On Re-Evaluating the Role of this Site
If you are an old subscriber finding your way back after the collapse of the previous site, or a new subscriber wondering what the hell is going on, welcome to the new and (hopefully) improved Mad Sociologist Blog.
The physical reconstruction of this project at a new site, with a new domain has inspired me to take a new look at the motivation and mission behind the blog. It’s hard to believe that the Mad Sociologist Blog has been around for almost seven years. As is true for any creative endeavor, and I do see this project as a creative act, if it continues for any extended period of time there is a tendency for it to become rigid, stagnant, predictable and boring. Just look at 60 Minutes! Despite being the work of an individual, the project may manifest the pitfalls of institutionalization, a structured enamoring of its own self importance.
I hope that was not the case with the 1.0 version of the Mad Sociologist Blog. Of course, my hope could be, and probably is, misplaced. In honestly assessing the evolution of the blog, which requires considerable honest introspection, I did notice some troubling elements.
For instance, the Mad Sociologist Blog was becoming entrenched in the dominant paradigms and discursive arguments of the day. In other words, it was becoming a voice piece for contemporary liberalism and a sounding board against contemporary conservatism. This even led to some posts that were embarrassingly apologetic of President Obama and the Democrats during the last election. Some pieces are clearly supportive of the milquetoast liberalism of the Democratic Party.
There is nothing more dangerous to prospects of free inquiry and expression than the embrace of accepted dogma. We are all influenced by reference groups from which we derive our public identity. It is incumbent upon the thinking person, however, to always evaluate the positions and legitimacy of these reference groups and to clearly define our roles within them.
Look, it is no secret that I consider myself to be politically liberal. What exactly do I mean by this? My approach to the political ideology defines liberalism as that end of the political spectrum dedicated to the active pursuit of social and political change in the interest of expanding freedom, equality and justice. Extending the spectrum analogy, progressivism would be to the left of political centrism; anarchism would be situated on the furthest end, with communism, socialism, syndicalism, etc filling in the rest. I find it difficult to define exactly where I fall, or where the Mad Sociologist fits, on this spectrum. Indeed, I sympathize with much of the anarchist philosophy, but recognize some clear sociological contradictions with its application. I’ve always explained to my students, and to anyone who asks, that I’m not a socialist for the same reason that I’m not a capitalist. I really don’t want my thinking anchored by any particular dogma. So I will leave it to the reader to decide “how far left” I am.
On the other end of the spectrum, I define conservatism as that end of the political spectrum dedicated to social stability. As such, conservatism embraces the legitimacy of traditional social arrangements and hierarchies. Hey, let’s face it, as a sociologist I understand that stability is important. Unstable societies have neither freedom, nor justice, let alone equality. Indeed, there are quite a few historical examples of a blind pursuit of social change leading to instability and even dictatorship. Conservatives do have something to say in this regard. So whereas my personal bias is toward liberalism, it is not the function of this site to be “anti-conservative.” I fear that there may be examples from 1.0 that prove otherwise.
Whereas the Mad Sociologist Blog has never hesitated to take political positions, it was never intended to be part of the standard left/right, Democratic/Republican, dialectic. The mission has always been, and remains, to apply traditional, contemporary and innovative sociological analysis to contemporary issues. I cannot do that by aligning myself with one paradigm over another. I do, however, align myself along philosophical terms. Like my academic hero, the late Howard Zinn, I invoke the wisdom of Albert Camus, “in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.” It will be the mission of the Mad Sociologist to be on the side of the victims, the oppressed, the marginalized, those striving for freedom, justice and equality in the face of the awesome power of the “executioners.” The executioners who are to be singled out by this project are the statists, racists, militarists and demagogues of destruction as well as those who would horde the growing wealth of the world, despoil the resources of the commons and exploit the desperation of the great masses of people, a desperation which the power elite creates in order to perpetuate itself. There is no way to avoid the great taking of sides of the ages, that invisible, but very real partition between those who have too much and those who have not enough.
So as I start this new version of the Mad Sociologist project, I want to go back to the original mission and rededicate this medium to its original purpose. Yes, I have my biases. Sociology can be grounded in a number of perspectives. The Mad Sociologist, will avoid being an echo chamber for the standard arguments.
First: An issue appearing above the fold in the New York Times does not necessarily merit a place on the Mad Sociologist Blog. I live by Plato’s dictum that “a wise man speaks because he has something to say. A fool speaks because he has to say something.” If I have nothing to add to a particular topic, I will leave it alone and let the talking heads on TV handle it. In many cases, any curious reader can find a wealth of perspectives written on any number of topics. They don’t need the Mad Sociologist to fill that space. It is my intent to only add my voice to topics in which I have something different from the standard perspective to offer. There may be times that I see another advocate speaking on a topic of importance, saying what I would like to say. In which case I will gladly use the blog to share these views.
Second: It is not my intention to scoop a story or to respond immediately to the hottest topic. I will often wait until I have enough information to make an informed statement on the topic. The only times I’ve ever written something that I’ve regretted is when I’ve immediately jumped to conclusions. People who do this are usually responding to their biases rather than to data. Yes, there have been times when I’ve wanted to speak on a topic, but I waited, and by the time I had my thoughts together the moment had passed. That’s frustrating, but not nearly as frustrating as seeing something that I’ve written, accessible to all the world, that is underinformed or even misinformed. Ii will endeavor not to do that.
Starting fresh is a great experience. I recommend doing so to anyone starting any long term project. Perhaps if our politicians, advocates and pundits would stop and self assess based on the quality of their output rather than on their Nielsen ratings we would have a more vibrant discourse than the cult of personality we now call contemporary culture.