This is my take on the central issues in sociology. Man being a social animal, this affects the practise of compiling life histories as well. My favorite sociologist C. Wright Mills concieved of sociology as lying in the intersection of history and biography. The famous pyschologist, Gordon Allport also conceived of psychology in similar terms.
The tenets of sociology (or Srinivas’s 12 commandments)
1. Sociology is a historical science
It took awhile for sociologists to figure this out. Finally, the breakthrough came from biology, and biologists like Steven Jay Gould in his “A Wondeful Life” provided sociologists with a methodology that they could use. The methodology consisted of explaining how events occurred by tracing their roots in the past, or as the Bible puts is “As you sow, so shall you reap”. This was a game changing concept for Sociology and yours truly played a role in it.
2. The male domain is outdoors, while women thrive indoors
The evidence for this is in women’s timidity and dislike of any grandiosity. Also, their facility for language and affinity for children. Women are more biologically driven, while men are culturally driven. The era of men seems to be coming to an end as jobs are shifting indoors from outdoors, and service jobs are become more important than manufacturing.
3. Black races are functional in role, while white races are structural
Black people are less obsessive and are traditionally good at humor, the arts, sports, religion. The white races seem to thrive in science and capitalism and are inherently serious. As Margaret Wheatley says, instead of contrasting the two, we should focus on how they complement each other. We seem to be gradually shifting from an era of structure to one of function. We now have a theory of everything as Ken Wilbur claims.
4. There are two large streams humanities and the sciences
The science are objective and rely on external validity, while the humanities are subjective are rely on internal validity, almost akin to revelation. This is why the social sciences have a hard time proving their laws, e.g while we are all know in our bones that Frank Sulloway’s research on eldest borns being more conservative is true, it is hard to prove objectively. What mathematics is to the sciences, meditation is to the arts.
5. The laws of spiritual science are transmitted from father to son through memes
Spiritual science was essentially patriarchial and its tenets were moral. The significance of initiation ceremonies were to mark the cultural transmission from father to son. Here eldest borns played an important role as heir apparent to the patriarchs. They had totally lost their status with the decline of religion, but with religious resurgence are now making a comeback.
6. Western societies value growth while eastern societies value equilibrium
Perhaps the most convincing piece of evidence is Maslow theory, which postulates that one has to first be rich before one acheives self actualization or finding oneself. In Eastern societies, the importance given to balance in the Sattwa theory of personality types shows that we value equilibrium over growth, no matter current obsession with GDP.
7. Music plays a role analogous to shifting gears in the human mind
Listen to carnatic classical music and try your hand at mathematics, and see what difference it makes. Listen to jazz before doing something creative. Different musical genres put us in the mood to do different things. An artist has to be more of a risk taker than a bank accountant. Does this explains the lifestyle choices of jazz musicians?. Is this why there are more engineers from the south?
8. Global capitalism has trounced socialism
We are all capitalists now. Socialism is practised only in Latin America, and there is no hoopla associated with it. This is a pity, especially for Generation Xers like me, whose formative years were under socialism. It is also a great missed opportunity for the world in general. We could
have outsourced social problems, e.g race in America and religion in India, the way economic functions are being outsourced.
9. Religion has made a comeback
Science no longer has all the answers and people of all age groups are turning to religion. Religion for dummies (like myself): Religion relies on relevation over evidence and emotion over reason. Religion involves turning inwards while science involves turning outwards. Spirituality subsumes all religions.
10. Role models (gurus) relevant throughout one’s life
Again, Western emphasis on individuality mitigates against this, in the East, we are more humble and depend on gurus. However, in choosing a guru, we are reluctant to diverge from our deeply ingrained hierarchial thinking. I want to challenge this deeply ingrained Indian habit of the mind and have chosen Dalai Lama as my guru, even though Tibet is still in chains.
11. The law of unintended consequences of action
The law of karma in sociological terms. Or in biblical terms “as you sow so shall you reap.” No wonder Wordworth called for a “wise passivity”. No matter what you do, there will be unintended consequences. But is anybody hearing in these frenetic times?
12. Things can be both good and bad
The debate betweenn moral absolutism and moral relativism. While the East, following Mahatma Gandhi, is more morally absolutist, the West tends to be morally relative. Perhaps we can conclude with Samuel Butler that there is good even in evil. Or echo Socrates and the golden mean.