The Not So Sweet Buy and Buy

The Not So Sweet Buy and Buy (can a consumer culture consume a culture?)

            This is a different question than ‘can a consumer culture consume itself’? We have seen quite evidently, especially in popular media, that this is in fact not merely an outcome thereof but a way of maintaining its dominance upon consumption in general. One views a situation comedy, especially an animated one, and if one has not viewed many years of similar programming as well as following the popular culture news, one is immediately lost. Such media constitute one long in-joke, and their satire is disingenuous at best, since it serves also as an ongoing advertisement for everyone else in the same game. Humor is itself tied to the consumption of a specific kind of media, and this also has the convenience of saving the hack writer’s time imagining innovative scripts and characters. Similarly, retreads of film and television, upshifts to streaming etc. from video games and comic books, exhibit the same symptomatology, and one might even wish to cast the older but continuing sourcing from the novel as the beginning of this self-absorbed and auto-absorbing manner of production.

            But for all this, has our contemporary consumer industry been able to reach its wider goal; that of the consumption of the entirety of the culture in which it is ensconced? This is a more difficult query and the response appears at once more nuanced. In order to take it up, we must begin with the most perceptive analyses of consumption, those of Marx and Durkheim. For the former, the well-known understanding of commodity as fetish may serve, for a moment, as a starting point. We have seen elsewhere how the religious overtones of the original fetish item, a vehicle for, and representation of, Mana, which is otherwise quite an abstract power, turns what is mere force into a usable forcefulness. It is a more focused legerdemain that can also be associated with the difference between magic and sorcery. In the most value-neutral sense, sorcery is simply magic in use. The fetish quality of a commodity turns it from a mere use object into a representation of power redefined by capital, but the much older aura of status retains its hold over the consumer, even if the source of such status has shifted from heaven to earth, as it were. Marx’s own example is pedestrian, likely purposely; a table. Unlike Heidegger, who later uses the same item to illustrate the phenomenological intimacy of dialogue amongst other such aspects of ‘closeness’ and ‘alongsideness’, Marx offers us not a whiff of old-world paternalism. Instead, he is didactic in the extreme. And a piece of furniture is not a terrible example given that such a genre of commodity had been coopted by industrial production in a manner that accosted the senses used to cottage-style craftsmanship. Furniture could well have been called ‘fine’ or even ‘beautiful’, and we pay a homage both archival and ironically fetishistic, genuflecting perhaps somewhat ludicrously, to handcrafted antique furniture in art galleries and museums. I have seen such objects placed adjacent to paintings and sculptures, as if we were to place ourselves, in our mind’s eye at least, in some Mannerist domestic scene, replete with paternalism aplenty and this time with no Heideggerean insight in sight.

            So for Marx, the table was a good mark. Now mass-produced, what could the buyer expect regarding possession and status, which prior to industry could be borrowed from the artisan, just as one would borrow status from having a Gainsborough paint one’s wife’s portrait: ‘Hmm, she’s hotter than ever I thought. Now that’s artistic genius!’ For more plebeian items, Marx desired to show that the same fetishistic display of status markers remained available. In our age, however, it was not to be associated with the ability to command ethereal forces, but rather quite material ones, and those through wealth. In pre-modern modes of production, from horticulture through the late-stages of agrarian organizations, one’s own status was linked to the procurement of status items or services. For capital, the accumulation of wealth shifted from an ‘in-itself’, or a ‘for its own sake’, as if it were either a kind of aesthetic endeavor, or indeed an esthetic one, associated with some lineage hagiography. From this the Protestants developed the idea of assignation through worldly success; wealth was a sign of soteriological favor. Especially well-evidenced in the Netherlands, this idea spread forth through Puritanist longings and Anabaptist communitarianism. A Spartan lifestyle belied a very productive lifeway, and it was not long in generational span before considerable accumulations of wealth were built up. To this day, such ethnic enclaves that remain, including those Mennonite and Hutterian, display such in-typical advantages.

