Misuse, or why I think social science is not the solution

March 10, 2012

It may be true that anything can be used as a weapon, and hence it isn’t a good basis on which to evaluate the things worth.  The role of religion in a war is an example, the slogan about how people and not guns kill people is another example, examples of how we wrestle with separating the thing from its use.  I’ve read that even love can be used as a weapon.

But social sciences and their spin-offs are what are on my mind today as things that may look benign but may not be.

I think we already know that point from history, for example, from the eugenics movement.  But my point, I think, is how a social science orientation can permeate the attitudes of individual people in their private interpersonal relationships in a way that allows them to not see what they’re actually doing and hence do harm with social impunity and without a prompt towards personal self-reflection.

For example, suppose you have a grandmother of children who were adopted by their parents.  The grandmother considers herself an upstanding member of her community.  She has a degree in social work, has published frequently in magazines, and published translations of poetry.  She knows many of the right people, including in politics, real estate, medicine, economics.  She asks her sister, who is trained as an educator, to surreptitiously test these grandchildren’s IQ while they are visiting.  She even shares this information with her son, the children’s father, and expects him to accept this as normal.  When the children become depressed in the months after their father’s death, their mother mentions this to her in-laws and asks if this grandmother (and her other son) could show some special attention and emotional support to these grieving children at this time, and she emails no and says what they need is a good therapist.

There is a time and place for IQ tests and for therapy, but for a grandmother to replace an affective relationship with these tools distorts their purpose and her relationships.  Clearly it reflects something about her, but my point is that mainstream society supports her in her belief that she is doing something socially acceptable, that it’s giving her cover for her basic rejection of these children.  And that’s important because it leaves her grandchildren with people ostensibly there for them who aren’t.  Professional services do not replace emotional relationships with family members who care, and children without multiple caring people in their lives tend not to do too well.  IQ and therapy are not the only components to a well-functioning person.

I know from other people that this is not uncommon — that it is not uncommon for extended family to reject adopted children ab initio, before the children have had a chance to fulfill the self-fulfilling prophecy of the rejectors.  Social science isn’t always used to mask it, I know that, too.  But this use of social science I think makes it seem respectable to some people to treat children as something less than full-blooded human beings like themselves.  That veneer of respectability for something they might otherwise have to deal with more honestly is what I object to.  Pretense keeps us from addressing the actual issues, and we all go round in circles nowhere.

The misuse of social science to which I am objecting I think has something in common with the misuse of religion that results in wars.  Which leads me to wonder what else trust in the social sciences has in common with religious belief, what other needs in its adherents it meets.  I personally think the social sciences misperceive the structure in which what they are focusing on is located, that they are trying to explain the sky while looking from one room to another through an interior window.



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