Social Science in a Guest Appearance in the Play, Capitalism

2 Jul

Social scientists are technology’s historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and scientists—measuring the social impact of technology. It is important to note that all this activity is forever doomed to survive in the echo chambers of the forgotten consciousness of society and consigned to only enter in casual desultory (or heated but always ineffectual) discussions. Social scientists also produce knowledge that is directly useful to Capitalism and there, of course, it plays a more important role.

Society is led by the 800-pound gorilla of Capitalism and the ‘logic’ of the market, which is quite separate from the ‘logic’ of social good, determines what is sold, how it is sold, and when. Social scientists merely study effects of new technologies as they are unleashed on the world. Universities open up new schools, departments, disciplines, and certainly new topics within disciplines as technology and reality march on. Take for example the following – two decades after television became a common amongst US households, David Phillips found evidence for ‘Werther effect’ like phenomena that linked suicides in real life to television suicides, and later still Robert Putnam linked heightened social alienation to television, and now there is a slew of literature detailing negative impact of violence on television. Of course, nobody ever thought that they might want to research the impact of something before it is released.

Social scientists are consigned to doing research that will only rarely wend its way to policymaking. And of course they will never get a chance to determine the course of technological growth, or other policies for those are tethered to Capitalism.

So what is the role of social science or for that matter science aside from helping create wealth, and helping society in a small number of cases where money making and social good coincide? There is really none in a world where increasingly the word regulation is seen as a plague.

Perhaps we can write our own epitaph – we wagged our fingers and tongues, and scribbled furiously, as the chasm between the economic engine and the social good widened and Capitalism swallowed us whole. We also made some money doing that.