Anomie and the threat to American Democracy

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

James Carville, 1992.
Writer's Note: For a fuller explanation of the concepts of anomie, one great starting place is the personal website (https://soztheor.de) of Prof. Dr. Christian Wickert who adapted his class curricula to create the pages. The links below are to his content. Further reading is available on Prof. Wickert's website. Or comment below and I'll see what I can find. There are a number of basic and moderately advanced videos on this topic at YouTube.

The original concept of Anomie (“a-nuh – mee”) comes from Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist of the late 19th Century. Durkheim was trying to explain the increase in suicide as the early stages of industrialization swept France. A modern way of looking at Durkheim’s theory is that as technology changes impact the lives of individual people, it creates economic shifts that make societal changes. The old ways no longer work and individuals become desperate as they watch the economic and social deterioration of their lives.

In the 1930s, the American sociologist, Robert Merton, expanded the concept from a focus on the individual to a focus on social structures. Society has “rules” or “norms” or expectations of behavior. In return for following these norms, the individual has a meaningful life.

When this social contract or the “collective consciousness” is no longer in sync with the social and economic reality, people’s lives are disrupted. This creates tension in the life of the individuals. As that tension grows, the willingness, even the ability to adhere to the past’s social norms melts away.

In the academic field of criminology, a major branch of sociology, anomie in the United States is being tied to economic inequality and perhaps more telling, the significant decrease in upward economic mobility.

By the 1980’s Robert Agnew added another dimension to the related theories of anomie. Specifically the role of an individual’s stress in General Strain Theory. Agnew also ties together a number of threads of thought including the psychology of stress and emotions, and methods of social control.

These theories from the social sciences give us a structural framework to understand the rising discontent in western civilization and especially in the United States. It explains rising suicide rates, addiction rates, violence in the homes, and increasing criminality in our streets. It explains individual isolation and the breakdown of the sense of community.

The answer to this politically is, it isn’t society’s fault that bad things happen. It is the responsibility of the individual who made bad choices. We need to help these bad people from making bad choices by increasing the consequences for doing bad things.

And so the argument about what is wrong with America goes back and forth. It’s illegal immigration. It’s drugs. It’s poor parenting. It’s gen K’s fault. It’s healthcare. It’s the deficit. It’s socialism. It’s capitalism. It’s guns. It’s bad cops. It’s lazy kids. It bad education. And on an on ad nauseum.

The reality is that it is bad policy. Policies that have killed the “American Dream” during the past two generations. Policies that destroyed hope, not just for a better future for “my “our” children, but policies that destroyed hope for a better future, period.

We need to correct the policies that destroyed the middle class here in the United States.

It’s the economy, stupid.

Anomie explains the breakdown of social morality and the shared sense of community when important implicit social promised are not fulfilled. Is it really any wonder that with the death of the American middle class dream, that people are upset? To the point to trying to do something about it?

Of course not.

Happy people do not start revolutions.

There is no single cause of this mess we call our daily lives. But if we want our civilization to survive our lifetimes, we need to start making investments into the future.

Posted in 9 to 5, Coping with Change, Equality | Leave a comment

Tracking the 2023 Montana Legislature

Keeping track of the Montana State Legislature is more important than ever.

The Yellowstone County Democrats are working to more effectively and efficiently track what is going on at the legislature and soon after following the federal legislature. Here is what we are working on.

  • Purchasing a tool to track the legislature and organize the efforts to let each other know what is going on at the state legislature. We have selected FastDemocracy.com. We need to raise $8,000 in order to purchase and effectively use this tool for the current session.
  • Help people to start using FastDemocracy.com.
  • Coordinate efforts.

For more on the fundraiser for the FastDemocracy.com campaign for Yellowstone County Democrats.

To donate to the FastDemocracy campaign.

Stay tuned for updates on this project.

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FastDemocracy.com – Eyes on Helena

Yes, Democrats in Montana are on the defense. It’s time we got better at it.

Call or text Danny Choriki at +1-406-850-631, or email danny@choriki4mt.us.

Among the top priorities for Yellowstone Democrats in 2023 are:

  • To keep a skeptical eye on the wing nuts at the 2023 Legislature.
  • Increase the effectiveness of our citizen efforts to impact the 2023 Legislature.
  • Organize for the municipal elections in 2023 and the next round of the state and county elections in 2024.

To advance these goals, the Yellowstone County Democrats want to purchase a two-year, professional version of FastDemocracy.com.

