Gian Piero de Bellis

Essays on post-statism

On the Social Sciences as Social Scam and the Social Scientists as Social Scoundrels

(2006)

 


 

Social Sciences & Social Scientists in the Statist Age


The damning origins
The devious outlook
The duplicitous role
The despicable results
The disastrous present
The desirable future
References

 


 

"Much of our 'social science' still belongs to the Middle Ages."
(Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945)


The damning origins (^)

The social sciences, in some of their disciplines, in the way they are practised, in the topics of research tackled, and in the solutions put forward, are a direct result of the rising to dominance of the state and a response to the state's ideological, administrative and fiscal demands.
For instance, the formation of national states impelled the business of record-keeping far beyond what was, up to then, a simple recording of births and deaths made by the parishes. The addition of other records like, in particular, economic data (trade, income, etc.), led to the establishment of the discipline of "statistics". The name "statistics" derives, very likely, from "status" as personal situation or as political organization (the state).

In England, John Graunt, who is considered one of the founders of demography (the quantitative study of populations) introduced, with William Petty and other fellows of the Royal Society, the term "Political Arithmetick" referring to reasoning by figures about the art of governing. For "political arithmetick" we can read statistics or political economy; both fields and related tools of investigation became more and more subsumed under the ideological wing of the state and were used for state purposes (administration, taxation, income distribution, etc.). Not surprisingly, one of the major tracts of William Petty bears the title "A Treatise of Taxes and Contributions" (1662).

Another discipline whose origin and diffusion owes a lot to the existence and growth of the state is anthropology.
The imperialistic drive of the state-ruling elites in England and France which resulted in the formation of two huge empires during the second half of the XIX century, stimulated much research into far away lands and people. Intellectual curiosity about exotic places and cultures that promoted scientific investigations by some travellers, was more and more replaced by the need to get reliable data for ruling the new subjects. Anthropologists paid by the state were sent abroad to collect those data in order to assist the administrative machine of the new power.

Even historical research and the writing of history received an impulse from state rulers eager to put historians at the service of nation-building, manufacturing ancient national identities where only different local cultures (traditions, idioms, etc.) actually existed.
The genetic connection between the state and some social science disciplines would not represent a problem and certainly would not be qualified as damning if the links had been limited to the initial stimulus given by the state to those disciplines and, especially, if the state had not extended its reach to the social sciences as a whole, willing to put all the disciplines at its own disposal and under its direct tutelage.

The devious outlook (^)

Up to the XVIII century, the lovers of knowledge (Leibniz, Voltaire, Goethe, Edward Gibbon, Adam Smith, etc.) were cosmopolitan individuals with a cosmopolitan outlook. With the formation of national states, the social scientists narrowed their field of vision and their connections, becoming more and more:

- state influenced-certified. Since at least Napoleon, with the institution of the Imperial University, the state has intervened in the training of the professional elites in order to fill administrative roles with a personnel instructed directly by the state. With the expansion of state schooling, the state came to control every branch of learning, deciding and supervising what should be learned.
This is especially true for the social scientists (lawyers, economists, sociologists, psychologists, etc.) because most of them will become state personnel or will work according to directives formulated by the state. Moreover, in many cases they are entitled to practice their professional skills only after being certified by the state (state exams, state registered list of practitioners, state authorization).
Quite different is the situation for the physical scientists, who are more likely to work outside the state (even when their research is financed and used by the state), to be in touch with international learned associations and to be subject to universal standards of excellence (even during the years of training and learning).

- nationally based-oriented. Social scientists, being mainly employed by the national state (even when they work abroad as economists), are prone to develop a national outlook that is also the consequence of a nationally-based state education.

"One may say broadly that all the animals that have been carefully observed have behaved so as to confirm the philosophy in which the observer believed before his observations began. Nay, more, they have all displayed the national characteristics of the observer. Animals studied by Americans rush about frantically, with an incredible display of hustle and pep, and at last achieve the desired result by chance. Animals observed by Germans sit still and think, and at last evolve the solution out of their inner consciousness."
(Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Philosophy, 1927)


So, while the practitioners of the physical sciences are, on the whole, empirically founded and are generally motivated by the search for solutions to universal problems, social science intellectuals are, in large number, based on ideologies that do not require empirical confirmation, and are ultimately driven by the exigencies of the local (i.e. national) power.
When the state power has tried to influence the course of research and to manipulate the results also in areas outside the social sciences (as, for instance, in the Lysenko affair in the Soviet Union) practical disaster inside the country (e.g. bad harvesting if not famine) and academic opprobrium from the international scientific community have followed in due course.

