Introduction to Sociology – the study of the world we create

Arial view of city scape

So, here you are asking the question, “What is Sociology?”

Well, I have to say, “Congratulations!” Congratulations because, as I’m here to tell you, sociology is no ordinary academic discipline and learning about it, or learning what it has to offer, is no ordinary intellectual voyage. The truth is, by asking the question, “What is sociology?” you are embarking on a journey that will take you into the depth and heart of the world that surrounds you not merely as an observer and not merely as a participant, but as a creator as well. You see, sociology is basically the study of the world that we (and be “we” I mean human beings) create. Unlike psychology which is the study of your thoughts and emotions, or history which is the study of past (usually violent) actions, sociology looks at the world as we have created it and in so doing, it explains it right down its very human core.

Now I know what you’re thinking (or at least I like to think I do). You’re thinking, “Well that’s all very fine and good for you sociologists, but I didn’t create this world that I live in. I was born into it! It was there “as is” when I came into existence. Other people structured this world,” you are saying, “and I didn’t have a lot of choice or power over it at all.”

What can I say to that?

You are, of course, correct.

The world “as it is” was there when you were born and nobody asked whether you liked it or not. You were plopped into this world and its institutions and ways of existing, and nobody asked your opinion about it. Indeed, as soon as you were born you were inserted in the world, into The System as I like to call it, according to some other person’s expectations and preferences, and you couldn’t say a single thing about it.


As soon as you were born you were immediately assigned one of two genders, and nobody asked you if that was OK. If you have a penis the nurse assigned you to the male gender by putting a blue blanket on you to identify you as male, and vice versa. Once your gender was assigned, you were handed off to your parents for socialization.1 Then, in the years that followed, you learned from your parents, teachers, friends, television, and maybe even the police, all about the “rules” of gender. If you are a boy, don’t cry. Think like this. Behave like that. If you are a girl, nurture the little ones. Think like that. Behave like that. It was a gradual process, and you may only be becoming aware of it now; but even so, and contrary to what I say in the opening, you were in fact inserted into a family, culture, and society that you did not choose, assigned a gender that you did not agreed to, and trained in rules, values, norms, religion, science, and culture before your brain was big enough to know, understand, care, choose, or resist what was going on. Clearly, you did not create the world that you live in.



Just because you were merely plopped into a world that was pre-made and taught (I would say forced) to live and learn pre-existing rules, norms, routines, and so on, does not mean you don’t create the world around you, because you do. It may not be obvious to you at the start, but it is a fact. As soon as you start “following the rules” and “playing the game” you begin to participate in the creation and re-creation of the social world around you.

And it doesn’t take that long to become part of the process.

By the time you are four, you have already begun to provide support for the System. By the time you are four, you have learned the gender rules, for example, and are by that time a “willing participant” (some might say “puppet”) in the adoption and enforcement of gender norms, values, and rules. You play with pink toys if you are a girl and blue toys if you are a boy and you think and act appropriately for your gender. You recreate the system by your tacit and unconscious acceptance of the rules.

Of course, who can blame you? At the shiny new age of four, you don’t have the intellectual capacity to know what is going on; however, your understanding is not the point. The point is that, conscious or not, your acceptance of the rules, and the actions and behaviours that flow from that acceptance, means you recreate the System. And notably, it is not that you are just a system creator. You are also a System Enforcer. Even at the tender age of four, you police the gender boundaries! When others around you violate the pre-established rules of gender, i.e. if a boy acts too effeminate or a girl wants to play with trucks and cars, you become a gender cop. You yank the truck away from the tomboy or laugh at the girly man boy. You point fingers and whisper, and sometimes you get violent and aggressive. Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, you are creating, recreating, and actively enforcing the System. You are not a passive receptacle of the system; you are an active creator of this world!

And know, it is not just gender you enforce. By the time you are a grown up, your enforcement of the rules and re-creation of the social order extends to every aspect of life and to every institution that you participate in. You act like a student; you act like an employee; you act like a member of the “faithful” (maybe you go to Church); you act like a good citizen of a functioning liberal democracy. You follow all the rules, you do all the right things, and if somebody else steps out of line, you become an enforcer as you step in to save the day (i.e enforce the System). This is the society we live in and you are the captain of its direction. This is how the social order is maintained and preserved. This is how society goes on from decade to decade. Each generation is assigned and selected, fit in and taught, and each generation accepts, steps up, and creates the social order anew. Of course, as a teenager, you might rebel. As a teenager, you might look at the world and say “WHAT?” As a teenager you might see its all messed up and you might want to pull out, reject, or even try and change things. But the System is powerful, resistance is futile, and by the time you are thirty you’ve generally settled down, picked your place, and become a co-creator of the world, such as it is.

Now, please understand that I’m not making a judgment here about whether your actions in re-creating the social order are right or wrong. That is something that you can decide for yourself. As a sociologist, I’m just pointing out that despite the fact that you were not asked and you didn’t know, nevertheless, you come to accept and then recreate the world around you. It is imposed on you at first, but eventually you become an active participant in creating the social order.

It is nothing to be ashamed of.

We all do it.

We all “grow up” and we all fit in. We all learn to follow the rules. We all learn to act according to institutional parameters, and in doing so, we all re-create the institutions of our social order. It’s what we do. It’s what we’ve always done. Since as far back as our hunter-gatherer ancestors, human beings have created and re-created their societies. And that’s a fact! And that is what sociology is interested in. Sociology is interested in the world that you have created. If we were to define sociology I would thus say that sociology is the scientific study of the society that you (that we) create.

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me that makes sociology pretty special. The fact that sociology takes as its starting point the society that we create (i.e., the social order) is what attracted me to sociology in the first place. Before I got into sociology, I had tried several disciplines. I tried engineering, chemistry, and took an extended jaunt into psychology, but I was never really excited by the materials in those other disciplines as I was with excited with sociology.

Indeed, I cannot remember my engineering or psychology classes, but I do remember my first-year sociology course, taught by John Conway at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. Here, I thought, was a discipline that explained things. Here was (is) a discipline that knew what was going on!

In my first year, I learned about the leaders of sociology and the different “types” of sociology. I also learned many different explanations for things that I had always wondered about. I learned, for example, why I had such a bad experience in school as a child and why we (my single-parent mom, my brother, and I) were always so poor. It was because of structured inequalities and social biases against single women (biases that still exist). I also learned about social classes, racism, classism, capitalism, fascism, and communism. I learned about gender and socialization, social control, and a plethora of other fascinating sociological concepts, facts and theories all of which explained the world to my satisfaction!! From the very first day, I was hooked. This was what I wanted to know about! I wanted to know about the world that I had been dropped into and sociology fit the bill exactly. Sociology provided that knowledge. Sociology explained the world! Using the tools and methods provided by sociologists, I came to understand the world we live in like never before. I also came to understand that we create the world. We are born into it that is true, but in our day-to-day actions and inactions, we recreate and reinforce it as well.

As you might guess, this did not make me very happy because as I had suspected as a young adolescent and teenager, and as I learned in full detail when I took a few sociology courses, the world we live in is a very messed-up place. We live in a world of ghastly contrasts: Hollywood stars and corporate moguls jet around in private planes while tens of thousands of children die every year from the disease and despair of starvation (Word Hunger Education 2018), where women, who no matter how hard they try, often end up poor and alone while ex-husbands live carefree lives, where the working poor class struggle to feed their families while corporate executives grow fat on seven-figure salaries and bonuses. Power for some, hunger for others. Privilege for a few, wage slavery (or literal slavery and child slavery in the sweatshops and sex shops of the world) for the rest (Wakefield 2016).


As sociologists revealed, it truly was a world of ghastly contrasts….

Watch the video Money Moksha

…the more I descended into the depths of the discipline of sociology, the more I realized just how ghastly it all was. By the time I was done my degree, I felt that there was very little that was pretty about our world. I was like the Grim Travelers from Bruce Cockburn’s song of the same name, looking at the world and weeping and angry at all the suffering and the pain.

Grim Travelers

Ministers meet—work on the movement of goods
Also work on the movement of capital
Also work on the movement of human beings
As if we were so many cattle
Grim travelers in dawn skies
See the beauty—makes you cry inside
Makes you angry and you don’t know why
Grim travelers in dawn skies

We created the world it is true, but the world we created was an ugly, ugly place.

Now, I realize that I may not be making a good case for the study of Sociology. Who wants to study in such a grim and depressing discipline after all? However, I later realized that no matter how bad the world is, how unfair or unwelcome it seems, or how dysfunctional the “structures and functions” are, it is still our world and we created it. We created the world. We can change the world! We create it with our actions (or inactions, as the case may be); therefore, we can change the world! For me, this is the power of sociology, and it is what redeems us from the harsh sentence that sociology seems to impose. Sociology (and related disciplines like Social Work and Gender Studies) gives us the tools we need to change society, and no other discipline can do that. Medicine allows us to manage our sophisticated bodies; engineering allows us to build things; psychiatry provides us a way to be happy within the confines of the world we live in; and, history catalogues the past abuses of power and privilege; but only sociology (and disciplines like feminism, political science, etc.) can give us the tools to change the world.

If I had a rocket launcher…

Here comes the helicopter
Second time today
Everybody scatters
And hopes it goes away
How many kids they’ve murdered
Only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I’d make somebody pay.
Bruce Cockburn, If I had a rocket launcher….
[Listen on Youtube]

For those of you who are cynically observing the state of the world and wondering how I could make such a claim, please be patient. In truth, sociology has already made a big difference in the world. As you study sociology you will learn about past and present sociologists and their research. As you read, and as you begin to reflect on the world as it is now and as it was a hundred years ago, you will see the truth in the claim. Sociologists and their students have often been at the forefront of social change. For example, the works of one of our founding patriarchs, Karl Marx, spawned a century of social change and social revolution. I’m not thinking about the failed Russian socialist experiment, but about ten thousand “little revolutions” that Marxist theory spawned around the world, from socialist revolutions in Latin and Central America to labour movements and unions in the Western world. Marxism has had an incredible and positive impact (though often unacknowledged in Western capitalist nations) in our world, and that is something to be proud about. And it is not only the ideas of Marx, but those of other sociologists, social scientists, and their students that are often at the front of social change.

Of course, sociology and the work that sociologists do is not always revolutionary. There are conservative sociologists who tend to support the status quo because that is what they feel is the right thing to do, and that is fine. The point of this little essay is not to fire a salvo or engage in criticism; the point of this essay is to simply highlight the fact that sociology gives us, at least potentially, the ability to transform the world. This makes sociology (in my humble opinion) the most a powerful and exciting scientific discipline there is. Sociology teaches us about the world; sociology teaches us how we create it; sociology teaches us how to change it.

In closing this short essay I would like to draw your attention to the world “as it is” right now. While I can say that sociology has given courageous souls the ability, knowledge, and skills needed to change society, social change it is not easy. When we look at the social world “as it is” we can see that there is still a lot of work to be done; plus ça change (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Despite advances, we still live in a world of rank inequality and power differentials. Despite progress, regressive interests pull us back. Indeed, and arguably, even in the face of progress, some things are getting much worse. These days one percent of the world population owns fifty percent of global wealth (Elliott 2015). In a world of child hunger and starvation, that’s an obscene statistic. And it just gets worse the deeper you go (Sosteric 2016); so, a fair question might be, “If sociology is so powerful, why haven’t we seen more or faster change?”

There’s class warfare, all right, it’s my class, the rich class,
that’s making war, and we’re winning. Warren Buffet- Richest Man on Earth.

As it happens, sociology has an answer for that too! As you move through your sociology studies you will learn why the world seems to resist and why people must struggle for change, often for decades. You will learn about the nature of money and the economy and how it is the root of our social ills; you will learn about power in society and about why some people have lots of it and others have little. You will come to understand a bit about how those with power use that power to resist the drive for progressive social change. You will learn about media concentration and population programming—how the very rich use the media to control our perceptions of the world, for example. You will learn that inequality—whether it is gender inequality, class inequality, or racial inequality—benefits some people (usually those with power), and you’ll learn that the people who benefit from inequality actively resist change. You will even learn how our socialization practices and our institutions actually support systems of inequality and, in the case of our school systems, actively go about teaching us to accept and function in the pre-existing social order. Ultimately, you will see the world as a contested place where some with power use it as a mechanism to gain advantage and control over others, while “the others” suffer it out and sometimes even die. In sociology, you will learn the sad truth which is that we are not, despite the propaganda, created equal. Some of us (corporate leaders, government lawmakers, rich power brokers, the monarchs of foreign lands) have more wealth and power simply by virtue of being born in a certain body, and these people use the wealth and power they have to create the world they wish. By the end of it you will know that we create the world we live in; but, you will also know that some people have more power to create than others. This is an important, if depressing, sociological insight that we often, though not always, miss.