            But all of this has been analyzed in detail by Weber, who is our usual third wheel in thinking aloud about modernity and capital. For Marx, wealth was to be displayed by and through the purchase of commodities, which for him, meant any object that could contain a value surplus to its own autochthonous use-value. This constitutes an extension of ipssissimosity, and such a sleight of hand can only be maintained, he felt, through consumption itself. In this, Marx’s sense of things proved incomplete, for we now understand modern advertising to be the chief vehicle of the production, not of the object or commodity, but rather of the fetish surrounding it. Its advent in 1925, the year of John Watson’s Theory of Modern Advertising, occurred almost simultaneously with the first overproduction, wherein the means of production outstripped the actual material needs of consumers. For almost a century then have we lived in this odd situation; we make more than we use, so we must make mere needs into desires. This, in a word, is the meaning of marketing.

            In the decades just prior to this seismic shift in the definition of value in capital, it was Durkheim who detailed and augmented Marx’s analytic to include the sensual and sensitive aspects of fetish in general. For Durkheim, the aura of the commodity had less to do with  a borrowed status hung up upon material outlay and rather more about the character of awe. Just as the collective conscience could be offended by a perceived injustice, so too could it recognize itself in a culture’s higher self-expressions. Beauty, in this view, still made sense as a representation of its traditional siblings; truth, the good, and the spirit. Marketing would soon learn how to exploit this sensitivity by engineering quite artificial outbursts of the ‘collective effervescence’, to use Durkheim’s phrase. In one of his most famous epigrams, if ‘religion is society worshipping itself’, then one immediately can understand the wider scope of what is at stake in modern mass media. The commodity fetish in our day must transcend the object in order to take into itself the whole of culture.

            What then would it mean to worship ourselves in this more material manner? Certainly there are collateral clues – signage, rather than truer signs, perhaps – in the cult of celebrity, the esteem of marque and logo, the esthetic purity of fashion and modeling, or yet the mystique surrounding the founder or CEO of this or that ‘revolutionary’ enterprise. All these and others no doubt foster a sense that not only is our culture a visionary one, holding in its own breast the heated breath of distant stars and with its eyes reflecting their eternal light – all the while whilst bathing in a bathos of self-stultification, mind you – but that it is also of the value that we may indeed sincerely worship it and not feel anything of either the larger narcissism which must be involved, or, more damning, of the anxiety which must drive such collective preening. Here, we must allow Durkheim to take us back to Marx in order to read again, with a fresh set of frames, the critique of capital itself. Now the rhetorical term ‘bathos’ traditionally suggests a lack of intent, and while it may not be central to the goals of advertising and marketing to create this slide from what we take to be the historically sublime to what can be taken as trivial – almost everything within the ambit of popular media is at least this, if not actually ridiculous or yet absurd – in any calculated manner, the mere fact that it has the power to manifest the nothing much as something and even something great suggests to its latter-day sorcerers that magic, at least of a sort, is yet extant in our otherwise disenchanted world.

            Yet this cannot be a conclusion, for it begs the implication that our culture is, as a whole, trivial. I would like to think that this is not the case, even if we are often turned in the direction of the valueless by the fetish of status-value and that of the marque. One might go so far, without being overly vain, and suggest that for some of the legendary marques, whose brand-value has distinguished itself consistently over many decades, that the actual quality of the products in question do merit some respect, if perhaps not outright adoration or yet worship. Ferrari, the brand with the most current admiration of this sort, could serve as an example of a product which actually is what it claims to be, at least in its actual use. Whether or not its aura is transcendental is not really at issue; all it needs to do is transcend its general genre of commodity. In this, a keenly-crafted and daringly-designed machine can carry a near-primordial torch; the shaman accomplished his tricks ad hoc. Sorcery, unlike magic, is always directed to some specific purpose.

