Shame on the Sociologists

Who knew the American Sociological Association was this bad? The Association put out a pompous and wrongheaded statement in defense of radical sociologist Frances Fox Piven, who has been under attack from Glenn Beck. In the 60’s, Piven made a name for herself by urging people to flood onto the welfare rolls to overload and break the system so government would be forced to grant everyone a guaranteed annual wage. She resurfaced recently with an article in The Nation magazine calling for riots, which drew the criticism from Beck and some hate mail and death threats. The article, “Mobilizing the Jobless,” said, “an effective movement of the unemployed will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece in response to the austerity measures forced on the Greek government by the European Union, or like the student protests that recently spread with lightning speed across England in response to the prospect of greatly increased school fees…”
Did the American Sociological Association step in to say that an invitation to violence on the scale of what happened in Greece is somewhat problematic among social scientists? No. It followed the framing of the story by the New York Times, where the real news wasn’t Piven’s call for riots, but instead the reaction it drew–hate mail and death threats. Well, yes, hate mail is bad and death threats dangerous. But focusing on reaction is a classic way of avoiding the original provocation. The Association said of Piven that “scholars of her caliber…should stimulate equally levels of serious challenge and creative dialogue.”
Blogger Ann Althouse wrote in derision: “So vigorous debate about Piven’s ideas is really important, but it better be the right kind of debate by the right kind of people and certainly not that terrible, terrible man Glenn Beck. She’s very lofty and serious, so, while she should be challenged, she must be challenged only by lofty and serious individuals, and of course, Glenn Beck is not one.”
Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit added a reminder that the Greek riots, which Piven yearns to see replicated here, caused four deaths, three serious injuries and heavy street damage as well. He wrote, “Just so we remember who’s actually advocating violence here. Shame on the American Sociological Association for trying, however ineptly, to obscure that point.”

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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