Social Problems & The Social Imagination: A Paradigm for Imagination David R. Simon McGraw-Hill 1995 ISBN 0-07-057623-8

Have you ever noticed how Victorian reformers are? Whether you’re talking about NOW or the Southern Bapist Church the philosophy seems to be, “Sex is evil, stop it.” David R. Simon is a reformer, in Social Problems David appears to be a 15 year old reformer who has just discovered that “They’re cheating at the carnival.”

I’ve just discovered gambling at this establishment.

Now I haven’t read the whole book yet (and I doubt I will), but I have gotten the theme; capitalism is bad and capitalists are evil.

Mr. Simon acts as if it were all brand new, as if it has just recently developed. Sorry, Dave, but people were exploiting the system way back in Olduvai. Those who exploit the system best prosper more than those who don’t.

A prime example of this can be found on the island of Tasmania. Up until the Europeans came the sole opportunistic scavenger was the tasmanian devil (tazzie or taz). Then came reynard, or the red fox.

The red fox fills pretty much the same niche as the tazzie, but the fox is better at it. Even without the contagious cancer afflicting tazzies the animal would still be in trouble, were it not for human intervention the species would soon be extinct.

Now turn your attention to the American economy. In that environment the Ford Motor Company is prospering, while the General Motors Corporation was failing. Ford was simply more efficient at exploiting their niche, were it not for the government GM would be out of business.

The same situation holds true for the tasmanian devil. We have discovered that tazzies are cute, that their behavior appeals to us. So we’re taking measures to ensure tazzies can maintain their numbers, if not expand. Where GM is concerned our government is protecting the company so they don’t go out of business. The difference between Ford and GM is, the fox steals from the farmer, the tazzie is fed by him.

Consider the wild libyan wild cat, which is found in Africa and is rare. Then consider the domestic libyan wild cat, which is ubiquitous. Whether you’re talking about a house cat or a barn cat, you’re talking about an animal that relies on Humanity to survive. Ford scrounges for its meals, GM gets fed by the farmer’s wife.

Sex and the Beast

With any animal that engages in internal fertilization the goal in life is to get laid. When receptive the female displays in attract a male. The male displays to convince a potential mate that he’s the one to boink her. The animal that’s better at exploiting the environment tends to be the one who does the most boinking, though circumstance and individual choice plays a role.

(Consider Norwegians and Inuit. The Norwegian tends to be tall and gangly because his culture can provide the infrastructure necessarry for tall, gangly people to thrive in the climate they live in. The Inuit, up until recently, lived in a world where short, round people had a better chance of surviving and having children. The Norwegian preference for tall, gangly people worked out for them because it could. The Inuit preference for short, round people worked for them.)

It comes down to a choice by the female as to who would made the better lover. Most of the time it’s the chimp with the armful of oranges. But sometimes it’s the chimp with the dried up mango. Sometimes she sees something in the nerd that appeals to her.

How did a shlub like Billy Joel wind up with a supermodel? Most likely because he said “Hello”. But most mammals are insecure, so they engage in all sorts of shenanigans to get inside a lady’s pants. Many species really do need her permission to get inside, but animals such as alligators and humans can do it without permission. We call this, rape.

For humans rape has consequences. Under ordinary circumstances it means, at best, no long term relationships between rapist and victims. At worst it could mean long term incarceration or even death. Under certain conditions rapist and victim will bond, but such circumstances are rare.

Women would much rather a gent made friends first. Or at least acted like he wanted to be friends. Very often neither party is interested in a long term relationship, one or both just want to get their rocks off. Rhinos, for example just want some sort of sexual stimulation, then it’s “hasta la vista”. Humans on the other hand are social animals. and enjoy the security of a steady, reliable partner.

Even when one or both prefer empty, meaningless sex pheromones are being exchanged and hormones are still being released. For a normal human it takes discipline to avoid emotional bonding. Look at the number of victims you practically have to abduct to get away from an abusive mate. In order to have sex we’ll make friends with people we have nothing in common with. Thus is the power of a genital tingle.

What does this have to do with David R. Simon’s thesis?

The first thing to note is that Simon is an animist. At least he was in 1995. David thinks that things —corporations, organizations — are self-willed entities who have motive and capabilities. He ignores the fact that organizations are run by people, and it is human motivations that determines what a company does.

And what are people most interested in?

