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AMERICAN SOCIETY



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CHAPTER 2 WHAT KIND OF A SOCIETY IS AMERICAN SOCIETY Draft 3 March 2009 The starting point for our exploration is to understand precisely what kind of a society we are talking about when we refer to contemporary American society But first what exactly does it even mean to ask the question What kind of society do we live in This kind of question has a pretty clear meaning when it comes to living organisms Suppose you are walking through a woods and you come across a strange animal Everyone knows what it means to wonder what kind of a creature is this For animals there is a well established set of questions one would ask Does it have a skeleton Does it breathe air Is it warm blooded These are not just random questions they come from a very developed scientific framework rooted in evolutionary biology which tells us what sorts of questions we need to ask in order to properly classify a strange unknown creature within the range of variation of living things that have been studied by biologists The same thing can be said if you come across some peculiar as yet unknown substance and you want to know what kind of a substance it is Chemistry has a periodic table of elements and a powerful and elegant scientific theory of how these elements get combined into the fantastic variety of molecules that make up the physical world After a careful chemical analysis of the substance you will have a systematic answer to the question what is this Of course it could turn out that the questions we asked were unsatisfactory and produced contradictory answers or no answers at all and this would provoke some rethinking of our classification menu Discoveries of new species and new elements can lead to new understandings of the underlying logic of classification But at least in both of these bodies of knowledge there is a broad consensus on how to classify the things in the world Social science is not as developed as evolutionary biology or chemistry and there is certainly less consensus



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