Emile Durkheim, one of the earliest and most influential sociologists in the formative days of Sociology as an academic discipline, postulated the concept of “anomie.” Simply put, he meant by this...”normlessness.” Specifically, anomie refers to a condition of society in which the usual norms of conduct and thinking are no longer holding sway with the people of that society. They are...or have been...weakening as the standard by which to exist...so much so that people feel “lost,” uncertain, anchorless as to what’s going on. Sociologically, people love their routines, their patterns of behavior, their usual ways of thinking and interpretation, in short...“order” or even more to the point, their “normal” reality. When these norms decay or are simply altered in some way...or are no longer self-evident as guidelines on how to do and understand things, anomie sets in...people/society become anomic...they are perplexed and wonder what they are suppose to do and even what are they going to do.
While Durkheim explained this almost exclusively on a Macro level of analysis, anomie reaches down into the lives of small groups and even individuals. Not only does it “reach down”...people, individuals, experience anomie in a variety of personal and up-close ways. Divorces create anomie...in fact, divorces themselves are anomic when the norm is marriage, or simply to stay married. Dropping atomic/hydrogen bombs creates anomie. A mere change of jobs is anomic. Whether societal, institutional, or individual, change bothers people because norms are no longer the same. Durkheim postulated that many suicides, but not all, were the result of anomie. Riots may be considered a consequence of anomie...and then, the riots themselves create more anomie. The examples could go on and on...on all levels of reality...macro, meso, and micro. But not all anomie is “crippling.” as it were. Many of us, in countless ways, adjust fairly quickly and smoothly to anomic states of being...as the new norm emerges and takes over. Going back to the idea of divorce, much advise and even therapy is geared to adjusting to new norms, to overcoming anomie.
Yet, some anomic states, especially on a societal and civilizational level, are far more traumatic and far-reaching and often take long periods of adjustment and understanding. One of the first areas Durkheim applied anomie to was the shift of an essentially rural-based feudalism to urban industrial modes of production. This change didn’t occur overnight, for sure...but new norms slowly but surely emerged and the people who were affected the most (and their immediate descendants) developed new norms of urban and factory life (but certainly with mammoth dislocations and pathological results). Yet, emerge they did and anomie diminished. The slow but just as sure development of the dominance of capitalist modes of production...fitting like a hand in glove to the industrialization of western Europe...created anomie for millions upon millions of people, not to mention the previous “few” who had controlled the monarchial and feudal realities of Europe. Durkheim’s message was, in short, “change happens” and anomie is a result as well as a causal factor in more change happening.
This short introduction to anomie...by no means the last or most comprehensive word on the subject...is sufficient to move forward with my thesis. That thesis is...America and the entire world is substantially entering, and in some ways is already there, one huge anomic reality. While there have certainly been wars big and small for a long, long time on this earth, recent events have called forth...given rise to...emerging anomic states on all levels...and very well may turn out to be the most unprecedented. The “twists and turns” of this are by no means simple and are by no means able to be fleshed out in this short normative essay. However, it is still possible to sketch out the skeletal shape of the on-rushing anomic state of this planet. This is my goal at the present...to point out how this often overlooked sociological concept can shine direct beams on what’s going on with and to us.
