Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Anomie in the UK

(h/t to the Sex Pistols for the title, natch)

According to the BBC's Mark Easton, these twinned maps provide "a measure of people's sense of - or lack of - belonging to where they live." Since the early 1970's, it would seem, people's sense of connection to their physical homes has been deteriorating, at least in the UK. It would be fascinating to see how this data compared to other countries: I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if a similar phenomenon were evident in the US. And what about other countries? Is it a Continental affliction, as well? What about the developing world?

Now, I don't doubt that this is a bad thing. But as with so much in the way of modern social change, it seems to me that we've traded one very large good for another very large good. That is, we've exchanged communities defined by geographical proximity (and the sense of place, history, tradition, safety, security, and stability that they connote) for communities defined by interests and personal identity (and all the freedom to define one's own social experience that they connote). So it's true that a disaffected or socially isolated Liverpudlian may have less of a local community in which to root her sense of self (that is, she would report a high level of anomie); but she surely has more opportunities to escape whatever stultifying or socially arid conditions are responsible for her disaffection in the first place.

It's a real dilemma, with probably no certain answer. Still, those maps are a reminder that one of the characteristic sensations of being alive in the post-industrial Western world is a subtle but inescapable feeling of loss.

Or, to quote a keen observer of contemporary social conditions:

Every time I think of her
It brings back memories
I remember how it used to be
Oh baby, can't you see?
Oh baby, come back to me.

I'm a lonely boy
I'm a lonely boy
I'm a lonely boy
I'm a lonely boy


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