Anomie Domine

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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12 Responses

  1. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    You know, I think the worst thing about anomie is that’s it’s not a real problem, right? I mean, let’s be honest: being oppressed, raped, enslaved, impoverished- all of these are real problems. But feeling a sense of disconnection from overarching meaning, vague rootlessness- well, you feel sort of like a schmuck with that as a problem. Tied to it is really that feeling of self-disgust engendered by not even being able to muster up a real psychological problem! So, I think what most people who go through the experience do is to deal with anomie not by opining about it in Parisian cafes or whatever- instead, they take psychoactive drugs, cheat on their spouse, drink themselves into oblivian every weekend- you know, the healthy answers. But, it’s still there. As frivolous as it is- as self-centered really- it’s still there probably because none of us, myself included, can offer much of a solution to the problem any better than “buck up, kiddo”.

    My wife, who is currently experiencing anomie beyond anything I’ve gone through, once made the offhand comment, “If I had lived three or four hundred years ago, I’ve no doubt I’d have been a great nun. But I can’t do that now”. I don’t know if she realized how insightful that was.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Two thoughts.

      First, I think it may be a bit glib, but there could be something to set point theory — people show a strong tendency to revert to the happiness level of their set point, even if things are going better than we would normally associate with that point. How strong this tendency really is remains an open question.

      Second, has your wife ever read Middlemarch? I am uncertain whether to recommend it to her, or to recommend that she never get within ten paces of it.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Rufus F. says:

      @Rufus F., I wonder how many people even considered happiness an option for people centuries ago, well other then for kings and rich people. Or another way to look at, if you’re just happy you didn’t die from plague, simple infections, child birth, actually had decent food to eat and the werewolf in the forest didn’t get you, then that is a bit different then finding meaning and purpose in life.Report

    • Avatar Aaron W in reply to Rufus F. says:

      @Rufus F., I’ve always felt that there are two components of happiness. One is the usual association with pleasure such as a wonderfully prepared meal, but the other component that people often neglect is a sense of satisfaction – going through the labor of love involved in preparing that meal. That sense of disconnect probably stems from a lack of satisfaction…Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Aaron W says:

        @Aaron W, I think you also need to feel yourself working towards some higher goal. People with children feel that sense of purpose in connection with childrearing. Those who are career-oriented are working towards a specific goal. I think it’s harder when people have accomplished those things and settled into a comfortable life, but aren’t sure what’s left. We talk about anomie as if it’s a bit esoteric or intellectual, but I’d imagine it’s not unrelated to the average “midlife crisis”.Report

  2. Avatar Francis says:

    There are still plenty of places on the planet where life is nasty brutish and short. For those who feel deracinated by the lack of struggle here in the West, move! Go teach conflict resolution to the Hutu or property law to the Somali. More seriously, join the Peace Corps or USAID or one of the multinational NGOs and get to live in really dangerous places doing things that are likely important to your employer and yet utterly useless to actually counterproductive on any objective measure. It’ll be really exciting!

    I’m good where I am, thanks for asking.Report

  3. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Anomie may cause the collapse of modernity. Rise and fall, rise and fall…!Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    This was severely awsome Jason. Good job. As for anomie, I got taught Maslow’s hierarchy back in high school and it’s always seemed sufficiently explanatory to me.Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    To echo the distinguished fellow from Canukistan, these dialogs all well worth the price of admission to the intertubes.Report

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