The Bucket List Generation in the Age of Anomie

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 21, 2010 · 123 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

In the Art of Manliness Community, members often pose questions to the forum asking for advice. One question that pops up from time to time runs something like this: “I feel like I’ve lost passion for everything in life. Nothing seems to interest me and life feels empty.” Other members often respond that the person is likely clinically depressed and should go see a doctor.

Such advice is meant to be helpful and for some it probably is. But it also assumes that these kind of feelings always originate from the individual himself. Something is wrong with his mind that needs to be fixed with therapy or medication. But is this always the case? Or could that empty feeling be caused by much bigger cultural currents?

What Is Anomie?

At the turn of the 20th century, French sociologist Emile Durkheim was interested in a similar question. While suicide is often thought of as the result of deeply personal problems, Durkheim wanted to investigate if the act was really influenced by larger cultural factors. He studied countries’ weather and religion and economy, looking for what might negatively or positively effect the suicide rate. What he concluded, in his seminal 1897 work, Suicide, was that the suicide rate was greatly impacted by the presence in society of something he called anomie.

Anomie, which literally means “without law” in German and French, was defined by Durkheim to be a state of “normlessness.” Durkheim posited that in times of social change and upheaval, clear societal standards and expectations for individuals vanish. Without “clear rules, norms, or standards of value” people feel anxious, rootless, confused, and even suicidal. Life in an age of anomie can often feel empty and meaningless.

Towards a Normless Soceity

As we’ve discussed previously, part of the reason we sometimes feel nostalgic for the “good old days” is that it was a time with clear expectations and shared cultural values, rules, and norms.

But people rightly felt chafed by such constraints; too many folks didn’t fit inside the tidy boxes. And so society threw off the old rules in favor of a world where personal freedom ruled supreme, a world where the only real rule was essentially “live and let live.”

The WWII generation found meaning and purpose from the great many social norms that governed their lives. The Boomer Generation found meaning and purpose in rebelling against those norms.

But now we have neither social norms, nor anything left to rebel against.

What we have is an essentially “normless” society. There are still a few expectations that linger but “live and let live” generally reigns. You can get married at 20 or 40 or never, live with someone for decades and never get hitched, have 9 kids or none, or your first at age 60, wear what you want without anyone saying anything, date a woman from a different race, pierce any part of your body, walk down the street holding another man’s hand and not get roughed up, father a child out of wedlock and not be shunned by others, be a corporate warrior or a stay at home down or go back to college at 50. You can pretty much do whatever you want, short of breaking the law, and endure minimal social repercussions.

Certainly this unfettered personal freedom has its very positive aspects, allowing people to be whoever they wish. But in this blessing also lies the curse, when you can do anything and everything you want, how do you ever decide what it is you want to do and feel real satisfaction when you’re doing it?

Adrift in Personal Freedom

Personal freedom without any constraints is a recipe for anxiousness, restlessness, and unhappiness. This isn’t some Puritan maxim-it is argued by sociologists and psychologists alike. Personal freedom without any guideposts, standards, or expectations is like being adrift in deep space. The weightlessness is initially exhilarating, but you lack any frame of reference for where you are-up and down, left and right are meaningless.

When we look back on men in the 1950s we sometimes think, “Those poor saps. Had little choice but to get married right away, have three kids, live in the burbs, and work at some corporate job for 50 years. How suffocating.”

But we have our own problems in our time. The men of the 50s might have been very constrained, but they also had clear indicators of whether they had attained success and happiness. They had a clear sense of where they stacked up in the game of life. Now success and happiness can mean a million things and no one is sure they have it. With so many choices, we are ever restless about which to pursue and if the avenue we’re taking is really the right one.

I have a friend who is endlessly lamenting that he wants his life “to be extraordinary.” But when I ask him what that means, he shakes his head, and says, “I don’t even know-it’s just this feeling that haunts me all the time.”

The Bucket List Generation Looks for the Meaning of Life

We are truly deeply social creatures. For hundreds of thousands of years of human history, people lived in tribes with their lives governed by the rules of the tribe and close social ties. Only very recently in the grand scale of things have we become tribes which consist of lone individuals and nuclear families, each micro-tribe living in its own isolated pod. (As a side note, people often talk about women being stay-at-home moms as the most natural thing, but there can hardly be anything more culturally unnatural than a woman, separated from family and friends, alone with her baby day after day).

