Academic shackles

I remember that a survey found a few years ago that a plurality of children in the US aspire to be YouTube stars more than anything else. Loud lamentations and comparisons ensued, since it was also found that children in China wanted to be astronauts, and commentators wondered why kids in the US did not want to be something valuable like scientists, doctors, engineers and so forth. I found the survey’s results noteworthy, but what captivated me even more were the reactions it elicited. Not the content of these reactions, but what was missing in them. Almost nobody cited any profession of the social sciences as a respectable or desired alternative.

Achievements in philosophy, rhetoric, artistic and literary creativity, and many similar skills and pursuits formed the pinnacle of the best of societies, in all parts of the world. Plato’s denouncing of sophistry tells us how popular and advanced thought in the social sciences had become – it had proliferated to such an extent that it became necessary to condemn its oversized influence. Today, this role has been usurped to some extent by the natural sciences. The most trusted and followed leaders of thought tend to be from that domain, even on topics like politics, ethics, and morality, which would call for practitioners from its sister domain.

I think this partly stems from the excessive academization of the social sciences. For the natural sciences, academization and intense specialization makes sense – I, the average rational Joe, can trust the experts for scientific advice even when I do not understand the logic or analysis behind it, because the advice can be verified to be applicable quite easily. If a scientist tells me to take a vaccine without telling me about the magical mRNA technology behind it, I will take it because it seems to work. On the other hand, if a professor of philosophy tells me that only some specific terms and labels can now be used, I would have no immediate reason to agree. Even if I tried to understand the reasons, they would seem to be cloaked in abstruse jargon designed to confuse rather than elucidate. As always, the Onion has a relevant video. As long as the social sciences confine themselves to an ivory tower to feel themselves the equal of the natural sciences, they will continue to harm themselves. Sometimes what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.

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