The fatal flaw of the social sciences
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Fundamentally, humans have explored the individual's place in the world for millennia. Through various means, we have questioned the position of homo sapiens within the animal kingdom, evaluated individuals’ places within communities, and researched how The Truth imprints our souls. This exploration of the physical at its highest order is not without risk. In taking on this monumental task, sociologists often fail to convey the nuance of their craft.
What is the fatal flaw of the modern social sciences? It is not the ideals set by researchers as they attempt to understand and reconcile the human condition. In many cases, they have witnessed true evils within the world. They hope to understand these sins before remedying them in acts of selfless devotion. Rather, their err lies in an insistence on equivocating social norms with social rules.
Rules are the forces that hold true for the universe and are often expressed as theorems and laws. These are the steadfast bonds of nature that predate time, such as gravity and electronegativity
Humans, while surrounded by natural rules, are not constrained by artificial rules, whether political, financial or cultural. A culture, idea, or conversation can shape an individual, but the end result does not necessitate a change within their personhood. Those in the social sciences focus on the social trends that result from artificial rules.
It is important to note that the previous claim does not assert that humans do not produce rules or are unaffected by rules. The greatest examples of artificial rules lie within laws. Within the United States, a group of representatives are elected by constituents to legislate and clarify past legislation. If an American citizen is found guilty of breaking a law, they are punished in some way. In some cases, the convicted individual is imprisoned, totally ostracized and barred from participating in general society. But an individual is still capable of breaking these laws.
Breaking the law is a clear example of how a societal force can fail to bend the individual. If a clearly defined law does not determine human behavior, then how can an abstract social force such as culture? In both cases, general social trends are clearly evident, (e.g. most American citizens are not car-thieves; music listened in childhood often influences music preference in adulthood), but neither define the person. That is of their free will to decide.
Why is there an insistence on equating norms and rules? Possible answers lie within the ease of unifying the two. This strategy is key within the physical and natural sciences when all relevant factors are acknowledged (e.g. if a chemist were to note the mixing of two reactants in a controlled environment resulted in the same solution 99 percent of the time, they would be valid in claiming that the reaction reliably produced the solution). On the other hand, a single culture cannot be expected to reliably determine the character of an individual. There are too many factors, both internal and external, to expect anything other than a consistent norm.
So how ought social scientists treat their work? Instead of trying to replicate the consistent results found within other sciences, sociologists must come to terms with their inability to define the individual. They should embrace one's complexity while recognizing how past experiences can influence a present state. They should see the person, not the culture they come from.