As our own micro-tribe, we are charged with the task of creating our own rules, values, and expectations, our own personal meaning for the world. Yet it is often an unsatisfying task; it is like creating a personal language; it is uniquely ours, but we can’t use it to communicate with anyone else. Our personal creeds exist in a vacuum; without standards and social institutions to provide some structure, they have no context and thus no meaning.

Not feeling well a few weeks ago, I caught back to back episodes of a new show on MTV called “The Buried Life.” Now as far as “unscripted television” goes, this show is light years beyond most drivel that appears on the boob tube. Four telegenic 20-something lads decide to “break away from the normal track,” and drive a purple bus around the country, checking off various items on their “bucket list.” For every task they complete, they help a stranger do something they want to do before they die.

The show is warm and fuzzy and inspiring, but I couldn’t help but notice a couple of things. One is that when the guys ask other people what they want to do before they die, and they tend to ask lower-income, minority folks this question, these people come up with meaningful things like “Reunite with my son who I haven’t seen in 20 years” and “Visit my mother’s grave in another state.”

But the things the guys themselves, who are white, middle-class types who likely have lived pretty charmed lives, want to do before they die are a collection of fairly superficial tasks: “Give a toast at a stranger’s wedding.” “Throw a badass party.” “Crash the Playboy mansion.” “Ask Megan Fox on a date.”

Now I don’t have anything against bucket lists. In fact, we’ve encouraged men to come up with one. But seeing one played out on television made me realize how hungry guys in my generation and socio-economic bracket are to find meaning in their lives, and how hard it is to come up with meaningful avenues to do so. In a world without norms, a very comfortable world without the age old challenge of simply meeting one’s basic needs, we have been forced to invent checklists of random items in hopes they can guide us to a fuller life. But the challenges we pick for ourselves will never ultimately satisfy our need for a feeling of purpose or fulfillment. Challenges get their meaning from being tied to something greater than self-to God, home and family, or country. You can give a toast at a stranger’s wedding, feel the initial rush, but the satisfaction will not be lasting because the “accomplishment” doesn’t have any impact beyond the self.

The Task Ahead

I know this post seems rather pessimistic, but it’s not meant to be a doom and gloom hand wringing exercise, and it’s certainly not a nostalgic longing for the past. People can talk about a revival of traditional values til they’re blue in the face, but we’ll never see a return to strict societal norms. The cat is out of the bag, and people will not relinquish the personal freedoms we have gained to put it back in.

It’s simply something I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s not a problem where I can generate some bullet points on how to fix it. It’s something complicated we all need to think through. But it’s important to understand what you’re dealing with in life, and that if you sometimes get the sense that life feels awfully empty, that you know you’re not alone and that there’s a reason for it. It doesn’t mean we should give up. While society may never again have shared values, it doesn’t mean we cannot each strive for personal excellence. Or that our lives are destined to be meaningless. Every generation, every age has its own set of challenges. The challenge of ours will be to find true meaning and purpose in the age of anomie. How do you think a man can go about this task?

{ 123 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Nicki March 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm

People just don’t know what to do with themselves when they have unlimited freedom. You’d think it would make people happy, but nope. People lose sight, or perhaps they never had it, of what they want in life, what’s important to them, etc. But there are a lot of people out there who aren’t just drifting by day to day with no attachment to the world. I think the main problem is that the people who are having a hard time grasping onto something think about why they can’t for way too long, way too often, lol. They get so many ideas in their heads about society this and society that, and become fixated on the one issue that makes the most sense if their head, even if it may not necessarily be true for society as a whole. I mean, we all have different perceptions on what makes life meaningful, and some people are totally lost whenever the thing that gave them meaning doesn’t quite make sense anymore. I just hope that those people are able to find whatever they’re looking for! Helplessness is bad.

