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Essay

On Sociology

Ah, sociology. A field that started out well, but that has in recent years all too often proven the last refuge of the intellectual charlatan, as it has taken over the groves of academe like some noxious weed imported from another country. No–I don’t do sociology. Never have. Never will.

This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate what sociology can bring to larger intellectual ventures. In some of his U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Justice Louis Brandeis showed us how sociology can, and should, be done. But in Brandeis’ decisions, sociology is never used apart from other intellectual disciplines. It is when it becomes an end unto itself that sociology runs into trouble, all too often choking off rigorous intellectual inquiry in a frenetic bid to make sure all the appropriate demographic boxes have been checked off. This seldom ends well.

Using sociology as one’s sole or even main intellectual tool is akin to using black pepper as one’s sole or main spice in the kitchen.

I will admit that the fact that my mother did graduate work in sociology in her middle years, earning a Master’s and completing most of a doctorate at the New School in New York, has something–perhaps more than a little–to do with my jaundiced view toward the subject. She was a more interesting person to talk to before she opened her Durkheim, Veblen and Weber. At his worst, Benjamin Disraeli is a more agreeable intellectual companion than Max Weber at his best. Once Mother started her New School program, there were no more references to Disraeli, and precious few even to Fielding, Trollope, Sterne, and her other favourite novelists. She became, to all intents and purposes, a one-dimensional person, intellectually.

It is possible that a sense of humour may yet be found somewhere in the thousands of pages of sociological tomes and treatises. But even if that is the case, I’ve never found it. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, a discipline that you can’t laugh along with is a discipline to be laughed at.

Good morning.

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