Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Division of Labor

In Defense of Shailene Woodley

Actress Shailene Woodley (of The Descendants, The Spectacular Now, and Divergent fame) has recently taken a bit of flak from many practitioners of identity politics for comments she made to Time magazine about feminism. They accuse her of essentializing the feminist literature, of treating it as monolithic and failing to see the diversity of perspectives it encompasses. Their critique is too demanding and ignores something very pressing in what Woodley is saying that the feminist movement as a whole needs to take note of.

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Mechanics and Statesmen

I have spent a lot of time in academic institutions the last several years. There is a level of insularity to such places, of being in a kind of bubble. Being in places in which most everyone around you shares interests that are similar to your own has a distorting effect on the mind. I often hear students complaining about the limits of conversation outside the hallowed halls, of having to talk small or explain their work to “general readers”. There is a certain level of incredulity to these accounts. We forget the extent to which our specializations are niche when we are surrounded for extended periods by others who share them. We know, on some level, that we are oddballs, that most people do not share our idiosyncrasies and predilections, but we nonetheless often find ourselves projecting our interests onto people who not only do not share them, but find the subjects that amuse us thoroughly boring. There is a group of people out there, a group that comprises most of the human species writ large, that not only does not read this blog or blogs like it, but cannot so much as comprehend what anyone would find interesting or worthwhile about such things. They are the disinterested, the apathetic, the politically indifferent. Confronted by these individuals, we rationalize our eccentricity by disparaging and devaluing them, by implying that it is in some “immoral” not to share the political or philosophical inclination. This piece I dedicate to the indifferent, to those who will never read it, and I write it in their defense.

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Playing Necromancer with Structural Functionalism

Today I’d like to raise an old idea from the dead–structural functionalism. Structural functionalism is the idea that society is rightly conceived as an organism, subject to external and internal pressures that it must adapt to via evolving norms, institutions, and other patterns of behavior. If societies cannot adapt, they collapse, either internally, via rebellion, or externally, via foreign subjugation. For structural functionalists, social structures serve stabilizing or adaptive functions. They seek to identify what those functions might be and to sort out which structures are adequately performing their functions and which are not. Systems of institutions, when well-suited to their functions, combine to produce stability and survival. The goal of our various social adaptations is a kind of sustainability, an imperviousness to outside stress or collapse. Structural functionalist began to fall out of favor in social science in the 1960’s as theorists influenced by the endemic social conflict that took place during that period embraced conflict/critical theories (Marxism, feminism, postmodernism, and so on). My aim today is to raise structural functionalism from the dead, adjusting it to reincorporate the various conflict theories back within its larger whole.

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The Inevitability of Cooperation

I’ve been thinking lately about why we cooperate with each other–why we form communities and states. The typical Hobbesian answer to this question is that we cooperate in order to protect ourselves from violence. There is truth in that answer, but security concerns, while a primary motivator for cooperation, are not the only motivator. This is important, because there are those who oppose cooperative institutions on the grounds that a world without cooperative institutions isn’t as dangerous as Hobbesians commonly believe, suggesting we should become total individualists (e.g. anarchists, transcendentalists, etc.).

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