Friday, October 30, 2009

there ain't no escaping it

I would argue that any human being that has been subjected to a socialization process can never move beyond social control. This is an unavoidable outcome of living in groups and the fundamental requirement of having to learn things in order to survive. Learning is the same as social control...both are about behavior change in response to group pressures/forces/dynamics. Couple those dynamics with the educational system we have today and IMO, it is evident that there is no way to move beyond social control -- this is why I use the example of being nude in the summer. Even if someone did this, I would hazard a guess that s/he would have some kind of physiological response to being nude in public. I think we would characterize that physiological response as "shame" or "embarrassment" -- both are evidence of having been raised among other people; both are internalized mechanisms of social control.

I am in favor of students learning through inquiry and discovery -- both of these processes and their respective outcomes are not asocial; they both require some kind of context. As soon as we include a context for them to occur, we are back to living in groups, being consistently and unavoidably subject to social control. Don't forget that everyone engages in social control...students, professors, teachers, etc.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The bible, science, and evolution..oh my!

my post to a sociology list

Couple of responses...If you read my initial email on this topic, I don't say that any traditional story should be/is accepted as source material for scientific inquiries. To be sure, myths, fables, fairy tales, etc., are just more data for analysis from a sociological perspective.

I also know that the scientific method, too, is subject to the same kind of analysis, i.e., it is behavior that humans engage in (both verbal and non-verbal) and, as such is available for analysis. I say this to acknowledge that although I endorse its methods, standards, etc., I am very much aware that the knowledge produced by it is not, "the truth," but is provisional. I think that we all agree that any scientific inquiry has limitations, no one claims that it does not. Hence, I am quite comfortable telling students that although there are limitations, this is the best method that we have come up with, so far, that permits the pragmatic utilization of knowledge, i.e., we use the knowledge developed through the scientific method and it appears to work as anticipated...planes do fly reliably. Much of the knowledge produced by the scientific method has proven to be both reliable and durable; note that these are some pragmatic criteria for the establishment of something called, "truth" -- if it works, it is true. Pragmatism does not provide evidence of an ontological reality, however and from a human standpoint, that seems to be just fine.

As to evolution then, I tell students that based on the methods of science, the theory is supported by the evidence. I remind them that the methods used to establish evolution as a reliably plausible explanation for genetic change and stability are the same methods that are used to develop life-saving medications. So, if they reject evolution because it is "only a theory" and it is not supported by the facts, then I challenge them to wonder why they don't reject the use of medications for the same reasons. Medical researchers are still not convinced about the causes of many diseases (just read the other day in New Scientist that there are some who are looking at the evidence that OCD, schizophrenia and several other, seemingly well-understood biological processes, might be caused by viruses), but they continue to develop interventions, based on the empirical knowledge that they have so far about diseases and although treatments are not perfect (i.e., they do not rid the person of the disease in many cases), they do provide relief, amelioration, etc.

RE: offending someone's faith...First, I just think it is wrong for me to use my authority (which is there whether I want it to be or not -- basic sociology, yes?) to tell them that they are wrong about what they believe. Hell, most Americans think that something called, "America" is a real thing, despite the lack of empirical evidence for its existence (consider how many have given their lives because of it. I especially am not going to tell students that they might, or that their loved ones have, given their time, energy, sacrifice, lives for a "social construction." Waaay to immoral for me). Heck, I bet that there are some on this list who firmly believe in "America." This goes back to the previous discussion about "shock and awe" in the classroom. I do shock, not because I want to shock people, but because empirical findings ARE shocking. I see my role to introduce students to the empirical evidence (after explaining to them the "rules" for the scientific method), however shocking it might be, and to help them make sense of it sociologically. If they choose to believe differently as a result, so be it. If they reject my explanations for the evidence, so be it. Not my role to convince them of the supremacy of knowledge based on science because of the reasons stated above.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

ignorance truly is a social disease

sent this to a sociology list in response to a colleague getting some grief about using "upsetting" material in the classroom...

I have to admit that I find it odd that anyone would suggest that any practitioner within a scientific discipline would employ specific pedagogical techniques designed to "shock or upset" -- sounds like your Dean is confusing reporting scientific information in creative ways with the idiocy that passes as substantive commentary in the media (think Glenn Beck et al).

