2006 Quotes of the Week

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"to assume nothing and consider anything"
"living with possibilities is the key to being a sociologist"
"take the ordinary and make it extraordinary"
"Involves asking questions and questioning answers"
"asking questions about questions" Introductory Sociology Students...from Analysis Papers on "Why Study Sociology?" October 2006


The American people are often presented with an official portrait of the nation’s progress. This portrait includes the Gross Domestic Product, the stock market, the Index of Leading Economic Indicators, the balance of trade, the rate of inflation, and similar measures. The view created by these gauges molds our perception of the state of the nation and appears to supply an accessible and timely answer to the question: “How are we doing?”

The Index of Social Health is based on the premise that these familiar economic measures do not provide us with a sufficient assessment of our strength, progress, and well-being as a nation and a people. In order to widen and deepen our national dialogue, bring it closer to our daily concerns, and create more effective public policy, we need to carefully monitor the social aspects of our national life and acknowledge that these also require our constant attention. Marc L. Miringoff, Ph.D....from 2003 Index of Social Health


Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.
Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.
You are the way and the wayfarers.
And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone. Kahlil Gibran...from "On Crime & Punishment" in The Prophet, 1923.


Power becomes a habit. The men (usually men) of God are no different from our temporal rulers. Both provide us with hokum, more or less, but both believe they are entitled to lay down their laws. What other use could power offer? John Lennon was almost right. It would have stretched the lyric somewhat, but God is a concept by which we measure our ability to listen, believe, and obey. Like it or not – and I don’t, much – that concept remains potent.

We who doubt and disbelieve, we of a Humean temper, if not a Humean intellect, cannot simply fling the odd joke against the fact of religion’s persistence. This is the nature of our world. There is a religious fanatic in the White House, another in Downing Street, a third somewhere in the hills on the Afghan-Pakistan border, a fourth in the Vatican, a fifth in the house just up the road.

If that has happened by design, can I do my own drawings? Ian Bell from Whoever Designed the Universe Made a Right Mess of Religion...Published on Sunday, September 17, 2006 by The Sunday Herald (Scotland)


The men who flew the missions against the WTC and Pentagon were not "cowards." That distinction properly belongs to the "firm-jawed lads" who delighted in flying stealth aircraft through the undefended airspace of Baghdad, dropping payload after payload of bombs on anyone unfortunate enough to be below – including tens of thousands of genuinely innocent civilians – while themselves incurring all the risk one might expect during a visit to the local video arcade. Still more, the word describes all those "fighting men and women" who sat at computer consoles aboard ships in the Persian Gulf, enjoying air-conditioned comfort while launching cruise missiles into neighborhoods filled with random human beings. Whatever else can be said of them, the men who struck on September 11 manifested the courage of their convictions, willingly expending their own lives in attaining their objectives. Ward Churchill...from "Some People Push Back" On the Justice of Roosting Chickens 2001


It is not needed, not fitting here, that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions; but there is one point, with its connexions, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above labor, in the structure of government.

It is assumed that labor is available only in connexion with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it, induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers, or what we call slaves. And further it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer, is fixed in that condition for life.

Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital, producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation.

A few men own capital, and with that avoid labor themselves, and, with their capital, hire or buy another few to labor for them.

A large majority belong to neither class -- neither work for others, nor have others working for them. In most of the southern states, a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters; while in the northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men with their families -- wives, sons and daughters -- work for themselves, on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. Abraham Lincoln...excerpts from Lincoln's Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861 ("Capital is only the fruit of labour")


"There is no such thing as a NEUTRAL educational process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, OR it becomes the "practice of freedom," the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world." Richard Shaull...from Foreword to Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, 1972


Finally, all the major institutions of our society are---like individuals---divided selves rather than whole selves. The influence they exert upon individuals is therefore never one that makes for a confident and productive wholeness of character.

