Category Archives: sociology

Let’s Talk About the Real Issue: Defining Personhood

Bernie Sanders went to Liberty University. Hoo-ray for discourse. Students there asked him, after he had said he and they would disagree on abortion, why he is concerned about the lives of the poor but not the lives of the unborn.  (NPR has the story here).

His (wholly unshocking) Democratic answer was that he doesn’t believe the government should interfere in a women’s private medical decisions.

But, that doesn’t answer the students’ question. It feels like an avoidance if you are pro-life. The question neither side will agree to talk about directly is when does life start? As a die-hard supporter of legal abortion, if you tell me a mother killed her 8 month old in-the-womb child, I’d be horrified and I would call it ending a life. If a mother aborts a 12 week old fetus, it is clearly a medical procedure.

What does this sound like to a pro-lifer? I can imagine it sounds like “A pregnant woman can decide to kill a baby when she wants to.” So Sanders answer is bewildering if not horrific.

For pro-lifers, I assume, life starts at conception. For pro-choicers, it is somewhere else. But there is a line over which once you cross, a fetus is a life.

As I understand it, Roe v. Wade was ALWAYS a compromise about this question. And, as a society, we have to find a workable compromise.

Sanders and other pro-choicers might undercut some of the fervor of “they are killing unborn babies” if they would just shoot straight. I propose something like this: “It’s not a baby yet. We need a set of rules for society and law about when it is a baby. If your religion has a different set of rules, fine. Freedom of religion. But where we disagree is not about protecting the unborn baby, which we ALL support, but about WHO gets to decide what is an unborn baby. You want it to be decided by religion. But that is not workable in our democracy. If you are going to live in this democracy, you have to come to terms with a legal basis for this decision and not try to use religion to force your definition on all of us.”

Would this convince pro-lifers? Probably not. But at the very least, it is more honest and doesn’t leave pro-choicers in the weird position of seeming like we are saying that baby-killing is a medical decision.

At best, reasonable pro-lifers could maybe be brought into a conversation about when we are going to say personhood begins. And if they want to talk about this, maybe we can also talk about where it should not go (corporations as political citizens).

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Filed under Politics, Power, Activism, social theory, sociology

Data Collection Aphorism

An anthropology colleague asked me to do a brief explanation of network analysis and theory for a field research class (Thanks Ned Searles!).

One part of teaching I love is when the process of vocalizing ideas leads me to say something I never heard but sounds good.

Today, in discussing the options for types of data, and thinking about survey versus participant observation, I said:

“Data that is easy to collect is not always the data most worth collecting.”

I was thinking about how much of the research grind, especially in an ever bigger and more status-conscious world of publishing we live in, is driven not by good questions, but by available data.

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Filed under pithy expressions, Research, social theory, sociology, words

Back of the envelope math for internalizing costs.

Colleague sent me this article about renewable energy costs.

Check out this article from today’s New York Times, page B1!

Reminded me of this problem that has been bugging me for awhile…

It always bugs me how the entrenched interests hold up the cost piece when nuclear and oil have huge externalized costs.
For nuclear, the s government developed the technology (manhattan project) and GAVE it to the industry so they would produce plutonium as a by product of energy.  SOmethling 20+billion in today’s dollars.
Meanwhile, some portion of our US military budget is for protecting global oil supply.  It would be complicated, but imagine if some portion of it were factored into price at the pump.  US military budget was like $500 billion last year.  in 2013 we used 135 billion gallons of gasoline.  If 10% of us military is for oil supplies, then that is $50 billion, about $0.25 per gallon….
Ok, I am procrastinating…

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Filed under economic sociology, economics, sociology

Summer Reading 2014

It’s that time of year… trying to decide the ONE thick, dense academic book I should take on vacation. The one I feel like I should have read, but never did. Is it finish Harrison White’s Identity and Control? Collins’ Sociology of Philosophies? Castells’ Communication Power or the Networks of hope and Outrage? Luhmann’s book on Systems Theory?

Should I scan office for other contenders?

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Filed under Books, social theory, sociology

IS ADD medicine over-prescribed in adults?

Or kids?

That is the $20,000 question.

This sort-of article in the NY times (maybe a blog post) does not really answer it.

First, if adults are now taking ADD meds, it can be because there is a real population of the needy who were not diagnosed or medicated. Is that over-prescribing?  Well, only if we can find that the people taking it are not fitting the diagnosis of ADD.

