Friday, August 28, 2015

Ashley Madison's Millions of Fake Women

The hacking of the adultery website Ashley Madison found that men's accounts outnumbered women's by about five to one.  This is not surprising.

What is more interesting is that the great majority of women's accounts on the site appear to have been fakes, many of them created by the company itself.  One of the striking findings from Gizmodo's analysis of the accounts:

Out of those 5.5 million purported female users, [Gizmodo analyst] Newitz says that only 1,492 had ever checked their inboxes.
Women do commit adultery.  But not for the same reasons as men.  Men are much more likely to wish to have sex with other women besides their wives, even though most of these men also want to preserve their marriages.

Women, by contrast, tend to use adultery to explore a potential new mate.  Women rarely want novel sex just for the novelty - or the sex.  Men do.

Men signed up for Ashley Madison by the millions.  Most probably got no further than the fantasy of adultery.  Women, it seems, only signed up by the thousands, at best. And very few used it to pursue an affair with a stranger.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Positive Sociology Begins with a Change of Perspective

My seven-point Positive Sociology Manifesto. 

1    1. Positive Sociology begins with a change of perspective

Many sociologists are first introduced to the discipline through C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination. From the very first, Mills defines sociology negatively:

Perhaps the most fruitful distinction with which the sociological imagination works is between ‘the personal troubles of milieu’ and ‘the public issues of social structure’. … An issue is a public matter: some value cherished by the public is felt to be threatened. (8)

Consider, therefore, the difference it would make if, instead, we started from the distinction between ‘the personal blessings of the lifeworld’ and ‘the good order of social structure’.

In every sphere, for each application of the hermeneutics of suspicion there is a counterpart application of the hermeneutics of appreciation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Donald Trump as "Republican" Front-runner Would be Like Kanye West as Democratic Frontrunner.

Republicans, please take back your party!

The Republican Party has, historically, been a party of actual governance.

The Tea Party, by contrast, is a party against government.

The alliance with the Tea Party has caused more harm to the Republican Party than good.

It has opened the door for Donald Trump to be the "Republican" front runner, though he is even farther removed from any kind of governance than the Tea Party is.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Positive Sociology and a Proportionate View of Inequality

I got to take part in a panel at the American Sociological Association meeting on “Towards a Positive Sociology”.   I told the story of how I have been developing my “Happy Society” class.  I offer a seven-point “Positive Sociology Manifesto”, which I will share with Gruntled Center readers hereafter.

One issue that I have been wrestling with is that sociology as a rule is overwhelmingly concerned with unearthing inequality, which we often assume is a bad thing as such.  I think this view of inequality, and its presumed moral meaning, often cuts our investigations short, and makes sociology less useful to society.

I have therefore been wrestling with this proposition:

Negative sociology takes equality as a natural state, which is distorted by social practices.  Positive sociology takes inequality as a natural state, which is balanced by social practices.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Against the Academic "Precariat"

I was recently asked by a friend what I thought of this argument:

"The pernicious influence of neoliberal ideology on institutions of higher education is most evident, one could argue, in its increasing and intentional reliance on exploited labor. An overwhelming majority of the professoriate now belong to what economists and sociologists call the “precariat,” a portmanteau combining “precarious” and “proletariat” and referring to the social class of contingently employed or underemployed workers for whom predictability or security in employment is absent". - From here.

I think this is more than half true.

I can see a distinction, though, between "neoliberal ideology" and the simpler cost management of any institution.

Neo-liberal ideology believes that every institution should be "run like a business," with a naive idea that businesses are not deeply embedded in a political economy. Such a view would distort an academic institution into seeing professors as labor inputs, whose cost is to be reduced, rather than (in business terms) as the owners and artisans.  The true view of the university is that "the colleagues are the college", while the trustees hold the necessary property in trust, and the administration makes the trains run on time with a minimum of bother to the professors and students.

Even in a properly understood college, though, the main, and nearly the only cost of the college is seeing that the professors get paid enough to keep doing their work well.  This is why students pay tuition.  The heart of the enterprise, though, very much unlike a normal market business, is not to make a profit, but to have enough for the life-shaping enterprise of education to go on. Everyone benefits from well-educated citizens, so everyone is asked to give to the enterprise.  Most of the money comes from students or their parents, some from loyal alumni, some from friends, some from government. Because education benefits all of society, many people are willing to contribute for the education of others, as well as for themselves and their loved ones.

Therefore, even a properly understood college will have a reasonable and responsible concern to reduce costs.  Since there is mainly only the cost of professors, that is the natural place to look for cost savings.  Thus, colleges are continuously looking for ways to reduce the costs of providing a good education.  Most of them do not work, since the best practices of education continue to be a dedicated teacher and a small number of students working together to understand and form character.

The ideal for a college would be to have a stable group of teachers who teach all the students.  There would be a continuous movement of old professors out and new professors in, in a slow progression.  However, it is inevitable in any human enterprise that there would be some gaps between the ideal relation and reality. I think it reasonable for a college to  hire some adjuncts to cover the occasional gaps, as long as they did not do it very much.

The larger question of whether "neoliberal" ideology is good for any human enterprise is worth considering.  Secure employment is, I think, good for human beings as such, and for the great majority of individual humans. There is a natural tension between the employers' desire to keep the best workers, and the workers' desire to keep a job.  This is inevitable.  But it is not, I think, inevitable that employers should treat, or think of, workers as just another factor of production, to be reduced or discarded at will.  But that is an argument that goes well beyond the initial question of the academic precariat.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Healthy New Development: Thrifty Athletes

Today's story:  Professional football player Ryan Broyles signed a contract for $3.6 million, but he and his wife have decided to live on $60,000 per year, and invest the rest.

A prior story allowed that Rob Gronkowski, an even more famous and better-paid professional football player, had not touched any of the $10 million that he had been paid for playing, but was living on endorsement money.  He did not live wildly, and invested his professional pay and signing bonus for the future.

My friends at the Institute for American Values have been pushing thrift as a core value we need to re-adopt.  I commend their efforts, and only wish the thrift movement got more attention.

I applaud these thrifty professional athletes.  May they be lifted up as role models.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Academics the Most Trusted Source on Business

"Academics and industry experts are not only trusted content creators, they are also the most credible spokespersons in shaping opinions of a company."

So says a new study based on the Edelman Trust Barometer.

The main point of the study is that the public trusts search engines more than the press or the company.  The connection is that search engines can bring to the fore the assessments of people who are both informed (academics and industry experts) and, at the same time, not primarily trying to make a profit or shape opinion with their knowledge.

This is great news for those who want public discourse to be based on actual knowledge, not just opinion asserted as knowledge.