In his latest book, We Built Reality: How Social Science Infiltrated Culture, Politics, and Power, Jason Blakely, associate professor of political science at Seaver College, illustrates how the convincing nature of pseudoscience has impacted multiple areas of our lives, including romantic relationships, economic downfalls, and tensions between civilians and law enforcement. Find out what Blakely says about the abuse of popular political and scientific theories and how hermeneutics can help put the human factor back into these philosophies.
In the Beginning
When I was in my 20s I moved to New York City to work at a branch of the famed Strand Bookstore near Wall Street. At lunchtime the bookstore would be filled with investment bankers and venture capitalists who were purchasing countless copies of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. I realized that many people were not buying this book to understand the basics of neoclassical economics better, but looking to its content for moral and ethical guidance. That’s when I realized something crucial: many people wanted to become part of the economic theories they were reading about.
Lost in Translation
Hermeneutics is a fancy philosophical term for the art of interpretation, which can be applied to understanding human behavior. Rather than focusing on interpreting meanings, too many people today impose a scientific language that supposedly explains human behavior without the need for deeper explanations and analysis. After the fall of the Soviet Union, for example, many believed a baseless social science theory that guaranteed liberal democracies would soon take over the world. This was a case where elements of human behavior, like anticipated reactions to this takeover, were removed from the equation, making this situation unrealistic, if not impossible.
Open to Interpretation
What prevents us from understanding our neighbors is that we have lost our ability to interpret meanings. Unfortunately, we are living through a crisis of defunding and dismissal of humanities and liberal arts. The disciplines in which ordinary people hone their skills of interpretation are history, literature, languages, and philosophy. If we stop engaging in these disciplines and turn them into optional hobbies, we will continue to see a decline in the ability to run a successful democratic republic.
Read, White, and Blue
The crisis of conspiracy theories being spread so rampantly is partly the result of people struggling to read and discern the significance of events unfolding around them. To solve this problem, the world of education must focus on literacy and offer people the ability to sharpen their skills at reading politics. Literacy involves having the historical, cultural, and philosophical wherewithal to grasp the social world and events around us.
Forces of Nature
The natural science revolution has produced astonishing accomplishments, like the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. While in a prior age we would have been without such understanding and protection, modern societies are so impressed with the natural sciences that they overextend their authority into areas that are not appropriate, like insisting upon a science of morality or a science that disproves religion. These are deeply misguided attempts to make science the measure of all things in humanity.
Those in power frequently misunderstand the diverse perspectives of their constituents. It’s important to not immediately assume that people who fit a scientific description like “woman” or “working class” must therefore fit certain social and ideological categories. To help close this gap, politicians would benefit from advisors who are practiced in the art of interpretation and who have a rich grasp of history and culture.