102 Mike C March 29, 2010 at 9:26 pm

This is a great post. I have been facing this problem for the last few years. With all the freedom I could ever want and no direction, I have dealing with a constent feeling of being bored and restless. This has led to a lot of trouble in my personal life including runins with the law. I have recently discovered that the only way to really be content is to do two things: First, create my own set of moral guidlines and codes of conduct to govern myself. I based this of my own father, some of my role models in life, and great men that I admire. I try as hard as possible to stick to these guidlines, using them to judge every action I take and holding myself personally responsible when I mess up. Second, create several goals and stick to them. This helps because it not only gives you a sense of accomplishment and pride but also keeps you busy. That way you don’t have as much time to dwell on the feeling of anomie.

By the way, I believe in God but do not associate myself with any particular religion. Any restrictions imposed on one by an organization are meaningless unless you personally believe in them. I was raised Christian but stopped practicing when I realized most people were there for purely appearences sake. That holds true for every religion I have ever witnessed. Most members go to church, pray, make a big show of supporting the religion, then go home and do exactly what they have been preaching against. Codes of conduct only matter if you truly believe in and embrace them, otherwise there just words you say.

103 darkcied March 31, 2010 at 2:44 pm

The societal norms that we shed took a long time to evolve. The revolution of getting rid of them was quick. Time will give our culture new norms (hopefully better ones that respect freedom). But the point I’m making is that the old norms were not static and had not been around “forever” they had been around for a fairly long time, but traditions started out as “crazy new ideas”.

104 CatholicIntellectual March 31, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Hate to proselytize, but cannot answer otherwise. The only satisfying worldview to life is Catholicism. Often hated and misrepresented by the world, I consider it the world’s greatest open secret. Either way, I suggest an honest search for truth with humility, and go where it takes you. Study philosophy and theology. The only criteria is truth. But I think its not reasonable for a man of intelligence to not consider the Church in his search for truth. Without referencing God, it is impossible to give meaning to life, and any meaning you can give is superficial. Life is by definition meaningless then.

“Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. … Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and ‘swept along by every wind of teaching,’ looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards.” – Pope Benedict XVI

Not 100 in the United States hate the Roman Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Roman Catholic Church is. — Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

It is better to be the child of God than king of the whole world. — St. Aloysius Gonzaga
“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried” – Chesterton

“These are the times a Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own” – Chesterton

“Without God, everything is permitted” – Doestovesky.

105 Epictetus April 7, 2010 at 4:31 am

Frank Herbert, Dune:

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires, seek discipline and find your liberty.

106 InTheLandofTheBlind April 7, 2010 at 10:42 pm

But why? Why can’t we “get the cat back into the bag?”

We feel just how wrong this society is. How our separatist microcosms of individuality go against civilization. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I can’t help feeling that we have been divided and conquered.

Neighbors seem hard to warm up to, people seem distrusting and guarded. It all feels uncomfortable. There doesn’t seem to be the genuine air of friendliness that there used to be. There has to be something we can do to change this.

Why can’t like-minded individuals reclaim the overabundant personal freedoms and re-establish fundamental rules? It seems that we are so concerned with possibly hurting peoples feeling nowadays that we decide not to talk to them just in case we insult them or have them insult us. Our society has become so PC we can’t be comfortable. I strongly believe that a lot of this stems from modern psychology. By trying to get more in touch with our inner feelings, we have gotten out of touch with logic and the external.

This is definitely an issue I feel needs far more attention and more input.

107 mr. glass April 8, 2010 at 11:29 pm

With all the choices we have today, it’s no wonder that we feel so helpless and hopeless. And really, all we have is the illusion of choice. Look at the charade called “politics” in the United States; either you vote for this corrupt politician or that one. But I don’t want to talk about politics because its all a game, and I don’t like games. We have and if you look at it very carefully, have always had the freedom to do what we “want” to do. Those guys in the 1950s that had it so “clear cut” as to what to do, they had the power to do whatever they wanted. And not everyone followed the social norms and traditional way to live. It is ultimately up to the individual as to what path to take. It is the ultimate choice, but we are so bombarded by the media that we have to live extraordinary lives, or that we have to have this or that in order to be happy. And that’s all a lie. Its nothing to get bitter or angry about, or to feel cheated or whatever. No one pulls your strings but you. No higher power, no room full of sinister men with levers and buttons. But its easier said than done. So we need to quit talking about it, with therapists or bartenders or friends and just go out and do it, whatever it is that “it” is. Life is made out to be so difficult and full of pain and suffering but its only when you want too much and you seek happiness outside of your self that the pain begins.