            Yes, but in capital we also have magic itself as a commodity of sorts, for a Ferrari accomplishes its specific engineering purpose in it remaining an automobile, and nothing else. But if it were perceived in capital as only a car it would lose most of its value all along the line. So, marketing has, in addition to point-of-sale, the deeper and more sophisticated task of maintaining aura ‘after-market’, so to speak. The fact that a new auto loses about a quarter of its ticket value when driven off the lot – it is now a ‘used car’ or, in a marketing lingo perishingly close to that Orwellian, ‘pre-owned’ – must not impinge upon its value as a status item, a commodity in the Marxian sense. And indeed, the exotic car’s new owner cares not a jot that they have been stiffed however much cash on the barrel upon getting behind the wheel of such a vehicle. Even my relatively quite staid and stoic Lexus sports sedan was able to overcome any such hint of regret on my part when I purchased it new many years ago. But less mystically, its truer value has manifest itself in the fact that though now 16 years old, it still drives like a new car. Surely such testimonials from the ‘consumer’s themselves’ would be of the greatest value to any marketer. But even here, the suasion of worship is present; a testimonial is suggestive of a testament; but then again we are today not recording the irruptive Mana of a messiah, but rather the manufactured mimesis of the forces of nature and cosmos, ever aloof to the Babel of humanity’s vainer desires.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, aesthetics, religion, education, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Anomie of the People

The Anomie of the People (subjective alienation today)

            In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx and Engels outline the four forms of alienated consciousness. In a sense, this quartet of disharmony in turn form the Gestalt of Proletarian unthought, just as they provide for the Bourgeois outlook an odd, even perverse, set of rationalizations for their own continuing alienation. Capital is more complex now than it was in the mid-19th century, and the failure of the middle classes of our own time has highlighted not so much Marx’s ideas but rather that of his successor in the human sciences, Emile Durkheim. Momentarily, we must admit that the former might well have seen in the latter a yet further decoy, but perhaps not. Subjective alienation, or anomie, is just as real as are the others, objective and structural as they may be. What Durkheim was confronting as a discursive manifest was the same thing that an individual person confronted as a producer and consumer as well as a human being: is it only the case that objectively alienated labor by necessity contributed directly to the anomic existence, or is it more interesting than this?

            Let us first review Marx’s conceptions, keeping in mind that in the interim many mitigating factors have been created, for better or worse, to mute at least the effects of the problem at hand. The four forms of alienated consciousness are as follows: 1. Alienation from the product of work: workers produce objects that for the most part they cannot themselves afford or are even ‘meant’ for them. 2. Alienation from other workers: workers are placed in a do or die competition with one another, thereby sabotaging any sense of a wider solidarity. 3. Alienation from work itself: most work is unfulfilling in any deeper sense, ‘its just a job’, and 4. Alienation from human potential: this is by far the most profound of the forms and speaks to our species-being being distanced from its own broader abilities. In this, capital inherits the worst of the religious pre-modern worldview, but without any of the entailing grace or salvation about it; one is born, one works, one dies.

            Each of the forms has undergone extensive mutation, some more, some less. 1. For the most part, workers can in fact afford the objects they help produce, and for some, such as contractors and skilled labor, the potential exists for they themselves to construct such objects, such as executive homes, for themselves and more or less by themselves, over time. 2. Unions, which Marx and Engels disdained, have eased the sense that workers are each other’s enemies and only that, though the globalization of labor has heightened the anxiety around finding and keeping a job at a living wage. At the same time, the more skills one has, the less likely an employer can afford to lose, not you yourself, but the class of worker in which you have placed yourself. 3. Much work has been augmented to become more existentially fulfilling, though it remains a servitude in the service sector; Durkheim himself made this first point not long after Marx’s death, and suggested that wages earned could ‘borrow’ from the prestige of wages spent, however frivolously. The journal The Hindu noted some twenty years ago or so that Europeans spent on average about one billion dollars on ice cream products per annum, for instance. 4. We are yet quite unsure of the scope of human potential, and presumably we are far from reaching its nadir. Marx himself stated that capital was the most liberating form of economic organization to date since it did free up some few people to reach their individual potentials and thus display something of the role-model to others. It is an open question whether or not an authentic communism would do as well. Even so, this final and most damning form of objective alienation remains a plague on our species-being, though one could certainly argue that wage labor is hardly the only factor in its ongoing presence.

