conspiracy theory

The truth is somewhere between blind acceptance and blind paranoia

I mentioned in another post that studying sociology can open your eyes to the possibility that the official version of the truth might well not be the real truth! Groups in society have a vested interest in the majority accepting their version of how things are. In the past, it might have been ‘obvious’ that white people are superior to black people, it being equally obvious therefore that the former should enslave the latter.

Karl Marx wrote about ‘Ruling Class Ideology’ and included religion as an example. If the rich and powerful can make their social position seem ‘god-given’ rather than as just good old exploitation and dominance, they can keep in check any uprisings, demands and revolutions. There’s nothing quite like a ‘divine right’ of kings to persuade the peasants to obey.

There’s a danger here though! Too much awareness that the truth may be distorted leads to an increasingly popular collective paranoia known as ‘Conspiracy theory’. I think everyone has now heard that the 9/11 terrorist attack was really a cover story for the twin towers’ deliberate demolition by George Bush’s government. I have even seen a car sticker that reads ‘Bush knocked down the twin towers’. Did he really? Any scepticism for conspiracy theory is all part of the conspiracy. It was orchestrated to look incredibly unlikely and it’s the apparent unlikelihood that makes it the truth. Anyone who can’t see it hasn’t looked deeply enough.

Conspiracies seem to be addictive. I knew someone who ‘knew’ that Bush orchestrated 9/11 to justify invading Iraq, but he also ‘knew’ that the moon-landing in 1969 was faked. It was all done in a warehouse. You can see on TV footage a flag fluttering in a breeze when there is no breeze on the moon and you can see a manufacturer’s mark on one of the fake moon rocks. There are many other ‘giveaways’ that only those ‘in the know’ can detect. He also ‘knew’ details about several other conspiracies – that governments were planning to wipe out millions of people with contaminated vaccines, among others.

I’m not a great one for direct confrontation but I did once ask my friend if he accepted too that the Jewish Holocaust of the second world war was just propaganda – that it never happened. No, he told me, of course that happened. There was photographic evidence for it and eye-witnesses, yet there are those that deny the truth of what happened. It seems you can pick and choose your conspiracy.

I would like to share my careful tightrope walk between these extremes when it comes to the well-known ‘fact’ that having high cholesterol can lead to heart attacks. Officially, It is vital to bring cholesterol levels down to avoid health risks and to put people who are at risk on ‘statins’ – a drug that blocks the creation of cholesterol in the liver.

I have a higher than normal cholesterol level and doctors have advised me to take statins. I have researched the area a great deal now, read three or four books that rebel against the official view and I have been in contact with an author/nutritionist who has made a DVD about his evidence that cholesterol is NOT to blame for heart attacks. The most convincing piece of evidence for me is a study that took blood samples of every heart attack victim that was admitted to a large hospital. The one consistent finding was that heart attack victims had low  cholesterol, not high cholesterol.

With much correspondence and reading, I have come to agree and accept the ‘conspiracy’ theory that it is in the drug companies’ interest to stick to the official version that high cholesterol causes heart attacks in order to protect their profits from drug sales. It is also in their interest to deny that many adverse and dreadful side-effects that patients on statins report. Doctors simply accept what they are told, and what they are told is to push drugs and make money. Doctors are the pawns of big business. There is also now an ‘industry’ of products that lower cholesterol – margarines and yoghurts. The companies that make these products would no doubt be reluctant to relinquish the official view on cholesterol.

Some ‘conspiracies’ are more credible than others. I am not totally convinced about the safety of vaccinations and I think it is possible that some children have been damaged by them, even though the official position is that there is absolutely no link between autism and vaccination. I acknowledge that I don’t know enough but it seems wise to be cautious about accepting everything we are told, whilst being careful not to see conspiracy where there might not be one.

There are lies and there are distortions of the truth in every area of society. It’s unlikely that society itself could survive without some lies. I try to be careful about what I believe and who I believe and to come to my own conclusions. These I hope are somewhere between blind acceptance and blind paranoia.













cartoon character

The Joy of Patronising People

 Hello you lovely little adults. Thank you for reading this article. And aren’t you clever  for choosing something so grown-up to read! Are you sitting comfortably? I hope so, because you are about to learn something to make you even more clever! (Remember, there’s no such word as cleverer…) I will, however, try to use mainly simple words in this article so that I can be sure that you will fully understand it. I wouldn’t want to confuse you with anything too taxing. (When I say ‘taxing’, I mean ‘difficult’ ). Anyway, may I suggest that if you want to go to the toilet, you do so now so that you can concentrate really  well on what I have to say.