108 Laetitia in Australia April 9, 2010 at 7:30 pm

I stumbled on this post via another that my husband directed me to.

I love that word “anomie”. Your explanation encapsulates various things I’ve noticed in my own life.

When I was at school I was academically proficient at just about any subject (bar sports) that I tried. That actually meant that it was harder to decide what career to pursue / degree to take at uni because there were so many equally valid options.

I found a few years ago that buying things didn’t give me a thrill the way they did in childhood. I realised that in childhood I’d had to do extra chores and save pocket money for weeks on end if I wanted to buy even a single, let alone an LP. Now, as an adult, I can buy 20 DVDs at a time (if I really wanted to clutter my house) without denting the budget but it feels hollow, even if they are ones I’ve wanted for years, because it isn’t a goal I’ve had to actively work towards (and learn things like self-discipline in the process of that work).

On the other side of the coin, at the time when I realised this, I was living in an expensive town where I felt that the chances of owning my own home before I die were so low it wasn’t worth pursuing. So, while I didn’t have small financial goals, I also didn’t have big ones or even medium ones (we own our one car outright and have no desire to pay for registration, insurance or maintenance on a second).

It was actually a combination of this psychological malaise about finances, desire to understand my hobby business better and a (Christian) belief that I am to be a good steward of resources under my control, that led to my enrolling in a Diploma of Accounting 13 years after completing my engineering degree. (In the right sector, I am as happy as a lamb to work as an engineer.)

I have found that learning something helps pull me out of the doldrums because it gives me a focus. I intend to be a lifelong learner, but the learning doesn’t have to result in a piece of paper to show others.

109 False Prophets April 18, 2010 at 11:28 am

Great post. This very topic is something that always haunts me. I don’t have an answer. And I don’t know that anyone truly does. But I have some theories. I have noticed that the times that I am most passionate and driven is when I have a goal. Right now that goal for me is to venture out on my own and quit an unfulfilling corporate career (at a company that many people would kill to work at). I’ve often found this to be the case – it’s in the pursuit of things that we find the most meaning. However, the irony is that once we get there, the satisfaction is hollow, and we begin looking for the next thing. That’s why I think that some eastern religion and philosophy that revolves around the center principle of just ‘being’ tends to be the truest path. Unfortunately, being in a westernized culture, I have had a hard time escaping the constant ‘bigger, better, faster, smarter, shinier’ pursuits of our culture (planted or enhanced by Christian values).

The bottom line is that no matter how smart we are as a species, we are really just that – the smartest animals who have learned to manipulate nature towards our benefit and our ultimate destruction. There really is no purpose for us on an individual level other than survival. But with everything our present society throws at us, we are tricked into thinking there is. Those who come to that realization and TRULY accept and thrive in it are the ones that seem to live the most satisfied lives. Everyone else is simply motivated by false promise to keep going.

110 thornad April 21, 2010 at 5:25 am

The reason we are where we are, in the middle of a phase shift, is because for the at least a few thousand years we have been looking ‘outside’ for a solution, and we’ve been trying to ‘save the world’ to make up for the lack of purpose we have felt.
Faith into some ‘rules’, religion, doctrine, or anyhtng coming from outside ourselves will not satisfy, only make things worse. We are not robots, or computers, we don’t need programming. (And that’s what religion, TV and society does). We have to go deeper inside, and find the truth within ourselves.
” Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world. We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” – Joseh Campbell
So, in away this is your answer. Know yourself. Wake up.
You will never be able to see what makes you happy while you are stuck, clogged by your programming. First see the programming. See how commonly held beliefs are not correct, how pretty much everything in your envirnonment is not coherent with how you intuitively feel thing should be. Realize you live in a broken house about to collapse.
Then look for clues, like this blog, of others who figured out the same thing. By pointing out the problems, the incoherences, you remove layers of dirt, old wallpaper, plaster, dirt, and then you will get to the Truth. And as they say, the Truth shal set you free. So, in one word, do not look for somethign to give you meaning while holding the old beliefs. You will not find it. All you have to do is remove the layers, programming, old stuff, just like clearing up a diamond in the dirt, and then you will get to the diamond, and it will shine by itself, no effort form your part. Just wake-up, and clean-up. Learn who you really are. Don’t believe anyone but listen to everyone.
The rest wil come by itself.
Of course it will be painful to let go of the old belief structures. They have their own defense mechnism and are linked to your endorphines. Unfortunately there is no other way. The only way over the way through. Any other questions ?