"La science n'a pas de patrie." [Science has no fatherland]
(Louis Pasteur - Statement made during the inaugural speech at the opening of the Pasteur Institute, Paris 1888)


The devious outlook of the social scientists is clearly evident from the fact that, still today, we accept as a matter of fact the existence, for example, of French philosophy while it would be laughable to refer to French physics or French chemistry, not because there are no physicists or chemists in France but because they are assumed to be part not only of the world of science but also of a world science, engaged in research projects that transcend territorial, linguistic and cultural borders.

The duplicitous role (^)

The role played by a person in society is mainly determined by the training he receives and by the demands of the situation, in this case the activities a person is asked and is willing to perform.
For the large majority of social scientists, both training and employment are under the sign of the state. The statist age has increased enormously the number of social scientists and social workers (economists, psychologists, sociologists, etc,) by giving them a regular income.
The social scientists are almost universally:

- trained by the state (formation)
- certified by the state (validation)
- paid by the state (occupation).

"In 1962 the U.S. federal government spent $118 million in support of social science research. In 1963, $139 million was spent. In 1964, $200 million was spent. In the space of three years, then, federal expenditures alone increased by about seventy percent - and this, starting from a comparatively high absolute level."
"Even in small countries such as Sweden and Belgium, government expenditures have increased greatly; in Belgium, for example, from 2.9 million dollars in 1961 to 4.8 million dollars in 1964."
"... it suffices to emphasize the gross features of the new situation: namely, that there has occurred a world-wide and unprecedented growth in social science funding, based largely on vast new resources supplied by government."
(Alvin W. Gouldner, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, 1970)


It is then of no surprise to anyone that social scientists feel, on the whole, a sense of allegiance towards the state, which is seen as an indispensable institution for civil life and a superior form of social organization.
Some of them might be against a specific government or advocate a total transformation of society but, whatever their attitudes and convictions, the state is generally regarded by them as the unquestioned engine of change and the pillar underpinning any society (present and future). No state is, for them, tantamount to no society.

This allegiance towards the state, resulting from a cultural and material dependence, is clearly in conflict with the primary task of any scientist, which is the search for and advancement of knowledge. This requires the absence of any subordination to an external power because it would act, theoretically or practically, as a stumbling block.

In this specific case, the intellectual (formation) and material (occupation) dependence of the social scientists on the state (or on state financed institutions) is a gigantic obstacle on the road to knowledge.
If biologists and physicists were formed, certified and paid by a Church for conducting their research, we would be very suspicious about the results produced by them in terms of knowledge (i.e. universally true and valid beliefs). This does not mean that the scientists are not bound by ethical (or even religious) principles but only that the principles should be openly manifest and compatible with the scientific quest and, most of all, that they should not be shaped or imposed from the outside by any intruding power.
In 1960 Loren Baritz wrote a book "The Servants of Power" castigating the role of social scientists paid by industrialists for conducting research in factories. To my knowledge nothing of that sort has been written in recent times about the role of the social scientists as servants of the state.

Most of them are in the service of Mammon (money) and of Leviathan (power) and are not at all interested in exploring reality but only in repeating conventional ideas and passing down obsolete formulas. We are more likely to find original views on society in novelists (Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Albert Camus and many others), in non academic thinkers (from Karl Marx, Frédéric Bastiat, Piotr Kropotkin to Arthur Koestler, Bruno Rizzi, Ivan Illich) and in scholars from other fields (Norbert Wiener, E. F. Schumacher, Matt Ridley) than in many social tracts from professional sociologists.

The despicable results (^)

Social scientists and what they produce are characterized by three important deficiencies:

- lack of recollection (foggy memory of the past).
The social scientist, as we will see more specifically later, has no proper recollection of the past because he sees it, mainly if not exclusively, through the ideological lenses of some previous scholars, whose views are not only accepted uncritically, but are reduced and circulated to the level of catchphrases. This leads to a colossal mis-representation of past reality at the service of present power.

