In a talk based on his Truthdig piece "American Anomie," Chris Hedges delves into the "deep psychological distress" Americans were plunged into as meaningful communal bonds were shattered by corporate elites. Calling on Emile Durkheim's sociological concept of "anomie" or "ruleless-ness," the Pulitzer Prize-winner explains,
Societies are held together by a web of social bonds that give individuals a sense of being part of a collective and engaged in a project larger than the self. This collective expresses itself through rituals, such as elections and democratic participation or an appeal to patriotism, and shared national beliefs. The bonds provide meaning, a sense of purpose, status and dignity. They offer psychological protection from impending mortality and the meaninglessness that comes with being isolated and alone. The shattering of these bonds plunges individuals into deep psychological distress that leads ultimately to acts of self-annihilation. Durkheim called this state of hopelessness and despair anomie, which he defined as “ruleless-ness.”
Ruleless-ness means the norms that govern a society and create a sense of organic solidarity no longer function. The belief, for example, that if we work hard, obey the law and get a good education we can achieve stable employment, social status and mobility along with financial security becomes a lie. The old rules, imperfect and often untrue for poor people of color, nevertheless were not a complete fiction in the United States. They offered some Americans—especially those from the white working and middle class—modest social and economic advancement.
But the capture of political and economic power by the corporate elites, along with the redirecting of all institutions toward the further consolidation of their power and wealth, has broken the social bonds that held the American society together. This rupture has unleashed a widespread malaise Durkheim would have recognized. ...
The reconfiguring of American society into an oligarchy and the collapse of our democratic institutions have left most of the population disempowered. The elites, predatory by nature, have discarded all restraint. “The state of disorganization, or anomie, is thus reinforced by the fact that passions are less disciplined at the very time when they need stronger discipline,” Durkheim noted of the avarice of the rich.
Hedges' recent talk at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, New York, which you can watch in full in the video player above, expands on these ideas, including the grave warning that "if we do not restore the social bonds shattered by predatory corporate capitalism, when the next financial crisis arrives—and it will arrive—this collective anomie will explode."
— Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata