Structural Functionalism

Although the connection between two different situations such as the renovation and rectification of a tunnel which connects England to France and the rise of China as an industrial and modern power are seemingly disparate and isolated on the surface, the connection between the two situations is nonetheless there once the overall context is taken into consideration. The overall context was such that England and France could not renovate or rectify the tunnel on their own, so the only two options were to look to either America or China for help in order to carry out the project. But surprisingly – and this is a subtle but important fact that is largely ignored and suppressed – is that the Americans could not handle the project. As a result, China stepped in and passed through the project with flying colors.

Petroleum engineering, for instance, is a job that needs education and training and in turn is a job upon which the functionality and operationality of the entire international economy hinges. But the general neglect of people over the course of the last few decades and the lack of emphasis on higher education in whole-of-government policies means that there simply are not enough people to do the subtle but very consequential and important jobs that keep the international economy running. And instead of making the acquisition of the education that is necessary for these kinds of jobs easier, the system has made it tougher for people to get an education over the course of the last few decades. 

In any country or system, the economy and society need some sort of organization. “Structural Functionalism” assumes that there is some sort of basic organization or structure to economic, political, and social life. But the paradox of the United States is that the economy and society are organized in an unorganized way. And as Noam Chomsky wrote:

“In any country, there’s some group that has the real power. It’s not a big secret where power is in the United States. It basically lies in the hands of the people who determine investment decisions – what’s produced, what’s distributed. They staff the government, by and large, choose the planners, and set the general conditions for the doctrinal system.”

And what is ultimately overlooked by the group who is in power is the magnanimity and significance of what exactly it is that they are in charge of, namely, the global ‘division of labor.’ As Emile Durkheim wrote:

“At first sight nothing appears easier than to determine the role of the division of labor. Are not its efforts known to everybody? Since it increases both the productive capacity and the skill of the workman, it is the necessary condition for the intellectual and material development of societies; it is the source of civilization. Moreover, since we readily ascribe an absolute value to civilization, it does not even occur to us to seek out any different function for the division of labor.”

Because human civilization itself hinges on the global ‘division of labor,’ it follows that the ‘division of labor’ must have a moral character in order to sustain itself. This moral character is then developed through education and science. As Durkheim wrote:

“Among all the elements of civilization, science is the sole one to assume, under certain conditions, a moral character. Indeed societies are increasingly tending to regard it as a duty of the individual to develop his intelligence by absorbing those scientific truths already established. Already nowadays there is a certain amount of knowledge that we should all possess. We are not required to throw ourselves into the hurly-burly of industry, or to become an artist, but we are now all expected not to remain ignorant.”

Thus, the colonial and hegemonic attitude or disposition towards keeping people asleep, ignorant, and in the dark ends up being detrimental to the colonial and hegemonic power itself, given that the extraction and gains of the colonial and hegemonic power depends on the functions and operations of the international economy. Another issue for people in power to keep in mind is population growth and what Durkheim called the “condensation of the social mass.” This issue alone necessitates advancements in the global division of labor, and the advancements in the global division of labor can only occur when the moral and scientific dimensions of the ‘division of labor’ are taken into consideration by those in power. 

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