I’ve already shared my complaints about the humanities and the natural sciences; now I’d like to turn to the social sciences. As with these other disciplines, my “problem” with the social sciences has more to do with a general attitude I sense pervading the whole enterprise than with any particular result. That attitude can be summed up in the following statement: the correct way to understand a human being or a social system is to look at it from the point of view of a hostile outsider. The hostile outsider has a privileged perspective. The ways human beings and social organisms understand themselves are illusions; they are unscientific; they are masks behind which hide the reality of structures of oppression, unconscious desires, blind economic or sexual striving. Thus, the skill college students are to learn above all else is critical thinking, which basically means learning to assume the perspective of the hostile outsider. They are to critically question the assumptions of their upbringing (unless, of course, they are from urban Leftist homes). And if the student decides his inherited religion and ethnic loyalties are defensible? Well, then, he obviously hasn’t thought critically enough! The “questioning” of gender roles and inherited tradition has a predetermined outcome.
Needless to say, social scientists–psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists–are, by and large, my political enemies. However, my ultimate objection is philosophical. I don’t disagree that one can study human beings in terms of their psychic desires, or that one can study societies in terms of economic forces and structures of coercion. Nor do I deny that some insights can be drawn from this. What I do deny is that this gives us the ultimate truth about men or communities. It is an exercise in abstraction, of systematically ignoring aspects of the subject in order to more clearly focus on some particular structure of interest. The most important thing about a social practice is how it is experienced and understood by its participants. Even when the things critics claim to find “beneath the surface” are really there, it’s the “surface”–the lived conscious reality–that is most fundamental and most real.
This is even more true when it comes to the study of the individual human being. I myself have had two types of encounters with psychology. (My experiences with the psychiatric profession I’ll save for another post.) First, as a teacher I’ve been exposed to some of the results of research on how people learn. Overall, this work is empirically grounded and consistent with common sense and my own experience. The studies of memory, cognition, visual perception–basically of any type of mental activity that we humans are conscious of performing–also seem relatively healthy by soft science standards (although I am here speaking without much knowledge). On the other hand, as a reactionary I am also exposed to psychological claims purporting to explain my authoritarian, homophobic pathologies. That I might actually have reasons for my beliefs is dismissed out of hand. This type of psychology demands that human behavior have explanations rather than reasons. The explanations involve my unconscious fear of new experiences, my unconscious fear of my father, my unconscious homosexual urges, or some other such unconscious prompting. None of these claims has any credible evidence behind them, and they all clash with the evidence of direct introspection–hence the recurring need for “unconscious” qualifiers.
“The unconscious mind” is one of those things that people are afraid to question for fear of being thought “unscientific”; I’m sure I’ll shock some readers with even the basic observation that “unconscious mind” is a contradiction in terms.