2018-11-17

Guns, Violence and Durkheim

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by Neil Godfrey

Interesting to read an article by PhD candidate Galen WattsPioneering sociologist foresaw our current chaos 100 years ago in The Conversation.  Reminded me of what I once posted about Durkheim here: Understanding the Nature of Religion and the Religious. And that reminded me of something I read years back by Ghassan Hage in his book, Against Paranoid Nationalism: Searching for Hope in a Shrinking Society — in my own words…

As for the suicide terrorism bit, it enabled me to see how personal despair, humiliation, hopelessness, — and end of real life on an individual level — is so unbearable that some prefer to swap their physical existence for a symbolic existence.

The key theme in the Galen Watts’ article is surely related:

A famous example of a social fact is found in Durkheim’s study, Suicide. In this book, Durkheim argues that the suicide rate of a country is not random, but rather reflects the degree of social cohesion within that society. He famously compares the suicide rate in Protestant and Catholic countries, concluding that the suicide rate in Protestant countries is higher because Protestantism encourages rugged individualism, while Catholicism fosters a form of collectivism.

What was so innovative about this theory is that it challenged long-standing assumptions about individual pathologies, which viewed these as mere byproducts of individual psychology. Adapting this theory to the contemporary era, we can say, according to Durkheim, the rate of suicide or mental illness in modern societies cannot be explained by merely appealing to individual psychology, but must also take into account macro conditions such as a society’s culture and institutions.

In other words, if more and more people feel disconnected and alienated from each other, this reveals something crucial about the nature of society.

That “rugged individualism” idea surely has a down side.

Then there was Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko bringing together many studies on terrorists and the process of radicalization in Friction, and I collated various posts on that book at How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us. One factor they point to is the need for belonging but also for status, recognition. Return again to the “symbolic life” preference to the real one spoken of by Hage.

If there is anything to Durkheim’s analysis, I suppose we have to see the prevalence of mass shootings in the U.S. as all part and parcel of whatever is also driving people to extremist groups such as the white nationalists, sovereign citizens, and so forth. And the erosion of civility? Intolerance for and even pushback against “political correctness”? Presumably facets of the same.

Australia is not so badly off as what we read is happening in the United States, thankfully.

But we’re not in a good place right now. But you knew that already.

 

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Neil Godfrey

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2 Comments

  • J. Quinton
    2018-11-19 18:17:18 UTC - 18:17 | Permalink

    You might find this psychiatrist’s blog post relevant

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-11-22 10:04:46 UTC - 10:04 | Permalink

      Indeed. Thanks.

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