-rounded citizens; giving students the valuable skills of critical thinking and emphasizing individual thought is one of the most important—and long-lasting—gifts of education. It is dismaying to see the quality of education slowly decline as educators are more focused more on presenting personal political views in the classroom than teaching things of real value. Politics are ephemeral, literature is eternal.