In the end though, sociology gives us a choice. We can accept the world “as it is” or we can courageously step onto the path of “co-creation.” If we accept responsibility for our world, we can start to change the world for the better at whatever level we can reclaim power. It is a big step, a big journey, and it is not easy, that’s for sure; but that is the gift, the choice, and the challenge of sociology. The gift that sociologists give you is true knowledge about the world you live in; the choice is what you are going to do with that knowledge; the challenge is actually going out into the world and doing it. Whether you make the world a better place, sit on your laurels, or ride the privilege train is entirely up to you. In the end, you should have no illusions. Sociology is the study of the world that we, that you, create. So take what you learn and go create. It is what, as a human, you are designed/destined to do.


Elliott, Larry. 2015. “New Oxfam Report Says Half of Global Wealth Held by the 1%.” The Gaurdian, 2015.

Sosteric, Mike. 2016. Rocket Scientists’ Guide to Money and the Economy: Accumulation and Debt. St Albert, Alberta: Lightning Path Press.

Wakefield, Jane. 2016. “Apple, Samsung and Sony Face Child Labour Claims.” BBC News, January 19, 2016, sec. Technology.

Word Hunger Education. 2018. “World Child Hunger Facts – World Hunger Education – World Hunger News.” Hunger Notes. 2018.

Mike Sosteric (Dr. S.)

Just another loud mouth sociology professor, teaching sociology courses at Athabasca University. Check me out here at the Socjourn, over there at The Conversation and at

How to be human? Abraham Maslow and his hierarchies of need (Hierarchy of Needs)

[et_pb_section bb_built=”1″ fullwidth=”on” specialty=”off”][et_pb_fullwidth_image _builder_version=”3.0.65″ src=”” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” border_style=”solid” animation=”left” animation_direction=”left” animation_style=”slide” animation_duration=”500ms” animation_intensity_slide=”10%” /][/et_pb_section][et_pb_section bb_built=”1″][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.89″ background_layout=”light” border_style=”solid” module_alignment=”left”]

[et_pb_section bb_built="1"][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.4.1"]

Who are you? What is your essential nature? What is your core human being? What will it take to make you happy? How, in other words, to be human? American Psychologist Abraham Maslow had some ideas about that. Way back in 1943, Maslow suggested that humans have a hierarchy of needs, two hierarchies in fact, and that if we are going to be happy and healthy, feel satisfied and whole, then at the very least, we have to meet all the needs in both hierarchies.[2] Maslow called his two hierarchies the Hierarchy of Basic Needs and the Hierarchy of Cognitive Needs.[3]

The first hierarchy of needs, the Hierarchy of Basic Needs, covers a range of biologically rooted needs, from the physiological need for food and shelter all the way up to the psychological need for self-actualization.[4] Maslow said that as humans, we need to eat, we need to sleep, we need to be loved, we need a sense of self-esteem, and we have to find a way to “self-actualize,” meaning we have to express our inner Self, our talents, etc. Shortly after publishing his first article, and probably as the result of his empirical investigations into peak experiences, Maslow added an additional biological need that he called the need for transcendence.[5]  Maslow felt that in order to survive, thrive, and be happy, we needed to meet all our basic needs, including our need for transcendence. A graphic of the hierarchy of basic needs, slightly modified to reflect my own thinking on the issue of human needs, is provided below.

Corrected Hierarchy of Basic Needs[6]

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow felt meeting all these basic needs was very important. Maslow said that you couldn't be a healthy and happy human if these basic needs were not met. This raises the obvious question, how do we meet these needs. Unfortunately, meeting basic human needs is a complicated question that gets into parenting, socialization, education, politics, economics, and even (when you get up to the top and start talking about self-actualization and connection), human spirituality.[7] It is way too complicated to get into here.

We'll explore the question of how we meet some of our needs later. Here we’ll just say this: you cannot meet any of your human needs alone. Whether it is the need for food, safety, love, self-esteem, self-actualization, or connection, you need others to help you along. This is just the way it is. This is the way it has always been. There has never been a time in the evolution of our species when we have not depended on others to assist us in the meeting of our needs. This is true of our very basic needs for food and shelter (the home you are in was built by a lot of different people), and even our “higher needs” for self-esteem (we need somebody to appreciate us, to have our self-esteem needs met) and love (we need somebody to love us to have our need for love met).

When you start to ask the question how to be human, and when you start to ask how to get your needs met, or how you help meet the needs of others, look to the quality and content of your familial, social, and economic relationships first. It is in human relationships that all our basic needs either get met or get thwarted.

Truth Needs

As noted, Maslow theorized two separate hierarchies. Maslow’s second hierarchy of needs, the Hierarchy of Cognitive Needs, had, according to Maslow, only two needs, these being the need to know and the need to understand[8]

The need to know is our basic biologically rooted need to know things, like why politicians act the way they way act, what’s 2+2, what the sparkly lights in the sky at night are, do I have a soul, etc. Maslow felt our need to know was powerful and constant. Maslow said that "even after we know, we are impelled to know more and more… "[9] Maslow said our need to know drove us deep into the details of why things work, and wide into the philosophy and even religion of who we are and why we are here.

Our need to know was important and powerful, but Maslow pointed out that just knowing things was never enough; we also need to understand, and we need meaning. According to Maslow:

The facts that we acquire, if they are isolated or atomistic, inevitably get theorized about, and either analyzed or organized or both. This process has been phrased by some as the search for “meaning.” We shall then postulate a desire to understand, to systematize, to organize, to analyze, to look for relations and meanings. [10]

As noted, Maslow called these two needs, our need to know and our need to understand, our cognitive needs. We would say that the need to know and understand are two parts of the same need, which is our human need for truth.

Hierarchy of cognitive needs
Human need for truth

Maslow's Hierarchy of Cognitive Needs

Maslow would say these truth needs, like all needs on the hierarchy, including transcendence, are biological/evolutionary needs, i.e., that they are rooted in the biology of the organism, and that is most certainly true. Knowing and understanding your environment is most definitely a survival thing. An organism that does not know and understand its environment is an organism not long for this world.

It should be noted, Maslow was not saying anything particularly “sciency”, “revolutionalary”, or new when he said humans have cognitive needs.[11] To be sure, Maslow based his belief in these cognitive needs on his clinical research work, but even without that, the existence of these needs is self-evident. We mean, everyone with a toddler child above two can see that these needs do exist. Whenever a child asks the questions “What is that?” or “Why is that?” or “Why am I here?” they are attempting to learn truth. The need for truth is a powerful human need.

The Importance of the Hierarchy of Truth Needs

From the very beginning, Maslow thought (and we agree) that these truth needs were important enough to be included in their own separate, though closely and synergistically related, hierarchy. Indeed, Maslow spends significant time in his 1970 book[12] discussing the existence, significance, and core nature of these needs. For example, Maslow felt that these needs were evolutionary, pointing out that monkeys and other primates displayed curiosity and exploratory play.

Maslow also felt, and we wholeheartedly agree, that satisfaction of cognitive needs was a defining aspect of “psychologically healthy people,” and that unhealthy people were those who had their truth needs thwarted. Healthy people, he said, are “attracted to the mysterious, to the unknown, to the chaotic, unorganized, and unexplained.” Maslow said that those who have their need for truth thwarted get bored and depressed, experience intellectual deterioration, have lower self-esteem, and experience “psychopathological effects.” Maslow even suggested there were profoundly negative political implications when these needs were not met. He noted that in countries where “information, and…facts were cut off, and…where official theories were profoundly contracted by obvious facts, at least some people responded with generalized cynicism, mistrust of all values, suspicion even of the obvious, a profound disruption of ordinary interpersonal relationships, hopelessness, loss of morale, etc.”[13]  As you can see, serious consequences ensue when the need for truth is subverted.

We have to say, many children and adults do not have their need for truth met. This is, ironically, especially true in our current information dense global culture, where Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other elite media systems capture and direct human attention. Be that as it may, when pathology develops, fixing the problem is actually very easy. Maslow simply suggested Cognitive Therapy. That is, find interesting things to know and understand. Basically, find the truths of this world. Maslow suggested things like going to school, finding intellectually demanding hobbies, or finding more interesting work. Maslow said that when he applied cognitive therapy to people who were not having their cognitive needs met, he saw great improvement in their emotional and psychological well-being.

This all seems sensible enough. We would only add that in the end, even hobbies and education will not satisfy. Ultimately, we are driven to understand the spiritual truths of our existence as well. If we fail to understand the higher truths of our existence, we ultimately suffer dissatisfaction, existential angst, and possibly emotional and psychological pathology.

To summarize, Maslow thought that cognitive needs were very important. He thought these existed in all animals, that they were powerful enough to drive people to sacrifice their lives to satisfy them, that healthy development required their fulfillment, and that thwarting the cognitive needs led to psychopathology and even death. He even put forth the anti-capitalist/revolutionary notion that intellectual interests and satisfaction of curiosity were ends unto themselves, and that they didn’t need to be tied to “achieved results” (i.e. testing, product development, applied science, etc.). We would go farther and say that tying truth needs to economic or political agendas will lead to the subversion of the needs.[14] But that’s another story.

The Theory of How to be Human

It should be noted that Maslow’s theory of human needs is more than just a theory of biological drives. Maslow’s “theory” of needs is also:

  1. A theory of human health and wellbeing. For Maslow, happy, healthy people were the ones that met all their needs and moved up the hierarchy to the point of self-actualization (and later) “transcendence.” Unhappy people were the ones who had their needs thwarted.
  2. A theory of mental and emotional pathology and breakdown. For Maslow, you absolutely had to satisfy all your needs. If you did not, if lower and higher needs were thwarted in any way, the individual would be led to violence, aggression and emotional and psychological breakdown.
  3. An alternative theory of human nature. Maslow did not agree with the typical Christian->Machievellian->Freudian->scientific conception of humanity as sinful, savage, beasts evolving from a primitive past, beasts that needed to be bound, suppressed, and controlled. He argued that humans were basically good at core and that their instincts, their “needs” were basically functional and supportive of the actualization of “full humanness.” If humans were encouraged and supported in their development, thought Maslow argued they would grow up to be shining examples of human health, potential, and goodness.[15]
  4. A theory of utopia. Maslow felt that it was possible to create conditions that would encourage full human actualization and that if this could be accomplished, utopia would result. Maslow called his utopia Eupsychia, and he made programmatic statements about what would create such conditions (A. Maslow). Maslow notes “From the point of view…of fostering self-actualization or health, a good environment[16] is one that offers all necessary raw materials and then gets out of the way and stands aside to let the (average) organism itself utter its wishes and demands and make its choices.[17]

We are sure you will agree, this is all very fascinating. Unfortunately, although Maslow mentioned both these hierarchies in his seminal 1943 article published over sixty years ago, modern psychology is largely absent of a consideration of the second hierarchy of needs. If Maslow thought these needs were so important, and if he stated the existence of a second hierarchy in the same place he stated the existence of his basic needs hierarchy, why has his second hierarchy been all but ignored? [18]

As sociologists, we would say it comes down to one thing and one thing only, the uncomfortable implications of his second hierarchy for the economic status quo. If we accept the existence and implications of Maslow’s second hierarchy, then a lot of the status quo things we do to maintain the perverse economic system, like spending billions of dollars to manipulate consumption patterns, running a class-based education system,[19] or creating leviathan monsters like Google and Facebook, become psychologically, sociologically, and even spiritually misinformed, not to mention emotionally/psychologically toxic, and even deadly as well.


Be that as it may, Maslow’s theory of cognitive needs carries some profound implications, which we’d like to gloss over right now.

  1. Implications for psychological theory. Maslow says that humans are driven by curiosity. We search for truth, we seek to understand, and we strive for self-actualization and transcendence. If this is true, and we believe it is, the past few decades, which have seen psychology preoccupied with behaviorist perspectives that disenchant and reduce human experience to a combination of environment and genetics, and which have largely become established mainstream psychology these days,[20] seems misplaced and grossly misinformed. The needs for self-actualization, transcendence, truth, and understanding are pretty much ignored by behavioral and cognitive psychology (maybe things have changed?). If Maslow was right and we have a deep drive for truth and understanding, then you can no more understand the full range of human motivation, behavior, psychopathology, and potential with theories of conditioning, reward, genetics, and punishment as you can understand a rabbit by looking at a rock. You absolutely need humanistic, transpersonal, and other more “elevated” perspectives. If Maslow is right, psychology has a lot of repair work to do.

Implications for education: If the need to know and the need to understand are powerful, if we all have a biological drive for truth, and if getting the Truth is a question of life or death, then our K12 education system is going to have to change in fundamental ways. We are going to need to move beyond an economic-class based educational system, like the one the planet currently has,[21] and move to one more focused on human curiosity and play. This is happening now, with pedagogical innovations like “Makerspaces” (Hughes), but there is much more work to do. We have a need for truth, and the education system should reflect that need.