I find it particularly ironic that a biologist would question (or characterize it as upsetting or shocking) the utilization of a heterosexuality questionnaire to point out how sexual orientation is entirely a human creation. Any biologist knows that "sexual orientation" in any species is a non-starter -- there are many species that display "hetero-, homo- and bi-" sexual orientations (for whatever those ridiculous characterizations are worth), why would humans (since we are animals) be any different? Many species are hermaphroditic...would a questionnaire designed to inquire about reproductive organs within a human population be considered shocking or upsetting? I am sure it would...but that isn't the issue. The issue is that we present scientific data/findings since we are part of the "reality-based community" and unfortunately, many students, parents, administrators, etc., have a hard time accepting social-biological reality.

Ignorance is a deadly social disease, IMO.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It is all so disturbingly simple...

I approach the discussion of social inequality by providing a fairly simple definition that seems to permit most, if not all students, the ability to grasp the meaning without any personal association. It is a blend of several different concepts that are covered within our discipline:

Social inequality is the categorization and ranking of people that result in an unequal distribution of valuable social resources.

Starting here, I can then discuss and demonstrate how this process results in differential life outcomes based on a person's categories and ranking(s). I bring in real-world examples that, in all likelihood, DO result in personal associations, but this is done in the context of discussing inequality as an observable social reality VS something someone should feel ashamed and/or guilty about. Furthermore, I tell them that part of our job as sociologists is to observe this phenomenon and report our observations to the public; it is then THEIR decision to do something about it or not. I also point out that we have no (or very little; hunter-gatherer societies, perhaps) observations on what an equal distribution of social resources produces in terms of life outcomes, so we don't really know what difference it would make. I do point out what we do know about the impact of the unequal distribution in terms of human suffering and achievement, however.

Now, when I work as an applied sociologist (as opposed to a "professor" of sociology), I adhere to humanistic principles and strongly advocate for a more equal distribution of resources. I do my best to keep the two roles discursively separated, though, when I am in front of a class.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

can't i enjoy just a little payback every now and again?

posted to a sociology list...

Sometime last year when it was finally coming to light how complicit our beloved gov't was in the use of torture, there was a discussion on this list as to whether certain practices constituted torture or not and/or whether or not it would be appropriate for the U.S. to use these methods. I found it incredulous that an issue such as torture could be considered a reasonable topic of debate among any behavioral scientists, let applied sociologists list, but I know I am subject to fits of naievte. I recall at the time that I suggested that anyone who didn't think waterboarding constituted torture should subject him or herself to the technique and then make their assessment. For those on the list that chose not to do that, permit me to ask you to watch/read this.

I also recall at the time, that i argued that there are some things that are true regardless of definition. the effects of waterboarding is one of those things, as is persistent hunger, cold temperatures, physical beating, dehydration, etc. Definitions are for the privileged elites that are free from many, if not most of the consequences of their individual as well as collective behavior. Harsh reality is the privilege of those less fortunate.

Funny, this ridiculous notion of having to define things before actually doing anything about them...Blumer, arguably one of the fathers of symbolic interactionism, knew full well the limits of definition as he stated that there were "obdurate realities" that existed with our without definition. water being forced up your nose while your body is restrained strikes me as one of the obdurate realities...

IMO, this persistent knee-jerk reaction to having to define things before doing anything is precisely why applied sociology remains a stale discipline. that and the fact that there are some who claim to be applied sociologists who willing entertain the notion of torture as a viable applied technique.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tool Time

Was reflecting on how there is so much disdain toward educated persons among my American brethren...stupid fucks that they are (my American brethren, I mean). Dubya has to be the poster-boy for this. Stupid motherfucker bragged about being a "C" student at Yale. Imagine, bragging about how you squandered an education at one of the most highly respected institutions in the entire world. Now that is DEFIANT IGNORANCE if i ever heard it.

God, help us. we are fucked.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How to respond to right wing rhetoric

Sent the following to Common Dreams, but was not published...

How to respond to right-wing rhetoric

The best way to respond to right-wing rhetoric (RWR) is to ignore it. Keep asking questions, keep presenting the facts, keep challenging; ignore the response(s) that you get. Why? Because RWR is designed to do one thing...get you to shut up. RWR has no basis in truth, accuracy, reality, etc. It is simply a tactic by the right-wing to get anyone questioning any of their actions off their ass. I know this because I used to work with felons.

