The Sociologist as Messiah

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By Arnold Alamon

Wrapped in Grey

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


WHEN Auguste Comte founded Sociology at the wake of the turmoil of French society after the revolution, he imagined the discipline to be the new secular religion. At that time, the great transformations in Western European economy and society reverberated as well in the hearts and minds of people. What once was the exclusive dominion of Christianity particularly Catholicism, in its stead was a social vacuum that Sociology was supposed to fill. It was to be the new religion of a citizenry just liberated from the shackles of feudalism and its practitioners’ modern society’s new secular priests.

Such was the lofty aspiration of Comte for this new discipline that he imagined it to be the last and greatest of all sciences around which people will congregate and seek collective wisdom. Thus, it is not accidental that on occasions, sociologists sound like priests preaching from the pulpit.

However, the objects of their salvation are our temporal human order and arrangements and not anymore our sullen souls. Likewise, their preferred venues for pontification are not the pulpits of old but armchairs in staid ivory towers inside universities or in rare occasions the halls of Congress.

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The discipline has undergone many changes and developments, splintering into various epistemological and ontological camps over the centuries. But the ethos of its practitioners remain essentially the same – in the godless world of science and modernity, how do we offer salvation to human societies from the unnecessary realities of war and famine, backwardness and inequality, and many other modern social ailments?

In these shores, the best representations of the “Sociologist as Messiah” are Professors Randy David and Walden Bello. They are published in national dailies as columnists and sought for comment in all media for just about anything that confuses journalists about national social realities. In an interesting moment that exposes where an influential strand of Philippine Sociology is now, both recently published controversial pieces about their analysis of some pressing national issues. Prof. David sought to redefine the contours of how we understand political patronage in a recent column while Prof. Bello presents his ruminations on truth, justice, and power in a recent conference in Japan.

What has been the latest edict from the respective pulpits of the heralded public intellectuals from Philippine Sociology?

Prof. David in his column entitled “Political Patronage Revisited” argued that the task of political reform is not the domain of the courts and the recent ruling striking down the constitutionality of the DAP must be seen as purely that, a clarification on a matter of law. The realm of politics is defined essentially by that troubled relationship between voters and politicians and it so happened that the powers-that-be who employ practices of patronage still enjoy the loyalty of their poor constituents. He comes short of saying but expressing essentially the same idea- political patronage is not the root of all evils especially since it may ultimately benefit voting constituents.

He then proceeds to scoff at the recent attempts to expose the connivance between line agencies such as DOH and CHED in providing mechanisms of disbursing their funds through politicians. Despite his best efforts to sound astute, the piece still comes off as a trite defense of the pork barrel system.

One wonders where the motivation by the esteemed professor to defend the system that serves as the debilitating bottleneck in the delivery of crucial social services comes from. Is it a lack of a sociological imagination on his part for failing to regard the system of pork as the enabling mechanism for wanton corruption by the political elite?

Walden Bello, on the other hand, waxes nostalgic in his paper on “Inconvenient truths: a public intellectual’s pursuit of truth, justice, and power” by detailing his journey into activism and his eventual departure. He was once a cadre of the communist party but had since turned his back to the organization after realizing that he needs to be “faithful to his role as a critical and engaged intellectual” and the fidelity to the truth that his vocation as a sociologist demands.

In the same breadth, he declares that truth is achieved through action, through a melding of theory and practice; the prime example and barometer of which was, ladies and gentlemen, his person. It seems that the good professor has now regarded himself as a one-man social movement having special access to the essence of praxis. He ends his article quite tellingly by providing an apology of sorts for he had been “merely lucky, having been spared the really, really rough situations and really, really tough choices.”

Sociology belongs to an intellectual tradition that values objectivity over personal truths, where the contingency of one’s person should be reigned in to account for far greater realities and truths that the social order demands as August Comte and many after him have imagined. In both instances, these stalwarts of Philippine Sociology seem to have obfuscated views of where they are in relation to existing realities.

What is it blocking their vision from their elevated pulpits? Could it be their egos and their shared stakes as compromised intellectuals working for the present ruling order?

*****

(Arnold P. Alamon is an assistant professor IV at the Sociology Department of Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 19, 2014.

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