            Durkheim was dissatisfied with the structural explanation of alienated consciousness in the main due to its utter ignoring of the chief locus of perception in Bourgeois relations, that of the individual. In this sense, Marx’s analysis presented itself as a contradiction in terms, and it was not the only one extant in the 1844 manuscripts. One can only be reminded at this juncture that Marx and Engels also ignored the fact that communism, as a still hypothetical mode of production, entailed no alteration in the means of production, unlike every other sea-change of this sort in history. In Marx, communism was simply capitalism bereft of pre-modern sentiments; the symbolic forms of the theistic period would somehow drop off, altering the relations of production but not the technical and industrial means. Communism thus is presented as an exception to the ruling dynamic of history – class conflict – and the only way one can rationalize this odd conclusion to Engels’ historical model is that within communism class conflict does itself end. But this is putting the cart before the horse in logical terms. Beyond this, though often seen as a mere aside, Marx’s analysis of the role of the artist ‘under’ communism also ignores the most profound aspect of what the artist does in society; she works against the grain, most simply, opening up human consciousness by transgressing norms and thus thereby transcending alienation as well. It is unclear how, in the communist mode of production, the artist would have anything to do at all, or if she did, would be able, or allowed, to do it.

            All this aside, Durkheim’s’ main interest was complementing the structural model for the personal level. All very well to bandy about large-scale factors, at the end of the day, real people bore the results of their world-historical confluence. If revolution was consciousness in the making, how then could it occur at all without individuals processing their perceptions of their own alienation? Indeed, they do so, and the means by which they do Durkheim called the anomic relations of production. Anomie is subjective alienation; its symptoms are anxiousness, angst, embitteredness, resentment, and even neurosis and ressentiment. In a word, anomie is a most serious affair, and even it be seen as a mere symptom of objectively defined alienated consciousness within Bourgeois relations, what it presents to us is a full-blooded symptomology of the entire mode of production. Durkheim’s genius lay in his ability to take the most minute moment and see in it the whole of the relevant Zeitgeist. Witness his analysis of deviance in his 1893 The Division of Labor in Society, perhaps still the most famous example of inductive thinking in the human sciences. But anomie and its further effects – as in, suicide – appears as a working conception four years later. Part of another four-term model, the anomic person is alienated from his own selfhood. To him, this is a more present form of inexistence than any structural item could be. A job is a job, it is not a life. To be fair, we speak from our own time, and Durkheim, whether or not he was a critic of the fact that capital had augmented in significant ways its panoply of distractions by the fin de siecle period, had the vision to understand that this relatively free mode of production could not survive its socialist detractors for any length of time if it had not become more appealing to the worker himself. Nonetheless, in doing so, the symbolic life of the pre-modern period abruptly slipped away, leading to disenchantment, something that Durkheim’s major sibling thinker, Max Weber, became famous for analyzing. But for the former, Entzauberung, the loss of the ‘magical’ quality of and in the world, was not an end in itself, but rather something which had rather been transposed, with a variety of plausible substitutions taking the place of the once religious-inspired worldview aspects. Instead of a local sect, a local sports team, instead of a pilgrimage site, a sports stadium. Instead of a saint himself, a Taylor Swift herself, and so on. For Durkheim, all of these transpositions involved the perennial career of the concept of the sacred, something that Marx and Engels ignored, and something that Weber stated, rather perfunctorily, could not truly exist in modernity, just as he so claimed for authentic charisma. But we can compare Joan of Arc to Tiger Woods along such lines, Durkheim might have said. The sacred was for Durkheim a kind of meta-conception, something that survived even shifts in the mode of production, from subsistence to agrarianism to industry and perhaps yet to intelligent technologies. For Engels, such shifts were all inclusive, so concepts such as the sacred, or ideas such as archetypes, for that matter, were inadmissible to his modeling. This is clearly an oversight at best, especially in light of what we have already mentioned regarding his apparently incomplete premises for the ‘final’ shift from capital to communism. The only way to make one kind of sense of such a model is, aside from the usual inability to predict the future, which all human analytics fall short of, is that communism ends symbolic forms and in their entirety. As Marx put it, distinguishing his much more radical ‘atheism’ from that of Feuerbach, ‘For the communist man, the question of God cannot arise.’

