Greetings WordPressers! Nick Gibson here, to say hello and whatnot. The topic of this introductory entry is basically what makes me tick…like a clock with a nice clear set of directions, here we go.
My love affair with sociology began in my undergrad program at Cal State San Bernardino, and was buffered by my master’s work at Cal State Fullerton and three years of Ph.D.-level work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. That sociology applies to all facets of life is intrinsic to an explanation of what sociology is; yet without a concrete example of how the application of sociology works, the waters of thought can be murky. My first, and most direct example of ‘anything is fair game in sociology’ came when my undergrad mentor introduced me to the study of conspiracy theories. It wasn’t just about what the theory was; we dug into how theories are transmitted, what people did about belief in conspiracy theories, and the effects conspiracy theories have on micro and macro-level relationships. A professor of mine from UH Manoa said once: at its most simple, sociology is the study of relationships in all forms, places, and spaces. Relationships between people, relationships between people and institutions, relationships between institutions themselves, and how people socially exist and create the social experience within institutions, and about narratives and definitions. So, with an eye toward an analysis of relationships, I have managed to explore a whole lot of social phenomena, including 9/11 conspiracy theories. And boy, is it fun.
Sociology can also be exhausting. By exhausting, I mean that it is very difficult to turn the sociology off. Or, as a friend of mine now holding an assistant prof position at Pacific U in Oregon puts it, it is practically impossible to ‘put the sociology back in the bag’. Even while watching comedy, I see and hear things that trigger a sociological cringe and discussion in my head. But it’s much more wonderful than not, and I’m grateful. Here’s why: there is an important message that I learned, and it is that as a relatively very socially privileged straight, white, cis-gendered male, I have always been able to, and still can, ignore the effects of a privileged social position without much thought. To be perpetually tuned in, is to attempt to mirror the social locations of people without the same kinds of identifiable social indicators. To be always aware, is to attempt to pay attention to the presumptions and assumptions that most of us, at least those of us who grew up in the United States, share. I have been taught, indoctrinated, trained, pick-your-forcible-learning verb, to believe and act upon narratives about other people at a basic, fundamental, and usually unconscious level. Those unconscious lessons become real-world experiences, typically to the detriment of people without social privilege. And that, dear readers, pisses me off.
Yeah, I get angry about social privilege. Mostly because I didn’t earn it, yet benefit from it almost all the time. As an undergrad instructor at UH Manoa and Hawaii Pacific University, I explained this to my students in every course I led. We are taught through media programming (movies, TV shows, music, news shows), political discourse, our social networks, and our legal system, to believe things about our fellow human beings that simply are not true. To me, this is scary. Most folks react in defense, yet given enough time, most folks also seem to eventually get ‘it’. That ‘it’ is what is most important here. That ‘it’ is the thing that makes all the socialization and social training we experience understandable. That ‘it’, is the realization that we learn everything we know, and if everything we know about the world isn’t always true, the fault doesn’t necessarily lie with one person and their belief system. The term ‘fault’ isn’t necessarily the most accurate term to describe what this means. Tim Wise discusses this interplay of blame, fault, guilt, and responsibility quite nicely. Guilt is something we should feel, as people aiming to treat others well, when we do something that harms another. Responsibility is something we decide to take because of the kind of people we try to be. What does this mean? This means that if we are attempting to add goodness to the world, we must explore the experience of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. We must willingly engage in discussion about those things that involve feeling vulnerable, allowing for growth and self-reflection. We must take some risks, to feel positive change and shift our world toward a more just future.
I self-reflect on a constant basis, as many folks do without putting the same term to the behavior. I teach my students to self-reflect. I catch myself thinking things that piss me off, and work to shift what that means about what I have been taught against my will. My gender, assigned to me and taught to me without my active knowledge, provides me with social comfort. I must pay attention to that if I am to live what I believe. My race, assigned to and placed upon me without my active knowledge, affords me generous comfort. I must recognize the experiences shaded by race (all of my experiences, as far as I can tell), and talk about what that means. My sexuality, taught to me as the standard and ‘normal’, provides me a very comfortable social existence. If I do not work to build a more just and equitable world in my relatively tiny existence, I am not taking responsibility, and I am not living my beliefs. It is these three huge concepts that I work to make obvious to others. They inform why I do what I do, and why I aim to accomplish more as time passes.
Let’s entertain some thoughts, and make our world what we wish it to be. I wish for an equitable, just, thoughtful, and welcoming society. Even though I experience mostly the best that people have to offer, I want better for everyone. Myself included.