CHAPTER 19. A NEW SOCIOLOGY

This chapter argues that there is a fundamental flaw in the way sociologists approach the study of human beings. Put in the simplest terms, with a few exceptions, sociologists have either ignored or rejected the relevance of the findings of the natural sciences, including psychiatry.

This anti-natural science attitude was prevalent at the time sociology became a social science discipline. Indeed, sociology accepted the anti-evolutionary thought of many of the moral philosophers and pragmatists of the day. Unfortunately, this inherent bias created a major obstacle to adopting a unified approach to all the sciences, both natural and social. This chapter illustrates the anti-evolutionary stance of sociology. It then suggests new directions for sociology, ones that are more in-line with the natural sciences.

Sociology and the Second Genesis of Man

Sociology grew out of the pragmatism of the anti-evolutionary Metaphysical Club. The early American sociologists were largely from the Mid-West, from rural settings, and concerned with moral issues and improving society (Hinkle and Hinkle, 1954). These sociologists were part of the general Progressive movement that eventually limited the run-away powers of the robber barons. As progressives they were upset by the application of Darwinism to social problems, as in the works of the social Lamarckians, Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner.

Sociologists knew that they could not refute evolution, so they decided to end-run it instead. It was not that evolution was necessarily wrong, but that for humans it was irrelevant. Thereby, sociologists constructed a theory of the second genesis. They argued that, since man developed socially, humans are qualitatively different from animals. Therefore, man and woman are still Adam and Eve. However, the creator is no longer God, but society and culture.

Leading the liberal attack on social Lamarckianism was sociologist Lester Frank Ward. In contrast to Social Lamarckianism, he proposed a reform Lamarckianism, which saw evolution as the primary process that brought about liberal reforms. More importantly for this book, through his critical writings on the works of Sumner, Ward specifically exempted humans from the implications of evolution.

The psychic sociology of Ward helped foster the discipline's focus on social interaction as the key to the development of the human adult. The symbolic interactionists became supreme in this area with the work of such leading sociologists as Charles Horton Cooley and George Herbert Mead. The symbolic interactionists, like the behaviorists and others, made inferences about the human mind almost exclusively from the actions and thoughts of humans. But symbolic interactionists have not kept pace with the new findings about the brain and human development. This branch of sociology needs to adapt its theories to take into account the new science of the mind.

Many sociologists still vigorously reject the evolutionary concept as applied to humans. Indeed, they see an emphasis on biology as positively harmful, (as not "politically correct") and as contributing to the evils of racism and sexism. Yet, as we will see, the real message of biology is the exact opposite: it teaches the unity, not the disunity, of humans of all races (which are all of the same animal subspecies). Nor does biology teach that the sexes are fundamentally different. The sexes developed to insure biological survival of the species, not elaborate systems of sexual differentiations. Both racism and sexism are now and always have been primarily sociological phenomena, not biological ones. It is not biology, but society, that exaggerates the meaning of the small biological differences between the races and the sexes.

Sociology overemphasizes the potential misuse of biological racism to justify unequal social treatment of the races. Indeed, the most popular source of racism today comes from a perverted sociology. Most white Americans believe that black Americans are themselves primarily to blame for their situation, because blacks do not try hard enough to overcome the culture of poverty they find themselves in. Sociological racists emphasize that blacks have to organize themselves in order to get themselves out of poverty. Relying on books such as those by Patrick Moynihan, sociological racists focused on the degenerate nature of life in the ghetto rather than the reasons for the ghettoization (Moynihan 1969). Of course, sociological racism conveniently ignores the fact that almost every day of their lives blacks experience discrimination from whites.

Instead of incorporating biology and neuropsychology into their theories, sociologists largely ignore these disciplines. Sociologists are largely ignorant of the natural sciences, justifying this lack of knowledge by the assertion that the natural sciences are virtually irrelevant for understanding humans. Instead, sociologists use strawmen arguments to polish off quickly the relevance of biology. Consequently, most introductory text books to sociology devote only one page to the nature versus nurture controversy. These text books also continue to refute the 1908 argument of English psychologist William McDougall concerning the importance of instincts, as if sociologists are unaware that science has made considerable progress since 1908.