111 Alex Kriz April 24, 2010 at 12:27 pm

It does seem like the belief structures that we’ve been conditioned to accept are ineffective and not really worthwhile. I think this is both a good and a bad thing. It’s a bad thing because unless we are proactive, I think that we can be lead by our conditioning to live a life that is far less than what we deserve to experience. However, it does seem to be a good thing because as a generation, we have an incredible opportunity to rise above this sea of apathy and define our own value systems. In essence, I generally agree with the message of this blog and feel like never before has an opportunity been available for a generation to be the architects of their own lives. It’s truly exciting to consider the possibilities. I’m glad that blogs like this one are around to point us in the right direction.

112 No BS April 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

It’s great to encounter such a thought-provoking discussion on a challenging issue. I find it helpful to know that others struggle with this issue—makes me feel more connected, which apparently is part of the “cure” for anomie. I have struggled with the issue since my teen years. Nearing 60 years old, I seem to be past the productive middle part of life where child-rearing and vocational accomplishment provided a strong sense of meaning (Frankls’s book helped me move from the practice of law to social work in the middle of my career). Lately I’ve been taking more of a self-focused Bucket List approach and last June I completed a three year sailing circumnavigation ( has the details). I knew I’d face a horrible crash of meaning when that adventure was done, and sure enough I have. Anomie was less of an issue during the preparation and execution of the circumnavigation, naturally, but once it was done, it was done and there was little lasting sense of satisfaction, but rather a sense that a new project had to be found, which I have been working on with some success.

During a lifetime of struggle with anomie I have come up with a few strategies and techniques for getting through periods when I am not caught up in some external cause which at least seems to give life some meaning:
1. Physical discipline seems always to be helpful–better diet, more exercise, both aerobic and strength training. Part of the reason may be that for most of us other people depend on our health and longevity–it is not merely selfish to get into better shape. I have not been a substance abuser but I am a social drinker on and off and I seem to do better with the anomic feelings of emptiness when I don’t drink at all. Alcohol is a depressant after all and it probably makes sense to stop taking depressants before starting anti-depressants IMHO.
2. I envy those with actual faith but my rational mind finds supernatural beliefs to be entirely unconvincing. I have discovered though that the part of our mind that needs religious faith doesn’t really care if the rational part also believes. As a practical matter acting as if there is “someone out there” who cares about what we do seems to be very helpful in fighting anomie. I have run into this idea in at least three places: the early pshychologist/philosopher William James, the Higher Power concept of the 12-Step Movement, and, more recently, a current popular guru by the name of Julia Cameron. Whether or not I really believe it, it is incredibly powerful to act and think, even pray, as if I do. Not for everyone, I know, but it works for me. I think by the way that a lot of “people of faith” don’t really believe at the rational level but they know it works for them. It may be that this creates a lot of internal conflict for the individual “believer” and also a sense of hypocrisy for the observer. Viewed in this light maybe some of these difficulties are unnecessary .
3. Journalling. Julia Cameron’s book, T”he Artist’s Way”, I think it’s called, reminded me that daily journalling is a powerful technique for getting in touch with one’s own deeper (in the sense of less accessible) thoughts, needs and desires. I try to do it first thing every morning (I look forward to it, so it helps me get up early when I am sleeping too much and reconciles me to getting up earlier than usual when I am sleeping too little). On a difficult anomie day such as today has been (which led me to this blog) I journal several times during the day. It doesn’t feel like vegging out as watching TV and certain kinds of reading often can. By getting me in touch with my less obvious, but, I suspect, more fundamental needs and wishes it moves me away from anomie. Frankly, and again this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I prefer my goals and norms to come from within (even though many would say that this is actually a way of communing with God.)
4. Living in the moment. This is a bit of a challenge at a time when one is thinking hard about what to do next, but it is all the more important at such a time. Other comments have covered this topic well, but to me it basically involves paying attention to the details of the world around you from moment to moment, and especially paying close attention to the other people one comes into contact with and accepting some responsibility for bringing something pleasant into others’ lives. Even if all you have for others is friendly eye-contact an d acknowledgment, for some that can be quite a lot. It can backfire of course–some people unfortunately see almost any attention as threat–but with practice you get better at it.