- lack of perception (false picture of the present).
The intellectual laziness of the social scientist, in sharp contrast with the boldness of the physicists and the technologists, keeps him within the traditional views of society, elaborated centuries ago, even when they do not apply to current reality. This causes a total mis-interpretation of actual reality and the inability to grasp what is really happening (e.g. the collapse of the Soviet Union).

- lack of direction (farcical proposals for the future).
Research bias and self-censorship make the social scientist capable only of repeating the past but useless when it comes to advancing creative solutions for the present and the future. The social scientist nowadays is simply a conveyer of myths and fairy tales; he is certainly not a problem dealer, i.e. somebody finding problems and prospecting solutions. This being the case, the mis-treatment of reality is more on a theoretical than on a practical level, exactly like the Church in the past which was blocking the advancement of knowledge through the stale repetition of traditional false beliefs. Nevertheless, the lack of good theoretical insights has nefarious effects on the direction and solution of practical matters.

Given this situation, it is appropriate to say that the results produced by the social scientists are:

- hardly social. Social scientists do not assist in finding solutions for social problems but, in many cases, exacerbate them with palliatives, diversions or delays. Social scientists, in general, do not have the courage to defy the traditional ideas on which their professional status is based or the consolidated interests of the state from which many of them receive the salary and the funds for their research activity.

- not at all scientific. Social scientists are not worried about putting forward contradictory statements or unsubstantiated arguments, whose supposed strength relies precisely in their un-verifiability and so un-falsifiability. What is important for the social scientists is only the apparent plausibility and popular acceptability of statements and arguments (at least within their national group). If the same criteria dominated in the physical and mathematical sciences we would have never had the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics and non-Euclidean geometry. And so, the progress of science would have stopped long ago and with it the very reason for the furtherance of any scientific activity.

The disastrous present (^)

The actual situation of the so-called social sciences is disastrous.
The contemporary human being lives in a split cultural reality characterized by science (the shared knowledge about the empirical world) and pseudo-science (the fashionable popular nonsense of the ideological world). The former is leading him towards the blue skies of technological improvement and personal empowerment; the latter is precipitating him more and more into the gutter of prejudices and superstitions.

Most of these prejudices and superstitions that affect the social scientist originate, as already pointed out, from his subservient association with state power. The state has increased the number of social scientists (economists, psychologists, sociologists, etc.) giving them employment through the expansion of economic planning and social welfare. In exchange the state has demanded and duly obtained that social scientists recognize the state's pre-eminent role and are supportive of pervasive state intervention in society.
This has been very easily achieved because the ideological and material interests of state rulers and social scientists have come to coincide in the age of statism.

"The much greater success of Keynes's General Theory [with respect to Hayek's Prices and Production, 1931] ... owed ... to the fact that its argument implemented some of the strongest political preferences of a large number of modern economists. Politically, Hayek's swam against the stream."
(Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, 1954)


The development of the social sciences that has brought us to this disastrous present has been characterized, at least during the XX century, by what can be called:

- Chinese whispers. Social science theory has tried to advance mainly through a communicative process in the fashion of Chinese whispers, where the information from a previous scholar is so superficially and sloppily examined that it is processed in a truncated and distorted form, ready to be interpreted by the recipient according to his political and cultural preferences and then sent, manipulated and twisted appropriately, to the next recipient, to undergo the same process; the result is that what comes out at the end might be the exact opposite of what went in at the start. So the "survival of the fittest" (Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin) becomes the survival of the strongest; "the whole is not identical to the sum of its parts" (Emile Durkheim) becomes the whole is greater (bigger, superior) than the sum of its parts; and "property is robbery" (Pierre-Joseph Proudhon) is, against the intention of its author, improperly assumed to apply to any type of property however acquired. All this explains very well why the social sciences do not build and grow incrementally on the successful intuitions of previous thinkers but remain in a condition characterized by a morass of confused and contradictory statements.

