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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Mills, Charles Wright (1916 - 1962)
"As a social and as a personal force, religion has become a dependent variable. It does not originate; it reacts. It does not denounce; it adapts. It does not set forth new models of conduct and sensibility; it imitates. Its rhetoric is without deep appeal; the worship it organizes is without piety. It has become less a revitalization of the spirit in permanent tension with the world than a respectable distraction from the sourness of life."

-- Charles Wright Mills


Charles Wright Mills was an American sociologist. Among other topics he was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society, and advocated relevance and engagement over disinterested academic observation.

Life and work
Mills graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1939 and received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1941. In 1946 he took a faculty position at Columbia University, which he kept, despite controversy, until his untimely death.

White Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951) contends that bureaucracies have overwhelmed the individual city worker, robbing him or her of all independent thought and turning him into a sort of a robot that is oppressed but cheerful. He or she gets a salary but loses a whole world, having no effect on anything and living in a world made by others, alien to the vast majority that inhabit it, yet they adapt. For a short clip on the cheerful robots see this presentation http://robots.asadi.org

The Power Elite (1956) describes the relationship between political, military, and economic elite (people at the pinnacles of these three institutions), noting that these people share a common world view, 1) the "military metaphysic"- a military definition of reality, possess 2)"class identity"- recognizing themselves separate and superior to the rest of society, have 3) interchangibility: i.e. the move within and between the three institutional structures and hold interlocking directorates 4) cooptation/socialization: of prospective new members is done based on how well they "clone" themselves socially after such elite. Further these elite in the "big three" institutional orders have an "uneasy" alliance based upon their "community of interests" driven by the military metaphysic, which has transformed the economy into a 'permanent war economy'. For a summary video of the power elite model see http://elite.asadi.org

The Sociological Imagination (1959) describes a mindset—the sociological imagination—for doing sociology that stresses being able to connect individual experiences and societal relationships. The three components that form the sociological imagination are 1. History: how a society came to be and how it is changing and how history is being made in it 2. Biography: the nature of "human nature" in a society; what kind of people inhabit a particular society 3. Social Structure: how the various institutional orders in a society operate, which ones are dominant and how are they held together and how they might be changing etc. The Sociological Imagination gives the one possessing it the ability to look beyond their local environment and personality to wider social structures and a relationship between history, biography and social structure. For quotes by C. Wright Mills on this, visit http://www.asadi.org

Other important works include: The New Men of Power: America's Labor Leaders (1948), The Causes of World War Three (1958), Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba (1960), and The Marxists (1962).

Outlook
According to the basic shape of any "intellectual portrait" of Charles Mills, his essays - as published in his anthology "The Sociological Imagination" (Oxford University Press, 1961) - are of particular interest. The appendix "On Intellectual Craftsmanship" gives an impressive insight into what a sociologist as a social scientist whenever working creatively (like an artist) is able to work out. A summary of what Intellectual Craftsmanship as C. Wright Mills saw it can be read in this slide presentation at http://craftsmanship.asadi.org.

Thus far, C. Wright Mills reminds us of the very beginning of modern scholarly thinking: substance and appearance are by no means identical; moreover, whenever substance and appearance are looked upon as identical there is no need for science, scientists, or scholars at all. Given this setting, Charles Mills was indeed, as Irving L. Horowitz told us, a social scientist sharply contradicting the bulk of mainstream (sometimes called "bullshit") sociology.

When G.F.W. Hegel once stated: "The most reasonable thing children can do with their toy is to break it to pieces" (Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse, part III) this might express the attitude of C. Wright Mills whenever looking at the mainstream concepts of the sociology of his time.

In a specific double-sense Charles Mills was quite a traditional Marxist:

i) he knew what Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels stressed:

"It is not the consciousness determinating the every-day-life but it is the very life [pre] determinating the consciousness" (The German Ideology, 1st part, on Ludwig Feuerbach);

ii) against any individualistic, reductionist, and obscure images of what "society" constitutes C. Wright Mills knew for sure what Marx fundamentally detected and clearly expressed:

"Any society does not consist of individuals but expresses the sum of relationships [and] conditions that the individual actor is forming" (Karl Marx: Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie/Rohentwurf, 1857/58: "Gesellschaft besteht nicht aus Individuen, sondern drückt die Summe der Beziehungen, Verhältnisse aus, worin diese Individuen zueinander stehn").

Looking on what, within the 1980's, became prominent as British "Thacherism" and its/her basic phrase: "There is no such thing as society, only men and women and their families" - Charles Wright Mills - from Texas who died, with his boots on, within his cultural exile in New York in 1962, just 45 years old- was indeed an individual sociologist analysing "such thing as society" trying to detect the very roots of society. And that is, strictu sensu, the way of scholarly thinking of any marginal man (Robert E. Park) an old radical like Karl Marx taught us.

Mills thought it was possible to create a good society on the basis of knowledge and that people of knowledge must take responsibility for its absence.

Mills argues that micro and macro levels of analysis can be linked together by the sociological imagination, which enables its possessor to understand the large historical sense in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals. Individuals can only understand their own experiences fully if they locate themselves within their period of history.

The key factor is the combination of private problems with public issues: the combination of troubles that occur within the individual’s immediate milieu and relations with other people with matters that have to do with institutions of an historical society as a whole.

In modern society those centralization of power and that the men who head government, corporations, the armed forces and the unions are closely linked. The means of power at the disposal of centralized decision makers have greatly increased. The Power Elite is made up of political, economic and military leaders. Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” gives a clear image of the entwinement of these bases of power.

Mills shares with Marxist sociology and elite theorists the view that society is divided rather sharply and horizontally between the powerful and powerless. He also shares their concerns for alienation, the effects of social structure on the personality and the manipulation of people by the mass media. At the same time however Mills does not regard property (economic power) as the main source of conflict in society.

 
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