This article – the one you are reading right now, is about the patronisation  of adults in television advertising. Ooh! Now there’s a big word for a start! Does anyone know what patronising  means? ….Okay, let me help you.

Without getting too complicated, let me just tell you that this word most probably comes from the word pater  which means ‘father’ in a language called Latin  that nobody speaks anymore. Now, listen – when you go to a pub or a restaurant, you become a ‘patron’. I think that’s because you are supporting the establishment with your custom and in providing your support, you are a little bit like a dad who supports his children. It’s a bit of a tricky jump now, but stay with me. If you talk to a person like you were his or her father, what are you doing? Yes, that’s right! You are being ‘patronising.’ So, this leads us to the more familiar meaning of the P word. -Big word alert!- It’s being condescending  to a person as if they were stupid or inferior, to treat with disdain and contempt. And that’s not a nice thing to do, is it? No, of course it isn’t! It’s humiliating  isn’t it? And what does it mean to humiliate  someone? Come on, sit up, straight backs…What does it mean to humiliate  someone?

We are humiliated when we feel that someone isn’t giving us proper respect, that they are just abusing us, failing to see us for what we really are – intelligent individuals, not inferiors with no brains and who need to be treated like children. Well, that my friends is the attitude TV advertisers have towards us. They patronise and humiliate adults and treat us like little children. I will get you started with some examples and then I would like you to look for your own:

First of all, who can tell me what sort of people drive cars? Yes, that’s right – adults! When adults buy a car, they have to take out something called ‘car insurance’. This is where the car owner pays a big chunk of money to a very rich company and normally gets absolutely nothing for his or her money. However, if the car owner crashes his car into a tree or someone else, the rich company will pay out to fix the car or to give money to the injured person. Insurance is all about being helpful to others.

With all this tricky ‘adult stuff’ you might have thought that the adverts for car insurance would be suitably adult, but they most certainly are not. I can’t be 100 per cent sure, but it seems to me that most, if not all car insurance adverts have some ‘appealing character’ to sell the product.

We have first off, the ‘Churchill dog’ that says ‘Oh Yes!” in a voice like Winston Churchill. (He was the leader of Great Britain during the Second World War). This funny dog character does and says funny things to make us chuckle and remember him. After we have chuckled and spillled our orange juice with mirth, we promptly reach for our telephones to buy an insurance policy. That’s how it works. Although, in reaching for the phone, we might suddenly remember the character telephone that rushes around on wheels sometimes with his little computer-mouse friend, having fun, a bit like a ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ character. Then the dog character might be forgotten for a moment and lose custom to the telephone.

It’s not surprising that in discovering that adults respond to a nice little character, other companies would do the same in this grown up world of finance. That is why we have a cartoon character sailor to sell policies for a rival insurer. Then again, you might prefer the cute little seagull that chats away about the merits of another rival company. But these days, it’s wise to ‘compare the market’ and get the cheapest deal you can, rather than be convinced by the sincerity of a dog or a sailor or a seagull.

It is such fun to compare the market now because look….and listen carefully,…the word market sounds just a little bit like meerkat, doesn’t it! And this wonderful observation, found by someone ever so clever in a boardroom, allowed for the development of some truly loveable Meerkat characters that have steadily got up to more and more fun adventures in their advertising campaigns. So comical and lovely, they make us smile and have us reaching for our computer to go online and compare the Meerkats. You can even apply for your own Cuddly toy Meerkat. Simpletons!  as they say, or something like that….

If you are a miserable person who doesn’t love those Meerkats, perhaps you would prefer the fat man with a funny moustache who sings really loudly to ‘Go Compare’. You might enjoy the antics he gets up to. It’s like being at a pantomime. . We love to hate him, but perhaps our dislike of the character is really a dislike for those who created him. They intended to manipulate our irritation just so that we can remember the message. They have studied psychology, spending much time doing market research, conducting surveys and in-depth studies of human motivation to this end.

