Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Anomie and The Bull

Social instability caused by erosion of standards and values.

Alienation and purposelessness experienced by a person or a class as a result of a lack of standards, values, or ideals.
Some would say that our country is in the grip of a national anomie. They would point to supposed breakdown in moral standards that permits abortion, gay marriage, teen sex and drug use. They would argue that this is the result of liberal values and movement away from traditional ideologies espoused by Conservatives.

(Cartoon by Pat Oliphant - 09/19/2005 at http://www.ucomics.com/patoliphant/2005/09/19/)

On the other hand, the New Yorker recently had an interesting article on Bull. Or, why not use the more colorful term, Bullshit.
The word bull, used to characterize discourse, is of uncertain origin. One venerable conjecture was that it began as a contemptuous reference to papal edicts known as bulls (from the bulla, or seal, appended to the document).
Now I'm a great fan of bulla, or bullous as it appears in medicine. Another way of putting it is "blister" (as Bertie Wooster would refer to a particularly off-setting individual.)

What the New Yorker article focuses on is that elusive entity, "Truth" and its obverse, "Bullshit." There are actual philosophers who now specialize in this area.
"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit," Harry G. Frankfurt, a distinguished moral philosopher who is professor emeritus at Princeton, says....We cannot really know the effect that bullshit has on us, he thinks, until we have a clearer understanding of what it is. That is why we need a theory of bullshit.
There is much more in the article about truth and bullshit, I urge you to read it. However, for our purposes, I would like to consider the relationship of Bullshit to Anomie. I think there is a direct correlation. The more prevelant the former, the higher the titre of the latter.

And, of course, the highest titre of bullshit comes from our politicians. I would contend that the current crop in Washington have no ability to distinguish the truth. This started long before they took office in 2001. I would furthermore contend that it is this that has led to the anomie of our populace. The mechanism here is that, in spite of what our leaders think, people see through the lies that they are fed in the media. Maybe even if they want to believe them. That is, most people have a built in bullshit filter that is activated in spite of their desire to believe what they are told.

At some point, the filter becomes so overburdened with debris that the psyche can't deal with it and withdraws. That withdrawal is called anomie.

To summarize: we are afloat in a sea of bullshit. This is spewn out by politicians with the ultimate aim of retaining and wielding power (and in America, wealth is power). At some point this overwhelms our ability to suspend belief and, since all men are intrinsically rational at the core (that is how we survived evolution), we have to do something to retain our sanity. What many of us do is to descend into a trance-like state of indifference to everything moral. I would call this anomie.

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