Laurie Taylor on Radio 4 has set me thinking again, on his programme ‘Thinking allowed’- which looks at social scientific research. You can listen again here.
This time, he took me back to my ‘A’ level sociology days, and to the French 19th C philosopher Emile Durkheim, and his great work ‘Suicide’.
Durkheim wrote about a kind of existential crisis that people could experience in a time of economic crisis- when the norms and structures people have been used to living by break down, and people find themselves in a state that he called ‘anomie’.
Durkeim suggested that people need to be part of something bigger- to be integrated and linked, and when this begins to break down, the end result is anomie, which in turn, leads to a time when the anchors and moorings that hold us together are gone.
Durkheim thought that this was one of the three main reasons why people committed suicide- a breakdown of what made them human, and held them in community.
He suggested that the way to overcome this was through ‘moral education’, or ‘moral regulation’- and these things would be managed through the function of the institutions of society.
So, how does this relate to the current economic crisis?
Taylor made these fascinating comments. He sited a review of 2300 major research papers- looking at business research and training. The study concluded that the focus had been almost exclusively on minor techincal problems to do with the operation of markets, rather than the larger political and ethical considerations. Here is a quote from the researcher;
‘We have failed to teach our students the kind of social conscience and ethics and concern for the world and the environment and the poor that might have had an effect on the selfish exuberance of the finance markets’ Dr Harni.
I have heard a lot of economic ‘experts’ being interviewed giving opinion an comments as the economic crisis unfolds. They are often made to look fools by the events of the next day. It has often occurred to me that these are the same movers and shakers who moved and shook us into the current predicament, now being wise after the event…
But even from them, you hear some talk of ethics, and regulation. REGULATION- in the free market?
Almost like Dr Frankenstein wanting to cage the beast.
So is it too late? Will anomie, or whatever, result in a change to the way that we are? It remains to be seen. But the system we have in not sustainable.
Check this out, it made me smile.