In a masterstroke, the comical fat man gets blown up by a Bazooka shell to make us all cheer with joy. It’s wonderful how the study of psychology can be put to such a socially useful purpose and create so much happiness in the process. We can all go about our daily lives copying his hilarious song and making our friends laugh in the process.

If you are really hard to please and you remain unmoved by the charm of meerkats or the funny opera singer, surely you’ll smile at the funny little robot that trundles along on wheels, trying to win us over to yet another price comparison site. Wouldn’t one of these sites be enough, I wonder?

If you find that you haven’t got enough cash for even the cheapest insurer, you could always get a loan. They are not serious things anymore. They are good fun, like the lovely little puppets that advertise them. Charming old men and ladies getting up to all sorts – diving into swimming pools, playing the guitar and making wise-cracks. It takes away all that worry about how the hell you are going to pay back the loan, doesn’t it?

If you have an unfortunate accident of course, again there’s no need to worry about money. A fun little character with a bandage and a funny squeaky voice tells you how to get money in compensation. It’s all very grown-up and informative. And most adverts are going this tried and tested way. Cartoons and animations are springing up everywhere to sell us everything and anything. Clockwork rabbits that sell batteries, cartoon characters that sell us chewing gum, electricity services, banking services, a couple of truly daft men saying and doing daft things to help us remember the number of a telephone service, a couple of firemen characters who put out the fire in your tummy when you have indigestion. I like the cute hamsters that somehow advertise a mortgage deal. (A mortgage is literally a ‘death agreement’ where you agree to pay for your house for your entire life!) Too much stress for me. Bring on the hamsters!

Now it’s your turn! Watch television very carefully and write down all the ways that adverts patronise adults with childish images. The best contribution will win a ticket to Disneyland. All contributions will however, receive a copy of Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man. Good luck!

(I’d better mention that there aren’t really any prizes! Sorry! It’s a little literary device called ‘Irony’ that you can all look up in your big dictionary when you get home)






Having fun with advanced microsociology!

See if you can make sense of the following that occurred in my house a few weeks ago:

I took some shopping out of the back of the car, admired how clean the car now was and let myself into the house. William, my youngest son (who’s twelve years old) was tapping away on his computer as normal. Apologetically, I said to him:

“I’m sorry, William. I went to the car wash.”

After a few seconds, he burst out laughing.

What possible explanation could there be for this bizarre apology and laughter? It all becomes clear when you know about the context.

First of all, the last time I went to the car-wash, William was with me and he found it enjoyable, sitting there with all the spray and the whirling brushes. He wanted to do it again and I promised he could come with me again next time. The car was getting filthy again and I just had to get it clean, so I went on the spur of the moment on my way back from the supermarket. That’s why I apologized to William. I had deprived him of a bit of fun.

Okay, that now makes sense, but why did he burst out laughing? Shouldn’t he just look disappointed or say it didn’t matter? The real reason he laughed is because he has learned about advanced micro-sociological theory! I kid you not!

The sentence, “I’m sorry, William. I went to the car-wash”, divorced from all context is absurd and meaningless. Why would anybody be sorry for cleaning a car? As I said it, it hung in the air for a moment, making no sense. William managed to hear the sentence through the ears of someone who had no knowledge of the context and saw how absurd it would have sounded.

All social life exists within a context that we have to understand to make sense of what people are talking about. This was recognized by the American Sociologist Harold Garfinkel. He was interested in what we did- what methods we used to make sense of conversations and social situations, hence the area of study that he named ‘Ethnomethodology’ – the methods used by people to understand the social world.

Garfinkel revealed what we do to make sense of our social interactions by getting people to break the rules. In breaking the rules, the rule itself is revealed. Imagine for a moment you meet an acquaintance you haven’t seen for a while:

“ Hello! How are you? ” you say. His response is:

“Please clarify what you mean. How am I in regard to what? My finances? My relationships? My general sense of well-being? ”

The rule of ‘shared understandings’ here has been violated. This violation is seen as deliberately rude that sends a message that ‘I don’t want to talk to you’. The rule is that you say something positive like ‘I’m fine, thank you. Nice to see you”. Everyone knows the rule – except perhaps people with extreme Aspergers who cannot fully understand unspoken rules of behaviour. So, having a set of ‘shared understandings’ in different social situations is one of the methods we employ to make sense of what is going on around us. Garfinkel asked his students to break this rule and predictably, they were considered rude or insane.