It is with these signs of inner contradiction in mind that we close our present chapter and turn to the chapters that lie ahead. In them we shall examine some of the chief institutions that shape our individual and our common lives. We shall try to measure their fitness for that task by asking to what extent they embody and encourage maturing, and to what extent they embody and encourage fixation in immaturity. Only when we have made such an analysis can we be intelligent enough to know what to do about institutions that make us what we are, and that we, in at least some measure, are privileged and obligated to remake. Harry Overstreet...from The Mature Mind, NY: WW Norton and Company, 1949...p. 143


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You can't prove a hypothesis---you can only test it to see if it can be destroyed. If, over time, a hypothesis resists every attempt made to falsify it, then you can say that it's extremely robust and would require an extraordinary mass of data to unseat it. The germ theory of disease is a good example of that. The evidence for it is compelling. People bet their lives every day that it's true. But it's not proven. It's simply the best available interpretation of what we know. Michael Swanwick...from Bones of the Earth, 2002, EOS (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), p. 258


It seemed to Molly Gerhard that Salley would be pleased by how she dominated their thoughts in her absence, as she never had while she was here. She was one of those people who discredited their own ideas by the force with which they argued them. With her gone, they were able to give her speculations the serious consideration they deserved. They were able to admit that she might well be right. Michael Swanwick...from Bones of the Earth, 2002, EOS (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), p. 245


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With the spell-symbol "God" there is no way to achieve such agreement because there is nothing to point to. Circular reasoning can't get you out of this dilemma. Pointing to something (the physical world) and asserting that it has to have a Creator and this Creator necessarily has such-and-such attributes proves nothing save that you have made cetain assertions without proof. You have pointed at a physical thing, the physical world; you have asserted that this physical thing has to have a "Creator" (Who told you that? What's his mailing address? Who told him?). But to assert that something physical was created out of nothing---not even empty space---by a Thingamajig you can't point to is not to make a philosophical statement or any sort of statement, it is mere noise, amphigory, sound and fury signifying nothing.

Jesuits take fourteen years to learn to talk that sort of nonsense. Southern fundamentalist preachers learn to talk it in a much shorter time. Either way, it's nonsense. Robert Heinlein...from To Sail Beyond The Sunset, 1987. pp. 204-205


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This cup makes a statement about you. It says "Hey, look at me, I'm an ambitious yet responsible person." You could have gone larger, but you didn't. You could have gone smaller, but again, you deferred. No, you know exactly what you want in life, nothing more, nothing less. It's good when you have things your way. Burger King...from blurb on side of large cup purchased at BK...silly, yes...but quite a statement!


What is considered a political or nonpolitical film is itself a political judgment. Movies that challenge orthodox values and stereotypes are seen as political, not movies that reinforce conventional standards. Almost all mainstream entertainment is political in one way or another. Even movies and television shows that do not promote a specifically political storyline may propagate images and themes that support militarism, imperialism, racism, sexism, authoritarianism, and other undemocratic values. In the entertainment world, adversities are caused by ill-willed individuals and cabals, never by the injustices of the socioeconomic system. Problems are solved by individual derring-do rather than by organized collective effort. Conflicts are resolved by generous applications of murder and mayhem. Nefarious violence is met with righteous violence, although it is often difficult to distinquish the two. Studies indicate that people who watch a lot of television have a higher fear of crime and of urban minorities than those who do not. Crime shows condition viewers into accepting authoritarian solutions and repressive police actions. Michael Parenti...from Democracy for the Few, 7th Edition, pp. 187-188.


But listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know--fiction! Stephen Colbert...from Stephen Colbert's Take at the White House Correspondents Dinner, April 29, 2006


Behind a nation's blind salute
Behind "my country 'tis of thee"
Behind the pain that won't compute
Erase the memory of Shadowland
An open wound that never heals
A bone that never seems to set
A mind that thinks but never feels
The face we've never met from Shadowland

They tell us time and time again
They only want a few good men
They lead us through the Lion's Den
To Shadowland

The World would just as soon forget
And watch the wreckage drift ashore
Ten years reduced to one regret
The baggage of a war from Shadowland
Don't ask us how our names were lost
Our nation did it, sleight of hand
We never saw the line we crossed
That took us into Shadowland

They tell us time and time again
They only want a few good men
They lead us through the Lion's Den
To Shadowland

The son will reap what fathers sow
But mothers have to hear the sound
Of the last breath of the boy next door
Whose life has ended
Shadowland, Shadowland, Shadowland Rick Ryan, Graham Nash, Joe Vitale ("Shadowland")...from "American Dream" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 1987


Families face serious problems today, but proposals to solve them by reiving "traditional" family forms and values miss two points. First, no single traditional family existed to which we could return, and none of the many varieties of families in our past has had any magic formula for protecting its members from the vicissitudes of socioeconomic change, the inequities of class, race, and gender, or the consequences of interpersonal conflict. Violence, child abuse, poverty, and the unequal distribution of resources to women and children have occurred in every period and every type of family. Stephanie Coontz...from The Way We Weren't, page 1.


