ORIGINS OF FUNCTIONALIST SOCIAL THEORY
In its June and July, 1971, issues, REASON has featured two articles on functionalist social theory: "An Anthropological Perspective on Social Change" by Lynn Kinsky and "Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems" by Jay W. Forrester. While generally enlightening and informative, these two articles contain some mis-information on the nature and origins of functionalism.
Lynn Kinsky attributes functionalism to anthropology in both the title and content of her article. However, in the sense that she is using the theory—the study of literate cultures—the term "sociological," rather than "anthropological," should be used. When applied properly, cultural anthropology is the scientific study of the sociocultural systems of pre-literate societies; whereas, sociology is the scientific study of literate societies, particularly of societies since the Industrial Revolution.
Most of the basic principles of functionalism were discovered and applied by one of the "founding fathers" of sociology, Herbert Spencer, in his PRINCIPLES OF SOCIOLOGY (1876-1896, 3 vols.). One may also find anticipations of functionalism in the works of Adam Smith.
Miss Kinsky's bibliography to her article, while helpful, would be somewhat misleading to those wanting a "brief introduction to problems and methods involved in studying literate cultures," since most of the entries are either hostile to functionalist theory or are anthropological in nature. The major aspects of functionalist theory were elaborated by the three other "founding fathers" of sociology: Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Vilfredo Pareto.
Since the 1930's, functionalism (also called "structural-functionalism") has been greatly developed and improved upon by American soiciological theorists.
The editor's introduction to Jay Forrestor's article states, "…the functional approach to describing social systems pioneered by Forrestor represents a major advance in social science methodology." (my emphasis) However, the union of functionalism and General Systems Theory to describe and analyze social systems was pioneered by Talcott Parsons and his associates over twenty years ago.
It is rather astonishing that most libertarians are ignorant of the vast sociological literature which clearly gives support and confirms most libertarian hypotheses on what society is now and what it could be.
It is ironic that the discipline founded by such anti-collectivists and supporters of freedom as Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner, Vilfredo Pareto, and Max Weber, is now ignored by libertarians. I fear that too many individualists equate sociology with socialism—which makes as much sense as equating psychology with psychosis. For a social movement such as libertarianism to entirely abandon a social science to its enemies makes as much sense as it would for the United States to abandon the field of nuclear weaponry to the Soviet Union. Either course may be suicidal.
Gerald M. Biggers
IMMORALITY OF EFFICIENT STATISM
I was very much distressed by the general thrust of the June issue of REASON and especially with Robert Poole's essay. Mr. Poole calls for libertarians to become involved in "think-tanks," presumably so they might influence the government to become a more efficient ("cost-effective") shepherd of what collectivists call the "nation's resources." The basic immorality and strategic inappropriateness of this position has been demonstrated. I would like to focus on certain aspects of the article.
The cardinal fallacy of the article is succinctly stated by the author. "Despite libertarian rhetoric about the 'predominant irrationality' of our times (which may be true of such limited areas as ethics and education [emphasis mine]) logical thinking and rationality are very much in vogue in the fields of engineering, systems analysis, and applied (real world) social sciences. What is not in vogue is ideology." We are told in the next paragraph that we must purge our technical studies of any ideological assertion because "…It is unfortunately true that there is as yet, in the intellectual and scientific community, no recognition of the existence of a rational value structure." We may present voluminous statistics indicating a significant correlation between rent control and housing deterioration but dare not even imply that rent control is a fundamentally evil violation of property rights. Mr. Poole is asking libertarians to participate in an orgy of social metaphysics. We have all been invited to join the staff of Dr. Robert Stadler.
Mr. Poole apparently neglects the fact that there can be no such thing as wertfrei applied research. Think-tanks conduct their research according to predetermined goals. These goals are set by the employer, which is most often the government. If the politicos happen, for whatever reason, to place a high value on improved housing, a think-tank might produce a report hostile to rent control, and the report would, perhaps, be acted upon. (This did, in fact, happen in New York State.) If the government's end is a more devastating means of mass slaughter, the think-tank will devise new weapons systems. We may rejoice when a think-tank happens to generate changes which broaden the sphere of individual liberty, but we ought not look to them for our ultimate salvation. Besides, even given the possibility of profreedom reports by think-tanks, Mr. Poole hardly establishes a case for libertarian involvement. If the think-tank is asked to find means toward improved housing or better rail transportation, and the scientists are as intellectually honest as Mr. Poole contends, appropriate anti-interventionist conclusions should be forthcoming with or without the involvement of morally committed libertarians.
The most potent weapon which libertarians possess is their fervent, passionate commitment to thoroughly consistent ideological ends. As Hayek notes, this "courage to be utopian" was a central factor in the success of socialist movements. Libertarians are in an even stronger position because the values we defend are thoroughly grounded in a rational understanding of the nature of man and of reality. To abandon this moral fervor in order to gain admittance into the wertfrei universe of the technocrats, would be, I fear, to seal our doom.
Staten Island, N.Y.
JULY ISSUE UNDER ATTACK
The July issue of REASON was the most petty, macabre, and disgusting "libertarian" publication I've ever received.