Even at the level of everyday conversation, we are constantly putting everything we hear into a context, so much so that we rarely speak in full, coherent sentences, especially in an informal situation. Try this:

“Did you….you know?”


“Okay! I’m only asking”

“Only asking, my foot ”

“I needed to know”

“Yeah, whatever”

Conversation by fragments! But because they know the context, they know what they mean. We don’t know what they are talking about but they are setting each other’s responses into context. This is what Garfinkel called ‘repair of indexicality’ – understanding the meaning of an utterance by placing it into its correct context.

This doesn’t always work! One misunderstanding can lead to complete confusion. Here’s another true example:

I was in Tesco a while ago. I was buying some shopping on my credit card. When I came to punch in my numbers, the key pad blanked out the numbers with lights behind the pads. I have never seen this before and I thought there was something wrong with the device. I’m guessing now that the reason for this new innovation is so that others cannot see what numbers you are putting in but you can do it by ‘feel’ – either that, or there really was something wrong with it.

I asked the woman serving me: “Have you seen these numbers? I can’t read them”. I was confused by the key pad. She stood there, shaking her head and looking daggers at me. I just didn’t understand what her problem was or why she didn’t answer my questions. I took out my glasses and worked out by touch where the numbers were and she handed my receipt without a word along with a look of contempt. I was doubly confused now! The key pad confused me and now the woman’s apparent contempt confused me. What had I done wrong?

It was only days later that I realized that she misunderstood what I was saying and placing it into a different context. I believe that she thought I was accusing her of seeing my PIN – i.e. ‘Have you seen these numbers?’

I think we have all found ourselves being misunderstood. You say something nice but it’s interpreted as something sarcastic. Occasionally, I’ve said something sarcastic, ironic or as a joke and it’s interpreted as a sincere statement. My dad was often getting himself into trouble with his dry sense of humour which not many people understood.

Have a look at the following examples and see them in a fresh light of absolutely no context. They become completely weird and amusing:


Really? I expect no camels are left in the van overnight either, but this very common notice always fails to mention the camels nor the nuclear reactors, the cheese graters the unicycles….etc…


Eh? Surely if I kept it on, I might be just that bit safer from falling objects, should there be any in the store.


Okay, maybe they should train them so that they can.

There’s a great scene in a Laurel and Hardy film where the telephone rings and Oliver goes to pick up the ear-piece of one of those old-fashioned telephones. He accidentally picks up an opened carton of milk and puts it to his ear. He then picks up the correct item and calmly speaks into the phone:

“Excuse me one moment”, he says, “My ear is full of milk”

He then cleans himself up.

If you find this funny, you have realised how utterly baffling such a statement would be for the caller. There is no context so Oliver’s statement makes no sense. We experience the confusion of the caller.

Comedy is, of course, always exploiting the misreading of contexts. In my GCSE sociology course, I have included many examples of comedy sketches to illustrate aspects of sociological analysis. Even some sociologists however don’t get it!

On the radio programme, ‘Thinking Allowed’ (nice pun!), I remember a sociologist complaining about the comedy series ‘Little Britain’ with its portrayal of ‘Vicky Pollard’ – the rapid- talking teenage girl. In one sketch, Vicky had a whole gaggle of young children in one huge push-chair, revealing a ‘stereotype’ unmarried mother, sponging off the state. This sociologist’s interpretation, in my view was too superficial. He didn’t see through all the layers of meaning that the joke portrayed, but I believe that most ‘unqualified people’ did see the truth of the joke.

The sociologist thought it was bad to show a negative ‘stereotype’ but the joke was really about laughing at our construction of stereotypes. The upper-class racist woman who vomits when she’s had any contact with a black person reveals to us the absurdity and hypocrisy of racism. Racism itself is being mocked. The explicit abuse of fat people in the ‘Fat Fighters’ class was not about laughing at fat people, it was laughing at the abusers of fat people.

Distasteful jokes follow every tragedy. The joke isn’t about the subject matter, it’s about the audacity of making a joke about something so serious. In laughing, you acknowledge that you should not be laughing and in laughing, you are liberated you from the awfulness of the situation. You are not laughing at the situation at all. This is the subtlety of humour that some sociologists ought to look at more closely before they condemn it.

