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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: Burning New Balance Shoes and American Flags—“Third World” Solutions to First World Problems

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It seemed that things couldn’t get more ridiculous in the United States. But they do. I was told today at the University that “the era of free speech in the United States is over”. It seemed odd to me, given that the candidate with the most inflammatory rhetoric among the two—Donald Trump—actually won the election. But then I saw that after the sportswear brand New Balance said “The Obama admin turned a deaf ear to us & frankly w/ Pres-Elect Trump we feel things are going to move in the right direction” they were absolutely savaged. New Balance is an American sportswear brand based in New England that recently entered the football shirt market, manufacturing kits for Liverpool, Porto, and Sevilla among others. In a response to the savaging, the company released a statement:

“As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the United States, New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the United States, not less. New Balance publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump prior to election day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today. We believe in community. We believe in humanity. From the people who make our shoes to the people who wear them, we believe in acting with the utmost integrity and we welcome all walks of life. Since 1906, we have carved our own path in being passionately committed to making things at our five factories in New England, even when nobody else did. New Balance and our thousands of employees around the world constantly strive to better our local communities. We always have and we always will.”

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Liverpool’s New Balance Kits, Complete With Inspirational Message. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.soccer.com/guide/ynwa-liverpool-new-balance-launch-first-home-jersey-together/

The company’s response seems fairly normal; they would like to make as many of their products in the United States as they can. And that really isn’t discriminatory. Contrast their statement with Nike’s, another major sportswear manufacturer that is very active in the football shirt world.

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Of Course Nike Supports the TPP–It Means More Money, After All. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/germanotes/status/796440633175113732

Nike’s support of the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement (that Trump criticizes) may seem well and good for supporters of neo-liberal policies, but it also means there could be more—not less—exploitation. Remember the days of child laborers making Nike’s footballs?  We used to have critical discourse like this:

Only a boycott by the United States and other nations will have any impact on slavery and child-based industries. Futhermore [sic] the U.S constitution states that child labor is an illegal and inhumane practice and any U.S. company found guilty practicing and encouraging it will be prosecuted. GATT and WTO prohibits member nations, like the United States, from discriminating against the importation of goods made by children. Are dolphins becoming more important than children?

As recently as 2012 we saw outrage at Nike’s use of child labor in the making of their products. Yet now we see people protesting because another U.S. sportswear company, New Balance, is asking to return jobs to the United States, away from the exploitative practices born out of outsourcing production.

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But What If the Shoe Was On the Other (Western) Foot? Image Courtesy Of: http://www1.american.edu/ted/nike.htm

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A Pakistani Child Makes Footballs and Lives In Poverty So the Rich in Paris Can Play With a Paris St. Germain Ball. Please Tell Me Again How Global Free Trade Benefits Everyone Equally? Masking These Global Inequalities By Pretending to Address Local Inequalities Is What Has Driven–Not Resisted–The Rise of Extreme Capitalism in the West and Global North. Images Courtesy Of: https://globalpeaceandconflict.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/nike-and-modern-day-slavery/

What I suspect to be millenials in the United States have actually taken to burning—or throwing away—their New Balance shoes because the company dared recognize that outsourcing production hurts both Americans in the global north and others in the global south equally. It is a nod to a slightly more humane capitalism as opposed to extreme capitalism. But I guess the millenials are too young to remember the days when the American left protested Nike’s sponsorship of many universities due to their exploitative practices in the name of profits; when I was in college from 2004-2008 I saw it myself in Boulder. What is worse, however, is that this kind of behavior is reflective of the conceited superiority that many in the United States have when it comes to global issues. These people believe that their moral superiority allows them to burn or throw away their perfectly good shoes. Do they not realize that they are lucky to even have shoes—let alone quality ones like New Balance—when so much of the world goes without even these small luxuries? It is the epitome of a “First World Problem” when rich Americans—who can afford another pair of shoes—burn their own to send some sort of political “message”.

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Please Note the Ridiculousness of These Images. It Is One Thing to Take a Picture of a Lit Lighter Hovering Above Your 90 USD Shoes…It Is A Whole Other Thing to Actually Burn Them. Even If they Did Not Follow Through (I Doubt They Could) The Sentiment of Privilege is Still Stomach Turning. Images Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/11/donald-trump-new-balance-burning-shoes-tpp

These actions are part of a wider trend where the supporters of Hillary Clinton, the ostensibly “liberal” candidate, are violently protesting the election results that didn’t go their way after believing that Mr. Trump’s supporters would be the ones to engage in such un-democratic actions. (This is why I use the term “third world solutions” in the title of this article. I do not aim to insult; rather, I try to point out that violent protests—including tear gas and wounded police—are generally not associated with the transfer of power in democratic American society). The irony, as I have noted before, is palpable. Indeed, it was a Latina supporter of Ms. Clinton who threatened escalated violence saying “people have to die to make a change in this world” while the portended crash of markets failed to materialize. Maybe this is why Trump backer Rudy Giuliani has called the protesters “a bunch of spoiled crybabies.”