            Needless to say, Durkheim’s vision of the sacred was much broader and deeper than any of this. He was aware, as was Engels, of cosmologies which had no Gods at all, but unlike his German compatriot, he used this knowledge in his own analyses. By 1912, with the publication of the legendary The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, appearing in the same year as the first essays of both Scheler’s Ressentiment and Freud’s Totem and Taboo, Durkheim had formalized the dialectic between trans-historical concepts such as the sacred, ritual, or the archetypes and their contrasting historical forms, such as specific pantheons or godheads, rituals in their ethnographic detail, and beliefs. Once again, as a clearly sibling analytic to Weber’s distinction between historical and ideal types, the sense that any specific mode of production would be immune to alienation in general, and anomie in particular, might be called into question. Durkheim had, somewhat ironically, somewhat painted himself into an analytic corner. At the same time, his understanding of that which can transcend historical alterations of world-orders and even worldviews was, akin to art itself, indeed the chief anonymous manner of initiating those very shifts themselves!

            This insight is of the utmost. In modernity, art has replaced religious belief, popular art, religious behavior. But the idea of the sacred remains intact, as does the enactment of ritual and the identification with the archetypes, though such lists thereof vary. Finally, we may state with more confidence that anomie, though also likely a local guise of another kind of presence, specific to human consciousness and perhaps even primordial and thence Promethean in its origins – such a sensibility Heidegger casts as Sorgeheit; the dialectical apex or synthesis resulting from the Aufheben of alienation and anxiety – leads mostly not to suicide at all but rather to care or concernfulness, allows us a glimpse of the possibility of a human future wherein alienation is itself overcome.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, religion, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Bring Me the ‘Head’ of Sergio Garcia

Bring me the ‘Head’ of Sergio Garcia (anomie and anonymity)

            Samuel Peckinpah’s 1974 low-budget pulp film ‘Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia’ has recently become somewhat of a cult classic. Pop culture references abound, perhaps inevitably, but truest to pedigree was the 1991 aborted attempt by the band Iron Prostate to record a song entitled ‘Bring me the head of Jerry Garcia’. Given the much more famous band the named person led, perhaps such an act would have been met with gratitude. Of course, we are not demanding the actual head of the professional golfer, but rather what is inside it. Why so?  Simply because he is an excellent example of someone who is a well enough known figure to have engendered a persona for himself. He, as with any athlete or entertainer, is someone who is both immediately recognizable and yet completely anonymous. More than this, he has publicly, earlier in his career, given fans and followers, detractors and disdainers alike, much fodder to believe that Garcia himself believes in another world which both influences this one, and yet is utterly impassive in its influence; in short, a manner in which to assuage or avoid anomie.

            Anomie is, in a word, subjective alienation. Garcia’s plaintiff, voiced especially after close shaves in major golf championships, that the ‘golf gods’ were out to get him and such-like, suggested that he was feeling anomic about his vocation, picked on, singled out. How many of us have had the same feeling, less publicly perhaps, but even so? Our very anonymity promotes it. ‘Who cares about us?’ We might well ask, on our way to work Monday mornings, along with ‘Another week killed’, on each corresponding Friday evening, but temporary relief aside, what is the meaning of it all? Emile Durkheim coined the term in his 1897 analysis of suicide, rather appropriately, and stated that according to known data at the time ‘anomic suicide’ was the most common form in European society. This contrasted with other forms, such as ‘altruistic’, where one sacrifices oneself for the group, or ‘egoistic’, where one is certain the a quick ‘goodbye cruel world’ is the best response to unfulfilled desires. Given that only about twelve percent of suicides leave notes, it is possible that this category may be under-reported, but however that may be, Durkheim found that his analysis had also generated an empty-set category, which I have elsewhere named ‘fatalistic’ to balance out his conceptions of the other three. A fatalistic suicide would be the kind to be found in an Ibsen play, for instance, or Romeo and Juliet, but in real life, they are exceedingly rare. The very opposite of the anomic, the fatalistic would occur if there were too many structures and strictures in place, prohibiting agency.