Proving what a great smurf they are. When an executive gets a huge bonus he’s essentially telling the ladies, “I’m the guy to stick his dick in you.” It’s boasting, it’s bragging, it’s advertising, and it works. People don the trappings of success in order to make the two-backed beast, and they succeed. People strive to convince another that they are the one to boink or get boinked by. Success hs the effect of improving your chance. As Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof, “When you’re rich they think you really know.”

The people who run any organization want to show what studly souls they are, so they work hard to dominate the competition, and they includes suppressing them.

That’s one of David’s themes, that people are getting suppressed. He’s of the opinion that it’s wrong and needs to be outlawed. Unfortunately it’s human behavior. Successful people will take measures to insure others don’t get many chances to smurf. Fair or foul, legit or illegit, the successful will do their best to insure the plebes are caught out in the storm with wilted willies.

And it’s nothing new. Many cultures had a schedule of bribes appropriate to the situation. There was a time when the British Monarchy awarded official monopolies for a suitable payment, That meant the doohickey monopoly was the only one who could sell doohickeys in the British Isle. Think G.E. is being unfair?

Yes, people will take advantage of a system when that is possible, unless the authorites take active measures to stop it. People cheat on their taxes because they can; people drive drunk because they can; and people get away with it because we don’t have the resources for truly comprehensive enforcement of the law, Through our obsession with control we provide the common man with incentives to violate the law.

Our complex, contradictory tax laws encourage cheating, and often what constitutes cheating depends on the agent doing the auditing, or the judge hearing the case. Much the same situation applies to other government agencies,with all the laws, ordinances, and regulations they have to deal with.

In military science the saying goes, “When you try to defend everything you end up defending nothing.” America tries to regulate everything and as a result people end up breaking the rules because they see no real need for them.

And sometimes the rules get misapplied. A drainage ditch gets clogged, a yard gets flooded, and all of a sudden a home owner has a wet land.

Yes, your honor, there is a marsh at the top of that hill.

Nonsensical rules, nonsensical applications of the rules, is it any wonder people break the rules?

Contrary to what some racist ass said about a century ago, ignorance of the law is an excuse. In most societies you would hope people would learn at a very young age that slaughtering the neighbors for any reason is frowned upon. But walking on grass? And assuming everybody’s going to automatically know about the ban is just plain stupid.

Joe Smith’s yard floods with every rainstorm, and then the water drains away. Until, that is, the drainage gets clogged up and the water stays. So Joe unplugs the drain, lets the water run off, and gets fined for destroying a marsh.

The North County Transit District of San Diego County is engaged in an ADA (Americans with Disability Act) lawsuit because the wheelchair ramp on some buses is too steep to be safely negotiated. The NCTD says this is not the case. The plaintiffs’ lawyer says it is. They’re both right. At some stops the ramp comes down at the right angle, and at too steep an angle at others — according to the law.

The trouble is, the law is too specific. It assumes that bus stops all around the country are exactly the same. However, bus stops differ and so the angle at which a wheel chair ramp comes to rest will differ depending on the locations. That’s the problem with laws and regulations around the country, no wiggle room.

In the story Lot couldn’t find ten good people in Sodom, so the place got trashed. If certain types had had their way he would have needed to find 50. Some people insist a law specify when such specification is either unnecessary or counterproductive. The ADA says the handrails for a building’s entrance must be so far apart. Do you expect me to believe that reality would go “poof” if there were a quarter inch variance?

Let us return to David R. Simon. The prude, the reformer, the fellow who’s just discovered that “There’s gambling at the establishment.” He says that society has problems, which is true. He says that people tend to misbehave, which is true. He then says that our problems can only be solved through applying more rules. Rules work best when they are necessary general guidelines, and applied wisely. We’ve tried unnecessary rules, strict rules, and blindly applied rules, and look at what it’s caused us; a mixed up society with a butt load of problems. We’re trying to defend everything and that is failing.

Earlier in this post we discussed why people have sex, because carnal relations are fun. For most animals the opportunity for nookieis limited at any one time. So the males try to maximize their opportunities to lube the pole while minimizing the other guy’s

Humans tend to act the same way, despite an embarassment of poon tang. In human society it takes word to stay a virgin, and keeping the other guy from getting his ashes hauled is hard labor.