This might not seem like an issue for some, but our education system is aimed primarily at instrumental ends and capitalist/industrial priorities. Things that don’t contribute to capitalist priorities (like an empowered and creative humanity) are ejected from the curriculum. Likewise, aspects that might undermine the capitalist political agenda are actively suppressed, especially in the lower class system. This is not a particularly new or controversial position. Maslow himself noted that the extant education system neglected cognitive discovery “in favor of achieved results, learning, etc.” (1960a). Accepting Maslow’s second hierarchy means we need to transform the education system. In a system submissive to the capitalist economic system, certain truths will always be subverted.

  1. Implications for psychological practice: If subverting truth and human creativity needs leads to psychopathology, one of the goals of psychological therapy must be for a client to achieve a connection to truth and reality. This might seem like a no-brainer to some, but in fact psychological therapies often ignore painful realities and the actions that would change these realities in favor helping to reduce conflict and to help the client “fit in.” If a worker is experiencing psychological distress because of a toxic work environment, the therapist (who works for the employer) will generally not challenge the employer, but instead will try to fit the patient in by subscribing therapies and drugs that encourage avoidance, repression, and numbing.

The same dynamic is present in toxic families, where members spend a lot of time constructing veneers that hide toxic realities and protect toxic members. This is particularly obvious in families where there is sexual assault of children. We have seen family members (mothers, sisters, aunts, etc.) engage in herculean attempts to erase awareness of the reality/truth that their husband, brother, aunt, grandparent, etc., is a sexual predator raping children. This denial of reality inevitably has serious psychological and emotional consequences for everybody involved, in particular the victims of all forms of violence, not just sexual assault.

  1. Implications for families and schools: There are obvious implications for parents and teachers. If we do have a powerful need for truth, then quality parenting requires attention not only to basic needs, but to the need for truth as well. If you take both hierarchies seriously, it seriously raises the bar on what counts as adequate parenting. Basic biological needs would have to be met, but so would needs for safety, self-actualization, transcendence, and truth. We’re not talking enriched environments here, we’re talking total transformation of how we parent and school our children. Children require safe and non-violent environments at home and school, not toxic environments and toxic socialization[22]. Children need parents who nurture and support, not shame and assault.[23] This obviously makes parenting and teaching even harder jobs than they already are. So, note. This is not a judgment on parents or teachers. This is a plea for economic change so we can properly support the two most important institutions on this planet, the family, and school. Remember, no single person or single couple can provide for the full spectrum of the needs of the child. The entire village needs to be on board.
  2. Implications for society: At this point, we can see that Maslow’s needs have powerful implications, for psychology, psychological therapy, family, education, and so on. Maslow’s hierarchies also have powerful implications for capitalism. Our planet is now dominated by a capitalist system of accumulation that is destroying not only the planet,[24] but the human psyche as well. Built on the exploitation of human needs, and the invocation of human addiction,[25] Putting primary emphasis on enriching a few, while denying the needs of the many, the System eats through the planet, corrupts human motives, shackles human needs to economic growth, and destroys the human psyche.  As Hollywood’s “B-Movie teaches”, the only thing that matters to the System, and those who benefit from it, is that you show up to work on time, and you buy “things” when you’re not there.
  3. Implications for self: If the sorts of things Maslow said about human needs are true, then we all got work to do. Speaking for ourselves, we emerged from unsafe childhood environments at home and at school with unmet needs and damaged psychological, emotional, and physical structures, structures damaged partly by neglect of our needs. Based on emerging research about the prevalence of toxic childhood environments,[26] we can safely assume, so has everybody reading these words. It is has taken us years of work to a) meet unmet needs for ourselves, b) fix the emotional/psychological things that were broken, and c) change our behaviors so we can create environments that support and nurture rather than undermine and disable. It has been a struggle and a challenge. And note, we’re not wagging fingers and casting judgment; we’re just saying, if satisfaction of human needs is something we, as a species, need (for the sake of our individual and collective emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health) to focus on, then we all got a lot of work to do not only to overcome the toxic legacy, but to make the world around us a more ideal and human place, capable of actuating full human potential.


In this article, we note that Abraham Maslow originally proposed two needs hierarchies, a hierarchy of basic needs and a hierarchy of cognitive needs. The hierarchy of cognitive needs, though arguably important, has largely been ignored primarily, we feel, because it has uncomfortable personal implications for many, and because it presents significant personal, familial, institutional, economic, and global challenges. To follow the implications through means a) facing uncomfortable truths about how we operate and b) engaging in revolutionary transformation at all levels of society. Anything else is a suppression and repression of truth, which we would argue leads to broad economic, political, psychological (read human) pathology.

So what to do? Five years ago, significant change would have seemed hopeless. But now, as the #metoo and #timesup movements explode (and might we also suggest #nomorelies), and as even more dramatic tectonic quakes line on the horizon, there is hope. If we may be so bold, the first step forward is to recognize what it means to be human. We’ve known the answer to that for decades, if not millennia. To be human means to satisfy, from food and safety all the way up to truth and transcendence, all our biologically rooted needs. Once we realize that, then the second step forward is to transform ourselves, our families, our institutions, and the planet so that we can meet the human needs of everyone, not just the privileged few, wherever you may be. If we want to “graduate” out of the current, spiraling, self-destructive chaos that seems to be sweeping our lives, and this planet, that’s what we need to do.

Of course, that’s going to be a challenge, not only because creating a society where we meet all our needs is going to push up hard against, and require transformation of, the economic status quo, but also because it is going to require deep self-reflection, and fundamental behavioral changes, reflection and change that, we dare say, is going to cause quite a bit of personal, professional, and global discomfort. But what choice do we have? If Maslow is right, if we’re right, if in order to be healthy, happy, and fully human we have to meet all our needs, then only the truth and nothing but the truth, discovered in warm, safe, loving environments that nurture self-esteem, encourage self-actualization, and support transcendence/connection, will do.








Need Notes

The Physiological Needs, include the need for water, nutrients, rest, exercise, constant blood temperature, etc.

Safety needs are psychological needs for safety, including the need for security of body, security of employment, security of morality, security of health, and security of property. Manifested, according to Maslow, in the need for routine. Belied by quarreling, physical assault, separation, divorce, or death.

It is perhaps easier to understand safety needs by considering what an unsafe environment looks like. For Maslow, unsafe environments were environments where there was quarreling, physical assault, separation, divorce of parents, emotional assault, name calling, rough handling, and/or other threats of violence and assault. Safety means being in an environment where one is not being hurt. For Maslow and others, proper development means feeling safe and secure in low stress and loving environments.

Love needs are psychological and emotional needs for love, affection, and belonging. Like all basic needs, these are powerful and failure to satisfy needs for love, affection, and belonging lead to maladjustment, neurosis, and other forms of psychopathology, including serious psychopathy (Maslow, 1943).

Esteem needs are psychological and emotional needs to feel good about oneself. Need for self-respect, need for high evaluation of self, need for the esteem of others. According to Maslow, “All people in our society…have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others.” As with all the basic needs, satisfaction of needs led to positive psychological health, while thwarting of needs led to serious neurosis and psychosis. As Maslow said, “…thwarting of these needs produces feelings of inferiority, of weakness and of helplessness. These feelings, in turn, give rise to either basic discouragement or else compensatory or neurotic trends. An appreciation of the necessity of basic self-confidence and an understanding of how helpless people are without it, can be easily gained from a study of severe traumatic neurosis”.[27] (Maslow, 1943, pp. 381-382).

Self-Actualization is the need to manifest the inner self, the true self.  The need to manifest who you are inside. The individual must do “what he is fitted for.” “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization” (Maslow, 1943, pp. 382).

The term self-actualization, or more appropriately Self-actualization, was originally coined by Kurt Goldstein, refers specifically to the “desire for self-fulfillment” (Maslow, 1943, pp. 382).

Transcendence includes two key things: Self-transcendence, moving beyond the boxed in little “s” self and participating in bigger things. Including attachment to “a cause beyond the self and to experience a communion beyond the boundaries of the self through peak experience,” and also “mystical experiences and certain experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences, and/or other transpersonal experiences, in which the person experiences a sense of identity that transcends or extends beyond the personal self”[28]

Environmental transcendence, which included mastery of an environment but also transcendence of that environment. Power to assert self over and above the confining/defining/limiting influences of one’s environment. As Maslow noted, “…the authentic or healthy person is being defined not in his own right, not in his autonomy, not by his own intra-psychic and non-environmental laws, not as different from the environment, independent of it or opposed to it, but rather in environment-centered terms; e.g., of ability to master the environment, to be capable, adequate, effective, competent in relation to it, to do a good job, to perceive it well, to be in good relations to it, to be successful in its terms. To say it in another way, the job-analysis, the requirements of the task, should not be the major criterion of worth or health of the individual… We must not fall into the trap of defining the good organism in terms of what he is "good for," as if he were an instrument rather than something in himself, as if he were only a means to some extrinsic purpose…. I feel we must leap beyond these statements, admirable though they may be, to the clear recognition of transcendence of the environment, independent of it, able to stand against it, to fight it, to neglect it, or to turn one's back on it, to refuse it or adapt to it”.[29]





Allman, Lorraine S., et al. "Psychotherapists' Attitudes toward Clients Reporting Mystical Experiences." Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training 29 4 (1992): 564-69.

Anyon, Jean. "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work." Journal of Education 162 1 (1980).

Hermanns, William. Einstein and the Poet. Boston: Branden Books, 1983.

Hughes, Jannette. "How to Help Kids Innovate from an Early Age." The Conversation 2017.

Jackson Brown, Freddy, and Duncan Gillard. "The 'Strange Death' of Radical Behaviourism." Psychologist 28 1 (2015): 24-27.

Koltko-Rivera, Mark E. "Rediscovering the Later Version of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: Self-Transcendence and Opportunities for Theory, Research, and Unification." Review of General Psychology 10 4 (2006): 302-17.

Maslow, A. H. "The Farther Reaches of Human Nature." Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 1 1 (1969): 1-9.

---. "Lessons from the Peak-Experiences." Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2 1 (1962): 9-18.

---. Motivation and Personality (2nd Ed.). New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

---. "Toward a Humanistic Biology." American Psychologist 24 8 (1969): 724-35.

Maslow, A.H. "A Theory of Human Motivation." Psychological Review 50 4 (1943): 370-96.

Maslow, Abraham. "Eupsychia—the Good Society." Journal of Humanistic Psychology 1 2 (1961): 1.

Maslow, Abraham H. "Health as Transcendence of Environment." Journal of Humanistic Psychology 1 1 (1961): 1-7.

Sharp, Michael. The Rocket Scientists' Guide to Money and the Economy: Accumulation and Debt. St Albert, Alberta: Lightning Path Press., 2016.

Sosteric, Mike. "Emotional Abuse." The Socjournal September  (2012).

---. "Endowing Mediocrity: Neoliberalism, Information Technology, and the Decline of Radical Pedagogy." Radical Pedagogy 1 1 (1998).

Money Moksha. 2017. Sosteric, Mike.

---. The Science of Ascension: A Neurologically Grounded Theory of Mystical/Spiritual Experience.

---. "Toxic Socialization." Socjourn   (2016).

Sosteric, Mike, Gina Ratkovic, and Mike Gismondi. "The University, Accountability, and Market Discipline in the Late 1990s." The Socjournal June  (1998).


[2] A.H. Maslow, "A Theory of Human Motivation," Psychological Review 50.4 (1943).

[3] Saul McLeod from Simply Psychology suggests, in an article entitled “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” that cognitive needs were developed later “It is important to note that Maslow's five stage model has been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs and later transcendence needs” (McLeod, 2007).

In fact, Maslow introduced the second hierarchy in his 1943 article.

“Once these desires [to know and understand] are accepted for discussion, we see that they too form themselves into a small hierarchy in which the desire to know is prepotent over the desire to understand. All the characteristics of a hierarchy of prepotency that we have described above, seem to hold for this one as well” (A.H. Maslow, 1943).

[4] Maslow, "A Theory of Human Motivation.", A. H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality (2nd Ed.) (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).

[5] Mark E. Koltko-Rivera, "Rediscovering the Later Version of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: Self-Transcendence and Opportunities for Theory, Research, and Unification," Review of General Psychology 10.4 (2006). A. H. Maslow, "Lessons from the Peak-Experiences," Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2.1 (1962), A. H. Maslow, "Toward a Humanistic Biology," American Psychologist 24.8 (1969), A. H. Maslow, "The Farther Reaches of Human Nature," Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 1.1 (1969).  

[6] We would make two slight modifications to this basic hierarchy. We would add the human need for power alongside the human need for self-esteem, and we would reconceptualize transcendence as simply connection, discussing connection in terms of consciousness quotient (CQ), connection events, etc. Mike Sosteric, The Science of Ascension: A Neurologically Grounded Theory of Mystical/Spiritual Experience.