            But anomie, by contrast, implies the lack of community and thus responsibility or obligation in one’s life. It is alienation sourced in the absence of salient structures, but not in Marx’s directly structural sense where the person, especially the worker, is subjected to forces that are much more abstract, such as competition with other workers or the commodified reduction of the human being into his ‘labor power’. The anomic person loses her personhood through a lack of the looking-glass selfhood which tells her who she is to others and for others. It is a kind of externally enforced solipsism, and many young people today suffer from anomie, which is yet the leading cause of suicide for this demographic in our own time. The lack of connection, the absence of affection, the abyss of meaningfulness, all combine to threaten our sense of purpose in life. But when one does have that sense, and everything else is also in place, one can still be thwarted. And this is where the ‘gods’, golf fans or no, come in.

            Vindicated and no doubt also relieved, Garcia belatedly won the Masters in 2017. Ever since, he’s cut a different figure than in his youth. He rolls with it, even when the rock itself isn’t rolling. In a word, he has become a mature being, understanding that life is sometimes simply about ‘that’s life’, a song sung by Sinatra on behalf of everyone else who lives or who has ever lived. There has been no more talk of the ‘golf gods’, for example. All this is inherently public, and no one should claim to actually know who the professional athlete is. But personae also change over time, just as do social fact data like the suicide rate. In traditional social organizations, there was only one kind of suicide, that undertaken by the person on behalf of the collective, the one ceding ultimate moral precedence to the many who, collectively, were thought of as one thing in any case. But in modernity, the situation became more complex, and Durkheim was the first to investigate it. The first social science study to make use of statistics, Durkheim’s method-breaking analytics ultimately put forth a much more important idea than his list of categories of suicide; that of the ‘social fact’. Four years earlier, he had stated deadpan that there was ‘no other moral order than that of society’. Therefore, ‘moral’ facts, as they had been called by J.S. Mill and others, were innately social in nature, echoing Marx and Engel’s 1846 epigram, ‘consciousness itself is a social product’. But The German Ideology did not actually appear in print until 1932, so Durkheim had independently come to this similar conclusion through an inductive study, unlike Marx.

            Induction, Sherlock Holmes’ actual method pace Conan-Doyle’s terminological error, proceeds from observations netted into facts of experience. ‘I can’t make bricks without clay’ Holmes testily editorializes to Watson. Quite so, Garcia’s experience in major championships provided a bounty of clay for him to reason, perhaps gratuitously but even so, that there was another force at work, denying him his due results. For those of you who have no interest in golf per se, a bumper sticker I once saw puts it best: ‘As if life weren’t hard enough, I play golf.’ Yet I don’t think we can judge whatever was in the golfer’s mind too severely, because as stated, we have to ask ourselves how many times we might have come to a similar conclusion through this guise of induction; ‘I should have had it, made it, got it, owned it, (or him or her et al), so why didn’t I?’ The social facts that may have leaned up against our individual desires are sometimes obscure, potentially requiring, on the one hand, a full-blown scientific analysis of the kind in which Durkheim excelled. On the other, we are also sometime loathe to admit that we, as individuals, most often do not have ‘what it takes’ to beat the world at its own game. And by the world, we mean of course the very social reality in which we are enveloped from birth until death.