"It will probably surprise many who know nothing of Proudhon save his declaration that 'property is robbery' to learn that he was perhaps the most vigorous hater of Communism that ever lived on this planet. But the apparent inconsistency vanishes when you read his book and find that by property he means simply legally privileged wealth or the power of usury, and not at all the possession by the laborer of his products."
(Benjamin Tucker, 1887)


- Black magic. The social scientist's practice is generally limited to tabulating statistical data mainly provided by the state, or to interviewing samples of a population in very artificial settings and ways. Because of the un-reliability of (most) statistical data and the insouciance of (most) interviewers, this is like interrogating the stars about the state of a patient and doing it while reciting magic formulas. No wonder that, as far as social problems are concerned, social scientists are no more trustworthy than witch doctors or astrologers (and some political leaders preferred the advice of the latter to that of the former). Moreover, witch doctors and astrologers can be more direct and precise about what to do than social scientists, who use magical words with obscure meanings in order to impress minds, to confuse ideas and to give the impression, like in a Nostradamus prophecy, that they are always right, provided that the interpretation is right.

The situation of the social sciences in terms of the contribution by social scientists to the advancement of knowledge is so miserable and gloomy that there is no way out other than through a conceptual and practical revolution, of which we can only list some basic requirements.

The desirable future (^)

What might be hoped for and strived for in order that the so-called social sciences become part of the scientific endeavour is:

- de-politicization: independence from state power (as from any superimposed external power) in every respect (state ideology, state funding, state imprimatur, etc.).

- de-nationalization: independence from narrow-minded nationalistic outlooks (as from any theoretical and empirical restriction based on territory, race or similar aspects).

- de-fragmentation: independence from jealous professorial barons intent on defending their own pasture (as if the search for knowledge had fences and border posts restricting access to different areas of investigation).

"Natural science will in time incorporate into itself the science of human beings, just as the science of human beings will incorporate into itself natural science: there will be one science."
(Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844)


To ask for a change in the social sciences is tantamount to demanding a radical transformation of the social scientists, with the cessation of some attitudes and practices that have made their present role totally hopeless and useless if not even detrimental to human betterment (moral, cultural, social, etc.).
For social scientists what is required is nothing less than:

- The end of social scientists as state-priests (pillars of the state power as high commissioners and petty bureaucrats);

- The end of social scientists as state-propagandists (story-tellers for the state power as academics and social commentators);

- The end of social scientists as state-puppets (servants of state power as pampered intellectuals, separate from reality and from real people).

"To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically but practically."
(Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854)


"Marx contrasted the proletarian revolution with all those previously recorded in history; he conceived this future revolution as one that would make "the entire superstructure of classes which compose official society" disappear (Communist Manifesto). Such a phenomenon requires the disappearance of the intellectuals and, above all, of their strongholds, namely the State and political parties. From a Marxist viewpoint, the revolution is made by the producers who, accustomed to the working practices of large-scale industry, limit the role of intellectuals to that of clerks entrusted only with the bare minimum of tasks. Everybody knows, indeed, that a plan is regarded as all the more efficiently executed the smaller the number of administrative staff involved."
(Georges Sorel, The Decomposition of Marxism, 1908)


Only after a momentous renovation can the social pseudo-sciences and the social pseudo-scientists move from being ideologies-ideologues intent on misrepresenting ideas and manipulating people to becoming real science and real scientists promoting knowledge.
To contribute to this aim it is necessary to highlight the myths concocted and scattered by many social scientists which have infested the social sciences and the social scene and which have represented incapacitating straightjackets and absurd superstitions to the detriment of the comprehension of reality and the free development of knowledge.

 


 

References (^)


[1844] Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

[1854] Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Norton & Company, New York, 1992

[1887] Benjamin Tucker
see: http://www.gmu.edu/departments/economics/bcaplan/def.htm

[1895] Emile Durkheim, Les règles de la méthode sociologique, Presse Universitaire de France, 1992

[1908] Georges Sorel, La Décomposition du Marxisme
http://kropot.free.fr/Sorel-decomposition.htm
for an extract see: http://www.panarchy.org/sorel/decomposition.1908.html

[1927] Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Philosophy, Routledge, London, 1986

[1945] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Routledge, London, 1995

[1954] Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, Allen & Unwin, London, 1986

[1960] Loren Baritz, The Servants of Power. A history of the use of social science in American industry, Wesleyan University

[1970] Alvin W. Gouldner, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, Heinemann, London, 1973