The threat of war in the Middle East...specifically in Iraq...has transformed the world already. The scale of this transformation is just now being discerned by many, but more and more people worldwide are waking up from their personal slumbers to realize something is afoot that is very different from anything else we’ve seen. But...and going further from my observation above that we’ve already seen many wars (how anomic was WWII, huh?) and conflicts in “our” time here on earth...the current growth in anomie stems and dates primarily from 9//11/01. No sooner had those planes crashed into those buildings than anomie emerged. For the thousands upon thousands who actually witnessed it, including unfortunately the very victims of it, were immediate thrust into an anomic state...planes, just imagine it (I know, we don’t have to imagine it...we’ve seen it dozens of times), actually slamming into these towers rising above the ground...that itself is an anomie-generating event, to say the least. Then, what followed, up to and including this very minute, has generated more normlessness than anything, I’d say, since those horrendously destructive bombs were dropped on Japan. That moment changed the world...changed human existence...but eventually, even that anomie was diminished, unfortunately. But 9/11, as we so euphemistically call it, has had a ripple effect of anomie almost unbelievably so. The excruciating details of the event, which were fed to us like a massive force-feeding, flooded over us and gave rise to a questioning of almost every single aspect of our lives....minute by minute, day by day, and now year by year, as I write. The tentacles of these events have spread out so pervasively that a whole society...not to mention a whole world...has had to struggle to “normalize” itself in spite of the persistent anomie. From mere discussion of the reality of these events...to the recriminations of irresponsibility...to the Patriot Act...to the creation of a new office called Homeland Security...to the “hunt” for the bad guys who perpetrated 9/11...to the demonization of one man considered ultimately responsible for it...to the branding of anyone as anti-american or unpatriotic who sought even in the slightest of ways to ask questions about it...beyond just asking how do we kill these “terrorists”...to the utter destruction caused in a country already barely “in” a civilized state of existence...to suspending or simply canceling out the steps of due process...to the rounding up of anyone who even “looked” like a terrorist...to, well, you name it...the list is almost endless...well, ANOMIE is now the norm, in effect.
So following 9/11 and all the other events, and more, named above, we now have the anomic state of a threaten annilation of a country called Iraq and the elimination of a dictator named Saddam. Never missing a beat, the man who thinks of himself as the elected president of the United States stepped up to the plate and has created a thoroughly appalling state of anomie for the world. Granted, at first the idea of getting rid of Saddam wasn’t anomie generating itself. We’ve long loathed this man as a nation...that was the norm since 1991. No, it wasn’t just this loathing and war of words about him which created anomie, it was the obsession Bush had and the steps he’s taken to play out that obsession that has created the normlessness now rampant in the world. Massive buildup of troops, the vitriolic pronouncements about what Bush’s view of reality was about, and his intentions...these and other things started people really thinking and ultimately realizing that this man, this one single solitary man, could with one word bring about this horrific event. Then, add to all this, the increasingly apparent lack of actual justification for even thinking of doing it, much less actually doing it, the lies and half-truths passed off as reasoned analysis and policy, and the power this man assumed for himself as the only one capable of knowing the truth about it all...well, then, anomie was in full bloom. More and more people, inside and outside the United States, were normless...had no reference point from which to really gauge the properness of Bush’s actions and proposed actions. Yes, there existed for many, the old norms of “our leader must know something we the ordinary people don’t or he wouldn’t be doing all this”...and of course, “we are united behind our President in a time of war.” But even those shibboleths of truth seemed less and less reliable for more and more people. Anomie was cause and effect and that itself was anomic.
But now, the most substantial evidence of the anomic state of the United States and just as importantly, the rest of the world, is manifesting itself almost daily. There is a massive uprising of doubt in the minds of the strangest “bedfellows” ever. What’s truly anomic about our country right now is that people, people who ordinarily wouldn’t question the actions of a President...the motivations of a President...even the honesty of a President...ARE doing just that! In a literal “taking to the streets,” a conglomeration of individuals and groups are saying to this man...no, not in our name...no, not for the slippery reasons you’ve given us...no, not on the basis of thinly veiled personal reasons...no, not with our sons and daughters...no, not at a time when many of us can’t even make it to the next paycheck...no, not when your “cure” is more dangerous than the “disease”...and no, not when just as strange a group of people and nations around the world are doubting the need to do this war. No...no...no...war is not the answer now nor has it ever been. See, it goes beyond just this specific instance of war...it seems that the very concept of war is finally being called into question...finally on a scale as well as breadth and depth unprecedented. This is anomic as hell....this is changing the “norms” of so-called political reality.
