As seems to be the case throughout a lot of academic and pop culture coverage of research, if it doesn’t involve quantitative data, it’s not “real research” and is therefore for chumps.
To me, though, political theory is fascinating particularly because it’s simultaneously not taken seriously and used in political rhetoric in order to make things sound more serious.
Take, for example, “socialism” as in “Obama’s socialism” or “socialist health care.” Socialism is a real thing. There are reams and reams of Socialist scholars, philosophers, and writings out there.
And “Obamacare” – love it or hate it for whatever its plus points and flaws – isn’t Socialist the actual thing. Don’t believe it? Ask a Socialist. Or anyone ever who is familiar with political theory in a way that doesn’t involve Googling the dictionary.com definition of Socialism.
By and large when people cry “SOCIALIST!” they don’t mean Socialist the real thing, they mean socialist the weird amorphous pretend thing that means they don’t like the way their money is being used. It’s ‘socialist’ the rhetorical construct we call any kind of program or law that creates mandates or uses tax dollars in a way that we don’t like.
Kind of like how when a judge makes a ruling you don’t like they’re an “activist judge” but when they make a ruling you do like they’re “upholding the Constitution as they should.”
Critics of ‘socialism’ don’t tend be like, “OMG, they’re building a new overpass on I-5!? BIG SURPRISE. Obama’s nanny state government is telling us where we can and can’t drive. Like real Americans can’t decide for themselves where’s a good place to drive. And they’re using my tax dollars to do it when I don’t even drive on I-5. And guess who’s going to drive on that new overpass? People who don’t pay taxes. And people who aren’t even Americans. And God only knows what sorts of horrifying acts of immorality the highway system facilitates. FUCKING SOCIALIST HIGHWAYS! WHAT ABOUT FREEDOM? THIS IS
People don’t call the highway system or the police department or the school system socialist (the pretend thing) not because they couldn’t but because they don’t object to the government creating mandates and redistributing wealth to create those programs.
And that’s the problem with socialism the pretend thing: it’s name calling disguised as a real conversation about political philosophies and values. And it adds about as much to civil discourse as arguing about whether or not Obamacare is douchetastic.
It always annoys me when political theory is referred to as “purely academic” where “academic” is clearly meant as a synonym for unimportant. Because clearly it’s important to discuss issues that matter to us in a way that’s better than “YOU’RE A DOUCHE WITH YOUR DOUCHE PROGRAMS!”
I’m not suggesting the general population needs to sit down and read Marx, Schumpeter, and their buddies and have Deep Thoughts regarding the true nature of Socialism. That’s both unrealistic and unhelpful. But it would be helpful to put some type of thought into what, exactly, we mean by the terms we throw out that are meant to connote our values.
Because if those terms are so non-specific that they’re essentially being used as pseudo-intellectual ways of saying “good stuff” and “bad stuff” then we’re sitting around yelling at each other about how we like stuff that’s awesome because it doesn’t suck. There’s little chance of bridging any gaps or brokering any compromises with such divisive, pointless rhetoric.
And general civil discourse needs to evolve beyond the point where we’re having a Team Awesome v. Team Suck style non-debate that we’re cool with because we’ve stolen a bunch of terms from political theory and stripped them of their utility and specificity but still for some reason take them seriously while devaluing thought related to them entirely.
Calling someone or something a socialist is the equivalent of calling them a douchebag only dressing the word up in a fancy suit. And a douchebag in a fancy suit is still a douchebag.