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Social science and the tender passion

Every reasonable person who’s curious about the world around him sometimes finds social science studies suggestive and illuminating. No sane person thinks they can be the basis of of human relations or the laws and institutions that regulate and codify them. Life is complex and subtle, and it’s not set up to be easy for us, so we have to rely on sources of knowledge that don’t make it in scientific demonstrations: Newman’s “illative sense,” Pascal’s “intuitive mind” (“esprit de finesse”), and the accumulated experience and understandings crystallized in tradition.

Living is an art not a science. With that in mind, here’s some random social science data points from the Sex Wars:

  • Some say it’s OK for girls to go wild (for example by putting provocative photos of themselves up on MySpace). The point seems to be that there’s a difference between acting and doing, and you can’t infer one from the other with certainty. True, but why’s the bald statement that’s so worth a news story?
  • On the other hand, dirty song lyrics can prompt early teen sex. Among those who listen to a lot of heavily sexualized music, 51 percent started having sex within two years, versus 29 percent of those who said they listened to little or no such music. It seems that poets are unacknowledged legislators and all that. Who knew?
  • Sex of any kind can harm teens emotionally. The two researchers who did the survey don’t sound like the smartest women in the world. They just asked kids how they felt about things, and some said sex made them feel better and some said it made them feel worse. Among other things, they noted that girls have more problems than boys, and commented that “parents can play an important role in helping to eliminate this double standard by encouraging respect for women and discouraging the use of derogatory sexual terms.” (Saying people should be nice to each other and treat everybody the same is all very well but not much as an analysis of something as basic as sex or situations that lead to abuse and contempt. One effect of the social sciences is that they abolish the intuitive mind and turn practitioners into mind-numbed robots incapable of any non-schematic response.)
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