I love a good conspiracy theory movie. Films like the Manchurian Candidate, the Da Vinci Code and The Matrix are cool escapist fare. But what if a conspiracy feels more like reality than fiction? Anomie does this to people.
Last week I introduced the idea that today’s bevy of emotional and psychological struggles…depression, anxiety, despair, sleeplessness and substance abuse, may well come from something deep inside that we are not able to put our finger on…anomie. Please take a moment and read my last post to catch up with my thinking. The syndrome of anomie is, in essence, the state of being unanchored. Other descriptors: unmoored, ungrounded, adrift or lost.
I received a good handful of reactions and responses…people telling me how much they personally resonated with the idea or how they see anomie is having an impact on a loved one. For this reason, I want to get to some solutions. Anomie is no place to linger. But before we look at some answers, let’s explore the feelings generated by an un-anchored state.
Anomie feels like Eleanor Rigby.
Paul McCartney and the Beatles captured the essence of loneliness in their 1966 hit Eleanor Rigby:
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Loneliness may be the prime feeling generated by anomie. To be unmoored from values, beliefs and purpose quite naturally leads to a profound sense of isolation. We hang out with the people with whom we share norms and standards. Lose that tribe and you’re a singular boat adrift.
Anomie feels like limbo.
Anomie is a space of ambiguity and uncertainty. To be unmoored is to have little resolution to life’s circumstances. You don’t possess the beliefs that bring closure. Anomie can lead to what psychologists call an existential crisis – an unresolved state of inner conflict. If that sounds horrible to you…well, it is.
Anomie feels like a hamster wheel.
Absent moorings and foundations, daily life can turn into a Groundhog Day repeat of activity without a sense of calling or destiny. A common litany of those stuck in anomie is “Is this all there is?” or, “What’s the use?”
Anomie feels like they’re out to get you.
David Brooks captured this well in his 2020 Atlantic article “America is Having a Moral Convulsion”. Brooks, referencing anomie as a cause wrote… “Distrust sows distrust. It produces the feeling of being disconnected from society, a feeling that the whole game is illegitimate, that you are invisible and not valued, a feeling that the only person you can really trust is yourself.” Brooks describes several American groups that are currently struggling with this distrust. He quotes economist Tim Dixon – “They are driven by the insecurity of their place in society and in the economy. They are distrustful of technology and are much more likely to buy into conspiracy theories. They’re often convinced by stories that someone is trying to trick them, that the world is against them.”
Like I said earlier, anomie is no place to linger.
Next week: A way out of anomie.