Sociology is a Science

Month: December, 2012

Why Religion Is Going Away

Religion is leaving us. It is quitely and politely walking out the back door. Though once the life of the human party, it now sulks, irrelevant and tragically incompetent, out the patio door.

Take a look here at a recent analysis which depicts the increasing proportion of people who don’t care about religion:

Sociology, as a science of human beliefs, can tell us why this is the case.

Humans “believe” things because they feel obvious. Beliefs really feel, from a subjective, individual’s point of view, more like observations. Beliefs have this taken-for-grantedness feel to them simply because others share them with us.

If person A is told by Person B that this guy Jesus died for their sins,  Person A holds this story in memory. However, if Person A then develops friendships (through everyday  random interaction, or perhaps through one’s parents) with Person C and Person D, both of whom are positive of the story of Jesus, Person A begins to see this story as a fact, as he comes to see it as a generally accepted (i.e., factual) aspect of the world around him.

People follow and adopt the beliefs, values and worldviews of others because they FEEL factual, and what is factual is what is “confirmed” in the accounts of others.

Now, as an aside, it was of course the Enlightenment which helped humanity ditch this abysmal method of developing beliefs. We know now that no matter how many people believe something, it doesn’t make it true. Why? Because there is an objective, stable, external world out there which we can measure. Beliefs do not determine truth, only measurment determines truth.

So as for whether or not Jesus died for our sins, the question is nonsensical through a scientific lense. Again, it is an issue of measurement, this time of the biology of life. If Jesus was ever a man, he must have been subject to the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. Did he rise from the dead to absolve our sins? Well, do the atoms which comprise the human body operate unimpeded after the electro-chemical activity of the body ceases? No, they do not and cannot. On the scientific account, spontaneous resurrection is fucking ridiculous.

But for everyday people, as opposed to scientists, facts are things confirmed by the beliefs of others.

Ok, but, importantly, for a religion to survive, its belief system must be transmitted to subsequent generations. Religions “survive” to the degree that they pass down a relatively coherent, intact doctrine to the next generation.

There is a kink in this process of generational transmission, though. Several good studies by the sociologist David Voas have revealed that when parents of different religious backgrounds marry, they tend to raise kids who ignore religion.

In other words, if two Catholic people marry and have 2 kids, there is a high probability that they will successfully transmit their Catholic belief system to at least one (and probably both) of their children. However, if a Catholic and a Buddhist (or Muslim, or Hundu, or agnostic) marry and have 2 kids, there’s a good chance neither child will grow up to claim membership in any major religion in adulthood.

And, as it turns out, this “intermixing” of faiths in marriage has been on the rise ever since WWII.

As America’s technological/scientific sophistication and wealth have increased, increasingly larger amounts of people are leaving home for college, living in a state other than where they were born, travelling more and building ever-more extensive social networks across geographic borders.

All of this activity and movement of people has facilitated demographic inter-mixing in marriage. Racial inter-mixing in marriage is also at its highest rate, as part of the same sociological trend.

So, modernity brings a truly profound intermixing of people, ideas and ways of living.

And this beautiful flowering of human culture is so bright, it blinds us. We are blinded by multi-cultural movies, foods, music, religions, technologies to the point that we don’t even see culture anymore. We all increasingly seem to share in each others’ culture, so as to make the monolithic idea of a single, better culture implausible.

It makes increasingly less sense to ask “Which culture is superior?” in a modern society, and increasingly more sense to ask “Which cultures interest you?”

The transmission of belief systems depend on their perceived (from the believer’s point of view) superiority over other belief systems.

We se this everyday as parents attempt feverishly to transmit belief systems deemed crucial (whatever they may be) to their children. Those belief systems which seem more and more arbitrary, more and more unlikely to be crucial in later life, are not actively disliked, but simply ignored.

A parent in a traditional society (or, in America, one who has low levels of education) asks themselves, “How do I encourage my child to believe what I believe, for their own moral and social health?”.

A parent in a modern society (or, in America, one who has higher leverls of education), by contrast, ponders another question : “How do I encourage my child to actively and successfully pursue their own interests?”

The traditional parent thinks their religion is superior — they will have fewer friends from other faiths, will be less likely to live in a diverse city and less likely to be educated about religion (even, hilariously, oftentimes their own).

The modern parent thinks that all religions are equally valid descriptions of the sacred — they will have more friends from faiths other than their own, will be more likely to live in a diverse city, and more likely to successfully answer survey questions about the religious faiths of others.

The diversity of religious beliefs surrounding the individual ( generated from diverse friends and experiences, as in attending college), makes the idea of one special, superior system of beliefs seem unlikely. Intolerant and ignorant, even.

So, when parents begin to see the faith of their upbringing as just one among infitinely valid expressions of the sacred, they are heartened by the idea of their child’s OWN pursuit of THEIR sacred.

Yet, the consequence of this is that religion as a system of coherent beliefs will dissolve as well. When everyone pursues their OWN truth, there is no longer THE truth.

Thus the transmission of any ONE belief system, from generation to generation, begins to slowly decline, as it has been all across the Western world for about 200 years.

Religion is walking, quietly out the door.

What’s fascinating is that sociology tells us that humanity will simply forget to wave goodbye.

Sociology and Misanthropy

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Misanthropy is a point of view.

It says that all humanity is cruel and vile. People cannot be trusted. The closer you are, (friendship,romance) the further away you get (the creeping pain of vulnerability). Emotional closeness deconstructs and destroys us.