The following is from their website.

Why Fastdemocracy.com?

Great Question. It is a great free tool for any citizen to simply and easily keep tabs on any state legislator as well as the US Congress. It also provides a great set of professional tools to organize the effort, maximize the impact, and contribute to future organizing efforts.

Sign up for a free citizen’s account. This description is from their website.

“FastDemocracy was built because we believe that everybody deserves to know what their governments are doing. That’s why we provide basic bill tracking for free while giving Government Relations Professionals the most intuitive and powerful legislative platform out there.

“FastDemocracy Free is for politically interested individuals who want to casually follow along with legislation and want to contact their legislators.

“FastDemocracy Professional is for Government relations professionals, nonprofits, advocacy groups, businesses, law firms, associations, legislators and journalists. Basically, for anybody who needs the best legislative tools and information to succeed with their advocacy goals.”

Fast Democracy Website, 7 Dec 2022

With the professional version, we can coordinate and track the efforts of all our members who are using FastDemocracy Free to keep tabs of their important issues. This allows us to coordinate efforts and send out and publish specific calls to action on bills, hearings, votes, etc.


What do we need?

Help us raise $5,000 for the license for the FastDemocracy Professional license. This lasts until the beginning of the next session. A little bit more ($500) covers the credit card fees and other administrative costs.

Anything up to $8,000 will be a one-time contribution for help organizing the effort, rewards for volunteers, and possibly some merchandising!

Once we have reached our bottom target of $5,500, we will order the professional version and start organizing our efforts. Until then, please sign up for the free version and start tracking areas and bills that are of concern to you.

And while you are at ActBlue be sure to set up a monthly sustaining donation to help fund our ongoing organizing efforts.

Here are the differences between the two versions of FastDemocracy.

FastDemocracy Free Features

  • Create a personal account to track state and federal legislation
  • Track bills and topics
    • Web and mobile app
      • Notes on bill

FastDemocracy Professional Features

  • Real-time legislative alerts
  • Real-time hearing alerts
  • Categorize bills into lists, by topic, client, or priority
  • Customizable reports for clients and stakeholders
  • Upload testimony and documents
  • Collaboration with colleagues and partners
  • Embeddable legislative widget for your website
  • Patent-pending bill similarity detection
  • Amendment analysis and alerts
  • Vote scorecard creation
  • State press releases
  • Legislator statistics
  • Premium support
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Living is exhausting

MSU Billings students doing a self created and produced skit called Under the Blankets. Its about teen suicide. Part of a larger project started in Miles City where students use the dramatic arts to talk about the social and personal stresses of life growing up in these United States.

There is nothing as harsh as self judgment backed by a little bit of social validation. Those voices, oh those voices in my head. They never stop. The voices. They never stop. They never stop. Until you do.

And so it ends. The four young women in the skit are all dealing with different aspects of the issue. From survivors to manic depression.

Yeah. There are monsters that kill under those blankets.

Personally, the line that bugs me the most is "snap out of it." As if.

Post presentation conversation. I get why the advocates for mental health want to get people to this about mental illnesses as a health issue and I agree with one caveat.

Happy people don’t kill themselves. People living in supportive environments, people comfortable with who they are, people with roles they enjoy, these are the things that make people happy. So yes, some of it is the scripts we play in our minds, but some of it is collateral damage from an economic system that doesn’t care.

Posted in Cognitive Scripts, Daily Life, Depression, Health | Leave a comment

Women’s Rights in America

imageLiving in NYC I was on the same street and used the same subway entrance as Elizabeth Cady Stanton did in the last decade of her life. On days when I walked passed the building she used to live in, I often thought about how the arguments about rights have changed over the past two centuries. And the progress we’ve made.

Progress?  No doubt.  Fair and equal? Far from it. Planned Parenthood has born the brunt of the anger and backlash against the gains women have made in the past few decades. And women’s rights to control their on bodies and lives along with it.

The Hobby Lobby decision is sad in so many ways. It reinforces my belief that health care should not be provided through insurance paid by employers. It drives home the inanity of the of position of corporate personhood.

Finally, I agree that everyone has the right to their beliefs and to behaviors that conform to those beliefs. But with freedom comes responsibility. And as often happens, in the Hobby Lobby case one person’s rights conflicts with another (and I am talking about the owners of Hobby Lobby, not the person Hobby Lobby). I find it sad that we live in a country that continues to prefer the rights of one wealthy person over all the thousands who work for them.