Through the journalling medium (and in connection with kind of a modified carving-away process as another commenter described very well) I have concluded that traveling is my thing and what I have to commit my energies to. I’ve had enough of boats for a while and I’m pretty broke anyway, so I am beginning to explore the world of bicycle touring. As I prepare to become some kind of bicycle nomad (and I discover that there are lots of them out there) I am looking for a unifying structure or system of goals for my traveling—something that will connect it to something larger than “just me.” If anyone has suggestions along these lines–not fundraising rides–I’d welcome them.

I can’t resist a comment about the idea that serving in the military is a wonderful cure for anomie, which may apply equally to a lot of organized causes. There is no doubt that–in the moment–the cameraderie of battle is the ultimate antidote to anomie. But the battle survivors of every war, most poignantly Vietnam, have included many who concluded during or after their experience that the cause for which they were fighting was pointless at best and very possibly intentionally fraudulent, even evil. No one has ever made this point more effectively than Tolstoy in his “Letter to a Young Conscript” which probably will never be required reading at the local recruiting office. I certainly recommend it to any young person who finds the glory, honor and sacrifice stuff that JC is putting out to be seductive. He makes the case well, but entirely leaves out the ethical dimension, which in my opinion, deserves careful consideration. Quasi-military roles (law enforcement, rescue, etc.) may give similar satisfaction with fewer ethical problems.

113 EJ June 8, 2010 at 8:13 am

It’s all very well the religious arguing for faith as the answer, but you might as well tell me to believe in the Tooth Fairy as I find the concept of God equally absurd.

Catholic Intellectual – your religion and the crimes its adherents and followers have perpetrated are the last thing on earth I would turn to for guidance.

All ethics and moral codes were created my man, God is just an externalised personification of them invented to make them sacrosanct and unchallengeable!

114 Jonny June 15, 2010 at 5:03 pm

@Brett, your posts are so well thought-out and precise. You can hit a bulls-eye from miles away. You may have made one error in judgement, that “the cat is out of the bag” and that people will not give-up their personal freedoms. I think that many people here on this web-site reading your material are more than interested to consider trying something new other than indulging our personal freedoms. I am at the point where I could have any material thing I want, but to my shock and amazement I want absolutely none of it. Something has gone deeply wrong and I am prepared to try something crazy, like putting myself back in a perceived cage that may actually just be a set of tracks.

For the past two years I have been making a plan to get involved in science education. This stems from childhood fascination with building things from Lego castles to working hydro-electric dams in the roadside gully (until the street cleaner came and demolished it). Those were the days, it was easy to find someone to join you. Now I find it extremely difficult to find others even willing to entertain these ideas let alone interested in coming-along for the journey. My peers are more interested in mortgages, partying, women, to be bothered working on something challenging. Some people try to reason with me to invest in a relationship, but what woman wants an aimless man? Do I want a woman who settles for an aimless man?

I have never felt more alone in this quest to find a community of like-minded individuals willing to entertain my (backwards?) ideas of sharing and increasing knowledge. Most importantly, it doesn’t feel “right” to do this alone. Perhaps I really do need to pray about this as No BS commented.

115 Jenetta Moon July 26, 2010 at 7:11 pm

“But the challenges we pick for ourselves will never ultimately satisfy our need for a feeling of purpose or fulfillment.”… “You can give a toast at a stranger’s wedding, feel the initial rush, but the satisfaction will not be lasting because the “accomplishment” doesn’t have any impact beyond the self.”

