Unintended Consequences

In 1897, Max Weber, one of the fathers of Sociology and a recognized great thinker of his time, had a nervous breakdown. He didn't recover for over 5 years.

Why? Well it could be the aftermath of the big fight he had with his dad in July of that year. He accused the old man of being a horrible tyrant and threw him out of his house. Max Sr. retaliated by dying without resolving matters. That's the reason the biographers like to put forth, anyway.

Could it be, however, that wrestling with a subject as unwieldy as society on a daily basis kicked his ass?

I think so. It busted Nietzsche in the mouth too. It seems that once you take up the mantle of "social engineer" - that is, you decide to use the findings of sociology to better the world - you begin to feel it crushing you on several fronts. On the one hand, your own mental limitations and preconditions keep you from fully realizing how society works, while your subject matter seems bent on destroying itself before you can unravel it. Even if you do manage to find and understand some aspect of society in such a way that you can alter it successfully, AND you can get enough of the right people to listen to you so your plan can happen, there is always some unforeseen consequence that turns every engineered blessing into a curse somehow. We have Robert Merton to thank for labeling this concept, but it's nothing new. Examples - interstates have killed the downtown, the web is killing brick-and-mortar, feminism has killed (or at least maimed) masculinity, and the list goes on.

So what are earnest grad students to do?

This afternoon, we tried drinking. It didn't really help. We just continued to debate, only louder and less coherently.

I'm going to try sleeping next.


Mayren said...

your post seemed to ring true to me on a soul-crushing-level i'm not comfy with admitting yet.


I thought " It busted Nietzsche in the mouth too." particularly a brilliant piece of writing.

*much huggles*

His Sinfulness said...

Thanks Mayren - good to know I can still turn a phrase. :)

Thanks for the hugs, and don't let the soul crushing elements of this get you down... that's just me taking things too seriously. ;)

Cerus said...

I was originally going to post my response in your comments section, but it got a bit large so I posted it on my page.

His Sinfulness said...

I just added Cerus to my blog list. Check out his posts - smart stuff.

Post a Comment