Contexts can be so sensitive that to an outsider, they can be misunderstood as hypocrisy. Here’s a good illustration. At home, we have what we call ‘ironic swearing’. In my family, we call each other the most obscene names. Obscene words are flipped into reverse as terms of endearment or made neutral by using them ironically in the wrong context. However, if my sons said the same words in a genuine context of anger, the exact same words would be offensive and damaging to me. I am offended and angered by ‘ignorant’ ‘effing and blinding’ by louts, but I am not offended by the same words when used ironically. In my family, we have created a context and a system of shared meanings that for an outsider would be very difficult indeed to fully grasp! But that is the nature again between the private and the public. Best to keep them separated!

psychiatric couch

Insight into ‘therapy’

Many people take up a study of psychology with the aim of ‘helping people’. In other words, they want to become counsellors or psychotherapists. Counselling is a thriving profession and benefits from a change of attitude as reported by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Now, 95% of people asked in a survey, feel that it is perfectly acceptable to see a counsellor about a problem and one person in five has done just that.

All good news then! We are more enlightened about ‘mental health’ and are prepared to be open about it rather than deny or hide our ‘issues’. I’m wondering if everything is truly as it seems though….

If there’s one thing that sociology teaches you, it’s to look below the surface. Keith Macdonald (1977) discussed how in the mid-nineteenth century, clerical workers with basic book-keeping skills carried out what we now call ‘accountancy’. A clerical worker is a low paid employee seen to carry out fairly mundane tasks, and yet today, accountants are highly paid ‘professionals’ who have their own professional organisations. Here’s how they may have made the leap from lowly ‘clerk’ to well- paid professional:

First, develop a strategy of ‘social closure’. They excluded others from practising accountancy. Only those who pass professional exams were allowed to do it. This limits the number of people who can do the job and so increases demand and income for those that can. ‘Training’ is long and difficult. On the surface, it gives others the impression that the job demands many skills, but below the surface, it’s all about keeping others out. They can then ‘monopolise’ on their expertise and set up their own jurisdiction where no-one must trespass. Result: lots of demand and lots of income!

I remember seeing on the news an angry nurse who pointed out the difference in pay between an NHS nurse and an NHS accountant. She wondered who made the more significant contribution to the patients! Of course, since then, nurses too have tried to ‘professionalise’ by making it necessary to get a degree in nursing. The low status jobs and low pay can then go to a nurse with a different colour uniform and job title to distinguish them from the qualified ‘professionals’.

Could the same strategy be at work in the counselling profession? Counsellors emphasise in their advertising that they are qualified in various areas that sound impressive – such as ‘Transactional Analysis’ or ‘Psychodynamic/ Interpersonal psychology’ or ‘Neuro-linguistic programming’ or ‘Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy’. You wouldn’t want to go to a non-expert, unqualified counsellor, would you?

It isn’t quite that simple, even though this is precisely the impression that is projected. It is far from certain that any of those diplomas and areas of expertise are of any use to the client. The reality turns out to be a cosy chat with a stranger. The client talks about what is bothering him or her and the counsellor listens. No direct advice is given because the thinking is that the client works through it all him or herself and comes up with his or her own solution. One client/patient wrote that her therapist told her: ‘I simply hold up the light whilst you chop the wood’. This sounds suspiciously like you are paying someone to listen to your problems whilst he sits back and doesn’t say or offer very much!

Jeffrey Mason in his book ‘Against Therapy’ states: “Contrary to popular belief, and contrary to propaganda by mental health professionals, the training of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals does little or nothing to make them better equipped as counsellors or ‘therapists’….Generally, the best person for you to talk with is a person who has worked himself or herself through the same problems you face in the nitty-gritty of life. You usually will benefit if you avoid the ‘professionals’ who claim their value comes from their years of academic study or professional training”

In 1983, an article appeared in a professional journal that stated: “..there is no evidence that the benefits of psychotherapy are greater than those of placebo treatments..”

There have been several experiments where some clients see trained therapists and others speak to untrained people. There tends to be no difference in outcome. You would be better off talking to a friend about your problem.

When you think about it, the ‘therapist’ is very similar to a prostitute. You pay him or her to listen to you and to pose as your friend. Then after an hour, your time is up and the ‘friendship’ is withdrawn followed by a payment.