For several years, I worked in a judicial treatment center for felony probationers. One of my responsibilities was to confront our clients wherever and whenever their behavior was in violation of our rules. As to be expected, almost all of our clients had “reasons” for why they did what they did. I quickly learned that their “reasons” were not reasons at all, i.e., they were not explanations for their behavior; rather, they were statements made with a specific purpose in get me off their back. Some of our clients did this knowing full well what they were doing. The vast majority, however, did this because it had worked for them in the past; they had found themselves in a situation in which they were at fault, did not want to suffer the consequences for being at fault, and continued to supply “reasons” to explain their actions. This was not done to responsibly account for their behavior, but to reduce the likelihood of actually receiving any consequences for their behavior. How did they know when to stop supplying reasons? When I or someone else stopped asking questions, stopped challenging their responses, stopped presenting them with the facts. Right-wingers do the same thing.

Need evidence for this? Consider the seeming myriad of reasons that Bush Co. gave for invading Iraq...Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the people needed liberation from Saddam Hussein, they had biological weapons, Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaida, etc. None of these actually had any basis in known and established fact, nor did they need to be for the purposes that they were provided to the national and international public. They were simply attempts to get thinking people to stop asking questions.

Why write this now? Because it is easy to see the same dynamics occurring currently in regard to the torture tactics sanctioned by Bush Co. They employed extract valuable intelligence, to prevent another 9-11, to protect the U.S., because they were scared, etc. All of these are irrelevant and none reasonably account for, nor rationally explain why, the former administration gave the green light to torture people. They are stated simply to get us to shut up, get off their ass, and stop asking questions.

Let's not fall prey to the tactic. People who are concerned about our country and the

world, need the truth to be told.

You read it here first

Industrialized countries are going to tank. Our current level of consumption, economic systems, and resulting organization procedures are unsustainable. There will be a massive infrastructural break down that will result in communities being isolated from one another, the loss of basic services, and a return to a subsistence economy. The lifestyle that many of us are living today will become legendary, i.e., the stuff of legend. Never again will human beings live like we do now.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Kant and immaturity

so beautiful, it makes me want to cry!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We don't live by the rule of law, we live by the rule of consequences. Laws without consequnces for violations are not laws; suggestions, guidelines, perhaps, but not laws.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


i just don't get it...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

you want to be free?

then understand first that you are ALWAYS being controlled. there is no autonomous person. it is not possible for anyone to be fully free. the "freedom" that all the yahoo right wingnuts cry about (figuratively and literally...think Glenn Beck) DOES NOT EXIST. simple empirical test...go to work tomorrow naked. or ATTEMPT to go to work tomorrow naked and see what happens.

can't do it? much for your freedom...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sin...seems to work

In church recently, listening to the Pastor's sermon on sin. Started thinking that the notion of sin as supported by social contingencies certainly seems to be quite effective in maintaining social control. Of course it is not just sin, per se, but anything that can be characterized as “bad” by community members. Considering how seemingly powerful certain primary reinforcers are (sex, violence, etc.), we should really be more surprised that not MORE people are engaged in those behaviors than already are. Of course, there is good to reason to suspect that much “sinful” behavior is not reported, but apparently there is not enough to have a significant impact on the overall existing social order.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Republicans are out of new ideas...

aren't they always? Why is this so surprising?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

OMG!!! I'm one of them!!!!

I remember one day when I was in college and it dawned on me that I had become one of those people that my mom had told me to be careful of. I actually felt sort of empowered by that realization. I figured if I was scary to other people that was a good thing...little bit of power, just in my appearance. Not bad.

Friday, March 13, 2009

even further down the road of liberation through conditioning principles...

equanimity is the result of habituation; not responding to various stimuli as they appear in the environment. this can be accomplished with the DRI of attending to breathing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

later that same day...