Sociologists should be showing the interconnections of humans with animals, instead of concentrating on the differences. Rather than seeking to differentiate their discipline from the natural sciences, sociologists should emphasize how social man is connected to natural man.

A New Sociology

The problem with white sociologists is that they are racists. They are liberal racists, but, nevertheless, racists. They are liberal racists because they believe in the liberal version of the equality of opportunity racism. Their overemphasis on idealism is just one proof of this. American sociology places far too much emphasis on ideas over against materialistic factors, such as economic, political, historical, and social (sans attitudes) forces. They are, frankly, far too accepting of the American system.

To help the discipline purge itself of racism, sociologists need to stop taking egalitarian statements by the American public at face value. Most of these egalitarian emphases are efforts to cover-up ongoing racism, rather than to fight it.

Marxism is a good counter to the naive liberal perspective of American liberals, but it cannot be the naive Marxism of American Marxists. Sociology should be Marxist in orientation without Marxism's mistakes. The non-moralist findings concerning sociobiology and neurotransmitters should help in this endeavor. Sociology needs a new Marxism that emphasizes the role of the white middle class, as opposed to the white upper class, in maintaining racism. Using an old-fashioned Marxism based on the European model will always prove inadequate to account for the problems of thoroughly racist America. The white upper class in America has so many privileges because the white middle class lets them have a virtual free ride. The white middle class is more worried that black Americans might be making too much social progress than they are about the abuses caused by an overly privileged and wealthy upper class.

The clearest relevance of the natural sciences to sociology is in the area of social psychology. Where sociologists go wrong is in overemphasizing the social dimension and ignoring the fact that many personality characteristics come from innate, biological or genetic sources. Thus, regardless of social circumstance, without psychiatric intervention, persons born with, for instance, serious phobias, will not develop into fully healthy individuals. Sociology should modify its theories of personality development to include biological and psychological forces. When studying human behavior, the discipline will have to sort out more carefully what in human nature is due to as the result of chemical and evolutionary factors and what is due to society's training.

Obviously human beings develop in a social context. Those persons born into unfortunate social circumstances, such as in a racial ghetto or into a dysfunctional family, will not develop fully healthy personalities. They are going to be damaged in some way, such as having little ability to concentrate, low self- esteem, and difficulties in forming personal attachments to others. But even these social forces are translated by neurotransmitters to affect the development of the brain and personality. Even if not congenitally subject to chemical imbalances, brain and personality disturbances can develop because of social neglect or harmful/abusive social interactions.

The knowledge of the interdependence of psychological and social factors with biological factors will have a fundamental impact on the way we see many traditional "social problems." Take the example of homosexuality and other related sexual identity problems. Rather than taking a moralistic approach, or one that sees homosexuality as being caused by stress in the home after birth, a biological explanation is much more reasonable.

Patricia Smith Churchland (1986) summarizes some of the literature in this area. We know that a combination of an XY chromosome pair produces a genetic male, while an XX pair produces a genetic female. The male chromosome pair leads to the production of testosterone in the developing testes. This testosterone, in turn, affects the maturation of the male gonads. However, it also affects the central nervous system and sexual identity. There is a critical period of time in the development of the male (the third and fourth months of gestation in humans) in which neurons are particularly sensitive to testosterone. If these neurons get the proper dosage of the hormone, the developing brain will develop into a masculine one. If the brain does not, the male will feel closer to the female in sexual identity. Compared to a control group of women, research studies have found high levels of testosterone and low levels of estrogen among lesbians (Schulz, 1985:214). Females who are exposed to too much testosterone become more masculine in thinking and behavior.

Another example of the necessity to modify our ways of looking at the world based on biological findings is in the area of such addictions as alcoholism. Alcohol addiction is a metabolic disease that runs in families. A study of 3,000 adoptees by C. Robert Cloninger (Franklin, 1987:149) found that the children of alcoholics were highly likely to be alcoholics themselves. This was true even when the children were reared by adoptive parents. Obviously, changing the family environment did not change the underlying biological propensity to alcoholism.

We now stand at the brink of an onslaught of scientific studies that will increasingly link biological, psychological, and social perspectives to study social problems. Indeed, in the future, social problem studies involving standard survey questionnaires will be supplemented by chemical analyses of the blood of those being surveyed.

 

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