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According to Ms. Clinton the Trump Supporters Were “Baskets of Deplorables” But I Don’t Know How Anyone Can Condone These Scenes. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/trump-win-sparks-riots-across-9225317

Unfortunately, in a bid to create more division state media (this time NBC) has turned to reporting about attacks on Muslim women, tying it into Trump’s victory. It is obvious that such actions are unacceptable; it is obvious that these attacks are carried out by fringe elements but—for some reason—they are used to distract people from the real issues of violent protests. It is also striking that the ostensibly “liberal” side has extended the attacks on free speech to … Muslims, of all people. The physical attacks come from the far “right”, the psychological from the far “left”.

Asra Q. Nomani, a “a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement” wrote a useful piece on the opinion pages of state media’s (!) Washington Post. In it, she explains why she—a female Muslim (two strikes against her in this election) voted for Mr. Trump. Like a post-ideological voter, she supports the “Democratic Party’s position on abortion, same-sex marriage and climate change” but she cannot afford Obamacare, and she “as a liberal Muslim who has experienced, first-hand, Islamic extremism in this world, [is] opposed to the decision by President Obama and the Democratic Party to tap dance around the ‘Islam’ in Islamic State”. In the end, she offers a reasonable explanation for why she voted for Mr. Trump:

The revelations of multimillion-dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation from Qatar and Saudi Arabia killed my support for Clinton. Yes, I want equal pay. No, I reject Trump’s “locker room” banter, the idea of a “wall” between the United States and Mexico and a plan to “ban” Muslims. But I trust the United States and don’t buy the political hyperbole — agenda-driven identity politics of its own — that demonized Trump and his supporters.

She takes some things from Mr. Trump that she likes and leaves others she does not like—it’s what a voter in any democratic society should strive to do. Unfortunately, she—like New Balance—was also savaged in an era where free speech is, apparently, no longer valued. It’s almost as if free speech is good if it’s what people want to hear but isn’t if it is something they do not want to hear. It’s like the American outlook on foreign policy and democratic regimes; some–those who follow the U.S. line, are “good” democracies (like Saudi Arabia” while others who do not (like Syria) are “bad” democracies…even though neither is–or was–ever a democracy.

Some of the language used to demean Ms. Nomani is, quite honestly, horrific. Dare I say (to use a word I detest) “offensive”. And it is certainly not befitting of people who cried because their candidate lost an election. Just look at a few of the screenshots below, taken from state media’s New York Times:

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The language is startling, from insulting Ms. Nomani’s intelligence: “puts moron into oxymoron” to public shaming: “shame on you” to downright hate: “go fuck herself” and “self-hating sellout”. Third Wave feminists would cringe at this kind of language and it is really not befitting of any “left” leaning party in history, supporting my theory that we may be watching a sea change in U.S. Politics, something that many of the old “left” have not yet noticed.

Amid the chaos it was refreshing to see that at least Forbes published one piece designed to cool people down; the fact that it was written by a graduate student and not either a career journalist beholden to his career or a Professor waiting on tenure is in itself telling; it allows for a (maybe) independent voice. Carlo Jose Vicente Caro rightly explains—in clear prose—what he thinks is necessary:

People need to both support and pressure Donald J. Trump to be an inclusive president. If he faults, then you protest. You do not need Bernie Sanders in order to create a political revolution. And he was right about that. Democracy is about being active and putting your leaders in check. You won’t be able to put them in check if they do not feel pressured.

As Mr. Caro reminds readers, “one thing was certain and that is that we will not see Hillary’s dangerous foreign policies again,” and it is a relief to see Mr. Caro’s words appear in a wide-reaching publication like Forbes:

the loss of Hillary Clinton means fewer weapons, training and finances to the allies of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Many of the groups that are being aided under the Obama administration and which were supported when Clinton was Secretary of State have cooperated tactically with Jabhat al Nusra (I refuse to call it by its “new name”) and many have salafi ideologies akin to ISIS or al-Qaeda’s affiliate. These groups would have continued to receive support under a Clinton presidency, thereby making the threat of terrorism bigger for the entire world. Since the Soviet invasion to Afghanistan, the establishment in Washington D.C has failed to understand that it does not make sense to create an “ISIS” in order to defeat another ISIS. So believe it or not, the world (at least in terms of terrorism) will be a safer place with Trump in the White House.

As I have argued, a Trump presidency may (I emphasize it) mean “that the U.S will stop engaging in overthrowing dictators (Bashar al Assad was on Hillary Clinton’s list)” and “that the U.S will worry more about its hemispheric security rather than entangling themselves longer in conflicts that cost trillions of dollars in remote regions, and which are far worse than ever before”. This is part of the “Empire Endgame” thesis I outlined in my previous post; if President Donald Trump’s ideas are to be taken at face value it suggests that the United States will finally try to distance itself from the military-industrial complex that has led it into far too many wars in far too many far-away places that have only resulted in lost lives both in the United States as well as in the global south. I just hope that people can spare more time reading writing like mine and Mr. Caro’s in order to get a broader perspective instead of spending time crying, burning flags and New Balances, or engaging in social media shaming. This isn’t all about YOU, its about YOUR COUNTRY and the WORLD.

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A Piece Of Banal Nationalism, In Response To the Aforementioned Flag Burners Above. Image Courtesy Of: http://aflags.blogspot.com/2012/06/american-flag.html