[7] We define spirituality as the quality of being concerned with connection. See

[8] Maslow, "A Theory of Human Motivation," 385.

[9] Maslow, "A Theory of Human Motivation," 385.

[10] Maslow, "A Theory of Human Motivation," 385.

[11] Way before Maslow, Einstein said that “There is a mystical drive in man [sic] to learn about his [sic] own existence William Hermanns, Einstein and the Poet (Boston: Branden Books, 1983)..

[12] Maslow, Motivation and Personality (2nd Ed.).

[13] Maslow, Motivation and Personality (2nd Ed.).

Maslow is probably talking about Nazi Germany above, but the relevance of his statements to the current global situation is obvious. If true, we can expect the citizens of the United States (citizens who are currently having their need to know and understand thwarted by an administration and corporate-controlled media system that display profound disregard for truth), to experience growing cynicism, rejection of values, disruption of their intimate relationships, and probably increasingly desperate aggression and violence. Anger, and maybe even growing hatred, may be the result. Cleary, the hierarchy of truth needs is important and it should not be ignored, by psychology, by therapists or by anybody wanting to know what it means to be human.


[14] Mike Sosteric, Gina Ratkovic and Mike Gismondi, "The University, Accountability, and Market Discipline in the Late 1990s," The Socjournal June (1998), Mike Sosteric, "Endowing Mediocrity: Neoliberalism, Information Technology, and the Decline of Radical Pedagogy," Radical Pedagogy 1.1 (1998)..

[15] Recent research has confirmed Maslow’s early theorization. See the Nature of Things episode, Born to Be Good  (

[16] A right environment, we would say.

[17] Maslow, "A Theory of Human Motivation," 277.: emphasis added

[18] For those familiar with the history of psychology, we actually think humanistic/transpersonal psychology as a whole had unwelcome implications for the status quo, and it was killed as a result. It is notable that there was a time when humanistic and transpersonal perspectives where on the ascendant in psychology. Maslow was involved in founding both the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. It was rising fast, but subsequently stalled and fell out of favor. What happened? It was certainly not simply replaced with something better. In the paper “Why Humanistic Psychology Lost its Power and Influence in American Psychology“, David Elkins suggests it intentionally murdered in order to erase its potential to heal, transform, and empower humans. It is certainly plausible. Colonization of the academy by status quo interests is an ongoing academic issue  Sosteric, "Endowing Mediocrity: Neoliberalism, Information Technology, and the Decline of Radical Pedagogy.".

Tangentially, we find Maslow’s notions of actualizing the self, his notion of needs, and his conceptualization of self-actualization and transcendence akin to Marxist notions of species being, only presented without a political/sociological awareness of social class. Perhaps this is not as odd a juxtaposition as one might first think when we consider both Maslow and Marx concerned themselves with ideas about how to actualize full human/spiritual potentially and attain [planetary] utopia  Abraham Maslow, "Eupsychia—the Good Society," Journal of Humanistic Psychology 1.2 (1961).

[19]  Jean Anyon, "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work," Journal of Education 162.1 (1980).

[20]  Freddy Jackson Brown and Duncan Gillard, "The 'Strange Death' of Radical Behaviourism," Psychologist 28.1 (2015).

[21]  Anyon, "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work."

[22]  Mike Sosteric, "Toxic Socialization," Socjourn  (2016).

[23] Mike Sosteric, "Emotional Abuse," The Socjournal September (2012).

[24]  Michael Sharp, The Rocket Scientists' Guide to Money and the Economy: Accumulation and Debt. (St Albert, Alberta: Lightning Path Press., 2016).

[25] See the video short Money Moksha at  Money Moksha, dir. Mike Sosteric, 2017.

[26] Sosteric, "Toxic Socialization."

[27] Maslow, "A Theory of Human Motivation," 381-2.

[28]  Koltko-Rivera, "Rediscovering the Later Version of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: Self-Transcendence and Opportunities for Theory, Research, and Unification," 303.

[29]  Abraham H. Maslow, "Health as Transcendence of Environment," Journal of Humanistic Psychology 1.1 (1961): 1-2.



Don’t Tread on Me: Ideas, Images, and the Incredible Power of the Human Mind

[et_pb_section bb_built=”1″ fullwidth=”on” specialty=”off”][et_pb_fullwidth_image _builder_version=”3.0.65″ src=”” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” border_style=”solid” animation=”left” /][/et_pb_section][et_pb_section bb_built=”1″][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.65″ background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” border_style=”solid”]

Did you know, the same glass of wine “tastes better” if you pay more for it. Using MRI technology, researchers at the University of Bonn demonstrated that subjects perceived an identical drop of wine to be of better quality if they were told it cost more! Researchers call this the “Marketing Placebo Effect,” and it has been demonstrated consistently over the years.

The scientifically demonstrable fact that our expectations effect our perceptions is a fascinating phenomenon that is almost certainly not confined to the taste of wine, or marketing. It may effect our perception of reality.  That is, our expectations about what we find in the world may impact what we actually perceive to exist, and how we act in the world. This “Reality Placebo Effect” likely impacts our self perceptions, our social perceptions, our social class perceptions, etc.

A personal anecdote brings the implications and power of this home. When my daughter was four she, like many children, had a speech delay. She went to see a speech pathologist, but after coming home, I could see something was wrong. Her performance at school dropped and she began to struggle with even simple intellectual tasks. Suspecting something had happened, I invited the speech pathologist over to my home for their next session so I could observe their interaction. What I saw horrified me; the speech path, through subtle gestures and negative facial expressions, was making my daughter feel stupid. I immediately fired the speech pathologist, but the damage was done. My four year old daughter, psychologically and emotionally undeveloped and completely at the mercy of this speech pathologist who was pouring her expectations into my daughter’s consciousness, absorbed the speech pathologist’s negative evaluation, with academically and emotionally disastrous results.

My daughter only saw the speech pathologist twice, one in private and once with me. but I struggled to repair the damage for over a decade , not only with her, constantly trying to bolster her self esteem, but also with her teachers, who drew remarkably inappropriate conclusions from the observations they were making. I vividly remember arguing with her grade one teacher about the cause of her spelling difficulties. Out of a list of ten words that we studied at home, she could never get more than one or two right on the exam at school. This despite the fact that she demonstrated perfect retention at home. The teacher tried to tell me this was ADD or some other kind of organic difficulty. I told her she had test anxiety because a former “teacher figure” had made her feel stupid. Now, because of that, she didn’t want to say anything or respond to anything out of fear of having some authority figure make her feel bad about herself by making some dirty face or dismissive comment.

Of course, the teacher didn’t believe me at first. Why should she? After all, I was just a typical parent, biased about my daughter and oblivious to the reality. However I persisted and after a considerable effort arguing with the teacher, she finally changed her strategy with my daughter. Instead of giving my daughter regular spelling tests, she gave her simpler word recognition tests. My daughter could easy recognize the words, she felt confident, and so she wasn’t afraid to respond. Not surprising, to me anyway, she got them all right. I still remember her grade one teacher expressing surprise that my daughter was in fact “processing information,” and didn’t have some kind of organic deficit. Long story short, the teacher administered word recognition tests for three more weeks after which she returned to administering regular class spelling tests. My daughter’s confidence in her self improved as a result and she began immediately to perform above average on regular spelling tests. This wasn’t the end of it, of course. The damage was done in an instant, but it took many more years to completely repair what a single unaware professional wrought in a single “therapeutic” session.

My daughter, who is now home schooled because I eventually got tired of all the abuse she was experiencing at school (that’s another story), is now a thriving artist who loves social sciences and art.  But like I said, it was a lot of work. I worked constantly and diligently in close quarters with my children to undo the damage done to them at school.

The take away from this is simple and self-evident I feel. It is not only that our expectations impact how we perceive the quality of wine, our expectations, about our self and others, have profound, long term, potentially devastating consequences on our perception of self and reality, our experiences of that reality, our actions in that reality, how others see and treat us, and the sort of life that we develop as a result. My daughter developed performance anxieties which impacted her ability to act/perform. Teachers assumed (probably because of their own expectations), ADD or other organic deficits. The interaction of expectations (both of self and others) thus feed the growth of a pathological reality. Had I not stepped in, fired the speech pathologist, and fought with her teachers, who knows where my daughter would be now. I suspect the reality that she and others would have constructed for herself, based on expectations and self-perceptions implanted in her by the speech pathologist first, and her teacher’s later “confirmations,” would be quite different. I am almost certain that without extended, long term, costly, intervention she would not be the intelligent, self-aware, confident, compassionate, planet loving vegan that she is today. Of course, society is not set up to pay for the damages caused by events such as these, and so I personally absorbed the cost of all this in time and effort; nevertheless, it is worthwhile thinking about the costs to society, like lost productivity, expanded medical costs, expanding policing costs, etc., of such “toxic socialization” events (Sosteric, 2016). A single negative interaction can potentially cost society, the medical system, and even organizations, tens of thousands of dollars in actual physical/psychological disabilities, and in ephemerous and hard to track lost potential. This is not a little thing.

The morals of the story are equally self-evident, I feel. On a personal level, examine your expectations about yourself and the things around you. Isolate the source of these expectations. Pay attention to what others think of you. Be aware of the profound power of the human mind, as expressed in the “placebo effect.” Fight their negative evaluations. Be aware of the “Reality Placebo Effect.” Even a single dirty look, or a single off hand negative comment, can have consequences that ripple throughout your reality, and your life.  And of course remember, it is not just about you. Your interactions with others, your perceptions of their “intelligence” or whatever have, even expressed subtly and indirectly, an impact on their expectations, which in turn has an impact on their perception, their actions, and, over the course of many years, their reality. I personally don’t believe in the “butterfly effect” when it comes to weather (a butterfly that flaps its wings in Athabasca can have an impact on weather in China), but it may be a thing when it comes to the human mind and its powerful effects on reality. If the anecdotal example from my own life is any indication, a single toxic butterfly can, through the rippling effect of expectation, action, and interaction, destroy a person’s life.

Moving forward, this is something to think about, not only in our own lives and for own sake and the sake of our children, but also in our interactions with colleagues, students, and the rest of the world outside. Be careful about the expectations you lay on yourself and others. Be positive and affirming in your interactions with others always; especially if you have power over them, because your ideas, images, and expectations will make a world of difference in the life of somebody know. (Sosteric, 2012).

Further Reading

Sosteric, M. (2012). The emotional abuse of our children: Teachers, schools, and the sanctioned violence of our modern institutions. The Socjourn, March.

Sosteric, M. (2016). Toxic Socialization. Socjourn.


Did you Know? Mysticism and Religious Experience

Did you know, famous American psychologist Abraham Maslow thought that mystical experience was the authentic core of all religion and spirituality. Maslow thought that all religions, all spiritualities, and all spiritual sensibility was rooted in a mystic’s experience. Maslow said:

The very beginning, the intrinsic core, the essence, the universal nucleus of every known high religion… has been the private, lonely, personal illumination, revelation, or ecstasy of some acutely sensitive prophet or seer. The high religions call themselves revealed religions and each of them tends to rest its validity, its function, and its right to exist on the codification and the communication of this original mystic experience or revelation from the lonely prophet to the mass of human beings in general (Maslow, 2012, p. 339. emphasis added)

Interestingly enough, Maslow was not the only one to consider mystical/religious experience important. The famous American psychologist William James said, “all major religious and spiritual traditions are built on the mystical experience of specialized pattern-setters” (James, 1982, p. 6). Even Einstein believed in mystical experience. Not only did Einstein admit to having mystical experiences (Hermanns, 1930), he also believed that encouraging mystical experience was the single most important thing that artists and scientists could do for the world (Sosteric, 2016). I have to agree with Maslow and a few others. Mystical experience, whether that is expressed as “enlightenment” by the Buddha, the descent of Light/God (symbolized as a dove) by Christ, or the attainment of Moksha in Hinduism, is the root of all religion. Let me repeat, mystical experience is the root of all religion. From Catholicism to Buddhism, Theosophy to the New Age, it is all based on a mystical connection to what I would call the Fabric of Consciousness. But, what is mystical experience, how does one have one, and what happens when you do? These are fascinating questions that psychology, and more recently neuroscience, have been trying to answer. Sadly, Sociology, hasn’t even bothered to look. But it is high time we, and by “we” I mean sociologists, did take a closer look because mystical experience is not just a spiritual, psychological, or even neuroscientific area of concern, there is also content of deep sociological (and even socialist) interest (Sosteric, 2017, Forthcoming).