            It is an aspect of adolescent angst to begin to discover this swathe of social facts, mostly ranged against us given the presence of so many others in this our shared world. Before this, parents and others try to give children almost anything they might self-interestedly desire and demand. But this kind of thing can’t go on forever. Indeed, the egotist as adult who keeps faith only in his desire is at risk for suicide, because the world cannot – or in this person’s mind, will not – provide as parents once may have done. So, we hear of ‘common sense’ parenting techniques that suggest weaning one’s child away from directly met demands at the earliest age possible. Yet this is not at all a sense derived from custom and innate sensibility, but rather from none other than induction, a process of logic and reflective reasoning. Adults know from experience that most of life in mass society will be anonymous, fraught with the ever-present problem of anomie. Children must be gradually, and gently, introduced to such a world, one to be their own just as it is already ours. It is not simply a matter of a parent not wishing their child to ‘make the same mistakes’, but rather a more abstract understanding that, while it cannot pinpoint exact contexts or moments in a life that will end in frustration and even loss, nevertheless knows that such moments will occur, other things being equal. One’s singular will, no matter how assertive and confident, cannot match itself each time to that of the world’s.

            For the one who yet imagines themselves larger than life, suicide is one outcome. But homicide may well be another, such acts perpetrated by those who imagine that their will really is, after all, stronger than the world’s and that they will prove this to be so by murdering the very others who have the unmitigated gall to stand in their way, for whatever reason. This yet darker path has no apparent limits, given historical precedents such as the Holocaust and other genocides. Seen in this wider light, the suicide is by far the more ethical person; as an egotist, he wants to die, as an altruist, she dies for those who remain, but as an ‘anomist’, this person truly sees no way out and in this, he is in ethical error. Still, such a mistaken act is far better than murder, and in this induction has also played a role. In its heartfelt attempt to overcome anonymity, observation and experience combine to tell the anomic person not so much of his impending fate, but rather the way life could, even should, be lived by human beings. It is, therefore, not that the alienated individual in our time feels nothing, but rather that she understands precisely what she lacks yet does not see a way in getting it. The fates, as it were, are ranged against her. One of the lesser attributes of calling out the golf gods is, of course, that golf is a trivial pursuit in and of itself, while social anomie is a very serious condition. Garcia has no doubt realized this over time, no differently than the rest of us are compelled to do. Entertainment ‘culture’ provides for us formulaic salves, whereupon we, equally formulaically, react with a ‘you think you’ve got problems!’ after viewing this or that melodrama, fact or fancy. Just so, the artificial relief of contemporary anomie is a major function of entertainment, sport or otherwise. Part voyeurism, part ressentiment-inducing, but majority anomie-reducing, popular culture sashays ever onward simply because the relations of production in our version of social organization do not themselves change.

            But what is the upshot of all of this? One, we have the means within our own heads to utilize a logical process through which we gain a better self-understanding of both alienation and anonymity at the level of the person. Two, Anomie is not something that is inevitable, as Durkheim himself noted. Three, anonymity has its up side, for who of us, aside from the true narcissist, would want to be known by all? Given the fashionable anxiety about the erosion of privacy in modern life, anonymity may well become a kind of precious value in the day to day. Four, we know by now that ‘fate’, though still not of our individual making all of the time, is nonetheless historically conjured, and does not appear in an irruptive manner. There are no golf gods after all. Just bad shots and sometimes some bad luck as well. Given all of this, taking our own shots when best we can will go some way in inducing within our experiences the sensibility that not only can we pick our battles, we don’t need to care all that much what others think or do not think of us, as long as we support their right to try and live a human life. Our relative anonymity vouchsafes the first, our inductive sense testifies to the second. If there is anything somewhat fishy about Durkheim’s analytic, it may be that anomie is itself a kind of nostalgic category, perhaps assuming that the collective life, or even having generous and compassionate community around one at all times, is the better way to live. If so, the authentically modern person must embrace, along with her newfound sense of radical freedom, the understanding that she is by her superior character able to in fact be alone in life, and that this is, for such a person, the new godhead after all.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 56 books in ethics, education, health, social theory and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.