Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Sociology

The Church Left is Proving My Point

A couple days ago, I wrote a piece about the tendency for left wing organizations to behave like church communities rather than strategic political organizations. I told a story about an upcoming election at the East Bay DSA branch in California, criticising one of slates for taking unstrategic positions and using church tactics–shunning, shaming, perhaps expulsion–to target those who publicly do not embrace their platform in every detail. Anxious to prove everything I said correct, this slate and its supporters have immediately begun coming after me in precisely the ways I anticipated. They have begun personally targeting me, attempting to depict me as some kind of heretic or sinner. If I am not a true lefty (a heretic) or if I am someone who sometimes takes wrong positions or says wrong things (a sinner) then I am bad and should be shunned, shamed, and drive out of left-wing discourse.  The trouble is, I’m a lone wolf on the internet. I don’t tend to join organizations–my influence, such as it is, has always come from the ability of my writing and arguments to draw attention and support. I don’t rely emotionally or psychologically on the acceptance and approval of a church community which they can turn against me. This limits their leverage over my behavior. Churches can try to shun and shame the people who don’t go to church, but it doesn’t work so well.

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Sex, Adolescence, and the Power of Desire

One of the most common arguments used to advance the cause of gay rights is the thought that individuals do not choose their own sexualities. Some people are naturally disposed to be gay, some to be straight, some somewhere in between. The argument goes that we ought not to blame individuals for behaviors that arise from desires they do not choose, at least insofar as those desires do not result in harm being done to others (the desire in pedophiles to have sex with children also arises naturally, but pedophilia harms children, while homosexuality is not in and of itself harmful). I’m not here today to contest this argument–I broadly agree with it–I’m here to explore the possibility that it might have significant moral, legal, and philosophical implications outside the LGBT issue. What other desires arise in the same way the sexual desire does?

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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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What is Society?

In political theory, there is some disagreement about what precisely society is. Liberal theorists believe that society is just an amalgamation of individual interests. Libertarians often argue that there is no society at all, that the individual interests are all there are. Both views contrast with the collectivist view, that there are irreducible social goods that cannot be located in individuals at all, because these goods require a society to exist in the first place. Today I’d like to weigh in on the topic by arguing that there are indeed goods that typically require society, but that this nonetheless does not make them irreducible. Society is more than the sum of various individual interests, but it is not separate from its component people either. Let’s dive in.

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Hollande, Homework, and the Death of Childhood

Recently, French President Francois Hollande has proposed a ban on homework because he thinks it disadvantages students from poorer backgrounds whose parents tend to be less involved and less supportive in their education. Hollande’s rather socialist point hits on the inequality in educational outcomes that can come from involving the home environment in the educational process. Many people point out that slowing the progress of the advantaged to create equality diminishes total societal educational output (though they don’t usually phrase it quite like that), and I would agree with them, except for one small issue–homework does not help kids learn, and is corroding the work ethic and academic passion of an entire generation of students.

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