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And The Winner Is... Anomie

This is what passes for a leader in rural Georgia. Poster by Chip Proser

Nineteenth Century French sociologist Émile Durkheim described a kind of societal derangement which has come to be seen as anomie or normlessness-- a breakdown of shared moral values and behavioral standards for individuals to follow in a society. Anything becomes thinkable; possibilities become infinite-- but with no social guardrails, Durkheim referred to a "malady of the infinite"-- (unfulfillable) desire without limit. "The term was introduced by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim in his study of suicide. He believed that one type of suicide (anomic) resulted from the breakdown of the social standards necessary for regulating behaviour. When a social system is in a state of anomie, common values and common meanings are no longer understood or accepted, and new values and meanings have not developed. According to Durkheim, such a society produces, in many of its members, psychological states characterized by a sense of futility, lack of purpose, and emotional emptiness and despair. Striving is considered useless, because there is no accepted definition of what is desirable. The American sociologist Robert K. Merton studied the causes of anomie, or normlessness, finding it severest in people who lack an acceptable means of achieving their personal goals. Goals may become so important that if the institutionalized means-- i.e., those means acceptable according to the standards of the society-- fail, illegitimate means might be used. Greater emphasis on ends rather than means creates a stress that leads to a breakdown in the regulatory structure-- i.e., anomie. If, for example, a society impelled its members to acquire wealth yet offered inadequate means for them to do so, the strain would cause many people to violate norms. The only regulating agencies would be the desire for personal advantage and the fear of punishment. Social behaviour would thus become unpredictable. Merton defined a continuum of responses to anomie that ranged from conformity to social innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and, finally, rebellion. Delinquency, crime and suicide are often reactions to anomie."

Trump's presidency was the loud, cracked bell of anomie tolling for over 3 centuries of American historical evolution. The trucker rebellion-- a virtually unchallenged rebellion-- that started in Ottawa and is rapidly spreading, metastasizing into the U.S. (and other countries) is viewed as "a potential disruption to Sunday's Super Bowl in Los Angeles. Factories facing a shortage of parts have been forced to stop production on both sides of the border after protesters supporting the truckers blocked access to Detroit's Ambassador Bridge. The span is a lifeline for the U.S. auto industry, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, and carrying 25% of all U.S.-Canada trade... the country's only privately owned border crossing. Michigan billionaire Matthew Moroun, the owner, whose family also runs a giant trucking empire, told Crain's Detroit Business that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau either needs to end Canada's COVID vaccine mandate for truck drivers (90% are already vaccinated) or start arresting protesters. The third option, he said, is to 'do nothing and hope it goes away.'"

A society stuck in a state of anomie will chose-- as both Trudeau and Biden are doing-- door number three. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens told CNN that the threat of violence was keeping authorities at bay. "We’ve seen protesters come out with tire irons when the police attempted to tow a car. It could escalate very, very quickly, and you have people on the ground so committed to this protest that they have expressed themselves and said that they’re willing to die for this particular protest."

My brother-in-law is a truck driver and I've known him since I was in high school. He's the single stupidest person I've ever had a conversation with in my life. If he lost one point of IQ he would be unable to string together 3 words to form a sentence. Needless to say, he's a grievance-plagued, devoted Trumpist. I'm certain that many of the protesters in Ottawa and at the Ambassador Bridge are just like him. The ones I've seen interviewed are. "This is what Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Mike Flynn and Ben Shapiro and Elon Musk are supporting: angry, selfish white guys (you’re not gonna believe it, but the Freedom Convoy is mostly white guys) being complete dicks. Tucker Carlson, who called the cops when a small group of peaceful protestors spent 20 minutes outside his house with a single tambourine, is totally fine with truck horns blaring 24/7 for two straight weeks in front of somebody else’s home. This horribleness is what American dark money is underwriting." My brother-in-law would never understand the connection between Trump stuffing up the White House toilets with official documents-- and stealing cartons of other documents-- with the breakdown of societal norms that has brought us to this point.