This underlying feeling i think is something so rarely openly expressed by both men and women alike. I’ve read a lot of Durkheim, and i have to say his thoughts were some of the more interesting ones that i discovered when i decided to become a philosophy then sociology major in college. These quotes hit on some of the everlasting questions of human existence that i think will perhaps always go unanswered, no matter how hard we try to figure them out. I completely agree both that in studies and just my own personal observation that those with a more difficult life (albeit their hardships) are not as philosophically tortured, because to them, their needs are very basic ” seeing a child they haven’t seen in 20 years” “having enough money to get an education” or “affording day care”. When you have more responsibilities, and more hardship, you have less freedom. Obviously this isn’t a good thing, but it certainly prevents you from having the time or luxury to ponder what your meaning in life is. I whole heartedly believe that without some guidelines and external boundaries (whether they come in the form of hardships or perhaps just societal restraints (that may or may not have been fair) we are perhaps perplexed with what to do with all of this freedom. How do we know we are choosing the right path when we are free to choose any number of paths that could be the right one? With this comes feelings of guilt and a different kind of personal responsibility now in this generation: “well if I’m free to choose any path, and I choose the wrong one, I know it’s MY fault, and not SOCIETYS fault because there is nothing limiting me from reaching my goals anymore.” Knowing that our decisions are now completely up to us rather than the default of whatever we are allowed to do throws away any excuses we have for personal failure. In other words, being completely Free= being completely responsible for our mistakes. I do think this puts a kind of pressure on individuals that wasn’t there before. Sometimes it may be so much pressure, that individuals just “freeze” or give up in the decision making process in their own lives, subconsciously choosing no path versus one that may lead to failure and thus their own guilt. There is no generation so obviously a victim of “Freezing” than this one. People have delayed getting married, delayed kids, delayed finding real careers or even pursing what they love (even if it is none of the above) because they are afraid to commit to anything since there are too many options laid before them. There are other explanations for these things being “delayed” but perhaps this concept is one of the factors. Freedom is a necessary and fiercely fought for concept that we cherish every day we have it, but like everything, good things come in moderation, and even freedom I’m afraid in excess, can have significant consequences when it comes to the inner workings of the human mind and soul. Anomie is one of the greatest concepts to be considered when dissecting why it is we feel these notions in modern times and how we can identify the source of these particular issues.

116 Carl November 5, 2012 at 11:42 pm

This article put into words what I have been trying to grasp for several years now. Thank you for helping me to at least partially figure it out.

117 Douglas November 24, 2012 at 11:50 pm

The point I’d like to see examined is why the dgecmraphios are basically reversed for the two countries in Japan there are few suicides among the very young, while in the US they make up a significant proportion. Suicide does have a certain cultural acceptance in Japan, but that hasn’t changed much over the last 30-40 years. There have been huge social and cultural changes taking place since the 90 s that have been linked in one way or another to the suicide rate the loss of family and social support for the elderly, even though the financial support and welfare system is better now than it has been at any point up to now; changes in divorce laws and cultural views of marriage and divorce that resulted in many older couples splitting up; huge changes in social and corporate hierarchy, hiring practices, corporate culture, etc. Japan basically becomes a little more like America every year. All this is related to economic changes, of course, but it seems strange that people who survived WWII and the extremely lean years after that, who went to school with 2 potatoes for lunch every day and didn’t have indoor plumbing till the 1960 s, are going to start killing themselves because they lost their jobs.

118 Stacy April 24, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Well first let’s look at the rule of “fittest for survival” that is present in nature. There’s no longer a consenting opinion that this is right OR wrong.
It’s up in the air. That’s beautiful if you are an extrovert who will adhere to your opinion formulated since childhood. Again, that’s neither right or wrong.
Essentially a grey society, this become an opportunity for long held beliefs to get verified with similar minded people. On the other hand, you cannot dispute to the rise of bullying and terrorism.
Expressions of humanity is being expressed at too great extremities. Due to the overall acceptances, there is no way to feel like you share a human connection aside from interest groups, which consists of individuals with high esteem for a particular subject.

Perhaps the best way is to formulate something which everyone agrees — peace in an anomie society, the handbook. Introducing the diversity and multiculturalism within grasp of human knowledge.
Live and let live is beautiful, but it cannot be the substantial connection there is between citizens of a society. What is to say comparing the life of insects to man is any different than within an anomie society? The similarity is to create understanding based off differences. We must find more similarities that are acceptable from the past and integrate it into the present. If you don’t burn bridges, why would you bury your past? Revolution will never succeed because each side has valid point. It’s all about integration.