Which leaves me with one last thought.

Where have all the wobblies gone?

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Samuel Clements for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The book was published in the United States in February of 1885. Samuel Clements is a candidate for humanist of the month for February for the 2016 calendar.

The following is from Huckleberry Finn.  It is when Huck is thinking about turning the runaway slave and Huck’s travel companion Jim into the authorities.

“It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from ME, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting ON to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth SAY I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie–I found that out. 

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter–and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.

HUCK FINN.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking–thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell”–and tore it up.” 
― Mark TwainThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Whom do humanists thank on Thanksgiving?

Whom do humanists thank on Thanksgiving? Humans of course!

I always thank those who made the feast possible.

Article written for Billings Humanists at http://ow.ly/r3wKr.  There are two related questions over on Quora on this topic, the one is more about what to do if asked to lead the prayer and the second about the etiquette of being a non-prayer at a meal with prayers.

Posted in Daily Life, Epistemology - Religion and Science, Humanist Movement, Humanist Values | Leave a comment

November 16, 2013; Skepticon 6 is underway in Missouri

Found out earlier this week that Skepticon 6 is happening this weekend in Missouri.  They are live streaming at http://skepticon.org/.  The schedule is at http://skepticon.org/schedule/.  Looks like a fun event.  Road trip next year?

Posted in Humanist Movement, Humanist Values, Science | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Why isn’t gambling considered capital gains? Deconstructing the conversation about capital formation and taxation

Mr. Burns is the 1%.

Long before the 1% meme, we had Mr. Burns. I wasn't able to trace this to the source. I am linking to the largest one I could find.

The conversation about capital gains taxes, a higher income tax for higher incomes and capital formation needs to be broken down.

First, not all forms of investment are equal. Some are about growing the economy by growing a business and some are about growing a pile of money. The “don’t tax the rich” crowd deliberately fail to make this distinction because they want you to believe that both forms of investment deserve to be treated the same way. They shouldn’t be treated the same way and historically, we have not treated them the same way.

There are two ways people use money to make money. The traditional way is to invest in a business, either a start-up or a business that is expanding. The business does well and you get your money back as a dividend, as income or you cash in your stock. The goal is to make money by providing a widget or a services that people want and one of the outcomes is that you grow the economy by adding wealth. If the business prospers, the business, the old and/or new employees and the investor makes money. This is using money to build something to make money.

Historically, the newer way is to invest in financial instruments such as options or derivatives or to use stocks as a financial instrument through what I call day trading, the practice of buying and selling stock simply to accumulate money. No money goes directly back to the business nothing new is added to the economy, one person definitely gets richer (the person handling the transaction) and if it is a profitable investment, the investor makes money. This is using money to make money. Functionally, this is no different than gambling, with a bookie handling the transaction and the investor putting his or her money on Fancy Dancer in the fifth.  More importantly, the net effect to the economy is zero. Money changes hands and the person doing the exchanges makes their transaction fee, but no new services are offered and no new widgets are manufactured. There are no new jobs. There is no economic growth. There is no new wealth.

In short, investing in a start-up or expanding business grows wealth. Investing in a financial instrument grows money.

Interestingly, it was the collapse of financial bubbles created by unregulated trading in financial instruments that created the Great Depression and the Bush Recession. But that is a different topic.

So, the cut taxes on the rich argument treats investing in a business and investing in a financial instrument equally by saying they both stimulate the economy. But since investing in financial instruments does not stimulate the economy, capital gains or income from these investments should not be treated the same way as investments in a business. Historically, we have tried to draw that line. Examples include reinvestment credits and the tax distinction between short and long term capital gains.

So, if someone tells you that cutting taxes on the rich grows the economy, call them on it. Ask them how betting on whether or not a stock goes up or down (puts and calls) is different from betting on whether or not the local high school basketball team will win or lose by five points. Where are the jobs? Where is the wealth? More importantly, why is gambling on the local high school team illegal but puts and calls are legal? And why is it okay to tax gambling winnings but not capital gains from options?

Tax cuts for investments that grow the economy? Sure, all for it. But we should be raising taxes on capital gains from financial instruments that make money without making wealth without adding value.

Posted in 9 to 5, Free Market Politics, Politics in these United States, The new economy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

We are not a democracy.