Dennis J. Chases's "Atlas Shrugged at Me" is one of the most trivial tales of sniveling ignorance I've ever encountered.…Allan Reynold's "The Purge of Chicago Economists" is equally useless drivel. The author seems at pains to protect his (or Friedman's) whims and wishes from hard reality, which doesn't compromise…
Jay M. Forrester's "Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems" might better have been 10 blank pages. PLAYBOY (July 1971) ran an eminently more readable, though equally preposterous, account of Dr. Forrester's hallucinations. This article I'd like to dissect a bit, since it has a surface gloss which pretends significance.
The only "enlightenment" the article promises is the statist's discovery that coercive, collective State programs are…ineffective. Results often seem unrelated to those expected when the programs were planned. At times programs cause exactly the reverse of desired results. (REASON, p.4)
For any libertarian, this is no profound discovery. From there, the article is candy floss and roller coasters in the never-never land of global demagoguery, because Forrester's goal is to…
…come to a much better understanding of social systems, [until then] we should expect that attempts to develop corrective programs will continue to disappoint us. (REASON, p. 4, my emphasis)
And who is "disappointed"? The demagogs?
PLAYBOY distills Forrester's theory to the more explicit analysis:
…that government inadequacy is an example of predictable and consistent self-defeating human behavior. His studies had suggested that the human mind is not adapted to interpreting the behavior of social systems, that human judgment and intuition were created, trained and naturally selected to look only in the immediate past for the cause of problem.
How many guesses do you need to determine who is going to offer his calculated foresight into "social systems" and save the day for "self-defeating human behavior" that has "not adapted"? Less than one.
Even totally out of this totalitarian context, Forrester's "computer models" are no more than imbecilic scribbles. They employ the obvious to lend credence to the preposterous. The amusing "spaghetti and meat balls" of his "world model" have a singular unidentified ingredient: 55 little circles that continuously split lines and produce arrows from nowhere. What are they? Obviously, they are options, decisions, and the applied priorities of individual human beings. Which human beings? PLAYBOY (not REASON) gives the answers:
…under the direction of Professor Dennis Meadows, a team of nine researchers at MIT was being recruited to examine Forrester's theories…Meadows went to specialists for evaluations of the exact quantitive influences. (PLAYBOY, p. 114)
Is freedom a "quantitive influence"? "Influences" on whose decisions? What kind of "influences"? Taxation? A gun? Blankout!
The implications seem obvious.
What is not obvious is Forrester's superhuman capacity to calculate and graph the "quality of life"—not for an individual, a neighborhood, or a nation but for the entire world!
I was enthralled to find that the "quality of life" was about 0.95 in 1929! Indeed, I'm fortunate to have been born when the "quality of life" was at its 1.05 peak! I wonder if I was averaged with Mao Tse-Tung or Ayn Rand?
I was (of course) delighted to find that my "quality of life" will climb to infinity when Capital Investment drops in about 2070 (graph 2). Certainly, this conforms to PLAYBOY's observation that:
The first thing we learn is that the enemy is our love of growth. (PLAYBOY, p. 206)
And, with this knowledge, it becomes readily apparent that:
The Soviet Union achieved [their higher material standard of living] by arbitrarily denying citizens the immediate fruits of their labor. (PLAYBOY, p. 208)
Which certainly points the finger at the villain to be devoured:
The population explosion and pollution are direct descendants of the old gods—-industrialization and science. (PLAYBOY, p. 208)
Perhaps my quoting of the PLAYBOY article is unfair to Forrester—after all, they lay it on the line. Of course, Forrester has no intention of being quite so verbose. It doesn't seem to suit his purposes. Undoubtedly, his next discovery will be that if human beings are classified as "natural resources," all our problems are solved. Such progression is to be expected from technocratic demagogs.
I can find neither rhyme nor REASON why I should be subjected to such crap in a magazine that claims intelligence.
Barrie, Ontario, Canada
BOYCOTT SOUTH AFRICA? SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Your publication of my article "Boycott South Africa?" in the August issue of REASON included a concluding paragraph that I did not write. Not only is the style out of context (a supposedly rational article should not close emotionally), but it is in serious error, since there are obviously many people and nations for whom the continuation of apartheid is beneficial.
Had the author of that paragraph heeded the message in my article, he (or she) might have realised that the effect of emotionally charged words such as "futility" and "stupidity" is counterintuitive. Instead of persuading those the author would convert, they merely antagonize.
Terence C. Honikman
Dr. Honikman is correct. REASON regrets its blunder and apologizes to Dr. Honikman.
LETTERS HELP SPREAD THE WORD
Perhaps this idea may be of some use to your readers.
While reading an issue of MECHANICAL ENGINEERING magazine, I came across an article on compulsory birth control. My libertarian conscience was thoroughly aroused, and I wrote a letter to the editor which, though I am not a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, was printed.
It occurred to me that this is one way in which libertarians could introduce their philosophy to the reading public, while at the same time obtaining practice in putting their ideas into a coherent form down on paper. Local newspapers and other periodicals could be scanned for collectivist-oriented articles and appropriate replies sent in.
Letters to editors are indeed small contributions to the cause of free men, but they could be a satisfying form of activism for those who lack the brilliance of the major authors but still desire to "spread the word."
David J. Kramer
Fort Belvoir, Virginia
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".