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Thu, Nov. 11th, 2004, 04:53 pm
Step Right Up, Mr. Znanecki

Florian Znanecki is the bomb.

I say this not because I have a particular fondness for obscure nineteenth-century Polish sociologists. Nor do I say this because I spent a particularly intimate few hours with his best-selling book Boobs, Bombs and -, um, I mean, The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge. However, anyone who is interested in why our political culture has turned out the way that it has, especially with reference to pundits and the media, should absolutely read him. He talks about people who know things instrumentally and practically ("technologists") and people who are the defenders of values, ideals and opinions ("sages"), and that you have to understand knowledge very differently when you think about these two different kinds of people and their social role. You cannot simply argue with people about the values that they hold, because those values are actually what people use in order to make judgments about knowledge itself. Sages are the people who reinforce people's sense of values, and while it seems like these sages are kind of bad to have around (because they just tell you what you already believe and what you want to hear), they actually serve a really important social function - they create ways for people to communicate with each other and to have some kind of shared basis that allows them to form a community together.

Basically, he comes up with the only good explanation I've ever heard of why the Karl Roves and Pat Robertsons of the world exist and are socially supported, other than congenital stupidity on the part of the supporters. It's given me another, less depressing way to think about why and how we've ended up where we are.

I think it's because I found his arguments so powerful, though, that I'm kind of depressed by the work as a whole. He argues pretty cogently that if we're ever going to have advances in social values and social "technology" then we are going to have to develop an objective method for the social sciences, and I'm not sure that such a thing is possible. He seems to think that gathering lots of empirical data will do the job, but I'm not convinced that we can ever find an objective standard for judging values in the same way that we can measure, say, whether a new invention works.

This is what I'm thinking about these days. I'm sorry there are no dancing kittens involved. Although there are two very cute new kittens at my house, so perhaps I will make them dance in order to have more dancing kittens in my life. If you are very lucky I will put up pictures, too.

Or perhaps I will play Katamari Damacy, a.k.a. the best new game I have played in several years. Go forth and play it, if you have not already.

Thu, Nov. 11th, 2004 10:45 pm (UTC)
maastrictian

"He seems to think that gathering lots of empirical data will do the job, but I'm not convinced that we can ever find an objective standard for judging values in the same way that we can measure, say, whether a new invention works."

YES!! This is a huge problem I have with much social science where a large number of facts are alchemically transmuted to be truth. Facts -> conclusions is hard.

More importantly, as you and I have talked about, the conclusions -> public acceptance step is really hard one as well, possibly because of this "sage" concept he advances.

I should read the book.
--Chris

Thu, Nov. 11th, 2004 11:03 pm (UTC)
kleenestar

I think I'm actually going to have to buy a full copy of the book - what I've got is about 2/3 of the whole thing. I'll put it on my wish list. You know, in case you wanted to buy me things from my wish list. :)