(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – the Americans

nier replicant emil sister

It’s always the Americans, isn’t it?

Thus in practical activities the American love for novelty and their lack of circumspection has led to great achievements which are too well known to call for enumeration. In contrast, dire results have ensued from the operation of the same bias in domains where there are no immanent mechanisms for eliminating error: where correctness and falsehood are normally a matter of degree, and truth can be only partially gleaned by a laborious crawl over dangerous ground between attractively camouflaged traps, and where every step calls for a suspicious examination and often a suspended judgment; and to top it all, where excessive incredulity can be just as misleading as gullibility.

No wonder then that in the social sciences the Americans have tended to throw themselves with a tremendous energy into one silly craze after another, hailing every pretentious gimmick as an epoch-making ‘break-through’ and then employing their power and wealth to foist their manias upon the rest of the world.

Even the new mood of dillusion with the status quo constitutes no exception to this rule, as it amounts to a swing from a gullible admiration to an equally uncritical denigration.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – vague associations

nier replicant stone kaine

Related: the weaponization of benign information.

On the other hand, the advertisers have amply demonstrated that you can influence people’s attitudes much more effectively by playing on vague associations of images
than by sober logical arguments. The futility of the latter as a method of swaying the masses had already been recognized by Aristotle in his Rhetoric.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – on socialization

nier replicant girl faded

I remember in high school, if you wanted to weasel out of a question in a social science class, you just had to say “I think it has a lot to do with society, you know what I mean?”

One can hardly remain in the company of a psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, politologist or educationalist for more than a few minutes without hearing many times the word ‘socialization’. Now, this relatively recent fashion does not result from the emergence of a new idea which ‘socialization’ connotes, because (apart from mental defectives and children everybody knows that an individual’s character is formed by the environment in which he lives, and which gives him his language, skills, tastes and morals. The word ‘education’ used to be employed in such a wide sense; and when Durkheim (to quote one of the innumerable available examples) wrote about ‘éducation morale’ he did not confine himself to formal lessons in schools.

Military training manuals have always been full of counsels on how to maintain morale and to inculcate the soldierly virtues.

Nor could the psychologists and sociologists be credited with having discovered the less conspicuous and formal determinants of character such as the influence of companions (now scientifically renamed ‘peers’), because this has always been common knowledge among teachers and mothers concerned about the company their children keep.

Illiterate peasants have many apt proverbs to illustrate this piece of folk wisdom. Nor has this process only recently become a subject for learned disquisitions, as Plato has a great deal to say about it.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – do it with math

nier replicant girl

Give ’em the ‘ol razzle dazzle.

During his stay at the court of Catherine II of Russia, great Swiss mathematician Euler got into an argument about the existence of God. To defeat the voltairians in the battle of
wits, the great mathematician asked for a blackboard which he wrote:

‘(× + y)² = x² + 2xy + y²
therefore God exists’

Unable to dispute the relevance of the formula which they did not understand, and unwilling to confess their ignorance, the literati accepted his argument.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – “the gravest kind of danger”

girl from nier replicant eyes closed

One must take into account the “mental factors.” Better yet, engage in a little empathy and consider how things might look from the other side.

The gravest kind of danger stems from the illusion that, because certain kinds of data can be quantified and processed by a computer, therefore they must be more important than those which cannot be measured.

It appears that an error of this sort lay at the root of the decision to send the American troops to Vietnam: the quantities of weapons, numbers of soldiers and means of transport were, no doubt, carefully calculated without taking into account the mental factors; although a bit of ability to put oneself into other people’s shoes and a wider acquaintance with history could have helped the decision-makers to imagine what might be a popular reaction to a massive influx of tactless, self-indulgent and fabulously paid soldiers of strikingly different physique and with manners extremely repugnant to the natives.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – grandma’s wisdom

nier replicant girl shade

Most social science takes the long road to tell you what your grandmother told you when you were a kid.

“…as when, after wading through mounds of tables and formulae, we come to the general finding (expressed, of course, in the most abstruse manner possible) that people enjoy being in the centre of attention, or that they are influenced by those with whom they associate… which I can well believe, as my grandmother told me that many times when I was a child.”

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – the pseduo-science of counting

nier replicant girl

How did the price of mangos in Kabul influence anti-Taliban operations in the eastern part of the country?

They didn’t.

“…we certainly need statistical investigations, comparative analyses, historical studies and abstract deductive reasoning as well.”

What a great pity, because…

“The reason for that scarcity is the wide acceptance dogma that nothing is worth knowing that cannot be counted, and that any information which is tabulated becomes thereby scientific – surely one of the grossest superstitions of our time, whose vogue can only stem from the fact that it enables a large number of people to make a living by indulging easy pseudo-science.”

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – jargon and frameworks

pier replicant girl

Beware those with a hyper-focus on methodology.

“A sociologist or psychologist obsessed with frameworks, jargon and techniques resembles a carpenter who becomes so worried about keeping his tools clean that he has no time to cut the wood.”

And further…

“These tendencies are reinforced by the feeling of helplessness in the face of an unmanageable complexity of social phenomena, and the fear of dabbling with dangerous issues, which lurk throughout the field of social sciences. As a result it is forgotten that unfettered thought is the most essential research method.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery

nier replicant girl

Sorcery loses to science, but elements remain…

“Sorcery lost, not because of any waning of its intrinsic appeal to the human mind, but because it failed to match the power created by science. But, though abandoned as a tool for controlling nature, incantations remain more effective for manipulating crowds than logical arguments, so that in the conduct of human affairs, sorcery continues to be stronger than science.”

Stansilav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Social Sciences as Sorcery

Many years ago someone recommended that I find an old book titled “Social Sciences as Sorcery.” I was in a seminar, and the speaker was (and still is) a revered thought leader on the topic of counter-insurgency.

I was asking lots of challenging questions, poking holes in some of the assumptions and assertions that underpin COIN, and there just wasn’t enough time to address them all.

“Find Social Sciences as Sorcery,” he said.

And so I did. 

This was well over a decade ago. And the book itself was published in 1972.

I found a copy and read it.

Well, actually, I read part of it. The subject matter is dense. It’s not an easy read. You have to focus.

I recently came back to it, and I’m glad I did. 

The thesis, at its core, is that understanding the human dimension – the mind, psychology, complex social interactions, etc. – is incredibly difficult. So much so to be nearly impossible. 

How do you understand the mind of another with your own mind? 

No one said it was going to be easy, but because it is precisely so difficult, and because so many of our problems seemingly call for a “social” solution, this opens the door for social scientists to offer solutions. 

Unfortunately, most of this is just sorcery.

Hucksterism.

The author, Stanislav Andreski writes:

“The easiest way out is always not to unduly worry about the truth, and tell people what they want to hear, while the secret of success is to be able to guess what it is they want to hear at the given time and place.”

The “truth,” when it comes to complex social dynamics and psychology, is that we usually don’t know the answer. 

So then, why wager a guess?

Because there is always someone out there who is hoping you might be right. This person is desperate for a solution.

And there is always someone out there ready to cash in on that hope.

There were a bunch of tweets going around recently quoting this line from Stanley McChrystal:

“Implementing an effective counter-insurgency requires ‘a level of local knowledge that I don’t have about my own hometown.'”

I disagree. 

Do you really think if we just had that one expert sitting in the room who could tell us what to do and what to say and what image to put in the tweet, we could turn this whole thing around?

I don’t.

Related: How important is culture training, anyway?

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.