Misanthropes see human beings as sharks with huge frontal lobes. That is, humans are as predatory and strategic as any animal, yet they ALSO have a neo-cortex with which they can engage in highly sophisticated planning, memory, abstract thinking ability and alliance formation.

We are the king predators. We dominate Earth, as we dominate each other.

I contend that sociology gets us to precisely this conclusion.

The study of sociology is misanthropic in its essence. Truly, its ESSENCE, and I choose this word specifically. Sociology did not start out misanthropic. Historically, it’s trajectory is indeed often emphatically humanistic. All I am suggesting here, is that sociology’s basic foundational theoretical assumptions are misanthropic in their implications.

Sociology gave the world its first conscious statement of the doctrine of symbolic interactionism. This school of thought argues that all of human life is the shared construction of symbolic meaning during various encounters. So, a husband and wife are “married” because they have constructed a fictive world of fairy tales, eternal promises, and entwined souls. Symbols with which this fantasy world is constructed and maintained include stone-encrusted rings on fingers, new ways of behaving, unusual, rule-based dress during ‘sacred’ ceremonial proceedings and new socially demanded identities, even new names among other things.

This is just an example of marriage, but in principal, symbolic interactionism is applied to all domains in one’s life, not just the family (e.g., occupational, peer/friend, parental). This account of social life is Herbert Blumer’s, and he promoted it heavily.

It was Erving Goffman who came along in the 1960s and 70s and emphasized how strategic and self-absorbed all of this symbol-manipulating really was.

It was Goffman who showed us that symbolic interactionism entails misanthropy.

Why? Because the SIZE of the ring a man gives his wife is a signal to her about his economic lavishness.

It does not, however, and in fact, indicate this.

The sizeof the ring might only indicate only how many months he was willing to go without Netflix to supplement his shit income to get you to finally agree to let him hump your indifferent and half-asleep (you being the only breadwinner) body for the rest of your life. Yes, it often turns out like this.

Goffman showed us that the ring, the dress, the hair, the outfits, the walk, the talk, fuck, ALL of it is just a bunch of (mostly bad) acting in pursuit of self-interested goals like adulation and support.

Consider, on an everyday basis, why you REALLY wear the clothes you wear or say the things you say or believe what you believe. If you changed ALL of these things TOMORROW, how many of your friends would you have? How much of their respect would you lose?

On Goffman’s account, your life is a fucking circus act of manipulation to accumulate an ever more bloated self-image.

In other words, humans do not use symbols only to communicate — they use symbols to profoundly and tirelessly exploit.

Sociology also answers the question of why humans bother to dress and act as though they were mere parts in a play. They do so for continuous admiration and adulation,of course, but specifically, they do it for 4 reasons.

This is Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology, by the way. He argued that humans possessed four forms of ‘capital’. Cultural capital is comportment; that is, styles of dress, ways of talking and walking and standing, ways of starting, conducting and ending conversations and so on.

Cultural capital is behavior in an interaction.

It’s the difference between your plumber being a temporarily out of work Economist named Bertrand from Harvard vs. a chronically out of work rapist named Biff from the local homeless shelter. These guys would act completely differently, and one would be acceptable while the other creepy and unsettling — knowing the difference and knowing how to act correctly is cultural capital.

Social capital consists of network connections/networking opportunities. Networking opportunities can be turned into cash, status and power in rather obvious ways. I won’t belabor this point.

Symbolic capital, on the other hand, includes ideas and worldviews. You know how some music is ‘cool’ to like? I remember when I was in high school, all the kids would be EXTREMELY, LIKE TOTALLY absorbed in some rather awful, obscure underground music.

Now, some unknown artists are great, nobody is denying this. However, liking a musician primarily because they are ‘underground,’ along with knowing the difference, is symbolic capital.

Generally, symbolic capital are things like worldviews, political commitments and the like. But to the degree that music constitutes a worldview (as it does for many), it is symbolic capital.

So people engage in dramatized ‘acting’ with others so as to manipulate them into disseminating valuable cultural, symbolic, social and material (money) capital.

Sociology teaches that man is the parasite of man and that social blood has four types.

Is it so? Is social life a beautiful abandonment?

Sociology of Sex Question…

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I was just briefly at a gathering and I brought this up.

There was some disagreement, so I’m going to pose it here.

It’s a “sociology of sex” question.

We all get infected by bacteria or viruses on occasion.

Sometimes they affect our throat or breathing or mouth. Consider strep throat (bacteria) , the common flu (a virus) or cold sores (virus).

Other times it is the less flattering areas so inflicted. Consider herpes (virus), or chlamydia (bacteria) or syphilis (bacteria).

So if viruses are viruses and bacteria is bacteria…why so much attention to STD’s and STI’s? All day all I seem to hear about is safe sex, use protection, be responsible, make good choices…

Oh, I should clarify…I work on a university campus with these kinds of posters around, I’m not some kind of un-registered sex offender relaying tonight’s (court mandated) sex addicts anonymous meeting.

So my issue is this: why is it that if you found out your  upcoming blind date had had a cold sore 6 months ago, it might merit a shrug.

On the other hand, if you were to find out that this upcoming date had herpes, you’d spin around and run away so fast you’d break your own neck.

Is this stigma around sexuality legitimate? Or is this just a social construction?

Are STD’s unduly viewed as awful, terrible and unseemly? Is this a Christian guilt thing?

Or is the idea of sickly genitals somehow biologically hard-wired to produce extra disgust? After all, evolution is a process of gene selection — if what transmits those genes now has oozing bumps because of 1 too many beers and 10 too many Cuban hookers, this might justly influence perceptions of one’s character…

Tell me what you think in the poll below…