It is true, and not without precedent. Max Weber displayed an early interest in mystical experience (Robertson, 1975), it was a sociologist that uncovered Einstein’s spiritual views (Hermanns,  1930), and sociology has had at least one mystic (and now it has two) in the fold. Edward Carpenter, who was a Sociologist[1] and an important early figure in the emergence of socialism (Rowbotham, 1980, 2008), was a mystic. He was a left wing pacifist, an LGBT[2] activist way before his time and, it must be strongly emphasized, the person who coined the term cosmic consciousness! Did you know, it was a sociologist who coined the term Cosmic ConsciousnessCarpenter was not a stupid man or a shill of the ruling classes by any means, yet he was a mystic and he did write about God, consciousness, creation, and the capitalist social disease (E. Carpenter, 1889; Edward Carpenter, 1896; Edward. Carpenter, 1921). And note, the existence of a sociological mystic is not the only sociologically interesting thing here. Mystical experience itself can do weird and sociologically interesting things to people. It can even make members of the ruling classes turn their coats (Sosteric, Forthcoming); surely, that is something worth noting.

I’m not going to go into detail about a fascinating sociology of mysticism here (for that see Sosteric, 2017), I just want to tweak your interest and get you thinking. If you are a college or university student and you want to learn more, I teach an introductory course on the Sociology of Religion (Soci 287 at Athabasca University) that should be transferable to your home institution. If you are a sociological practitioner and your interest is tweaked, I suggest that there’s a lot to learn, and a lot to do. We need to explore definitions of mystical experience, research how prevalent it is in the general population, gauge the impact and outcome of mystical experience from a sociological, psychological, and even neurological perspective, look at the class, status, gender, and ethnic issues that swirl and abound around (Bourque, 1969; Jantzen, 1995; Sosteric, 2017), and otherwise apply our expertise to a fascinating and increasingly relevant phenomenon. Whether or not we believe in the authenticity of mystical experience or not, it is important we do. As Butler (2006) points out, sociologist’s general dismissal of human spirituality has left an intellectual and political vacuum that the reactionary right has been all to willing (and able) to fill out; and fill it out they have, in sometimes remarkably duplicitous and sophisticated ways (Sosteric, 2014). It is no hyperbole to suggest that the survival of the planet may depend on it (Sosteric, forthcoming).

And yes, I know, some of you reading may be challenged by this. I even think that some of you may have fallen of your chairs in surprise and/or disgust, but I’m serious. Despite our “separatist aspirations” (Sosteric, forthcoming), and despite our rejecting of religion as nothing more than elite machination (Berger, 1969: Marx, 1978), cussed stupidity (whose discussion is “beyond the pale” of self-respecting faculty parties (Berger, 1999: 4)), and implausible (Bruce, 2002) and dying superstitious nonsense (Berger, 1968, 1969; Bruce, 2002; Karel Dobbelaere, 1981; K Dobbelaere, 2002), I think it is time for more. I think that in our ill-considered rejection of spirituality and religion we have harmed our discipline and harmed the world. I would even suggest that sociology’s (and also socialism’s) refusal to take a serious look has led us to the precipice of global irrelevancy, or at least hampered our ability to meaningfully contribute. If you think this hyperbolic, consider this. Abraham Maslow made a career of studying mystical experience (what he called peak experiences in an effort to make it more palatable to a secular scientific audience). In his studies Maslow came to believe that everybody had mystical experiences. Maslow said:

In my first investigations … I thought some people had peak-experiences and others did not. But, as I gathered information and as I became more skillful in asking questions, I found that a higher and higher percentage of my subjects began to report peak-experiences…. I finally fell into the habit of expecting everyone to have peak-experiences and of being rather surprised if I ran across somebody who could report none at all. Because of this experience,

I finally began to use the word “non-peaker” to describe, not the person who is unable to have peak-experiences, but rather the person who is afraid of them, who suppresses them, who denies them, who turns away from them, or who “forgets” them (Maslow, 2012, pp. 340-341)

This is remarkable. Everybody has mystical experiences? Could it be true? I believe so (Sosteric, 2014a), but I’ll leave that up to you to decide for yourself. I will note in closing however that Einstein (Sosteric, 2016) and many other scientists (e.g., Wilber, 2001) don’t have a problem with the idea, or even the experience. They also don’t have any problem pointing out just how important it really is.  Indeed, not only did Einstein think that authentic religous experience was an essential feature of human existence, he also thought that awakening religious feeling and keeping it alive and where the most important functions of art and science! It’s true. In his own words:

How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it Albert Einstein[3]

So there you have it. Mysticism and religious experience are ubiquitous and, according to Einstein, the most important thing that, as a scientist and artist, you can be involved in. If you are a sociologist or a student of said discipline, worse, if you are a sociologist who actually makes a study of the “sociology of religion” (which for a long time has been little more than a study of churches) you have to ask yourself, if you ignore or are oblivious to such a ubiquitous and important aspect of human individual and social experience, how relevant can you actually really be?


[1] Routledge is currently “reviving” the important works of Edward Carpenter. See

[2] Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

[3] Albert Einstein, “Religion and Science,” New York Times November 9 1930.


Berger, P. (1968). A Bleak Outlook is Seen for Religion (Vol. April 25): The New York Times.

Berger, P. (1969). The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. New York: Anchor Books.

Bourque, L. B. (1969). Social Correlates of Transcendental Experiences. Sociological Analysis, 30(3), 151-163.

Bruce, S. (2002). God is Dead: Secularization in the West. Oxford: Blackwell.

Butler, J. (2006). Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized. New York: Pluto Press.

Carpenter, E. (1889). Civilization: Its Cause and Cure And Other Essays. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Carpenter, E. (1896). Towards Democracy. New York: Labour Press.

Carpenter, E. (1921). The Art of Creation: Essays on the Self and Its Powers. London: Georbe Allen & Unwin.

Dobbelaere, K. (1981). Trend Report: Secularization: A Multi-Dimensional Concept. Current Sociology, 29(2), 3-153.

Dobbelaere, K. (2002). Secularization: An Analysis at Three Levels. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

James, W. (1982). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature. New York: Penguin.

Jantzen, G. M. (1995). Power, Gender, and Christian Mysticism. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Maslow, A. H. (2012). The “Core-Religious” or “Transcendent” Experience. In J. White (Ed.), The Highest State of Consciousness (pp. 339-350). New York: Doubleday.

Robertson, R. (1975). On the analysis of mysticism : pre-Weberian, Weberian and post-Weberian perspectives. SA. Sociological Analysis, 36(3), 241-266.

Rowbotham, S. (1980). In Search of Edward Carpenter. Radical America, 14(4).

Rowbotham, S. (2008). Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love. New York: Verso.

Sosteric, M. (2017). The Sociology of Mysticism. ISA eSymposium for Sociology.

Sosteric, M. (2016). Einstein’s God. Socjourn

Sosteric, M. (2014). A Sociology of Tarot. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 39(3).

Sosteric, M. (2014a). Everyone Has a Mystical Experience. Sociology of Religion Blog. 

Sosteric, M. (Forthcoming). Dangerous Memories: Slavery, Mysticism, and Transformation. Spirituality Studies.

Wilber, K. (2001). Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists New York: Shambhala.

What is Socialization?


[et_pb_section bb_built=”1″ fullwidth=”on” specialty=”off” next_background_color=”#000000″][et_pb_fullwidth_image _builder_version=”3.4.1″ src=”” /][/et_pb_section][et_pb_section bb_built=”1″ admin_label=”section” _builder_version=”3.4.1″ max_width=”76%” max_width_tablet=”82%” max_width_phone=”97%” max_width_last_edited=”on|tablet” module_alignment=”center” prev_background_color=”#000000″][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_post_title _builder_version=”3.4.1″ meta=”off” featured_image=”off” title_font_size=”41px” title_line_height=”1.2em” custom_margin=”32px|||” text_orientation=”center” title_text_align=”center” box_shadow_style=”preset1″ box_shadow_color=”rgba(21,181,0,0.3)” custom_padding=”32px||32px|” saved_tabs=”all” /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.19.7″]

In Sociology, the concept of socialization is critical. But, “What is socialization?” The authors of one text book define socialization as “a learning process, one that involves development or changes in the individual’s sense of self”, and this is exactly true. Socialization is a learning process. When your parents teach you how to use a toilet or behave politely, when your teachers teach you about your country’s history, when a priest teaches you to behave a certain way (i.e. listen to God’s commandments), you are being socialized. When you are being socialized, you are taking part (willingly or unwillingly) in a learning process.

Now, this definition is fine as far as it goes; unfortunately though, it does not really capture the full importance and significance of socialization, nor does it cover the broad sense of the meaning. Yes, socialization is a learning process and yes we develop a “sense of self” as we are socialized, but socialization is much more than that. If socialization was just a learning process, we could call it education and be done with it. If socialization was only about our “sense of self” we could leave with psychologists and not be bothered ourselves. But socialization is more than just education and it impacts more than just your sense of self. The socialization process you go through is significant and sophisticated and any definition of it should capture that significance.

In order to understand the significance of the socialization process, the first thing you have to understand is that socialization is not a political, socially, or even spiritually neutral process. That is, the things you are a taught and the ways you are to behave are not random. When you are born and the socialization process begins, it is not just about you and your family, it is about the social and political order within which you are born into. In other words, socialization teaches you the social order. And note, it is not voluntary. When the socialization process begins, you don’t have a choice. Whatever society you are born into, whatever the sex of the body you happen to inhabit, you are given no choice about what you will learn. Immediately after you are born, and long before you have the intellectual capacity to understand what it is that is happening to you, the process of imposing the social order begins.

Now, the idea that socialization is about imposing the social order may be a bit uncomfortable to some. Some might want to believe that you are the person you are based totally on some essentialized expression of your inner being or even soul, but that’s not true. You may have an inner identity, and you may have a soul, but whatever these things are, they are refracted through the socialization that you receive. This refraction process impacts, influences, and shapes how you express in and understand the world.

If you resist this notion, if you think that your society is somehow “free” and socialization isn’t imposed, think about a country like Cuba. All of us in the so called free world can agree, in a country like Cuba, the socialization process involves teaching the kids about Communism. In Cuba, socialization involves impressing the social order, which is a communist order, on each new generation. In Cuba, kids are taught about the superiority of communism, the benefits of communism, and the problems caused by Capitalism. Most westerners, even if they know nothing about it, would hardly call the Cuban socialization process neutral, and would hardly disagree with the notion that the communist social order is imposed via the socialization process. There is nothing particularly challenging about this. The only issue is that we in the West might like to think that we aren’t socialized in the same fashion. We live in a “free” country after all and we are capable of making choices that Cuban’s have, historically, been unable to make. Our socialization is different, we might like to think. We are “free,” we like to think. But really, it is not, and we are not. Just like Cuban’s are socialized into a communist social order, we in the West are also socialized into a Capitalist social order. Just like Cuban children, from the very moment we are born we are socialized into that order. And note, just like in Cuba, we have no choice. In our society, everything from our gender to our education, to our work choices to the way we buy our food and save our money is framed within a capitalist social order. This we cannot deny.

If we accept that socialization is about imposing upon you the social order then we can refine our definition of socialization and say that socialization is the process by which the social order is involuntarily and (if necessary) coercively transferred onto a person, beginning as a newborn baby. Socialization is the process by which the social order is involuntarily and (if necessary) coercively transferred onto a person, beginning as a newborn baby

If you think about it, that’s big and it takes the definition of socialization way beyond the notion of your own sense of self. Saying that socialization is about imposing the social order makes it something that is much more interesting to sociologists, and much more defining of who you are. Just how defining it is hard to communicate in an introduction like this, because few of us are trained to actually see the process. We don’t see just how defining it is because a) we live in it like a fish in a bowl lives in water and b) few (besides sociologists) ever speak explicitly or critically about the socialization process. Your parents don’t tell you they are imposing the social order on you, probably because they don’t realize they are doing it. Teachers don’t speak explicitly about their job of imposing the social order, even if they are aware of it, because if they did parents might object. Similarly, governments, who tell teachers what they are to teach in school, don’t admit it either, because if they did then you’d question the curriculum more than you do. It is just not something that we talk openly about. Like God handing down the Ten Commandments to Moses, we are expected to accept our socialization, internalize it, and find some way to fit in. In this context, socialization becomes the process of moulding and forming us into shapes suitable and acceptable to society. For a sociologist like me, socialization is the manufacturing process and we are the mass0produced manikins. We are well designed, sufficiently shaped, appropriately manicured, parts. We are a product of the socialization process and we are fitted into the social/productive machine just like any part in any machine would be. We are a product of a process; we are a part in a machine. What part we play, and how our part is shaped, is entirely dependent on the socialization process. If you were raised in Cuba, or Iran, or Russia, or even France, you would be shaped entirely differently and your “identity” would be different as a result.

Since this may be your first introduction to sociology, you may have a hard time accepting the idea that you are shaped and moulded by a process of socialization in the same way a product is shaped and moulded. We are taught from birth that we have our own personalities with individual likes and dislikes. We are taught that we are unique expressions in the world, that we are a unique constellation of individual genetics, or an expression of some inner “I” that is me (a soul if you like). We like to think this, so the notion that we are shaped and moulded may be anathema to our sense of self. Unfortunately, it is true. We are shaped by the socialization process and while we remain uncritical and unaware, who we are is entirely dependent on what we’ve been taught as part of the socialization process you went through.

