The Unshakeable Dogma That Underlies Modern Sociology

Feb. 13 2018

In The Sacred Project of American Sociology, Christian Smith turns the discipline’s tools on its practitioners and arrives at the conclusion that sociologists, as a group, are committed not merely to the pursuit of truth about human societies but to a “visionary project” of human emancipation. Thus, any conclusions not in keeping with this project, which Smith likens to a religious orthodoxy, are dismissed out of hand. Richard Spady writes in his review:

Things wouldn’t be so bad if the sacred project of American sociology were just the sacred project of American sociology. . . . The problem is that all of the human sciences as practiced in our elite universities are in thrall to the sacred project that Christian Smith so clearly articulates. . . .

In one case [described by Smith], a study that finds incredibly large disadvantages for women and correspondingly large advantages for men in divorce settlements wins scholarly awards and is widely cited in the popular press, law reviews, and court decisions (including one from the U.S. Supreme Court), but turns out—after a decade’s worth of dilatory tactics by its author in releasing its government-funded data—to be completely irreproducible. Not much happens.

Another author writes a book on the benefits of marriage to both partners; opprobrium at the meetings of the American Sociological Association (ASA) follows, despite her being an elected officer. That ends her tenure as an officer at the ASA. . . . In 2012 a University of Texas sociologist, Mark Regnerus, publishes a careful study [that points to the salutary effects of traditional marriage]. A firestorm follows: university inquiries, judicial proceedings, email dumps, the lot. A point has been made. No one will want to referee, let alone publish, a paper with similar findings for a very long time. . . .

Smith hopes (but only hopes) that by describing the way in which sociology has become a sacred project, he will restrain the fanaticism of his colleagues. But this is not how the sacred project works. Its logic demands that progressives continue to turn up the heat until all the frogs either jump or die. I’m for jumping.

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More about: Academia, History & Ideas, Marriage, Sociology

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East