There is, perhaps, nothing more insulting to university students than to be told, however politely, that their major is worthless. A waste of time. Or, my favorite term “the stupidest thing to invest four years and $100,000 on.” When would it be socially appropriate for an administrator or professor to imply that an engineer is wasting his or her time in school? When would it be polite for a schoolmate’s parent to tell an accountant that his or her major sounds like “a fun weekend hobby”?
For many social sciences majors at Drexel (anthropology, communication, history, politics, sociology, etc.), such disparaging comments are both common and usually not meant to be insulting. Further, the self-identifying use of the term “social scientist” invokes ire among those majoring in the “hard sciences” (biology, chemistry, physics) who insist that science must be reserved for work carried out in a laboratory, where all conditions can be controlled. As Americans, we naturally assume that social science bashing is typical throughout Western society.
In reality, the American disdain for social science comes from our culture of pseudo-objectivism. In short, pseudo-objectivism describes the incorrect assumption that we can talk objectively about social issues. More deeply, this mindset combines a rejection of background research and an embrace of pure morality. A good example? The pro-life argument. Arguing that abortion is objectively wrong may sound morally upright, but it fails to account for cases such as rape, incest, and pregnancies that endanger the life of the mother. Pseudo-objectivist philosophies block the possibility of debate by presuming their own absolute correctness, and they create an atmosphere hostile to advancing the social sciences.
But how does being pro-life damage the work of budding social sciences? Consider the case for teaching Marxism, communism and socialism in schools. Drexel offers several classes that directly or indirectly address them. Many social scientists use Marxism as part of their theoretical framework, requiring social science students to understand Marx to appreciate them. And yet, less than 40 years ago, any mention of Marx or Engels on a college campus could easily land a professor or a student in hot water with the FBI. For many on the political right, the idea of teaching such leftist policies in a college classroom is still detestable and dangerous. Is this the atmosphere of freedom and liberty that our founding fathers envisioned?
While education should not be subject to partisanship, it has become clear at this point that supporting the social sciences is a largely leftist cause. While conservative K Street lobbyists write memos calling for the removal of anthropology and sociology majors from state universities, liberal politicians must fight off accusations of being communists. For students of the social sciences, social treatment is not much better. Especially in career-centered universities like Drexel, the specter of finding a financially secure job in the social sciences hangs like Damocles’ sword over our classes, reminding us that our chosen paths, however noble, will come with no assurances of comfort.
I did not choose to be an anthropologist for money, fame or social prestige. I chose it because I wanted to learn more about humans and use that knowledge to help them. And while I dedicate myself to finding funding for my research goals, expanding my knowledge base and reflecting on how best to help the people I study, I consistently face baseless criticism and mockery from members of this society. Because I did not choose a career for money or for a field of “hard science,” I clearly invited this judgment upon myself, just as all social scientists do. I will not accept pseudo-objective philosophies as fact, nor will I allow them to limit my research agenda. My science may not be hard, but that’s not going to stop me from working hard at it.
Richard Furstein is an anthropology major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected].