Response to “The Averaged American”

What I found most interesting about “The Averaged American” by Sarah Igo is something she rarely addresses head-on in the book.  In both the Middletown average-American section and the polling and surveying section, accounts abound of corners cut by the pollsters and researchers.  One corner in particular provides a fascinating look at the culture of the times:  the underplaying, avoidance and downright omission of racial and ethnic minorities in surveys and studies of the ‘average’ population.

It is not difficult to understand why the surveyors made these choices.  Social mores and climate are incredibly powerful, and the institutionalized racism and WASP-centrism of the period are matters of record.  Moral or immoral, the social scientists involved would have had more trouble than perhaps their results were worth to include all demographics in their studies.  However, the collision of logical science and illogical discrimination must necessarily produce some cognitive dissonance.  The polls would not have been a direct agent of social change, but anyone who paid attention to the system would have seen racism (so often swept under the rug) thrown into sharp relief.  Voting rights are an excellent example: African-Americans, technically eligible to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment, were marginalized and disenfranchised in many states.  Any pollster or poll viewer would have been forced to face this fact directly and take steps to ignore it – thus facing their own acceptance of the situation.  This forced facing-up-to of social issues is an unavoidable consequence of scientific examination of the populace – for better or worse.

One thought on “Response to “The Averaged American”

  1. On the cognitive dissonance per racist determination of investigation subjects (second paragraph):

    It is imperative that the means of investigation that adopt racist premises do depict contorted truth. This, though, can be (epistemologically ) induced into the distortion of truth by reduction of any variables that influenced the subject system –however infinitesimal the influence may be. Therein, the sole impeccable investigation would be charting of the whole universe.

    A deduction would hence be that indiscriminating investigations would retain a likewise distortion. Still, I assert that despite this ubiquity of distortion, there is no ubiquity of cognitive dissonance in our contemporaneity –wherein social investigations are much more established and rampant. This hence depicts how sprouting of cognitive dissonance is not solely bound to the distortion of truth.

    To then return to the cause of cognitive dissonances, I posit that such dissonances would occur if premises of the purveyed data is in discord with the premises of the recipient. Social sciences do not aim absolute reduction of information into atomic bases –as physics or math does. The prominent aim in social sciences is, then, extracting trends for minute application, and for this minute application, such trends are based on the premises of the community that defines the application. Therefore, social sciences aim reduction of data into bases of premises.

    The premises of application (of research) in Lynds’ time retained the premises Lynds’ have assumed. Moreover, a thorough consideration of all ethnicities would have been (this is a speculation) as irrelevant as a consideration of the types of wood used by carpenters in Muncie. Henceforth, there was no ground for cognitive dissonance to exist, and if cognitive dissonance is to be purported to be able to exist for a different recipient with different premises, then such dissonance can find presence not solely for racism but for any aspect of investigation –hence it would be redundant to denote the term.

    To conclude: such investigations were aimed solely for pragmatic uses, which happened to be racist.

    * Throughout the comment, “social sciences” was utilized for any form of investigation with human as its subject and thus includes even the polls that adopted mathematical approaches. This can cause term confusion and is due to lack of a better term that I was able to conjure up in the course of writing.

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