Make no mistake, even if this arrogant man, the man who thought everyone would just get in line and stay in line no matter what he did and said, even if this man actually unleashes the furor of the military might only the U. S. possesses, the proverbial genie cannot and will not be stuffed back into the proverbial bottle. This, if he’s arrogant and shortsighted enough to actually attack Iraq, is the coming anomie. I sincerely doubt that a quietism will over take this country or the world. An attack, in the face of broad and deep opposition, will give rise to a furor around the world which not even Bush will outlive politically...and who knows, maybe not even physically. If he orders the attack, it won’t be merely “body bags” coming home that will create opposition...no, it will be his utter disregard for other ideas and perspectives...his sheer audacity that will generate more opposition and thus, more anomie.
So, George W. Bush...I’m so anomic right now that I want to do something I never thought I’d do...since the day I first heard that you were “seriously” being considered as “presidential timber,” I want to thank your for something. Now, this is truly anomic for me, personally. But, the truth of the matter is that nobody but you and the approach you’ve taken to almost everything, has made possible the anomic uprising we’re witnessing everywhere. Only someone like you, with your narrow slit or window from which you determine reality, could have brought so many people together in opposition to not only this potential war, but to the idea that we should entrust to one man the fate of the entire world. Only you, George...thank you. You’ve given rise to an anomic reality, people are talking, people are listening, people are questioning authority, people who won’t go near a “street” are sitting in their councils, their boardrooms, their editorial rooms, their living rooms, their kitchens, in front of their computers, on listservs, mailgroups, and chat rooms, and they are all questioning you, George. You will go down in history as the singular lightening rod which initiated the coalescing of a group of people unthinkable just two short years ago. Thank you, George...really, thank you very much.
Yet, despite my seemingly all encompassing enthusiasm for what’s occurring these days, for my analysis of the “blessing” of anomie, I must acknowledge that there’s one possible anomic reality I fear. This involves a taken-for-granted reality we seldom, if ever, question. That reality is that every four years we hold national presidential elections. We either reelect a previous president or elect a new one. What I’m saying is that there is no guarantee in my mind that there will BE an election in 2004. Why? Well, consider this...if there IS a war and a climate of warfare, will this man actually allow a referendum on his actions via an election? He has emergency powers to use...with a Congress controlled by his own Party...and a Supreme Court which already proved beyond anyone’s doubt that they’ll do what he wants...or at least, what his “supervisors” want done for him. Who would stop him from suspending those elections in the name of national security in a time of war...and in a time of massive upheaval in response to that war? OR...consider this...he doesn’t attack but keeps up the military presence and the threat of attack, with subsequent continual protest and dissent which racks and rocks this country to its foundations. Add to this the manipulation of massive paranoia about possible terrorist attacks inside the U.S. More anomie...massive anomie...massive uncertainty...well, can’t one imagine him suspending elections in the name of national security under these circumstances, too? I can. The fact is, as long as he’s “in power,” he can dictate any definition of the situation he wants to, including keeping that very power for himself.
But, the above is mere speculation...I’m just trying to be as broad in my speculation as possible so as not to be surprised if and when things happen. But my optimism, contained in and springing forth from this seemingly innocuous concept, anomie, is very much alive and well as I write. Tempered with the realization that anomie can give rise to repression as easily as liberation, I applaud the anomic state of America right now and I hope it grows. Order is order, but it’s always temporary, at least any given kind is temporary. But change...well, it’s ubiquitous...everywhere, all the time. It’s only our obsessive preoccupation and preference for what we really can’t have...order and the “security” that seems to accompany it...that covers up the core reality of existence...change. Anomie gives rise to change because it IS change. Only our human agency can determine what kind of change follows...what kind of new norms emerge.
Thank you, George W. Bush, for making all this possible...unintended consequences ARE amazing, aren’t they? Or maybe I should end this by saying to George...hey George, ever listen to the early Dylan...the “times they are a changing.” Oh, and I guess I should thank Durkheim, too.
David H. Kessel
Here we go again, he lets out a sigh,
Another go-round on the 4th of July.
