he's real i'm the social scientist

Tue, 11 Jan 1994 15:15:55 EST

McCreery can correct me from the practitioner's, deliberately induces
obsessions. One way to do this, fairly crude bludgeoning, is repetition
with media saturation: "Wouldn't you really rather have a Buick," "I'd
like to teach the world to sing...I'd like to buy the world a coke...."
Another, more sophisticated, is to explore the signification systems in
the culture of the victim population, which are then tickled to generate
self-induced, self-reproducing obsessions: "We are selling a car, which
is necessarily on the expensive side, but it's imported from Japan, which
tells you how really cheap it is relative to what some other country could
have made you pay for it, which is so much the essence of *carness* that
*we cannot show you the car*. You will just have to fill in an imaginary
car, using your imagination to the greatest possible extreme, to come up
with something like what this car might be."

The explanation industry works rather differently. It thrives on explaining
the same old explananda, subject to rather curious rules as to what may
qualify as Professional-quality work, such as exhibiting the capacity to
render a small incremental contribution to the explanation of established
explananda, which will satisfy the prevailing criteria of the Impressive,
and get called an "important article." The media mediate between the
explanation industry and readers or viewers. The failure of the explanandum
to continue to exist will not be reflected in the explanation industry for
a considerable period of time, so when I tell Marxist sociologists that
the working class got fired in 1982, they will predictably throw dead cats
and rotten eggs at me for fear that one of the others did not hit the DELETE
key. But it cannot be monolithic, since it also thrives on explainers
disagreeing among themselves. The more vehement the disagreement, the more
all the disputants get published, and in the head of every member of the
explanation industry there is an internalized Appointments and Promotions
Committee whose influence, to be effective, must be subjectively represented
and ideologically legitimated as cognitive passion.

The latter ensures that a continuous flow of Thingies will enter the
purview of the explanation industry as candidates for explananda. Some
of these are less objectively real than others; but the criterion for
the successful launch of a new explanandum from the initial status of
candidate Thingie is its *plausibility*, not its objective reality, which
may never be entirely established altogther. Example: Was there a
revolutionary situation in France at the end of May, 1968? The tendency
is to say No, biased by the circumstance that no revolution was empirically
observed to occur. The subjective emotional climate, from mid-May onward,
points in the other direction, as when a Paris petit-bourgeois told a New
York Times reporter, in a story published on May 15, 1968, that he hoped
the Communists would win, to save the country from much worse. The third
possibility, which was never in the running post facto, is that the regnant
theories of class struggle and revolution used to explain mass movements of
the magnitude of the May events were obsolete and not applicable.

Objective reality, on the other hand, may become established over time,
having given rise to bureaucracies with budgets and media access. Feminism,
for example, was in 1967 a mere Thingie, no more objectively real than any
other Thingie in the "youth culture" or "Now Generation" of the time, whose
major claim to existence was a book by Betty Friedan and an arcane squabble
within Students for Democratic Society (SDS), itself minimally institutional-
ized as six people in Chicago subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches. But
feminism became so successful a growth industry of its own within and outside
the explanation industry that the explainers are now constrained by their own
curious and arbitrary rules: The explanation of the Women's Movement by men
is taboo except in repetition of what was pronounced as orthodox by card-
carrying women; while women are rewarded for disputation about men and
patriarchy and the malign effects of all these things on women by recourse
to ever wilder profusions of theories.

Who, today, remembers what The Now was, I mean, *back then*. Not to be
confused with the acronym for the National Organization of Women. I refer
to the Thingie peculiar to the social upheaval of the social upheaval of
the 1960s, which set off a huge mass orgy of explanation in the explanation
industry, so long as the underlying social movement lasted. What could be
more galling, yet more calculated to irritate the explanation industry into
explaning, than Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man"?

"You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand /* field notes! */
"You see somebody naked and you ask 'who's that man' /* objectivity,
informants, methodology! */
"You try so hard but you just don't understand /* we cannot be explained!
"Just what you will say when you get home. /* can't fit us into academic
/* discourse, nyah nyah */
"But something is happening here and you don't know what it is,
"Do you, Mr Jones." /* we explain you better than you us, we took LSD */

Warm Sunday in Sproul Plaza, I'm on LSD or stoned as are most everybody
else present, sound of flute and drums played by stoned or tripping musicians,
one of the few days of my life I have felt Normal, and a tourist bus pulls up.
Someone in white shirt points expensive camera in my face, "No, he's real,
I am a social scientist studying the youth culture." Within a year, the youth
culture was going to cease to be plausible to the Most Serious People, having
lost its importance as a political opposition.

This is necessary to achieve the desired theoretical distance from the
discussion on ANTRHO-L for Jan 6-10, whereof my selection here fills 29
single-spaced laserprint pages. We have three issues where there are for
each two entirely separable questions which are not separated: Does it
exist, exist somewhat, or not exist? And, Is it important?

1. Postmodernism is a major industry today, where it was a cottage
industry thirty years ago, because it combines two virtues: Plausibility
under conditions of pluralistic ignorance and pluralistic confusion; and
high nebulosity. Sociologically, these are the most important things about
it, not whether it objectively exists or what it is, as it promotes arguments
on these very questions *which cannot get resolved*. (Neologism Of The Year
nomination to deb of the desert siegel, <dvorah@triton.unm.edu>, graduate
student in Anthropology, U of NM, for "cluture," contraction of clutter and
culture, personal communication.)

2. Revelation. To explore this construct, I did what I have previously
done at other times with other constructs on this list: I tried it. And
gave myself a B+ for it, since it did what a Revelation is supposed to do,
clot together as many ostensibly and probably actually unrelated occurrences
and Thingies while highlighting the paramount significance of the Observed,
a currently utterly insignificant list on the Net, <Leri@gossip.pyramid.com>,
whose probable destiny is to never exist very much, which in its own terms
has undergone a major cultural upheaval.

It is highly useful for morale, under conditions where the importance of
the Observed to the grand scheme of human existence cannot be established
objectively, and the essence of the Observed must be captured before it
disappears, or becomes something qualitatively different, to have a Revelation
combined with Obsession. Revelation gives you the requisite self-deception
or delusion as to the exaggerated importance of the Observed, and Obsession
keeps you working at it until whateveritis is complete, and only *then* do
you become aware you were wasting your time. (See why I had to be in a hurry?
Had to write 300+ lines before I figured that out.)

3. Thick description. This is merely highly successful phrasemongering.
Compare "ethnomethodology" in sociology: Something which was previously done,
by the same person or precursors of the same person, or even someone in the
Late Middle Ages or the Late Bronze Age with a lot of time and leisure. It
is easy to take seriously or dismiss as a knowledge claim; guaranteed
controversial, since where the importance or even objective existence
of the Observed cannot be certainly established, the methodology for
Observing the Observed is necessarily so.

In conclusion:
a. Of what significance is the issue of whether Bob Graber does or does
not read fiction?
b. Of what significance is it that the last novel read by Bob Graber,
Jurassic Park, is about high tech, has lots of computer displays in the
text, and was written by a former practicing scientist; while Robert
Silverberg, who wrote science fiction for 40 years, is now writing novels
which look like anthropology (At Winter's End, Kingdoms of the Wall)?

Daniel A. Foss