Here is how it works.

The process of imposing the social order starts at birth. Socialization is initiated when Agents of Socialization, like the doctors, the nurses, and your parents, quickly divide you, the baby, into the two broad categories of human being, “male” and “female.” The groups are immediately distinguished from each other and assigned different roles and a different status. Members of one group, the girls, are immediately and without ceremony given pink blankets; members of the other group, the boys, are given blue blankets. The blanket assignment is symbolic and highly significant and represents the assignment of gender roles. Boys are assigned specific roles (they are the “rulers” and the “breadwinners”) and a higher status, generally.1 Girls are also assigned roles (mother, nurturer, chattel, etc.) and, usually, a lower status. At birth, you are immediately assigned to two specific social groupings, and this assignment has serious and lifetime consequences; thus does your socialization begin.

The socialization process starts at birth, in the hospital, but it continues in the home where parents become responsible for training the children in the ways of their gender (first) and (later) social class. Following the initial segregation (which continues on throughout the lifespan of the individual), the “boy” and the “girl” group are treated differently, and different expectations are layered upon them. Parents are a powerful force for gender socialization; they generally talk to, treat, and even cuddle their children differently based on gender. Not only that, they train them to do different things based solely on their assigned gender. Boys are traditionally trained to be “breadwinners” while girls are primed for their reproductive and domestic roles. As documented over and over and again by sociologists, each group has a markedly different life path and although in recent decades there has been a “loosening” of the socialized gender roles in some societies (the rise of transgender populations, individuals stepping outside of their socialized roles, stay at home dads, moms in the workforce, etc.), nevertheless, the majority of women still bear children and are primarily responsible for raising them, while the vast majority of men spend their pre-retirement life time in productive labour. It is interesting, however, that even when women go out into the workforce, they are often also expected to be the primary caregivers for the children as well. Many women thus work what sociologists call a double day (one work-day at their job, one work-day at their home) in order to meet their financial, maternal, and marital obligations.

Be that as it may, you should know, gender is not the only thing that is socialized (i.e. imposed) on us by our parents. At birth, parents also begin the process of labour force socialization and, subsequently, reinforce the efforts of the school system to fit people into their appropriate work-place boxes. Like there is differential gender socialization, there is also differential class socialization. For example, working-class children are taught the value of punctuality and industriousness as well as the routines of the labour force. Middle-class individuals are taught the value of long work hours and competitive excellence. In the middle-class area where I live, parents place much emphasis on training their kids to work from morning until night. They put them in multiple activities throughout the week, encourage constant study, and expose them to activities that reward competition and success while punishing those who are lazy or who lose. By contrast, upper-class individuals are taught different things. They are taught creativity, free thinking, and a powerful ethic of superiority over the masses).

As noted, parents are not the only ones to impose a labour-force order on their children. At approximately the age of five, children enter schools where teachers begin a twelve-step process of education (i.e., they begin enforcing the social order). Once again, the type of socialization each child receives depends in large measure on his or her social class. Jean Anyon’s study “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work” (Anyon 1980) clearly documents differential socialization. Training for working-class, middle-class, and elite kids is primarily designed to fit them into their respective productive roles (factory workers, middle-class information workers and managers, elite CEOs) that their “birth place” leads them to. working-class children are aimed at factories and manual labour and the education they get in school reflects this. working-class children are not taught to think! They are taught to follow rules and procedures and little else. As Anyon writes:

The procedure is usually mechanical, involving rote behaviour and very little decision making or choice. The teachers rarely explain why the work is being assigned, how it might connect to other assignments, or what the idea is that lies behind the procedure or gives it coherence and perhaps meaning or significance. Available textbooks are not always used, and the teachers often prepare their own dittos or put work examples on the board. Most of the rules regarding work are designations of what the children are to do; the rules are steps to follow. These steps are told to the children by the teachers and are often written on the board. The children are usually told to copy the steps as notes. These notes are to be studied. Work is often evaluated not according to whether it is right or wrong but according to whether the children followed the right steps (Anyon 1980).

By contrast, children from elite families are aimed at positions of power and corporate responsibility. They are trained to be the “leaders” and decision makers and their education reflects exactly their future position in the labour force. As Anyon writes,

In the executive elite school, work is developing one’s analytical intellectual powers. Children are continually asked to reason through a problem, to produce intellectual products that are both logically sound and of top academic quality. A primary goal of thought is to conceptualize rules by which elements may fit together in systems and then to apply these rules in solving a problem. Schoolwork helps one to achieve, to excel, to prepare for life….While right answers are important in math, they are not ‘given’ by the book or by the teacher but may be challenged by the children. Going over some problems in late September the teacher says, ‘Raise your hand if you do not agree.’ A child says, “I don’t agree with sixty-four.” The teacher responds, ‘OK, there’s a question about sixty-four. [to class] Please check it. Owen, they’re disagreeing with you. Kristen, they’re checking yours.’ The teacher emphasized this repeatedly during September and October with statements like ‘Don’t be afraid to say you disagree. In the last [math] class, somebody disagreed, and they were right. Before you disagree, check yours, and if you still think we’re wrong, then we’ll check it out.’ By Thanksgiving, the children did not often speak in terms of right and wrong math problems but of whether they agreed with the answer that had been given.”

In sharp contrast to the type of training working-class kids get, elite children are taught to think their own thoughts, express their own opinions, and to even be comfortable disagreeing with each other and the authority figure in the room. Elite kids are trained to be leaders and executives from the day they step into the classroom, while the working-class kids are intellectually oppressed, even dumbed down so that they will comfortably, and without resistance and objection, fit into the productive roles their social class affords them.

The differential training/socialization that the different social classes get is called the Hidden Curriculum. The curriculum is called hidden because most people are unaware it is there, and those that are aware won’t admit that it is. The curriculum is hidden from students, parents, and teachers primarily because if wasn’t, people would object. No parent is going to willingly agree to have their children dumbed down just so they can fit into the productive system of society, and few teachers would willingly oppress the children they teach just to fit them into a factory mould. It also follows that the children themselves would object as well if they knew what is was the teachers were doing. Of course, they wouldn’t object as children because children do not have the intellectual capacity to understand what is happening to them, but as adults looking back I can see that people might be a little pissed. I went to a working-class school for example and I am angry when I think how my ability to think and be creative was suppressed at an early age. Fortunately, I did overcome this repression; but not everybody does. Many working-class children suffer under the yoke of their repressive education for an entire lifetime without ever realizing they have been oppressed, and without ever taking the steps to develop latent potentialities repressed by their childhood training.

Notably, at school, teachers do not do it alone; after a certain age, the children themselves begin to enforce the social order, i.e. socialize each other! Around the age of five or six, children internalize and begin enforcing gender and class expectations by, for example, tittering, laughing, and sanctioning those individuals who step out of their narrow and prescriptive gender and class boxes, or by telling on their peers when their peers don’t follow the rules.

The socialization process at school goes on for twelve or so years, after which the successful socialization of the individual is marked by a graduation ritual in which the newly minted “members of society” pass into the adult world where they will take on their productive roles (in the case of men) or reproductive roles (in the case of women). But it is not over yet. After graduation from High School, the socialization process continues, taken over by the media and by specific “organizations of socialization” like the Freemasons, the local chapter of the Better Business Bureau, trade unions, churches, Universities, or whatever. These organizations impose and reinforce specific world views and specific patterns of behaviour and thought on the adult population just like parents and teachers did. The media is a fascinating example of this. Sociologists who study mass media tell us that the media is a powerful agent of socialization, and that is certainly true. The media socializes us just like the Church, our schools, and our parents. If you doubt this, consider modern media liturgies like Star Wars. Star wars is really nothing more than a secular version of the Catholic story of good versus level, with Disney like production values. As I point out in my article “Star Wars is a Religion,” this story also socializes us in a specific way—that is, it socializes us to accept war and violence (Sosteric 2018).

Now, although the details of the socialization process are interesting, the important point for us is that socialization guarantees the replication of the social order from generation to generation. Each new baby that enters society is taught, by the agents of socialization, how to think, act, and behave in accordance with the expectations (gender, social class) of the society within which it lives.

At this point, I’d like to revisit the definition of socialization that I provided earlier. Remember, I said that socialization is the process by which the social order is involuntarily and (if necessary) coercively transferred onto a person, beginning as a newborn baby. You may have initially objected to the definition of socialization as involuntary, and you may have balked at the statement that values that support the productive systems of society are imposed, but in reality, socialization is involuntary, generally non-negotiable, and powerfully imposed. Nobody asks you whether you want to be a boy or a girl, whether you want to go to school, or learn math or reading or writing, or whether or not you want to labour away for forty years in a factory or office, bear children, or whatever. It is merely expected of you and you are punished and sanctioned if you do not comply. They make you into a boy or a girl and they shape you so you fit the social class mould you were born into. They make you go to school and learn what the government thinks you should learn:2if you choose not to, socialization is enforced. Parents cannot simply keep their children out of school. If they do, truancy laws will be enforced. Similarly, a boy or girl who does not conform to gender expectations will be ridiculed, taunted, and, as is demonstrated in the film Two Spirits, sometimes beaten to death.3 Anyone who steps outside social expectations will become the victim of ascending social sanctions (i.e., the social sanctions will become more severe the longer the violations occur, or the more serious they are). This is the way it is.

A question that we might ask at this point is whether the imposition of role, identity, and culture (i.e. the imposition of social order) is good or bad. That depends on your perspective (which might depend in turn on how well socialized you are). If you are spiritually inclined, chances are you would agree this is good and necessary. You might think this way because you have been socialized to think that we (and by “we” I mean incarnated humans) are born with something called “original sin,” that we can’t follow the rules, that deep inside we have this potential evil, and therefore rules, guidelines, and commandments must be imposed and enforced, otherwise we might cave to the evil inside. Even if you are not spiritually inclined, even if you have a scientific bent, you would probably still agree it is necessary. Sigmund Freud, who based his psychology on the premise that society engages in a sophisticated process of repression of primitive and aggressive sexual and instinctual energies would say, “Yes, it is good.” He would say that if society did not repress your instincts, if it did not channel your primitive and instinctual energies (your Id, as he called it) into socially acceptable outlets, all hell and chaos would break loose (Freud 1961). His is a common perception based on a notion of Darwinian ascent from savagery. Freud carries the idea that an underlying substructure of human irrationality has survived this ascent from apes. That is, under our social facade, primitive, sexual lunatics. According to Freud, without the repressive and controlling factor of socialization, our primitive instincts would boil to the surface and this would quickly lead to anarchy and chaos. For Freud, repressive socialization is necessary because at core we are violent apes.4

Of course, many people wouldn’t think about socialization in these terms, or wouldn’t go so far as to justify repressive socialization by reference to questionable theories of instinctual madness. Still, most people, except maybe the anarchists5 (and interestingly even they would have to socialize their children) would come down in favour of some form of socialization process. The reproduction of culture, the passing on of knowledge, even our collective survival depends on the generation-to-generation reproduction of society. Socialization is what makes the world (and the world order) go around. Babies are born into this world totally helpless and if we didn’t pass on culture to them, they’d die and eventually society would wink out of existence. Putting aside questionable assumptions of human nature, we still need a socialization process. If we didn’t socialize and train our children, if we didn’t pass on knowledge and wisdom of older generations, we’d have to rebuild everything anew every generation. If we had to do that, only the simplest of social orders would be possible. So there is definitely an argument to be made in favour of the socialization process. Socialization is quite literally the core process that enables us, as humans, to be humans.

Nevertheless, despite our need of a socialization process, we must not forget that the social order does not exist sui generis. It emerges out of the actions of individuals; it is imposed on us; it is not always operated with the best of intentions (e.g. social class socialization primarily benefits the higher social classes because it trains compliant workers); it is often quite repressive; and, finally, there may be other ways of doings things outside of what is commonly accepted as “normal” social practice. In other words, we do have a right to question the social order, we do have a right to question society’s expectations, and we do have a right to alter and change socialization practices. And, it would seem, more and more people are doing that. Ever since the 1960s’, each new generation has questioned and whittled away at the box provided. A little more of the “traditional” way of doing things has gone away. And that is probably a good thing because the traditional socialization process is, as I point out, a toxic socialization process. The truth is, humans are not tabula rasa: We are not blank slates. We come into this world as individuals and a socialization process that imposes gender and social class for the purposes of “fitting you in” to a system violates that individuality by attempting to fit you into predesigned roles, without your permission or awareness. This forced fitting in requires violence (for example boys are belittled, shamed, and sometimes physically abused for not acting like boys, girls the same), and that violence, as I detail in the article Toxic Socialization (Sosteric 2016), has serious and costly mental health implications.6 Forced toxic socialization makes you sick and unhappy.