What's a guy to do when he knows the truth,
Go buy a cracker at the fireworks booth?
What a sham and a lie, this 4th of July,
What ideological mists float through the air.
It's such a ruse, go light a fuse,
And fill the night air, smoke everywhere.
Oh look, there's a pretty one, what a sight,
And another one there, hiding our plight.
Independence for whom...it's nearly a treat,
For love of country, my heart doesn't beat.
Sham and scam, it's what we're about,
The lie in the sky, but today there's some doubt.
People waking to the awful truth,
Patriotism's more than the fireworks booth.
Whether it's Clinton, or Bush, or even a Kerry,
the truth we always try to bury.
No rocket or flare hides what's there to see,
America's synonymous with hypocrisy.
Go away, go away, oh spoiler of fun,
Go away or face the end of a gun.
Go away at sunset, don't make a fuss,
But the trouble is...it's setting on us.
But tomorrow, it will be the same,
The sun is setting, but where's our shame?
Oh yes, I forgot, we have no shame,
Only a neo-con world for us to tame.
Some say we need to take back our country,
Reclaiming what we were and had.
But you can't reclaim what never was,
Reminding us of this, is what every 4th does.
David H. Kessel
Okay, the man is going to be president again...short of an assassination, fatal illness, impeachment, or resignation we're stuck with him. The Democrats are in disarray and in my opinion, are clearly well into the area of self-destruction, decay, and irrelevancy. Independents, progressives, and the disenfranchised are scattered geographically all around the country, we're everywhere. Yes, some Democrats are still talking about unseating the Republicans in 2006 and possibly 2008, but many...mostly those who are very anti-war...don't see much hope. Some can't even find the tunnel, much less the light at its end.
So, I've got an idea...Plan C...for consideration. While half tongue-in-cheek, the other half is serious...at least in terms of thinking about it and its implications. So don't laugh before you think. Clearly, the Democrats can't "beat" the Republicans nationally or rationally...for lots of reasons (too many to list here...but then again, most readers of this already know most of them). So, what's my Plan C?
If "we" can't beat them, lets join them. That's right, all Democrats, Greens, and Independents should register as Republicans...hell, they can't stop us from doing that. Lets all become Republicans and subvert from within. Lets start a real conspiracy. Yes, it will take a while, but hell, 55+ millions (and considerably more, I think) "new Republicans" CAN make a difference. All those former-Democrats and others who desire to run for office, should do so as Republicans...primary battles would be awesome. The abandoned Democratic Party would collapse...becoming a mere footnote in history. Those unwilling to actually register as Republicans would be free to develop a new party without the interference of "politics as usual." The more liberal-moderate Republicans of today's GOP...those without a voice, marginalized almost completely within their own Party...would then have comrades within the "new" Republican Party. They'd probably be energized immensely...coming out of the shadows and woodwork in droves. If nothing else...and yes, this is minor...the GOP conventions would be enlivened beyond belief...and what's more, think of the savings by not having another boring and superficial Democratic Convention.
The right-wing conservatives now in control of the GOP would be aghast, to say the least. What could they say? What could they do? Limbaugh and friends would call it a "dirty leftist plot," which it is, of course. Lest you think this is just fantasy, there is precedent for wholesale shifts from party to party. The Dixie-Democrats left the Democratic Party and now control the politics of the South.
I think it's a viable idea...farfetched to some, I know...that would create an excitement nationwide. Hell, if we're going to have "one party rule," we liberal to progressive types ought just as well be in on it, too...right? I know it's heresy to some...hell, I'm having a hard time thinking of myself as a Republican!! But...it's do-able...it's possible...and it would set american politics on it's ear. The confusion alone would be quite a spectacle. And then...out of the ashes would come.....
Yes, I know there are other issues about this...such as money doled out to the parties, membership proportioned to Commissions, etc. But these are logistics and I'm sure smarter people than I can hash them out...what is really essential is that all it would take is each of us registering as Republicans, one at a time. We don't even need a social movement to get started...the social movement would emerge after we became registered Republicans. So think about it...the Dems are dead (or on life-support)...we need to "save" the GOP, we're its only hope. Save the GOP...quite a nice slogan.