That is a valid question, but as the article points out, this report does not really nor can it, really answer that question.  So, instead, we tend to look at the question and answer it based on our own ideas.  If you think ADD is not a real or wide-spread problem, then, yes, it is over-prescribed.  If you think meds are a valid part of treating problematic problems, then this is progress.  If you think that perhaps people exhibit ADD symptoms due to their context, such as more stimulus, too little exercise, too little positive work structure, too many boring jobs, and so on, then we can medicate people to help them conform to context, but we are avoiding a full-spectrum approach.

I tend to be in the latter two camps.  Meds can help.  But it is worth asking if we have the best contexts for learning (kids) or working (bigger kids) for ADD people to be productive and resilient.

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Filed under psychology, sociology, Uncategorized

Is Sociology Too-Leftist?

” Sociology, for example, should be central to so many national issues, but it is so dominated by the left that it is instinctively dismissed by the right.”

So says Nicholas Kristof….

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-professors-we-need-you.html?_r=1

As a half-sociologist, I have some insight on this. Conservatives would rarely find themselves intellectually in accord with sociology. Modern conservative thought is deeply enamored of a naive economics that assumes that humans always maximize narrow economic interest and that therefore markets will deliver the best outcomes in all cases.

Sociologists, mostly, assume that humans are partly economic, and partly social. In other words, we are motivated by other forces, including family, identity, religion, or ideology. In fact, we cannot understand humans as only individuals, but must always see them as embedded in larger social forces and structures. My point: you can’t really do sociology as a field of inquiry if you agree with modern conservative thought.

So, with all due respect Mr. Kristof, it is a self-selection away from sociology more than any strategic decision to chase off conservatives.

I wish sociology did figure into more discussions of policy, but blaming us for not being sufficiently beholden to conservative thought is misplaced.

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OECD shows teachers do worse compared to comparable workers.

Student post prompted me to dig into this…

US teachers only earn about .6 in their careers of what the average worker with 15 years of experience and tertiary education does.

 

oecd teachers

US teachers lose pay over time compared to others with training.

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The Illogic of Being a Homophobe in the Locker Room

I posted on Facebook, but I own these words, Zuckerberg.

 

ok, so a gay football player comes out. The guys worried about this say something like “yeah, but I’m going to be naked inn front of him, in the locker room.”

Ok. Let’s break this down.

First, sorry to break it to you, but odds are, there was ALWAYS some closeted gays in the locker room. So, if there is any harm to you in them “looking,” it has already happened. See? Don’t you feel better?

Second, if you think that they might, I don’t know, get attracted to you or something, and, following #1 above, it would have ALREADY happened. Have you EVER seen someone in the shower or locker room get an erection ??? No? Ok, so it is not a social space where sexual feelings get expressed.

Three, if you think they might, I don’t know, what, touch you/ Sexually assault you? Well, that is against the law, not conducive to team morale, and, in general, not a smart move for someone who wants to keep playing sports. So, while there are always some depraved heteros and homos, being gay does not mean your (always there but closeted) gay teammate is some uncontrollable sex fiend who is going to cause problems.

Four. Ok, so maybe your (closeted) gay teammate sees you and later fantasizes about you. Maybe. I am just trying to imagine the problem. Ok, well if you can’t see that as a compliment, then at least you can now know what it feels like to be objectified as a sex object like most females do. So, net gain: you can be more empathetic now.

So, in sum, if it causes you harm, it is cause your just hung up knowing she or he is gay. Any other possible concerns are BS.

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Filed under humor, Politics, Power, Activism, sociology

The Society Pages

The Society Pages.

Seems like a great resource I can use for teaching…

 

I loved the Contexts magazine.  is it still around?

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Everyone is Obsessed with Atheists

Friend posted this link to a Chronicle of HE article about a study of atheists.

Author of blog post Tom Bartlett headlines his review with this headline:

“Do Atheists Really Believe in God?”

My response:
“Do Psychologists Really Believe in Skin Test?”

Meh. I think author’s question about whether any imagined external force, God, Squirrel, Bad Luck makes one “anxious’ is the right one. id they bother trying to figure out if one is an atheist, what they think the statement “I dare God to kill my children” means?

Like, right now, I am thinking about this, I am aetheist, and I am thinking “what a shitty thing to happen” and I am aware that there is some external mechanism or cause of the badness. I mean, if God does something bad, it is usually through an agent- a flood, a burning topiary, or a bearded guy. It is not like he shows up like Zeus and bangs some chick for no reason.

So, really, maybe the statement reminds us of how there are unknowns out there and it is frightening to think about them. So belief in God is really a fear of the unknown. And so the title could have been “Belief in God is fear of the unknown.”

So, interesting study. But like 99.9% of social science, what to make of it depends on interpretation.

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Filed under psychology, Research, sociology