I think to determine if the example below would be considered entitled behavior would require some social validity work, i.e., how many people would see the behavior described below as "entitled." I can certainly see how it could be construed that way. The verbal behavior that the patient displayed seems to be in accordance with my noting that one would anticipate the use of mands at a higher frequency among those considered to be entitled. I would suggest that the patient is manding the nurse..."i ain't taking your meds...where [the fuck] is my treat me like this..." Similarly, this VB could be considered "verbally aggressive," yes? The question is, how is "verbally aggressive" behavior materially different than non-verbally aggressive behavior? Change in decibels? pitch? use of certain verbal operants as opposed to others, other bodily movements?

My attempt at this was to identify certain behavioral topographies that if demonstrated to a group of naive observers, the general understanding would be that at least one person (recall I noted that it needs at least two; in the case below it is the nurse and the patient) was engaging in "entitled" behavior. I see this as a way of grounding those fictions that we started this thread with. We all acknowledge that there is something called "entitlement," the question is how does that manifest behaviorally? There must be some kind of necessary and sufficient topographies that would result in people calling (tacting?) that behavior "entitled."

I don't work in the field of autism, but basically, there is some standard that BA's are using when teaching kids with ASD how to make contact with more reinforcers in their natural environments. I would suspect that aside from developing the specific behavioral sequence (chaining) that is done, there is relatively little thought given to why THIS behavioral chaining? In other words, when teaching kids (autistic or otherwise) how to make contact with reinforcers, we are teaching them a "standard" way of doing something. Many parents want to teach their kids to be polite. Polite is a construct. Behaviorally, what does "polite" look like? We all know it when we see it, so it should be easy to identify the material properties of it. What my little exercise taught me is that it ain't that easy!
what is entitlement, really????

post to a behavior analysis list...(I'm getting braver)

I realize that XXX was posing the question below in jest, but it got me to thinking...entitlement is one of those fictions/constructs that is similar to pornography ("don't know how to define it, but know it when we see it"). certainly, the notion of "entitlement" is an explanatory fiction, but it does have certain behavioral topographies, yes? desirous of maintaining a behaviorological accounting of entitlement, I started wondering what those topographies might look like; specifically, how do we know that someone is entitled? or acting entitled?

I decided to use XXX's example of the landed aristocracy as a starting point. Not having spent time with landed aristocracy (that I know of!) nor having made any systematic, observational study of them, I can only speculate based on my imagination of what those behavioral topographies might look like. Since it takes at least two to "produce" entitlement, I will consider what behavioral topographies one might observe from the "entitled" and from the "deferential" (for lack of a better term). Note that I am not addressing the contingencies which produce the topographies, but merely attempting to identify those that would most likely be observed.

(when in the presence of the entitled) bowing, kneeling, head lowering, eyes lowering, eventually body/eyes becomes stationary, "flat affect," verbal behavior only in response to verbal/non-verbal behavior initiated by one of the entitled. Frequent use of verbal behavior such as "Sir, sire, madam, your grace, your excellency, etc." Rapid, yet precise movements when given a mand.

(when in presence of deferential) standing or sitting in positions that result in the least amount of physical discomfort, or walking, frequent use of mands, eye movement, movement of arms, hands.

Whew, that is hard to do! Incomplete due to my inability to find precise terms (and not constructs!!!) to describe the behavior. Maybe others can continue, edit, etc.

I am interested in this as a form of analysis as in my Soc courses, we of course discuss "normal" behavior. I tell my students that normal is just a description and what it generally refers to is behavior that a seeming majority of people engage in at one time. Hence, "normal classroom behavior" for students is sitting, not talking, facing the board, and other bodily movements that are restricted to a particular area of the desk or table. "Abnormal" behavior would be jumping up and screaming. Many times when I ask what is normal behavior in classrooms, they say, "listening" -- I always laugh and say I can't tell if you are listening or not! Unless one is deaf, there is good likelihood of the vibrations coming from my mouth are vibrating bones in your ears, but beyond that, I have no clue what might be happening.

Interesting exercise to try and capture the topographies that are associated with the constructs that we use daily. Difficult to do (at least for me).
Wait, you mean I don't exist?

"I" is not an independent variable.
exorcise those reified demons and be healed!!!!!

post to a sociology reference to this article.

