Making sense of the world around me!

I am going to start off by quoting a quote, by Mr Mills, “the promise of the social sciences is to bring reason to bear on human affairs”.

One of the fundamental problems of mass society is that many people have lost their faith in leaders and are therefore very apathetic and will pay little attention to politics. Mills characterises such apathy as a “spiritual condition” which is at the root of many of our contemporary problems.

The Sociological imagination can help us to focus on the problems at hand and relate these problems to cultural, social, political, religious and historical resources to influence a positive social change. In a nutshell, the sociological imagination is the “quality of mind”, that allows us to grasp a clearer understanding of the world around us.

This video might help explain this concept, a little better;

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Apathy leads to “moral insensibility.” Such people mutely accept atrocities committed by their leaders. They lack indignation when confronted with moral horror; they lack the capacity to morally react to the character, decisions, and actions of their leaders. Mass communications contribute to this condition, Mills argues, through the sheer volume of images aimed at the individual in which she “becomes the spectator of everything but the human witness of nothing.”

Mills states throughout his writings, the centralisation and enlargement of vast bureaucratic organisations, and the placing of this extraordinary power and authority into the hands of a small elite, can be a threat to our culture and livelihood. Mills was continually concerned, in his writings, with the threat to two fundamental human values: “freedom and reason.”  Mills also characterises the trends that imperil these values as being “co-extensive with the major trends of contemporary society.”

Mills set forth his own conception of how a social scientist should undertake the work. He states, “the promise of the social sciences is to bring reason to bear on human affairs”. His goal in writing this book was to try to reconcile two different and abstract concepts of social reality – the “individual” and “society.”

He concludes in his book, published in 1959 that, the “sociological imagination, can be comprehended as the “the awareness of the relationship between, personal experience and the wider society”.

Mr Mills, also claims that “sociological research has come to be guided more by the requirements of administrative concerns, than by intellectual concerns”. In other words, it has become the accumulation of facts and conjecture, for the purposes of facilitating administrative decisions (and restrictions) on individuals and minority groups.

Sociological thought, according to Mills is not something limited to professors of sociology; it is an exercise that all people must attempt. In an appendix to the Sociological Imagination, he set forth some guidelines that, if followed, would lead to intellectual craftsmanship.

  1. First of all, a good scholar does not split work from life. Both are part of a seriously accepted unity.
  2. Second, a good scholar must keep a file. This file is a compendium of personal, professional, and intellectual experiences
  3. Third, a good intellectual engages in a continual review of thoughts and experiences.
  4. Fourth, a good intellectual may find a truly bad book as intellectually stimulating and conducive to thinking as a good book.
  5. Fifth, there must be an attitude of playfulness toward phrases, words, and ideas. Along with this attitude, one must have a fierce drive to make sense out of the world.
  6. Sixth, the imagination is stimulated by assuming a willingness to view the world from the perspective of others.
  7. Seventh, one should not be afraid, in the preliminary stages of speculation, to think in terms of imaginative extremes.
  8. Eighth, one should not hesitate to express ideas in language which is as simple and direct as one can make it. Ideas are affected by the manner of their expression. An imagination which is encased in deadening language will be a deadened imagination.

Mills identified five overarching social problems in American society: 1) Alienation; 2) Moral insensibility; 3) Threats to democracy; 4) Threats to human freedom; and 5) Conflict between bureaucratic rationality and human reason.

Like Marx, Mills views the problem of alienation as a characteristic of modern society Sociological Imagination and one that is deeply rooted in the character of work. Unlike Marx, however, Mills does not attribute alienation to capitalism alone.

While he agrees that much alienation is due to the ownership of the means of production, he believes much of it is also due to the modern division of labor. Mills relates this moral insensibility directly to the rationalisation process. Our acts of cruelty and barbarism are split from the consciousness of men–both perpetrators and observers. We perform these acts as part of our role in formal organisations. We are guided not by the individual consciousness, but by the orders of others. Thus many of our actions are inhuman, not because of the scale of their cruelty, but because they are impersonal, efficient. and performed without any real emotion.

For the individual, a rational organisation is an alienating organisation, destructive of freedom and autonomy. It cuts the individual off from the conscious conduct of his behavior, though, and ultimately emotions. The individual is guided by their actions not by their consciousness.

Like, Weber before him, Mills cautions that a society dominated by the rational social organisation is not based on reason, intelligence, and good will toward all. He says “There is no rationality without reason. Such rationality is not commensurate with freedom but the destroyer of it.”

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