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Social sciences are vital to the functioning of our society

13 mins read

In the midst of recent events in Minneapolis, and the Black Lives Matter protests against racism and systematic oppression, I would like to stress the importance of education, and allyship.

Starting on a topic that we all know about very well: mental health. You see, it is such a nuanced topic.

I recently had a discussion with Alex Dixon, a forthcoming postgraduate student in International Conflict and Cooperation.

She brought up the need to fund social welfare teams in order to provide a specialised response to people being arrested by police. This is because police should not be first responders to a mental health crisis.

Take someone who is intoxicated, someone in a mental health crisis or someone who has run away from home. These scenarios should ideally be addressed by de-escalation specialists with backgrounds in subjects such as sociology, criminology, psychology and mental health.

Ending the ‘war on drugs’ is also an option to prevent people with addiction from being handed criminal records or sentences. How is it right that someone in possession of marijuana should be criminalised by a system which does not currently have de-escalation specialists?

Why is it okay for a police officer to arrest someone for being a public nuisance, without considering their mental health, wellbeing and medical situation? It’s not correct to dismiss someone by saying they are overreacting.

Police are not equipped to respond to someone in a mental health crisis. Alex stated how her multiple experiences of watching police try to address situations just made things worse.

It is in my opinion that we should be standing up for our broken criminal justice system, as it is the only way to instigate change.

Just like from Disney’s Zootropolis when Judy says: “Recognise that change starts with you.” Those words ring truer than ever before.

In a liberal democracy political system, we have the power to change things.

And this all leads back to education. Specifically, understanding the social sciences, our human words, actions, philosophies, and how we interact with our environment.

It was recently announced that funding for the Minneapolis Police Department would be decreased as a result of George Floyd’s murder. However, this doesn’t change the broken criminal justice system.

This is where education in the social sciences comes in. I firmly believe that social sciences are vital to the functioning of our society.

Whether or not defunding of other police departments will happen depends on the politics of the given state. This is why it is important to vote in local elections, as well as general elections.

Sometimes it takes persistence to get police officers to cooperate in a mental health crisis. Being taken to a holding cell is not always the answer; it is situation dependent.

Solitary confinement, or being in a cell for a prolonged period of time, is dehumanising because humans are naturally social creatures. Thus, the broken criminal justice system treats people inhumanely.

To improve our education, there must be a societal shift in the relationship between subjects in humanities and social sciences. They must become integral in our education systems.

There must also be an increased focus on comprehensive racial history and wellness.

It is too common for people to say to me that they are in an academic bubble because people have not been exposed to empathetic critical thinking. With the Internet becoming a very open place to find information, it appears that our critical thinking has gone out of the window.

I actually regret not taking critical thinking as an A-level when I had the option of doing so. The understanding of social concepts learned through the humanities and social sciences is fundamental to making important decisions.

But likewise, critical thinking is prevalent in all our degrees. When we cite a reference, we do so because we are critically evaluating their work.

Literature reviews may be the bane of our existence at times, but in the long term, they are absolutely critical to our knowledge and understanding of the way our world and society functions.

In education, it is common to be told we’re being indoctrinated by people who believe different to us. I believe this is due to a lack of exposure in fundamental subjects such as economics and sociology. 

It is also a product of our critical thinking. Since we all carry cognitive biases, during a discussion, sometimes you just want to be right.

Sometimes, biases such as loss aversion bias, and confirmation bias can play a key part in our intuition, while clouding our logic. This often happens when emotion takes over, which is why we need to critically evaluate everything we learn.

If we don’t do this, it makes it hard to accept any refutations as a sound and valid argument.

It took me reading very detailed and well-structured sociological papers to understand my transgender friends.

It is common to be told that politically, academia is left wing. If that is the case, why are our universities run like businesses, and forking out millions of pounds from tuition fees?

A common misconception made here is that academia is left wing, because we strive for equality, fairness, diversity and inclusion.

But critical evaluation tells us that there is a difference between social sciences, and politics. Politics is how we take the views that we learn and shape them into policy in order to transform society.

But the social sciences are a fundamental foundation that we must understand in order to make those political decisions. We believe they are an honest analysis of current affairs and the implications and aspects of humanity and existence that directly impact and influence every part of our existence.

We fully believe a deeper understanding of the social aspects of existence and the human experience are so important for anyone in any field.

Academia is open to everyone, but we need better curriculums that allow for us to support marginalised groups.

The control of education and curriculums is through our government, and elected officials. It is not controlled by students and staff. They are merely a receptor of the system in which the university structure is predicated.

Institutions set up with political bias include PragerU which teaches based on an ideological agenda, and higher education in parts of the United States is also funded through political motivated individuals such as Charles Koch, the 11th richest person in the world.

But I want to take this point back to the main premise of this article.

Without proper education in the social sciences, it is much harder for us to move forward from situations such as George Floyd’s murder. In fact, we wouldn’t even understand racism if it wasn’t for our own education.

It is important to think for ourselves, read between political lines and form conscious thought.

Alex discussed how the internet has both blessed us with an unlimited resource of knowledge and a space to share in real time knowledge with people all over the world. However, at the same time it has allowed for an increase in unmonitored misinformation and the spread of harmful philosophies without any restriction.

The ability to apply social theoretical understanding to practical understanding opens up a huge range of possibilities. In one aspect, it could allow for a completely new area of social specific science.

In another, it could enhance the way in which we make fundamental life decisions.

There’s so much potential for the promotion of exposing people to both kinds of learning and understanding of the world.

We need to be critically aware of the concept of pseudo-intellectualism on the Internet, and in the real world. This branch of thinking has led to many harmful situations, and is also responsible for the rise of certain conspiracy theories and pseudo-sciences.

There’s so much more to the social sciences and humanities than once thought.

Anyone studying a degree in these areas is not leading a useless, pointless life. To say that these degrees are useless is to completely dismiss our ability as humans to take social theories and apply them in practice.

Similarly, these degrees are not accessories or dispensable.

We believe it is vital to our existence and function in our society to be able to understand not only each other but our entire social system and understand the implication and impact of history, action and thought.

Having an open-mind will go a long way.

But our critical evaluation must also include ourselves as individuals. We need to understand our weaknesses as well as our strengths.

That way we can address them accordingly, whilst celebrating and embracing our strengths. It also allows for a certain level of self-governance in behaviour.

There’s never been a more wonderful, beautiful time to indulge ourselves in the understanding of our world. Knowledge is such a beautiful concept.

One thing I like to always remember about knowledge is that we can never 100% know everything there is to know. But the concept of there being so much of it, is beautiful and what better way to spend life than by understanding it?

This has helped me learn from all my mistakes.

The idea of being able to add to the never ending sources of information and knowledge that others will consume and learn from and expand on themselves in the future, is an absolutely amazing prospect.

With education, we build a better world, and a better society. And that is why studying a social science or a humanity is not a useless degree.

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PhD - Environmental Science. Aspiring research scientist. Like to blog things science, and how it affects us.

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