In the name of Abraham Lincoln and From My Perspective,
David H. Kessel
Is he or isn't he? Is George just dumb or is he very smart about a small amount of reality? (Remember the old SNL skit? Reagan presented as a dope, but when cameras are gone, he's on top of everything?) I'm sure many have wondered the same thing about Bush...is he merely a puppet, a stooge, a front man for others pulling the strings...like Cheney? Or is he a sharp thinker who bamboozles everyone with his mispronunciations and "deer in the headlights" demeanor but in private knows about everything he's faced with as president? Does he secretly read every critique of himself and his actions...tailoring his public self accordingly? Or is he just a dumb bunny who wouldn't begin to know how to synthesize different points of view with his own?
The answer(s) to these questions aren't readily forthcoming by just asking them. Neither are they forthcoming by trying to figure it out over a cup of coffee. But I've got a sneaky feeling there are other ways to come to grips with the man who would be president. The clue is to use the concept of a "paradigm" as applied to George. Let me explain, first, what they mean in general.
The word paradigm is used quite frequently these days...with innumerable meanings and slants to it. We hear of "paradigm shifts" (primarily in business/management) quite frequently. But do we really know what a paradigm is and the implications of being "paradigmatic?" I don't think so. After all, it’s a tricky and slippery concept. We confuse it with perspective, with opinion, with theory, and with being subjective. But I'd like to suggest that paradigms are not equal to any of these ideas, although each of them can be involved in thinking paradigmatically. But the concept of paradigm is bigger than any or all of them.
Likewise, paradigms can be applied to large realities...like "national interest" or "foreign policy" or "domestic policy" or like "civil rights," even "history." As such they are institutional (meso-level) or macro-level formulations of what "is" or isn't real. But they are also micro (individual). Single individuals can be paradigmatic about a whole slew of things...like themselves, like how to arrange the glasses in the cupboard, like how to appear in public...and on and on. In other words, paradigms are what we're taught (and what we make up) about the world and our existence in it and can apply to major issues as well as a myriad of smaller and more personal matters.
One can be very dumb about the paradigm one uses...or...can be very informed/smart about their paradigm. Furthermore...as will be explained shortly...paradigms aren't just "right" or "wrong." But what all paradigms have in common is that they are partial views of a larger reality. How so?
There are definitions or explanations about paradigms which are very useful in understanding them...whether on a large scale or personal scale. One of the most common is to compare paradigms with a "pattern" of how to do something. Closely related is the idea of a paradigm being a "model" that one follows. Another is to understand a paradigm as a consensus amongst people...that things are the way they agree they are. A final portrayal...and most useful, for sure...is that a paradigm is a set of assumptions about something. The usefulness of these ideas descends from pattern...to model...to a consensus...to a set of assumptions. But I've found that any/all of them are more easily discerned after using an analogy for paradigms which is familiar to almost everyone.
The analogy I have in mind is of a "window"...a literal window in a room, house, or building of any sort. When one looks through any window, what does one see? In the most general terms, one can only see what that window gives one access to (and of course, is dependent on the direction it addresses). But the root point is that the boundary or frame of the window is the core limiting factor of what one can see out of any given window. Smaller windows (think "peepholes" in a door) limit severely...larger windows (think living room or patio doors) give a greater view of what's outside. But again, no matter what the size, all windows limit what one can see, by virtue of their frames. When it comes to actual windows this isn't a big problem because we know there's more outside than just what we can see. They may limit us but we can always go to another window (addressing a different direction) and see more...or, simply put, we can get out of the house and have access to all that's around us. But when it comes to paradigms...analogized as a window...the problem gets a bit bigger.