I recently read a book entitled ‘The Girl Nobody Wants’ by Lily O’Brien who was abused all her life. She had an unbelievably horrible existence. It was a real shock to read and unsurprisingly, she is still haunted by the abuse. She was told that she must have counselling. Did it help her? Not in the slightest! She found the experience painful and pointless but not for the counsellor who was getting £140 per hour for saying very little and doing not very much.

The low paid clerk, doing a job anyone can do, found a clever way to improve his status and income. The counsellor and therapist have done the same. Their skills are not special but they have made it look as though they are. Therapists have hijacked the study of Psychology as a way of carving out a nice little financial niche for themselves.

Psychologists are often invited on TV programmes to share their ‘expertise’. I always find this quite astonishing and amusing as they seem to be masters of the ‘bleedin’ obvious’. At the time of writing this, a jet passenger aeroplane from Malaysia has gone missing in flight. I watched a discussion about it all over the weekend. Among the experts was a psychologist. She was asked how the families of the missing passengers would be feeling at this time. She felt that they would be in a ‘state of shock'; they would be desperate for information, that ‘not knowing’ is very difficult. If we know that they have all died, we can then work on ‘closure’ and get on with the grieving process. Is this ‘bleedin’ obvious’ information actually helpful to anyone?

Psychology isn’t really about ‘helping people’. Psychology is basically a branch of philosophy that asks questions about the many influences there are on our behaviour. To answer some of these questions more effectively it broke away from philosophy and started to conduct scientific experiments. In doing so, it saw the opportunity to become a whole new area of study which, of course attracted a whole new university department, funding, lecturers etc. Psychologists saw that as a ‘science’ they would be more respected and better paid.

Evolution is happening all the time. New species emerge and colonise new territories, fighting off the opposition with threat displays. Just as the cat bristles and fluffs up its fur to give the impression that it is bigger than it really is, ‘professionals’ fluff  themselves up with qualifications and expertise that are ‘displays’ to protect their territory rather than something tangible and real.

grumpy old man

Sociology for ‘Grumpies’

As the TV programme ‘Grumpy Old Men’ clearly showed, men over fifty tend to let irritating things in life get them down. They become less tolerant of the way the younger generation behave and speak, their values and priorities. Men over fifty are used to a whole different set of values and norms.

I feel that an awareness of sociology can help identity why certain things are irritating to ‘Grumpies’. I have made a list of some of the things that might make someone (okay! Me!) grumpy. Try these for starters:

People answering and making calls on their mobile in a train or public place where they can be heard by everyone.

Young people who kiss and pet each other in public

Hearing people’s personal stereo in a public place

Cars that drive by with music blasting out

Men who have scruffy, unshaven chins

People who eat out but dress in scruffy jeans and trainers

Being called by my first name by someone I don’t know – like a sales person

The new trend to have no net curtains so that as you walk by people’s houses, you see them having their meals or watching TV.

Being invited to someone’s house that is a complete tip inside

There’s a common theme running through all of these ‘grumps’. They are all examples of public space being used as private space. In using it this way, the behaviour is seen to ignore the ‘generalised other’,- as discussed by the sociologist Erving Goffman,- and fails to acknowledge their existence.

Phone calls are private. I don’t want to hear another person’s business, just as I don’t want to see them urinate. I don’t want to see people kissing. They are abusing public space by treating it as their own. I don’t want to be forced to listen to someone’s music. This is not your private space. I don’t want to see your scruffy, unshaven chin as if you have just got out of bed. In public space, we acknowledge the other by making an effort to present ourselves in a tidy way. Likewise, as a ‘guest’ in someone’s house, there has to be an attempt to separate the private from the ‘stage’ of social interaction. A toilet that hasn’t been cleaned and a floor strewn with dirty underwear is a sign that this separation hasn’t been attempted and so the guest hasn’t been properly valued.

Good manners is all about acknowledging others in public space where we are obliged to conform to certain rules. Being addressed by your first name by a stranger is bad manners because it delves straight into your personal space without being invited into it first. When I’m out walking my dog, I don’t want to see what goes on in your living room.

But the truth is, for younger people, the norms have changed while older people were not looking. The private has merged into the public over several decades. A world without a concept of privacy is nothing new. The Romans constructed toilets where everyone ‘sat down’ in groups and they wiped themselves with a ‘communal sponge’ after a quick rinse! It was only a relatively short time ago when many people shared beds and had no concept of privacy in the UK, especially among the poor. Wanting your ‘own space’ in some cultures even today would be baffling.

