1) Why do people feel that modern society is so different from the past? The author stresses that the sociological imagination is necessary to provide perspective and context for the modern man, but great leaders of the past well versed in history, politics, and the humanities were able to know and traverse the world around them. Why is the sociological imagination needed now?
Ans: We discussed at length in class how the sheer amount and rate of change seem to overwhelm people, let alone the monumental changes we have seen in our short lives. The author also points out the growing polarization in society between different thought groups, and the overload of information available to society at large. The sociological imagination is introduced as a tool to allow those feeling uneasy to identify the roots of their unease. A sense of calmness arises when one is no longer ignorant of the cause of their discomfort, whether they realize this as a personal trouble or a society-wide issue, and provides them the path to fix these problems. Therefore, the sociological imagination is a critical aspect to understanding the current state of affairs that traditional historical or philosophical studies cannot identify, and serves to provide much-needed context in an ever-changing world.
2) As the author mentions, many students wish to go into business, but assume that they must abandon their own moral code to succeed. Given that most people are also wary of media biases, why do they still buy into the societal belief that business is evil?
Ans: It seems highly unlikely that most people would willingly enter a career path where they know they must act selfishly, irresponsibly, even maliciously in order to be successful. Media coverage constantly ignores the good that businesses do on a day to day business while the cover stories of scandal to the point of beating a dead horse. While it is true that if you hear a message enough times you are inclined to believe it, students flock to business schools. I believe the heart of the problem is a lack of self-promotion from the business community. Of course, many businesses have thriving marketing and PR divisions, but your Average Joe of an employee needs to express more pride, more profiles of good workers need to be shown to the world, more philanthropy needs to be advertised. As the author states, all of us know employees of business who are hard-working, good, honest people. Businesses should focus more on building a culture where employees take a stake in the company’s image, which would involve promoting its ethical practices. If business focused on promotion at the individual level and even within itself, I think the problem would solve itself.
3) When, why and how did we become a short-term gain minded society? At the local level, leaders are still chosen based on their ability to make the tough decisions that ensure long-term success. So why is it acceptable in business and politics to make irresponsible decisions to accelerate current benefit for future disaster?
Ans: In the late 1970’s stockbrokers and executives began receiving large bonuses based on performance, or in other words, stock prices. The benefit of maximizing short-term profits for these people became blatantly superior to planning for long-term growth and sustainability, given the short life-time of company leadership, and so this mentality took a firm hold on the leaders of the business community. This eventually spread to Congress, who works closely with the business community, and so several decades of irresponsible behavior has occurred (in general, but there are also plenty of responsible business leaders and politicians). While nowadays we are seeing a shift to the other approach, there is still a significant lingering constituency from this school of though, perpetuated by the media. While many young professionals and recent business school grads are taught in ethics and sustainability, they are not the ones in charge right now, and there will not be a shift anytime soon.