Of course, the world we live in now is nowhere near as rigid and authoritarian as it once was, at least in some places. Change is possible, even probable, but only if we understand and only if we question. Hopefully at this point you understand what socialization is and hopefully you are questioning whether it is appropriate and healthy. If so, that’s great; welcome to sociology and the study of society.

We do have a right to question the social order, we do have a right to question society’s expectations, and we do have a right to alter and change socialization practices

To summarize, socialization is the process by which the social order is involuntarily and (if necessary) coercively transferred onto a person, beginning as a newborn baby. It is the process by which the rules and expectations, the identities and behaviours that are seen as appropriate to the social order, are transferred from generation to generation. Socialization helps maintain a social order (be that Capitalist, Communist, or something else) and it ensures the reproduction of society. In the reproduction of society, socialization is a necessary process, though we should remember that it is possible (and often even desirable) to question and change the social order, especially when it is violent and toxic. In the final analysis it is important we remember that our actions create and re-create society. The socialization process is a perfect example of this because it is in the actions of the agents of socialization (parents, the media, our schools, peer groups, even ourselves) that the social world is re-created from generation to generation. Socialization is the core process by which society is re-created. If we wish to change society, the first place we must start is with the socialization process itself.

Additional Reading by Yours Truly


Anyon, Jean. 1980. “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” Journal of Education 162 (1).

Aspinall, Georgia. 2018. “Here Are The Countries Where It’s Still Really Difficult For Women To Vote | Grazia.” Grazia. 2018.

Freud, Sigmund. 1961. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton.

Loye, David. 2018. Rediscovering Darwin: The Rest of Darwin’s Theory and Why We Need It Today. Romanes Press.

Sosteric, Mike. 2016. “Toxic Socialization.” Socjourn.

———. 2018. “Star Wars Is a Religion That Primes Us for War and Violence.” The Conversation, 2018.

1In some societies, girls enjoy higher status and a more varied collection of roles. In some societies, girls can even hold positions of power and authority. This is not so in all societies. In some societies, girls and women are little more than chattel to be possessed and controlled. A good overview of the situation is provided by Georgia Aspinall (Aspinall 2018)

2 In Canada, curriculum is set and enforced at the provincial government level.

3 See the film, Two Spirits.

4 As a side note, both the Church, Darwin, and Freud are WRONG. In fact, the peculiar and negative view of human nature is being increasingly challenged by more careful readings of Darwin’s original work which demonstrate that compeition and “survival of the fittest” where only minor aspects of Darwinian theory (Loye 2018) and research which shows that contra to what most people thing, infants have highly evolved ethical sensibility. See for example the CBC Documentary, Born to be Good.

5 Also, for a particularly interesting take on Darwin and just how unimportant



What Causes Poverty

Greetings and welcome! Today we are going to learn a little bit about poverty. We’ll start our discussion of poverty by looking at some of the facts about poverty. First of all, we have to understand that poverty is a serious individual and social problem. The fact is, you do not want to be cash poor on this world because being poor is a bad thing. It’s remarkable, and possibly hard to believe for some, but there is nothing salutatory about poverty. Poverty causes nothing but hardship and struggle for the people. Children who grow up in poverty have poor health, poor hygiene, poor diet, poor housing, lousy experiences at school (as evinced by higher absenteeism and lower scholastic achievement), more behavioural and mental problems, and long term employment difficulties (Silver, 2012). Adults who are poor have the same difficulties as their children, getting sicker more often, being unemployed for longer periods, taking more time off work, living shorter lives, and so on (Silver, 2012). There is no doubt about it, being poor is a liability: it causes disability, disease, and even death.

Why do the poor have such problems with life? There are lots of different reasons for that. One reason is that lack of money means inability to buy healthy food. As anybody who has ever looked at the organic section of a supermarket knows, it costs money to eat healthy. If you do not have money to buy healthy and nutritious foods, you have to buy cheap and processed foods. Beyond a mere consideration of cash, time is also an issue. It takes time to eat healthy, exercise, and stay healthy. A person who is poor, for example a single parent mother of two children who has to work two or three low paying, benefit-less jobs to make ends meet, does not have time to cook healthy meals. It takes a good hour to make a healthy meal (not including the time to shop and clean up), but you can throw together a pasta with sugary, salty, canned sauce in about ten minutes.

Another reason why the poor aren’t as healthy as the rich is stress. As modern medical science is more and more becoming aware of, stress harms the physical body (the physical unit as I would say). Unfortunately for the poor, the poor always live under conditions of high stress. Worrying about bills and rent causes stress, that’s for sure, but it is worse than even that. The poor often live in neighbourhoods where there is violence, go to overcrowded schools where they are bullied and neglected, and put up with forms of racism, classicism, and sexism that undermines their well being and cause chronic levels of anguish. There is no doubt about it, it is not fun being poor on this planet.

It is hardly arguable that being poor is a liability for the poor. It hurts adults, it hurts kids, and it lowers one’s quality of life. When we hear these facts the question always arises in our minds, “Why do poor people exist?” The common answer that usually arises in response to that question is that the poor are there because of something they did. Most people would think that the poor are uneducated, lazy, or flawed in some way. Most would think that the poor simply can’t compete, or that they lack in talent and strength. It’s tempting to think this way, especially if you have no sociological background. However, thinking that the poor are poor because of something they did is absurd. There is no logic or common sense to it. For example, and at the most obvious level, people are born poor. People are born into poor families, in poor ghettos, in poor communities, and in poor countries and thus become poor simply by virtue of being born into a special social class or demographic category. And once you’re born poor into poverty, it is hard to get out. There is what we sociologists call the Burden of Poverty. The burden of poverty is a set of interrelated problems, like high stress, racism, classism, addiction, depression, violence, and even poor cognitive functioning caused by stress (Haushofer & Fehr, 2014; Mani, Mullainathan, Shafir, & Zhao, 2013), that makes it difficult for individuals to get out of the hole they are born into. The burden the poor face is heavy, like a ton of rocks weighing them down.

It is obviously absurd to blame individuals born in poverty for their poverty, but even people who become poor during the course of their lives cannot be blamed. Evidence of this comes from the fact that the number of people who experience poverty changes over time, and also from the fact that countries around the globe have wildly different rates of poverty. Consider North America, for example. The number of people experiencing poverty has changed in the past twenty years. In the last twenty years we’ve seen soaring corporate profits, ballooning CEO salaries, and a growing reliance on food banks (food bank use has doubled in Canada since 1989). In the past two decades the wealth gap between the rich and poor has been growing wider and wider, especially in the U.S.A and Canada. This growing gap has prompted Warren Buffet, one of the richest men on the plant, to suggest that the rich were winning the “class war” (Stein, 2006). The gap has also prompted Piketty (2014) to call our current age the new gilded age. Unless you want to make the argument that more and more people are becoming lazy and stupid over time, blaming the individual is not a sensible position. The rich are getting richer and the poor are growing in numbers (and getting poorer) because something else besides individual laziness or failure is going on.

The fact that the poor don’t cause their poverty should be driven home by considering that poverty rates differ by country, even when those countries are highly developed and industrialized. If you live in Finland or the Netherlands, for example, you are much less likely to be poor than if you live in Canada or the USA (Fisher, 2013). Once again, unless you want to argue that your fellow Canadian citizens are lazier than your Finish or Nordic compatriot’s, something that would be clearly absurd, you just can’t blame the individual for their experience of poverty.

If you can’t trace poverty to human laziness or individual failings, where can you trace it? At the most abstract level you can blame poverty on human action, or inaction as the case may be. As the text points out (Silver, 2012), the single biggest predictor of poverty is lack of available work. That is, it is the lack of work, or the absence of well-paid work, that causes poverty. When people don’t have jobs, when the jobs people have don’t pay them enough, then you get poverty. There are in fact very few cases where mental illness, physical disability, or other individual factors prevent people from being productive members of society.

So if lack of work is the cause of poverty, what causes lack of work? Again, that’s human action. For example, if the Ford motor company closes down a factory in North America and moves its jobs to a developing nation where they can pay the workers less, it is the Ford motor company, or rather the executive management of the Ford motor company, that causes the unemployment. You can find all sorts of excuses and justifications for moving the factory, for example lower wages in another country, better tax conditions, etc. But all the excuses in the world won’t change the fact that it’s an action, in this case the action of a board of executive officers, that causes the unemployment. And note, it is not just the actions of a corporation that can cause unemployment. As McNally (2012) notes, in 2008-9 neo-conservative governments around the world paid out over $20 trillion taxpayer dollars to bail out privately owned banks that had succumbed to the “global economic crises” of 2008. Bailing out banks drains public coffers and, in a complicated web of cause and effect, forces governments to take actions that increase unemployment (McNally, 2012). Of course at this point you know, government actions that increase unemployment, increase poverty.

The bank bailout wasn’t the only thing that happened during the crises that caused an increase in poverty in 2008 and beyond, but by the end of it the World Bank itself estimated that “an additional 64 million people were driven into poverty in 2010 alone” (McNally, 2012, p. 127). And if that number doesn’t cause you a bit of shock, horror, indigestion and maybe even some shame and guilt, you’re not paying close enough attention. Sixty four million is a big number, and poverty is a horrible, awful experience. Poverty is so awful in fact that in the ten or so seconds it is going to take you to read this sentence, two children will die because their parents are too poor to afford the basic necessities of life (Shah, 2011). Two more are going to die as you take the time to digest this fact. And all of that death caused by somebody’s human actions.

Saying that unemployment is caused by the actions of corporations and governments, while technically correct, doesn’t really explain much. Humans are basically born good, and no good person is going to want to make a decision that causes 64 million people to die the slow and horrible death of poverty? So why do they do it? Why does a car company abandon an entire community, and why do governments legislate policies that cause unemployment? Well, that comes down to the pathological desire to accumulate. As I point out in Rocket Scientists Guide to Money and the Economy (Sharp, 2013), ever since money has become the medium for exchanging labour, accumulating labour (a.k.a. Making money, turning a profit, etc.) has become the primary goal of life, and the only God that many people follow. As the former CEO of U.S. Steel famously said, “U.S. Steel is in the business to make profits (i.e. accumulate labour), not to make steel” (McNally, 2012, p. 129: parenthetical expression added). On this world, nothing else is more important, to a few. If Ford can move its factory to another country, and if that country’s government allows them to pay workers less, Ford will move because its goal is to make money, not to make cars, or even employee people. Similarly, Governments take action, impose austerity measures, open up free trade agreements, all to ensure ongoing accumulation, and all these things affect the availability of jobs, and consequently the depth and breadth of poverty. Thus, it is not lack of ingenuity, laziness, or bad luck that causes poverty, it is the pursuit and worship of accumulation that causes poverty.

Of course, saying that our worship of accumulation is behind the actions that create unemployment does not explain how corporations or governments that support accumulation create poverty—and the how of it is quite fascinating. Usury (i.e. lending money at high interest) is a primary mechanism of accumulation. Governments can also institute economic policy that supports accumulation. For example, lowering taxes on corporations and raising them on the middle class, draw cash from the middle and concentrate it at the top. Governments can also impose “austerity” on the poorer people, disadvantaging them by cutting social and economic programs designed to benefit the lower tiers of society (Silver, 2012). And of course, Capitalism itself is an economic system premised on accumulation. The goal of capitalism, the goal of capitalists (as the CEO of U.S. Steel said), is to accumulate capital (i.e. money). That’s what they do. They make a product, sell it for more labour than it is technically worth (Sharp, 2013) (i.e. as much profit as they can get (profit being just a euphemism for accumulation), and go to their graves rich and satisfied.

If you ask me, most of the problems on this Earth are caused by unfettered accumulation. The blind pursuit of accumulation/profit über alles is undermining the social, political, economic, and even natural environment of this planet. We could spend a lot of time focusing on all the pain and hardship, poverty, environmental degradation, biosphere contamination, suffering, and despair caused by unfettered accumulation, but what I want to focus your attention on before closing this commentary is the crises that inevitably occurs when accumulation is the organizing goal of our economic, political and social lives. As I argue in the Rocket Scientists’’ Guide to Money and the Economy, unfettered accumulation, the kind of accumulation that the .01 percent prefer, inevitably leads to depressed wages, economic starvation, recession, depression, global crises, ideology, hardship, and perpetual war (à la Orwell’s 1984). Put another way, accumulation damages the economy, life, and the Earth. The process is caused by the way accumulation drives production to insane levels while it gradually starves the economy of its very life blood, money (Sharp, 2013). It is a truism that the rich just get richer, and as they do the economy and (as we all can see) the planet slowly dies.