In banking education, central bank knowledge is presented as neutral and universal rather than as historical choices of some groups whose usage and culture are privileged in society. With a banking approach, knowledge is not usually critiqued or presented as historically embedded in a particular social, political, or economic context. Rather than dispensing society's essential facts and knowledge, deposits from the central bank celebrate the status quo, ignore problems of social inequality, and prepare students to accept external authority.

In contrast with a banking education, Freire proposed a problem-posing education. Problem-posing offers all subject matter as historical products to be questioned rather than as central bank wisdom to be accepted. . . . The responsibility of the problem-posing teacher is to diversify subject matter and to use students's thought and speech as the base for developing critical understanding of personal experience, unequal conditions in society, and existing know ledge. In this democratic pedagogy, the teacher is not filling empty minds with official or unofficial knowledge but is posing knowledge in any form as a problem for mutual inquiry. Mary E. Boyce...from A Problem Posing Approach


I just thank God I'm an atheist. Mike Stivic...from Memorable Quotes from "All in the Family" (1971)


Alex was officially diagnosed with "Oppositional Defiance Disorder," which is defined as a disorder including symptoms such as often losing one's temper, arguing with adults, actively defying or refusing to comply with adults' requests, deliberately annoying people, blaming others for mistakes, being touchy or easily annoyed, and often being spiteful, vindictive, or angry. In a workshop during the National Conference on Organized Resistance in January it was joked several times that with a definition like that almost all those with radical and anti-authoritarian beliefs could be labeled as "disordered."Stevphen Shukaitis...from Just Call Them Crazy, June 2003


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The development of Marx's sociology---that is to say, of his theory of the development of man in history---starts from the recognition of a contradiction between the idea of man and the historical fact of man. Human life contradicts man's own idea of human life, which as developed to its completion in Hegel. This is the problem which has to be resolved by an understanding of the historical process. Now, this means something quite definite for Marx which is apt to be overlooked. It means that in reality, though not in actual fact, man is free, and his freedom is his self-determination. Self-determination is the "essence" and "truth" of human nature. But an examination of human life in society, as it actually appears in history, shows man as determined by forces which are extraneous to himself. John Macmurray...from The Early Development of Marx's Thought, p. 216, 1935.


When you think about it, there are a number of parallels between the social statuses of the old and African Americans in American society, between ageism and racism:

---Historically, the social opportunities of both have largely been granted rather than earned
---Both groups have been and continue to be stigmatized for unchangeable attributes, perceived as having lesser ability than those in the mainstream
---Both have a history of being discriminated against in workplace, where they serve as a balance between the supply and demand for labor
---So marginal had been their citizenship claims that Congress had to pass legislation recognizing rights: the Civil Rights and Older Americans Acts
---Residential segregation
---Viewed as a political minority
---AARP vs. NAACP: age-consciousness and race-consciousness: black panthers/gray panthers

Sociology of Aging


How must our society be restructured to allow for the development of androgynous personalities? How can it be made to provide for self-development through the shared activities of productive and reproductive work? I maintain that this will not be possible (except for a small privileged elite) without the development of a democratic socialist society. In such a society no one would benefit from cheap labor (presently provided to the capitalist class by a part-time reserve army of women). Nor would anyone benefit from hierarchical power relationships (which encourage compeitition among the working class and reinforce male sex-role stereotypes as necessary to "making it" in society). Ann Ferguson...from Androgyny As an Ideal for Human Development (Section 8), 1974


Role theory, when pursued to its logical conclusions, does far more than provide us with a convenient shorthand for the description of various social activities. It gives us a sociological anthropology, that is, a view of man based on his existence in society. This view tells us that man plays dramatic parts in the grand play of society, and that, speaking sociologically, he is the masks that he must wear to do so. The human person also appears now in a dramatic context, true to its theatrical etymology (persona, the technical term given to the actors' masks in classical theater). The person is perceived as a repertoire of roles, each one properly equipped with a certain identity. The range of an individual person can be measured by the number of roles he is capable of playing. The person's biography now appears to us as an uninterrupted sequence of stage performances, played to different audiences, sometimes involving drastic changes of costume, always demanding that the actor be what he is playing. Peter L. Berger...from Invitation to Sociology,1963, p.105


I see a pattern running through the matrix of white privilege, a pattern of assumptions that were passed on to me as a white person. There was one main piece of cultural turf; it was my own turn, and I was among those who could control the turf. My skin color was an asset for any move I was educated to want to make. I could think of myself as belonging in major ways and of making social systems work for me. I could freely disparage, fear, neglect, or be oblivious to anything outside of the dominant cultural forms. Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly freely.