Thus, paradigms are like "mental windows" to reality (whatever it may or may not be). Whether applied to the macro-meso-micro examples above or to academic disciplines, paradigms give us "an image of the subject matter" (as sociologist George Ritzer puts it). As mental windows, paradigms share the same features as literal windows. They frame and define what we can "see"...and thus, block from "view" all else. As Thomas Kuhn put it...they are incommensurable, that is, it's difficult at best to converse about reality with someone looking out of a different paradigm. It's even difficult to converse with others using the same paradigm because of those factors mentioned above...perspective, opinion, theory, and subjectivity. Even if one knows there are others with different paradigms, one's own will block out any standing for the other, leading to an "ignor...ance" of anything not within one's own paradigm. Paradigms create ignorance (the etymology of the word doesn't lead to dumb or stupid) and even the very smartest paradigmatic thinker will tend to ignore that which does fall outside the purview of their own paradigm. As Ritzer says, paradigms define for us what is real and not real, what questions to ask about that reality...and what not to ask, how to ask questions and how not to, and finally, the rules used to interpret the answers we get.
One last point before speculatively applying these ideas to Bush...not all paradigms are equal...one cannot just simply negate a critique of one's own paradigm by accusing another of likewise being paradigmatic. Using our analogy, windows come in various sizes...as mentioned...peepholes, bathroom windows, bedroom windows, kitchen windows, living room windows. So do paradigms. One would need to compare what the view is from one to another. Some paradigms are much more inclusive than others...some are much more narrow than others. It's like opinions...merely having one doesn't validate its accuracy. One must assess the base of knowledge (and the process of arriving at it) that opinions are based on. Thus, the same with paradigms...what does it show you and how does it connect to other paradigmatic views?
As said at the beginning, I don't know whether Bush is dumb or not...only those who really know him can answer that query. Yes, he appears quite limited in terms of intelligence...seems incapable (unwilling?) to contrast ideas with those he holds near and dear. He doesn't seem to able to entertain ideas or understand other points of view...and does little, if anything, to learn how to do so. But this is what it appears to be. Who knows? But what I do know is that whether dumb or smart, Bush IS very paradigmatic and his paradigm is the size of a door's peephole. He sees very well that which his paradigm allows him to see...and virtually ignores everything else, no matter how compelling it may be. He calls himself a "man of principle" and asked to be (re)elected because of it. Of course he can't begin to examine those principles or begin to see them in a different light or respect the principles of others (although he does know the ideological verbiage of respect). In light of what I've said here, it seems that Bush knows there are other paradigms but simply rejects them because he really can't "see" them through his own peephole paradigm...and apparently doesn't even try. Furthermore, the reason he surrounds himself with "yes-people" who never tell him anything they know he doesn't want to hear, is that he can't really understand them anyway...he has a very bad case of incommensurability.
So, I'm trying to be empathetic (understanding Bush on his own terms) to George. I've tried to present a scenario by which to understand Bush and some of his more intractable positions and utterances. Instead of butting heads about him being "right or wrong," maybe those of us who oppose him and his worldview (yes, yet another name for paradigm) can address him and his supporters in terms of paradigmatic limitations. Maybe. The funny thing is that without being aware of paradigms and their power over our intellect and understanding, one cannot overcome their limitations. Once one is aware of them and how they work, they start appearing everywhere...from Iraq to what's for dinner tonight. Once aware...then it take real principle and courage to expand them...something in a little over 4 years I've not witnessed when it comes to Bush.
Can any of us ever be "non-paradigmatic" (looking at reality without the frames around it)? Or is the best we can hope for is to add more windows, expand those already there, move to another room, or simply leave the building? I'll leave that answer up to you. But when it comes to George, adding more windows or moving into the living room would be a big improvement. And, oh yes...we are quite willing to kill or die for our paradigms...or those of others who have the authority to command we kill and die. What I know this very moment is that the man who is acting as if (two biggest little words in the English language) he was president couldn't even begin to fathom my words, paradigmatically put, of course. He needs help...he needs a critical sociology class and he's welcome in mine anytime.
From My Perspective,
David H. Kessel