An English In Kentucky


















Saturday May 11th 2019Tim Candler9


    If you think of ontology as a way of looking at something, a sort of lens through which to grapple with an area of thinking such as for example society, then it's the ontology that defines the terms of a framework within to manage thinking. Early sociologists looked at society from within the framework of Darwin's theory of evolution. Society was a developing organism that had been through identifiable phases in it's movement through the generations, kind of like Warthogs. Invariably such an approach produces a hierarchy of terms that represent the movement from early forms of society to later forms of society, and often these terms because they belong to language contain subjective preconceptions. The word Primitive, the word Advanced, and the associations these words have in the complexities of language with the ideas within the words Inferior and Superior, can detract from the exercise which is an attempt to study society objectively. In another way Language doesn't lend itself to science. Which is one of the reasons why there's a debate about whether or not disciplines that depend upon Language as a primary source of explanation and the vehicle for objective sharing should develop their own specialized language where the definition of words are very precisely defined. But we people are subject to mental processes that hop around words in a manner that can suggest impure motives in our search for whatever it is that drives us along the winding road toward a sense of fulfillment.  Inevitably an ontology that includes the expression "social evolution" can do stuff like justify holocausts, segregation and so on. That being said Durkheim built his theory around a progression of society from Primitive to Advanced and he hung his theory together by suggesting there was a movement in the varieties of society from a Mechanistic Collective Consciousness to an Organic Collective Consciousness. The Mechanistic was Primitive, maintained by penalties that were kind of extreme and they limited individual variation, everyone had to be pretty much the same because everyone played petty much the same role in society. The Organic was Advanced, and because division of labor more specialized, everyone played different roles, collective consciousness relied upon less repressive more restitutive sanctions, more organic if you like, and individual variation flowered. For Social Evolution a collective consciousness that valued individual variation was useful in evolutionary terms. In both types of society the collective consciousness was central to social cohesion. For Durkheim inequality was natural, but equity was kind of central to the evolution of a society, otherwise things would begin to revert to the more mechanistic forms of social consciousness, which meant less individual variation. This was tricky because it meant that for a society to retain a forward momentum toward the future of a truly cohesive self maintaining Organic Consciousness equity had to be somehow maintained. Durkheim reckoned that conflict, disorder in the more modern society was a pathology, that with time would hopefully pass. Which is where an anxious and possibly unnerved student reaches an understanding of what Durkheim might have meant by Anomie.  



    Anomie comes to English through French from a Greek word for lawlessness. A translator into English of Durkheim's Division of Labor researched Durkheim's word Anomie and found Anomy in an English dictionary which found a 16th Century usage of anomy  that described a "disregard for divine law." Anomie has been used to describe an Identity Crisis and has been used in connection with a number of other personality disorders. Some have suggested Anomie has to do with "Normlessness," and you can read the passionate refrain in current events which goes something like "this is just not normal," and you can sort of sense normlessness as you watched the edifice that is expectations of correct or equitable behavior from others crumble. Then you got the idea of Anomie as an uncertainty that produces a sort of desperate blankness out of which anything is possible, there are no limits, the old rules don't matter any more, why trust any one to speak truth, so get while the getting's good and to hell with tomorrow. There were no angels no devils it was "a malady of the infinite aspiration" unconstrained by any kind of regulation, rule or expectation. Oddly enough it's the kind of thing that happens to some when something unfathomable like Bubonic plague suddenly starts decimating society. Durkheim used the word to describe pathology within Collective Consciousness as it travelled through the difficult transition from Mechanistic to Organic, a period of ongoing intensity referred to as "Trans-political" by early 20th Century functional thinkers, most of whom preferred to see the transition as a phase which like teenage-hood would sort itself out painfully, and organically, with maybe a spell in jail.  Merton in the mid 20th Century took Anomie to the idea of social structure and expectations people had of social structure to the American Dream. The two he argued did not meet in any cohesive kind of way, the American Dream he suggested was unfulfilled promise and for many it resulted in an anomie. A strain in society that led to the kind of lawlessness amongst some that robs banks and steals from others in order to secure the material rewards promised by the American Dream. His Strain Theory was all the rage for criminologists anxious to lock fewer people up until the Critical Thinkers secured funding, dragged out their tool kits of analysis to search for the evidence that would demonstrate Merton's assertions. They didn't find anything their judgment would call a conclusive demonstration of Strain Theory. Today, in this part of the 21st Century, it's far too easy to think of an idea as bolstering a financial or political ambition rather than grant it the benefit of any doubt you might have. Then when deceits are made apparent it reinforces an anomie that increasingly declines to have faith in the words and speeches of others. The facts they quote become instantaneously suspect. The Sky is Blue like an Orange, a beautiful description of a warm sunny day pretty much becomes a conspiracy theory propagated by Madison Avenue to promote the sale of Oranges or some kind depression medicine to aid the process 'living the dream.' And we find security in an insularity that attempts to rid itself of the individual on the understanding that if we're all the same we can finally trust each other. Back in the days of the Guild System, townships were kind of unaccustomed to outsiders, and many town leaders anxious to encourage trade had to issue edicts which basically directed townsfolk to stop throwing stones at or robbing or beating up on strangers, shops had to sell ale and bread to strangers, farriers had to service a stranger's horse and established prices were not to be raised. Nor, according to town records, was this a popular edict.  


Previous       Next