Under conditions of anomie, a fictional social network diagram shows competitive offshoots or spin-off groups, who redefine old norms to create new societies. Image Source: Wiki.
Technology, combined with the Great Recession and globalization, transformed societies, economies and politics through the turn of the Millennium. The mask of the materialist capitalist dream slipped with revelations from the Panama Papers, while also showing how that dream is connected to non-capitalist societies. The latter do not have better systems or superior ideologies. Hierarchy, exploitation and inequality are universal human problems. This post is not about who is correct, but who is seeking to control the claim to be correct.
Old norms destroyed: technological change combines futuristic values with regressiveness as a flawed global economy takes us back through the 20th and 19th centuries to pre-1865 conditions. Image Source: Campaign against Euro-federalism.
When the social contract changes, the term 'anomie' refers to the breakdown of values. The ensuing mentalities - the political blame game, playing victim, a 'fighting back' attitude - all involve a paradoxical abrogation of responsibility in the name of taking responsibility, and a projection of negative traits onto a perceived threat. Superficially, the debates are about who is moral and who is right. In fact, this is a game of ideological musical chairs. The debates over social labels, refugees and citizenship, economic haves and have-nots, conceal an underlying dynamic: these are power plays to control who gets to define reality in the new society that will follow.
Sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) developed a model of anomie, to explain what happens when old values collapse in a rapidly changing society. Image Source: pinterest.
Left wing aggressive labeling, with shifting boundaries, at Yale University (5 November 2015). Video Source: Youtube.
Social labels are up for grabs. On 5 November 2015, a Yale undergraduate student, Jerelyn Luther, screamed at a professor, Nicholas Christakis, over a controversy on political correctness of Hallowe'en costumes, and whether the university should be a safe space which silences all sources of offence. The student had been on Nicholas Christakis's hiring committee, which was why she asked:
"'Who the fuck hired you?' she ... [argued] that Christakis should 'step down' because being master is 'not about creating an intellectual space,' but rather 'creating a home.'"That is, the student had hired the professor, and she had agreed to his being hired on the condition that he would meet students' emotional needs, as defined by the students. The row started because the professor's wife (also a professor, Erika Christakis, who resigned her Yale post soon after this incident) had suggested that Hallowe'en costumes traditionally involved confronting symbols and ideas which make people uncomfortable or fearful; and that students should not be overly sensitive to cultural appropriation. The Fire:
The Atlantic further commented: "In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health." During the November confrontation, half the students left the Yale quad when they found that the professor would not give them an 'appropriate' apology for his wife's email. They threatened to have him fired, because he would not agree to deny his own freedom of speech. More exactly, he refused to acknowledge their control over the definition of political correctness. The flip side of this story is that most coverage of the student mob and Luther's threatening behaviour - for example, Special Snowflakes at Yale get Triggered - ignored the background context of old, difficult racial tensions on Yale campus."[T]he students’ demand that the Christakises lose their jobs for their dissident opinions represents another strong example of the phenomenon Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talked about in their September cover story for The Atlantic, The Coddling of the American Mind. In their article, Lukianoff and Haidt argue that students are increasingly engaging in a culture of 'vindictive protectiveness' that seeks to control campus speech in a way that not only limits free expression and chills candor, but that can also promote distorted ways of thinking."
BBC Newsnight: Germaine Greer: Transgender women are 'not women' (23 October 2015). Video Source: Youtube.
Further on Greer's concern about stereotyping and labeling and accusations of offensiveness as related to bids for power and control of social discourse. Greer, a lifelong leftist campaigner for women's rights, found herself accused of conservatism, transphobia, and anti-rights attitudes. Interview from November/December 2015. Video Source: Youtube.
In the videos above, see another example of left wing aggressive labeling, with shifting boundaries. In November 2015, the feminist Germaine Greer was strongly criticized as being prejudiced and offensive for saying that transgender women, and men who had had sex reassignment surgery, were not women. As she later put it: "Just because you lop off your penis ... it doesn't make you a woman." A serious row started over her scheduled talk that month at Cardiff University; she delivered the lecture despite a campaign to silence her. For my earlier posts on the gnostic origins of transgenderism and Millennial trans definitions, see here and here.
In the Greer-transgender controversy, the battle was again over who gets to define the content of labels to describe different groups in the future society. Greer remarked:
Transgendered activists found Greer's statements to be extremely offensive. Of course, the irony is that Greer was once in their activist position, but she no longer dominates access to the labels of 'womanhood' or 'femininity' in public discourse."Apparently people have decided that because I don’t think that post-operative transgender men are women, I’m not to be allowed to talk. I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that procedure, what I’m saying is it doesn’t make them a woman."
Nor is this power vacuum over new social norms only a left wing malaise. As is evident in the divisions in the Republican Party in the run-up to the American election, it is also happening in conservative politics. In the videos below about refugees entering Europe, similar arguments have erupted, especially in Germany after New Year's attacks in Cologne, over humanitarian aid. These arguments reveal societies divided between cultures, between left and right politics, north and south, east and west, and young and old. Pre-Millennial labels - citizen, immigrant, refugee, migrant, law, nation, welfare - are up for redefinition between competing groups. The 2015 film, Mediterranea, presents the refugees' experience from a sympathetic perspective, and shows how many of them are pawns in a game that defines and redefines them.
A report on the arguments and counter-arguments over the impact of refugees arriving in Germany (December 2015); interviewees debated where the line of belonging in a modern multicultural society can be drawn, in a country with historical guilt over this problem. Video Source: Youtube.
There are backlashes against refugee immigration in the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Germany, much of it evident in Internet chatter and not reported in the mainstream media. According to a video circulated on the Internet on 13 April 2016, machete-wielding vigilantes are patrolling the borders of Bulgaria, capturing migrants, and sending them back to Turkey. Those actions are unofficially supported by the Bulgarian government. Arguments for and against migrants centre on the impact of immigration and corresponding transformation of European countries and identities.
The point to this post is not to fixate on the content of specific debates. This post seeks rather to highlight the underlying power dynamic at work in these examples. There are battles occurring across the globe to commandeer old labels and fill them up with new meanings. Some of them, as with the rise of neo-Nazi groups, use the language of racial threat, social fear and Second World War symbols to control the reconfiguration of social norms. They combine powerful terms from the past with the aggression of the future. A 9 April 2016 Al Jazeera report on popular negative reaction to migrants in Sweden involved a refugee crisis and an existential crisis, "Looking inwards, trying to figure out what the country is, what it represents," because the country is no longer what it once was.
Bulgarian vigilantes are patrolling their country's border with Turkey to block migrants from entering Bulgaria. This footage circulated online on 13 April 2016. Video Source: Youtube.
Survivors from World War II see its preconditions returning now in this RT documentary, Renaissance: Revival of far-right nationalism in Europe. Video Source: Youtube.