Yet people try hard at it. Patrons in a singles bat will bust a gut to ensure the slut in the corner booth goes home lonely; even if it means going home lonely themselves (envy is an ugly emotion). That’s why in the eyes of some, human society is so screwed up; people busting their ass to ensure they have sex, while busting their ass to insure the competition doesn’t.

Power is an aphrodisaic, people in power get their pick. People in the gutter don’t. People in power will do most anything, fair or foul, to keep power. Man is a selfish animal, concerned with his own needs. Unless he bonds with another, or becomes parent to a child. And even then such a change is not guaranteed.

Karl Marx wrote a prescription of how people should be. Adam Smith wrote a description of how people are. For socialism to work human nature would have to profoundly change. Capitalism, unless taken to an extreme, works because people are the way they are.

Now capitalism works best when people are given the opportunity to succeed. However, thanks to the fear of competition, elites tend to suppress the competition. Thus the poor stay poor and, in American society, resentful.

In a book published in 1995 Mr. Simon shows himself to be distressingly short-sighted. It is tue that at the time computers and the Net had yet to show much of an impact. But David R. Simon totally ignores them. You get the impression Mr. Simon is convinced that mass media is going to maintain its dominance until the Earth evaporates in an expanding Sun even though, even at the time, mass media was already losing ground.

Grasses, along with other flowering plants, first appeared in the early Jurassic. But conditions weren’t optimal for their spread, so they stayed a marginal player. The Cretaceous came, conditions changed, and most flowering plants thrived at the expense of older flora. But grasses stayed a bit player, pretty much because they remained restricted to wetlands and water ways.

Then, some 35 million years ago, grass began to spread to dry land, wherever possible supplanting the forest, shrub, and mixed foliage that had prevailed previously. Some spreading had occured earlier, but 35 million years ago is when it exploded. The new grasslands didn’t just provide new niches, they provided new environments, and life took advantage of it. Horses, cattle, antelope, and white rhinos were made possible by it. Rodents did so well they ended up driving the multituberculates into extinction.

A stable economy is a lot like a stable environment, there is little room for change. For a new company to succeed in an old industry it has to be good. (Japanese automakers in the American market for instance. While the product was 2nd rate by most standards, it was going up against 3rd rate competition.)

The computer industry opens up a few niches which companies such as Commodore, Wang, and Apple quickly filled. Then IBM and Microsoft changed the playing field. (Much as the rise of the Rockies changed the American west in the Jurassic), and then the Internet and the World Wide Web —made possible by computers — added a whole new environment to the world economy; much as the new grasslands of 35 mya profoundly changed the world.

The economy of David’s world providd no opportunities for new businesses on the scale of the mega corps. The Internet of 1995 did, though that promise would not be realized for some time to come

Today our computers are electronic digital machines, and the model the experimental quantum computer follows. But there are other types of computer out there, analog computers for example. Primitive, true, but with tremendous potential.

You posses trillions of chemical analog computers using a substance we call DNA. We don’t really understand how DNA processes information, but when we do it’s going to radically alter our world. (When we have sentient machines my bet is that they will do their thinking with a man-made version of DNA. Digital computers do best when it comes to arithmetic, but when it comes to pattern recognition we have them beat all hollow.)

The problem with David R. Simon and people like him is that they assume the world they are writing about is going to stay the same practically forever, even as it changes around them. Add in the fact that David hates sex, despises Humanity, and hasn’t the foggiest notion of how capitalism works. (It’s profit taking, stop it.)

When you consider how wrong he gets things in the first one hundred pages of the book you have to wonder how he fares in the rest of the tome. When you consider the premises he uses, you have to wonder how reliable his conclusions are.

(Psychiatry had problems back in the 1940s and 1950s. Dianetics was devised to address those problems. Psychiatry improved. Dianetics was turned into a religion.)

And that is my assessment of Social Problems & the Sociological Imagination: A Paradigm for Analysis by David R. Simon. It may have good ideas, good suggestions in it, but if the foundations Mr. Simon relies on in the first 100 pages is any indication, I rather doubt it.

I realize this is a rather long post to end with “not recommended”, but I wanted to made clear why I cannot recommend it. Mr. Simon has really no understanding for how people and the world work. It is this profound ignorance that renders the book unusable as originally intended. As far as I can see, Social Problems is the Dianetics of Sociology.

Conclusion: You’ll get a better understanding of Humanity and human society from a comprehensive text on psychiatry.


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