How about the shoplifting pandemic, surely the worst manifestation of Trump-inspired mass movement since QAnon? "Shoplifting," wrote Jennifer Kinson this morning, "has gotten so bad nationally that chains like Rite Aid are closing hard-hit stores, sending terrified employees home in Ubers and locking up aisles of seemingly mundane items like deodorant and toothpaste. Retailers are already reeling from the pandemic, supply chain woes and the labor shortage. Now they're combating systematic looting by organized crime gangs-- which are growing more aggressive and violent. 'It's out of control-- it is just out of control,' Lisa LaBruno, SVP of operations and innovation at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, tells Axios. A lot of the uptick is tied to the ease of reselling stolen goods online, plus the fact that consumers are buying more everyday goods online during COVID. 'we have experienced a 300% increase in retail theft from our stores since the pandemic began.' CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis tells Axios." one more time: "If, for example, a society impelled its members to acquire wealth yet offered inadequate means for them to do so, the strain would cause many people to violate norms." Add to that the unregulated swamp in DC-- whether Trump stealing top secret documents to sell to America's enemies or Nancy Pelosi and others in Congress becoming rich by using insider information and by manipulating markets-- and social breakdown, ANOMIE, is inevitable... and hardly something a weak, floundering leader like Biden can begin to cope with.

This morning, John Pavlovitz wrote that there's so much to grieve over beyond just their childish tantrums at being asked to wear a mask at the grocery store, their nonsensical claims of personal oppression, their refusal to be vaccinated or the non-existent dangers they’ve perpetuated in manipulated screenshots and intellectually irresponsible podcasts, their taunts and threats at school board meetings, their violent histrionics outside hospitals or their reckless, traffic-stopping performative highway freedom rants, the bizarre, strident opposition to social distancing or to taking any precautions that might slow the spread of a vicious sickness that was relentless and rapid in swallowing up human beings or just the fact that they have at every turn, abdicated any responsibility for the common good or the needs of others; that they have quite literally killed other people on the altar of their political tribalism; that they have been willing accomplices to an insidious virus and repeatedly slowed our recovery or undone our collective progress. WOW! More than that!

These things are all fully tragic by themselves, yet they pale to the most sickening truth of all what has come to light since this nightmare began: that despite the greatest loss of life in this span of time in our history-- they simply refused to grieve it.
Over the course of this now three-year mass funeral we have walked through as a nation, nearly half of us (and the former president and his party) have never once expressed mourning over the nearly one million people we’ve lost since 2020. Not a hint of grief or sadness or empathy since day one. No compassion for families of victims, no public efforts to encourage the grieving, no expressions of solidarity with those whose hearts break at the loss of people they love.
Month after month, they’ve engaged in all manner of deflection: arguing the efficacy of masks, manufacturing wild myths about vaccine side-effects, opposing sensible safeguards in the name of religious freedom, and demanding that we reopen American-- while fighting every effort to do so quickly and safely.
And they have done all of these things to avoid actually shedding a single tear or allowing their hearts to feel a thing while nearly one million Americans’ families have had premature funerals.
In the most staggering display of selective awareness, they have steadfastly refused to mourn these deaths, because to do so would be to admit that they occurred and why they occurred. Grieving, would involve acknowledging just how pervasive the waste of human life has been, the millions of families and friendships that have been irrevocably and violently altered, and their culpability in doing virtually nothing to prevent it along the way.
The mask protests and vaccines boycotts and trucker caravans and school board terrorism and border crisis fake news stories, have all been elaborate red herrings designed to distract us from the complete lack of human empathy that their political affiliations have yielded.
That is what America will be reckoning with long after this horrible virus is in our rear-view mirror. We will have to come to terms with the collective apathy of tens of millions of our family members, friends, pastors, neighbors, and coworkers, who would not mourn alongside us because their tribalism would not allow it. We will have to somehow move forward with the knowledge of just how many people we live and work and study alongside, who would not or could not set aside their religious and political allegiances to mark a human tragedy unlike any we have lived through.
Our nation has endured nearly one million funerals, and nearly half of us did not move a muscle or shed a tear or give a damn.
Of all the terrible passings of the last three years, the death of empathy in America is the most grief-worthy of them all.


1 Comment

Feb 11, 2022

for anomie to exist, two things must first be:

1) a dearth of adherence to norms

2) a dearth of consequences for those who deviate from norms against existing laws.

the first seems to be all you are willing to blame. And while blame is certainly due, it is not the only thing to blame.

the second is an equal partner, yin to #1's yan, and should be no less blamed.

perhaps one reason this is such a shithole is that nobody will ever enforce laws, norms and even the founding document. When there is no resistance, anyone who wants to do anything ... can... and will. Thus the nascent nazi reich.

and the conclusion is totally missing the point.…

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