Then, in the UK we discovered privacy. Several decades ago, people kept their private lives completely separate from their public lives. They kept a ‘stiff upper lip’ and never let on if we they were suffering. The private rarely leaked out. Consequently, all manner of nasty crimes and abuses were tucked away – child abuse, wife battering including rape, adultery, mental illness. These things didn’t get discussed because they were ‘private’ and domestic. It took a long time before the law even recognised that a man could abuse and rape his wife.

The pendulum seems now to have swung back to lives becoming public again. We talk about our sex lives like we’d talk about recipes or a good holiday. We take photos of our evening meal and post it on ‘Facebook’ and broadcast every aspect of our private lives to others. We talk our private matters in public places, on trains and buses. I listened to a very serious conversation last time I was on the train:

“I’m very sorry, but the police are taking this very seriously. You made a big mistake. I’m sorry….There’s nothing more I can do…..I do understand and we will give you all the support we can…..please do try to talk to someone about it…..Yes, it’s very serious I’m afraid….”

I think the whole carriage wanted to hear more. It was a private drama unfolding for everyone in ear shot. Couldn’t this woman be more discreet, perhaps make the call from the toilet or wait until she could find somewhere quiet when she left the train? Maybe this just didn’t occur to her. The norm has changed. We have less need for the idea of ‘private’ and the ‘grumpies’ find it hard to adapt to this social change.

Sociologists recognise that norms change over time. What feels natural, normal and morally right yesterday seems alien to later generations. It was obvious to previous generations that women were inferior to men, that children should be ’seen and not heard’ that the white race was more advanced and civilised than the black race, that gay people were perverts that were committing crimes of gross indecency. Norms, values, expectations and whole societies shift and change and inevitably there are some who will be left behind, clinging to an older set of behaviour guidelines.

The older generation has criticised and demonised the younger generations since society began but without social change, societies will become stagnant and die. Eventually a balance is found and what was useful and effective from previous generations sometimes get revived and merge with the new. There is still a place for the ‘Grumpies’ as long as we can distinguish the moaning from wisdom.


Sociology: Ideologies are not facts

In both sociology and psychology, certainly at GCSE level, I believe that political bias is being presented in text books as fact.

Most people today have absorbed and accepted the currently popular idea that men and women are exactly the same apart from the obvious physical differences. Sociology text books talk about the separation of sex and gender. We don’t learn our sex, but apparently we do learn our gender – i.e. behaviour that is expected of our sex. There is nothing in male and female behaviours, experiences, emotions, skills, preferences etc that can be explained naturally – i.e. biologically. No, all differences are the result of learning. Our parents dress us differently according to sex and expect us to behaviour in accordance with their expectations. This process continues at school and is reinforced by the media.

Notice that the word gender has all but replaced the word ‘sex’ when it comes to distinguishing males from females. It’s almost as if we want to completely banish dirty old biology. ‘Sex’ is a word now reserved for what men and women do together in the bedroom rather than what distinguishes them. If ‘gender’ is learned, it opens up the possibility that you can have a male that has a female gender or a female that has a male gender. Gay or straight – it’s just what you’ve learned to be.

But, how plausible is this view? Who brings up a child to be gay? Who brings up a girl to be a tomboy? Nobody does! Gay people have traditionally felt in conflict. They are different to the way that society says that they should be. The apparently all powerful influence of socialisation has completely failed here! Gays have to face up to their sexuality and ‘come out’. Nobody can learn to be gay and nobody can learn not to be gay.

Various studies have shown that gays have received less male hormones in the womb which has led to their brain wiring to be more like a female brain. If this is extreme, the male might feel a complete repugnance for his male body, feeling that he is a female in a male body. It makes no logical sense to argue that gays and transsexuals learn their gender, yet it is heavily promoted as the truth in sociology and psychology books.

My sociology course shows you the evidence that biology plays a large part in being a male, female, gay, straight or transsexual. The trend towards denying and banishing biology has come about to spread the message that humans are FREE. We are free to create our societies in any way we want to, making us all equal in every way because there are no natural differences between us. This is a political desire masquerading as fact.

The irony is that sociology is a study that aims to find the truth behind the ideologies – that is its central concern. And yet, the subject itself is guilty of promoting a political view as scientific fact. It’s frightening how few have noticed!