In proportion as my racial group was being made confident, comfortable, and oblivious, other groups were likely being made unconfident, uncomfortable, and alienated. Whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility, distress, and violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit, in turn, upon people of color.

For this reason, the word "privilege" now seems to me misleading. We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned or conferred by birth or luck. Yet some of the conditions I have described here work systematically to over empower certain groups. Such privilege simply confers dominance because of one's race or sex. Peggy McIntosh...from White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack


It was thrown in my face. I saw it not as a white man and not as a Negro, but as a human parent. Their children resembled mine in all ways except the superficial one of skin color, as indeed they resembled all children of all humans. Yet this accident, this least important of all qualities, the skin pigment, marked them for inferior status. It became fully terrifying when I realized that if my skin were permenantly black, they would unhesitatingly consign my own children to this bean future.

One can scarcely conceive the full horror of it unless one is a parent who takes a close look at his children and then asks himself how he would feel if a group of men should come to his door and tell him they had decided---for reasons of convenience to them---that his children's lives would henceforth be restricted, their world smaller, their educational opportunities less, their future mutilated.

One would then see it as the Negro parents sees it, for this is precisely what happens. He looks at his children and knows. No one, not even a saint, can live without a sense of personal value. The white racist has masterfully defrauded the Negro of this sense. It is the least obvious but most heinous of all race crimes, for it kills the spirit and the will to live. John Howard Griffin...fromBlack Like Me, 1960, p. 113


On the other hand, we must also be on guard against including things in our descriptions that don't belong there. This is the function of bracketing: We must put aside all biases we may have about the phenomenon. When you have a prejudice against a person, you will see what you expect, rather than what is there. The same applies to phenomena in general: You must approach them without theories, hypotheses, metaphysical assumptions, religious beliefs, or even common sense conceptions. Ultimately, bracketing means suspending judgement about the "true nature" or "ultimate reality" of the experience -- even whether or not it exists! Dr. C. George Boeree...from Phenomenological Existentialism


>Class consciousness is the awareness that classes exist, that we belong to one of these classes, and that the interests of our class conflict with the interests of other classes. It means that we examine most institutions and traditions from a critical perspective that sees some people benefiting at the expense of other people. Alexander Liazos...from Sociology: A Liberating Perspective, Second Edition, Allyn and Bacon, 1989...p.302


The Marxist theory of poverty and inequality is a radical departure from the theories we have so far outlined. Marxists do not blame the poor for their poverty nor do they blame their culture. Ralph Miliband writes:

"The basic fact is that the poor are an integral part of the working class - its poorest and most disadvantaged stratum. They need to be seen as such, as part of a continuum, the more so as many workers who are not deprived in the official sense live in permanent danger of entering the ranks of the deprived; and that they share...many of the disadvantages which afflict the deprived..."
Instead Marxists look for explanations in the structure of the society in question, in the economic arrangements present and in the functions that poverty performs for capitalism and the capitalist class. To put it simply the reason for poverty and inequality lies in the market based capitalist economy and the fluctuation that all such economies periodically go through. Marxism Made Simple


Hierarchy is so entrenched that its replacement will only happen through lots of small changes, dependent on local learning, not external blueprints. Nevertheless, I can suggest four guiding principles:

Understanding. If we understand the grip hierarchy has on human beings then we will be more likely to move confidently away from it.

Innovation. Imagination, experimentation and persistence will enable us to discover all kinds of novel institutions and new practices for getting things done.

Balance. Innovation should be tempered with stability. What is best in the long run should be balanced against what is possible in the short run. Risk and reward should be in balance.

Courage. Downgrading hierarchy will nearly always mean upsetting powerful people. This takes guts. It should not be a headlong attack, rather the sustained exercise of the leadership potential that most people have, even if it goes unrecognised. Gerard Fairtlough...from Avoiding hierarchy, 26/10/2005


The phrase social stratification is a general term used to refer to the hierarchy of layers or divisions of individuals and families in a society where position is a major source of rewards. Social stratification has taken many forms in different places and at different points in history, but the three most familiar forms are slave, caste, and class systems. Each form arises under different historical conditions, singles out distinctive social categories of people, generates alternative kinds of hierarchies, and differs in the scope and magnitude of inequalities. Robert A. Rothman...from Inequality and Stratification, Fifth Edition, 2005 (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall), p.5