That said, I do think that we owe it to our students (especially those taking soc courses) to explain to them how arbitrary a "grading system" is. I mean, why do have a 100 point scale (generally)? Where did that come from? I don't know, but I do know that it was not a command from on high and it does not represent any particular human property that can be measured with any precision (learning, knowledge, information, etc.). We forget that a 100 point scale does not mimic anything in nature; in other words, nature doesn't care about our grading scales, letter grades, IQ tests or any of the other stuff we have created over the last few millennia. Nature produces human beings which are subject to "learning" but there is no "grade" for that learning in nature other than the ability of the human being to survive. It seems that we have forgotten that grades are human creations; we have reified them so much so that we really believe that they are accurate measures of something related to humans, something that has discernable, material properties. They do not.

If you stop and think about it, how do we know that our students have learned anything? We "know" because they are able to respond a certain way (by answering questions, "correctly," i.e., presumably differently than that would have absent our "teaching"). In other words, it is a behavioral indication. We presume (without any empirical evidence) that this behavioral indicator is representative of some kind of immaterial property of the brain/human called intelligence, learning, knowledge, etc. These things are not amenable to empirical investigation as they have no material properties; like many of our colleagues in other behavioral/social sciences, however, we are pretty much convinced that they DO exist. This is our error.

I understand that we have an expectation of students getting an "education" (whatever that is and however that manifests behaviorally), but I think many students are savvy enough to know that there is a particular, material object that is going to provide them with tangible benefits that may far outweigh whatever it is that they learned in school and that is, of course, the diploma...a piece of paper that we have reified as yet another object that supposedly is evidence of something called an "education." Is that a bad thing? I don't know. I do think that we have an obligation to discuss these things (including "grading systems") with our students, however.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


i honestly never thought i could ever say these words and mean them, but today, after seeing Barack inaugurated, i can honestly say that i am proud to be an American.

God has indeed, blessed America.

Friday, January 09, 2009

by jove, I do think he is serious!!!

follow up post to same sociology list:

couple other ideas came to mind today after listening to a lecture on sustainability...seems to me that we need to be literate in areas outside of our traditional ones. areas that were once included in soc (early American soc), but have been neglected. these include evolution, biology, genetics, ecology; all of these have implications for sociology and sociologists. if we are not aware of the developments in these areas, then we cannot be great teachers, IMO. many of the non-social sciences are making claims about social behavior and social organization; they have more traction than we do because they come from a strong materialist-naturalist orientation. this is not going to change. this has been declared the century of the brain; we need to understand many of these topics much better than we do. in fact, i thought about writing a paper making a case that really what sociology should be interested in is how brains interact with each other; forget about selves or any of that other stuff.

i am sure someone will write such a paper someday; it would be nice for the discipline if it came from one of us rather than from a neuroscientist or a psychologist.
hmmm, do you think he is serious?

my post to a sociology list asking for what qualities constitute a great teacher:

specifically, for us professors of sociology, i would say a fundamental and consistent understanding of the sociological forces that result in us standing in front of a classroom of students on a regular basis. i would argue that if one is not intimately familiar with these forces, then s/he is not going to be a great sociological educator; i suspect that one could still be a great educator, however.

i would go so far as to say that we should be able to teach an entire course of sociology with us as the subject of discussion; starting and ending with how we come to stand in front of a group of students on a regular basis. It's all there...stratification, inequality, conformity, deviance, socialization, status, role, etc.

Monday, January 05, 2009

linguistic isolation

not necessarily a new thought, but the notion of different communities of people using different words (i.e., traditionally attributed to different ethnic groups) seems similar to genetic isolation. minority groups, historically, have remained fairly isolated behaviorally and it appears developed idiosyncratic ways of speaking (use of particular words that those outside of the group may not understand). due to a lack of inter-group interaction, these words remained within those groups and didn't spread to other groups (as in genetic isolation).

father down the behaviorological road toward enlightenment

desire-craving occurs when reinforcers such as compulsive thinking are denied, when those reinforcers are place on extinction. presumably, then, what occurs is allowance of the craving to occur without reinforcement -- craving is the behavior of seeking -- and due to classical conditioning principles, eventually, the craving will subside and calmness will arise.

of course, the time frame for all of this to happen is unknown. given that much of modern, industrialized life requires constant immersion in verbal communities and thinking, the opportunity for this particular craving to extinguish is remote. all it takes is one intermittent reinforcement and it persists. hence, the reason for isolation as in a monastery, ashram, etc.