The process has been going on since the great depression (which was itself caused by unfettered accumulation) and although there are lots of “stop gap” measures that the PTB can take, like for example creating debt, government spending, or imposing austerity measures, the crises inevitably deepens (i.e. get worse) an accelerates (i.e. come faster and faster). The inevitable result is a total and uncontrollable economic collapse that not even the rich and powerful can stop. It hasn’t happened yet, but it is getting closer and closer. In fact in 2008 the planet came pretty close to global economic meltdown. Just how bad the previous global financial crises was is clearly demonstrated by the response of the über rich who were, by their own account “shocked” and “scared” by their lack of control over the situation.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson confided to his wife on September 14, 2008 I am really scared. Small wonder: that day the century-old Lehman Brothers investment bank was disintegrating, sending shockwaves through global credit markets. Lehman officially collapsed the next day, followed twenty-four hours later, by AIG, the worlds largest insurance company. Before the month was out Washington Mutual would melt down, registering the biggest bank failure in U.S. history. Then Americas fourth largest bank, Wachovia, went on life support. A wave of European bank collapses rapidly followed (McNally, 2012, p. 127).

Of course, if you’re a junky of the main stream media, you may be forgiven for thinking that the big crises has been averted and its business as usual once again, but you’d be wrong. Even a single measure of economic hardship like the number of homeless children in the US, which in 2011 was at its highest rate since 1983 (“Homeless children at record high in US. Can the trend be reversed?,” 2011), tells a different story. The strongest statement of impending global catastrophe is the growing concentration of wealth, and the increasingly stark and obvious crises that even developed countries like Greece are starting to go through. As Dr. Singh (2015) points out:

The top 1% will soon own more than 50% of the world’s wealth.

The top 1% are accumulating all the wealth. And that is a problem. Accumulation is sucking the global economy dry and no amount of debt expansion, wealth, generation, or austerity imposition is going to solve the problem. And since nothing has really changed since 2008, we can expect things to get worse, at least for the majority. The über rich will do just fine. Indeed, despite a little blip in their fortunes, the rich are doing “very well”. In the year following the recession (2010), and according to the Sunday Times Rich List survey, “the collective wealth of Britain’s 1,000 most affluent people rose by 30 per cent…the largest in the poll’s 22-year history” (“The rich get even richer,” 2010). But if accumulation continues unchecked, everybody else is not going to do so fine. If nothing changes then accumulation may eventually lead to increasingly catastrophic economic collapse, and increasingly pervasive hardship (64 million new poor people is really just a drop in the bucket). At the point where economic collapse becomes global, volatility and violence in the form of food riots (or worse) becomes increasingly likely (McNally, 2012). In some places in the world it could look a lot like the French Revolution, with the poor banging their plough shares into swords, and the rich using their access to the police and military apparatus in their own, and other countries, to subvert protests and put down protestors. At the point of total economic collapse the only thing that the über rich are going to be able to do, outside of ending their regime of accumulation, is institute increasingly violent global violence and conflict in an attempt to put down growing resistance. Global war will solve the problem of a revolutionary global population and ensure ongoing accumulation even in the face of global poverty and hardship, as it always has done, by pitting our children against each other, but it won’t solve the crises. It will just institute chronic, permanent war. And I say that with tongue in cheek as if we don’t already have that. WWII helped end the great depression, but perpetual war ever since has kept the economy limping along and the anger misdirected. If it’s not communist Russia it’s evil Korea. If it’s not evil Korea, it’s scary Vietnam. If it’s not Vietnam its Iraq. If not Iraq, Al Qaeda, if not Al Qaeda, Isis. The song, as the mystical magical Zeppelin once said, remains the same.

So what is there to do? Are we forever condemned to suffer deepening economic crises while accumulation continues unfettered? Maybe. It really just depends on the decisions we make. As McNally (2010) notes, sharp class lines have been drawn. “Every U.S. governor proposing to cut Medicare, public school-funding, and pensions as well as curtail union rights is also pushing through multi-billion dollar tax cuts for corporations and the rich” (McNally, 2012, p. 141). It is not inevitable however. In 2015 a historic election in Alberta, Canada ousted a five decade neo-liberal dynasty. I think most people would have thought “never in a million years”, but the N.D.P party swept to power, instantly changing provincial priorities. The N.D.P are not exactly anti-accumulation, but they are for a more balanced flow of money in the economy. What is most interesting is that the new government swept in on a clarion call for higher corporate taxes! The new government isn’t exactly issuing a revolutionary call to end 10,000 years of accumulation, but it is a start. Even the people in the Western world, even people in locations with long histories of accumulation friendly policies, are beginning to notice that if the world is going to be saved it can no longer be business as usual.


Fisher, M. (2013, April 15). How 35 countries compare on child poverty (the U.S. is ranked 34th). The Washingon Post, April 15.

Haushofer, J., & Fehr, E. (2014). On the psychology of poverty. Science, 344(6186), 862-867. doi: 10.1126/science.1232491

Homeless children at record high in US. Can the trend be reversed? (2011, Dec 13, 2011). Christian Science Monitor.

Mani, A., Mullainathan, S., Shafir, E., & Zhao, J. (2013). Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function. Science, 341(6149), 976-980. doi: 10.1126/science.1238041

McNally, D. (2012). Power, Reistance, and the Global Economic Crises. In L. Samuelson & W. Antony (Eds.), Power and Resistance: Critical Thinking about Canadian Social Issues. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.

Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Boston: Belknap Press.

The rich get even richer. (2010). 7 Days in Dubai.

Shah, A. (2011). Today, around 21,000 children died around the world.   Retrieved Ma 31, 2015

Sharp, M. (2013). The Rocket Scientists’ Guide to Money and the Economy: Accumulation and Debt. St Albert, Alberta: Lightning Path Press.

Silver, J. (2012). Persistent Poverty in Canada: Causes, Consequences, Solutions. In L. Samuelson & W. Antony (Eds.), Power and Resistance: Critical Thinking about Canadian Social Issues. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.

Singh, D. S. (2015, March 6th, 2015). Growing Number of Billionaires and Mass Accumulation of Wealth Exposes the Ugly Face of Capitalism. Link.

Stein, B. (2006). In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class is Winning (Vol. September): New York Times.


What is Religion?

[et_pb_section bb_built=”1″ fullwidth=”on” specialty=”off” next_background_color=”#000000″][et_pb_fullwidth_image _builder_version=”3.4.1″ src=”” /][/et_pb_section][et_pb_section bb_built=”1″ admin_label=”section” _builder_version=”3.4.1″ max_width=”76%” max_width_tablet=”82%” max_width_phone=”97%” max_width_last_edited=”on|tablet” module_alignment=”center” prev_background_color=”#000000″][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_post_title _builder_version=”3.4.1″ meta=”off” featured_image=”off” title_font_size=”41px” title_line_height=”1.2em” custom_margin=”32px|||” text_orientation=”center” title_text_align=”center” box_shadow_style=”preset1″ box_shadow_color=”rgba(21,181,0,0.3)” custom_padding=”32px||32px|” saved_tabs=”all” /][et_pb_text]


A Sociologist Looks at Violence

It’s a cliche but when the tragedies hit, the questions start coming. This is certainly the case with the horrible massacre in Connecticut. The horror of the events put us at edge of global madness and the immediate question is “why.”  As I argue in my Sociology of Religion class, humans naturally search for meaning and so when an event like this occurs we want to know the meaning. In fact, when an event like this occurs, we’re desperate for it. We look around in abject horror and shock and we ask the people who are supposed to know (i.e. psychologists, priests, and the media)  “what’s the meaning and why” and we stand around expectantly waiting to know. Ask these people though and not only will the answer you get depend on who you ask, but the answer they give will never be very satisfying.

For example, ask a priest “what’s the meaning and why” and the answer will be something to the effect that “only God knows the meaning why.” The priests job is, by definition, to search for meaning and they’ll grasp desperately to provide it, but the answers they provide are ultimately unsatisfying (even if we to pretend otherwise) because it is ultimately an admission of ignorance. “Only God knows” is exactly the same as “I don’t know.”  If you are religious you are supposed to accept this answer,  but accepting it provides no real relief. It is a pernicious statement because it passes the buck and doesn’t really leave you in anything more than a passive and vulnerable position.

Of course you fair only marginally better when you ask a psychologist. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and their students tend to internalize causation. That is, the problem is a problem with something inside you. In the case of Connecticut the problem will no doubt have something to with mental illness, or madness, or temporary insanity. It isn’t an issue with parenting, or the school system, or society, or the gun culture, or our dependency on harsh pharmaceuticals known to create depression and violent, or a violent society fueled by a violent Hollywood media machine, it is a problem with the individual. In this case the explanation is mental illness and the meaning is individually derived.

And what about the media? Again, in my opinion, not so good. The main stream media is corporate controlled and corporate funded after all and they aren’t going to say anything bad about any corporate acts that might have been involved.  More than that, the media depends on attracting the attention of the masses and in order to not jeopardize their control of mass attention, they’ll stay firmly within the bounds of mass opinion, even if that opinion is stone-cold wrong. If the masses rally against guns, then guns will be the problem. But wait a minute, lots of people like the NRA watch the news as well so let’s not take a stand  that’s too strong, let us just say that “opinions differ” and leave it like that. Hear it long enough and you eventually realize the mass media doesn’t report news, it reinforces the status quo and reflects social convention. Take meaning from the media if you want, but be a smart sociologists about it and consider the possible limitations of the source.

So, leaving behind unsatisfying explanations, let us look at how a sociologist might look at the events? And that would be with as much care and statistical sophistication as possible. As I say in my Sociology 287 class (Introduction to Sociology), Sociologists are complex thinkers and complex events like the Connecticut massacre rarely come down to single causes.  Guns are certainly a factor, as is mental disturbance (who but a mad man could do something like that), but these can only be part of the cause and probably not the most proximate cause at that. So a sociologist would ask deeper questions, and go further down the rabbit whole. A link has been suggested between anti-depressant pharmaceuticals, depression and violence for example and so we might start by wondering, were there bad drugs involved.  Maybe there were social reasons, like exclusion, or ridicule. But even if so there is still way more to it then even that. Let us not forget, for example, how violent our Western culture really is.Deny it all you want but in our country we solve things violently. Many of us may be above physical violence, but not so many above emotional and verbal. When we don’t get no satisfaction, the gloves come off and the [physical, emotional, psychological] beatings begin. Physical beatings, straps, name calling, shaming, incarceration, and a host of other violent acts dot our daily existence. When our children don’t do what we say, we hit them. When a student doesn’t repeat the world in our image, we shame them. When a country does something we don’t like, we use our military to get what we want.

Violence is everywhere around us.

And don’t even get me started on our “entertainment” industry. They will tell you they are responding to market demand but  is the market really demanding ultra violent video games, torture porn, and “good guy murders bad guy” action thrillers? There isn’t even any artistic integrity involved anymore. When violence wins the day, story loses sway. A great example is the recent Expendables sequel, or anything by Tom Cruise these days. In these movies, if you can call them that, we see nothing but special effects enhanced violence.


And this overview of our social violence is just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even mentioned sports (in particular Hockey),  our nation wide obsession with business competition (which is really just a form of economic violence), our military culture, or our religious doctrines which  make us think that’s it OK to beat the bad guy down “if” the bad guy can be defined as “evil.” Remember the Spanish Inquisition, or the crusades, or all the other wars fought in the name of holiness? Or what about religion’s involvement in class oppression? (“divine right of kings, noblesse oblige, or the worldly estates).

And don’t forget religions support of child abuse (“spare the rod”).

Do you want meaning?

Do you want to know the reason why?

The violence in our societies, and the justification for that violence, goes on and on and so is it any wonder at all that when you put a billion guns into the mix people, even young children, aren’t going to get killed?  It is a wonder we don’t have massacres every day, but then again, maybe that’s where we are headed. Ask anybody from the mainstream media and they will tell you, the year 2012 was a banner year for mass violence and massacre. If you want my professional opinion, things are going to continue to get worse until enough people are dissatisfied with the stock answers that they’ll finally make the effort to wake up and see the truth. Let’s hope, for the sake of children and families the world over, that day is sooner rather than later.

So what’s a Sociology professor, professional, or student to do? Well, we can do what others do and march, hold vigil, and protest; but we can also bring to bear on the situation our deep critical sensibility, bestowed upon us by the nature of our sociological training. Anybody who has spent any time in a Sociology classroom will know the depth and breadth of the analysis can be, at times, breathtaking (even if often not expressed very well). So take a page out of the notebook of a Sociologist and put the pieces together so you can understand the bigger picture. It’s not drugs, or parenting, or guns. Those are intervening variables only. The real problem is our international obsession with violence. It is our international obsession and acceptance of violence in all its forms that has ruined the Christmas of so many families in Connecticut. As a parent my heart goes out to them, but as a Sociologist I have to ask, isn’t it time to wake up and say no to violence in all its forms? Isn’t that the only way to end our increasingly obvious descent into global chaos, violence, and darkness?