Freedom of Speech poster from WWII War Bonds drive

This is the Norman Rockwell poster based on Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech. It is from the Government archives (http://1.usa.gov/A6WY5e).

We are not a democracy. The United States of America has never been a democracy. Some small towns in the USA are a democracy, but if you don’t live in a town with town hall meetings where everyone at the meeting gets to vote on the issue of the day, even the town you live in isn’t a democracy.

So, what is a democracy? The Greek root is people govern or rule. If you look at the dictionary, you will find a definition that contradicts my position.

From Dictionary.com:

de-moc-ra-cy? ?[dih-mok-ruh-see]
noun, plural -cies.
1. government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

So, the dictionary is always right, right? Wrong. The dictionary reflects the popular usage of the word. Not the usage intended by the folks coining the term. More on that later.

So, why does this matter? Because being in a democracy implies that you, an individual citizen, have direct control over government and policy matters that affect your life and the lives of others around you. In the current political climate, it is used to imply a majority run amuck voting to increase your taxes for their entitlements. These entitlements typically include, “welfare” in general and specifically Social Security, Disability Insurance and Medicaid (and sometimes medicare). The logic then continues to blame these programs for the growing federal annual deficit. This is far from true as the single most significant holders of the federal debt is the federal government mainly from the social security and medicare funds. But that is a different topic.

So, if we are not a democracy, what are we? Recite the American Pledge of Allegiance with me…

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

(This is the 1923 version of the pledge of allegiance. The original was written by the American Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy in 1892. The god part was added during the communist freak out of the 1950’s.)

…And to the Republic. We are a republic. The US Constitution has always been a republic. So were the Articles of Confederation. By modern usage of the words, a republic is a form of a democracy where representatives are elected by the general population of citizens and the representatives make all the actual decisions on the issues of the day.

Which continues to lend to the confusion.

So let’s agree to make a distinction between a direct democracy where everyone gets to vote on everything and a representative democracy where everyone votes for a representative who goes off an makes decisions for you.

Here are three reasons why I believe the distinction is important, if not critical to solving the issues facing America and in a general sense all citizens of Planet Earth.

First, it was important to the framers of the American constitution. The constitution was written to protect future citizens from what they considered two extreme forms of government, the absolute monarchy (although at that point England was a constitutional monarchy) and majority rule or democracy. In either case, the framers understood that those not in power (not the king or not in the majority) ran the risk of being oppressed by those in power. A very good discussion of the constitutional framers thinking on the abuse of power by the majority was written by William H. Huff on his website (An Important Distinction: Democracy versus Republic). In other words, the framers chose a representative form of government because they feared that the rule of the majority would be come the tyranny of the mob.

Those of you who are arguing that our democracy is broken because people are voting themselves entitlements are not understanding this point.  This is exactly why the constitutional framers picked a republic over a democracy. So that couldn’t happen.  And in reality, it doesn’t.

The second reason is that if you do not understand the difference between (and now I am falling into the common parlance) a direct democracy and a representative democracy, then you do not understand the political process in these United States and if we do not understand the process, then how can we hope to fix it?

The final reason? Our representative democracy is broken. (The checks and balances are broken as well, but that is a separate topic.) When was the last time you felt that the government represented your values, your ideals, your dreams and desires? Do you even know your representative? His or her name? Their phone numbers? The most glaring issues with the current system are all about how our representatives are selected, how they raise money to win elections, how to hold them accountable once in office, how to know what they are doing once in office, where does their personal wealth come from, and the list goes on and on.

But note the common thread. We are putting people into positions of authority over us without knowing them in a system that is skewed towards the narcissistic, self-centered sociopath. (Think about what it takes to be successful in politics, then tell me I am wrong.)

The framers of the constitution did an incredible job of dealing with the problems they knew and could foresee. (Did you know that most of them were against the idea of intrenched political parties?) But they were only men (yes, men). Limited by their knowledge, the times, their assumptions, hopes, dreams and desires. They couldn’t foresee the automobile, television, computers or the internet. They were worried about the accumulation of wealth into too few hands, but didn’t do anything effective about it.

No, they did a great job for 1787 when the US Post Office used horse-drawn coaches to carry the mail over dirt roads. It is now 2012. It is a different world. It is time to re-examine the processes and assumptions that we allow to govern us.

That process begins by understanding and using precisely the words used in our civil discourse. Like understanding the difference between a democracy and a republic.  Language matters.  First rule of critical discourse.

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