119 Buddy December 19, 2013 at 11:36 am

The truth is that we live in a broken society. And it’s mostly by design. If the huddled masses are instilled with fear and loneliness, but are distracted with endless amounts of toys and goodies, there’s no insurrection. Keep the fear high and the psychotropic drugs prescribed and people will endure this insane existence for fear of looking like they can’t keep it together. For any man feeling this modern mix of melancholy I would say this: Get involved in something bigger than yourself. Boy Scouts, the military, etc. Start teaching yourself skills like how to survive the outdoors or get a HAM radio license. Men who are feeling down probably have bought into the lies we’ve been fed for way too long and things just aren’t adding up for them. The quicker you realize that you must take back your manhood and stop living the cliche modern American life the better off you’ll be. Basically why this site exists in the first place. Thank you AoM.

120 andarb December 19, 2013 at 8:49 pm


Your post reminded me of a thought that came to me when comparing The Grapes of Wrath with the Tortilla Curtain. Steinbeck wrote about how the ‘hungry’, throughout history, have risen up and taken what they wanted from others, perhaps pointing out how close we were to having the ‘okies’ start a war. Now, though we have ads about hunger, the vast majority of our afraid-and-lonely-huddled-masses are NOT hungry in a physical sense, because the system has finally found a way to both fill their bellies and isolate them from one another, so they’re less likely to recognize the uneasiness they feel.

As for the rational vs. faith debate – it requires faith to believe that something can or does not exist until you find the empty hole where it would be. You choose to interpret my evidence as fantasy, all the while attempting to arrange your evidence in some shape that will never prove you’re correct. I’m as rational as the next person, but atheists are as likely to be blind believers as the faithful they denigrate.

Let each of us look at our beliefs and see why we choose to continue believing. Let each of us look at our rituals and see whether they should be perpetuated or replaced. I, for one, could use some better rituals, I’ve already rejected every traditional holiday, too soiled to save.

121 Presbys Domesticum December 22, 2013 at 11:37 am

I appreciate your work(s), and there is truth in what you proffer, but I think you fall short of the Truth we need to endure the societal changes–read “upheavals” if you will–which challenge us to rise above our present dependence and seek-ask-knock greater understanding about what life is indeed about.
You’ve asked the questions but “rituals”, or traditions, arent the ultimate answer.

Culture consists of the legacy of labor, thought, and faith which is transmitted across generations from a given community of men, having been tried, tested, and proven down the corridors of time.

customs, habits, traditions, arts, skills, technologies, governments, laws, institutions, family structure, community organization, social histories, beliefs, philosophies, language, and literature; in fact, any thing which characterizes the individual, familial, and societal interactions of men.

The primary vehicle for transmitting culture is language. A culture which achieves a level of complexity, advancement, and attainment which requires a literature to fully transmit itself is classified as a civilization.

The primary, dynamic institution for ensuring cultural perpetuation is the family, which serves as a secure, efficient repository and the most enduring medium for transmittal of the indispensable and fundamental principles of community, government, religion, economics, and education. Whatever serves to educate a people and preserve the significance concerning a cultural heritage functions as family, altho notably Western Civilization has used only the family, which has for millenia consisted of Husband and Wife united together in Holy matrimony, and (usually containing in addition) children and or other familial members gathered together by blood, socially recognized marriage bonds, or adoption. Only such a family is the foundational backbone of any enduring civilization’s social community. Such is the design and intent of Almighty God in His infinite Wisdom.

When usages of language and or the nature of family are changed, the cultural foundation is altered, and customs, arts, philosophies, beliefs, laws–indeed, the entire warp and woof of the social fabric of a people–will fundamentally shift to adapt to the structural changes.

The ensuing social turmoil, deemed ‘progress’ by the experts, self-professed and so-called, serves as a period of intense disorder in which certain of the people of God will continually sound a clarion call for a return to the old paths, and a re-establishing of the ancient land marks. During this interval of confusion and bewilderment the people will lose sight of their original commission which not only endued them with power and authority to carry on the mighty work for advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but entrusted them with a continual task of ensuring the freedom, education, and involvement of all the people, and requries of them a lasting commitment to hold to strit and unchanging account of any and all forms of government and servants both public and private.

A central characteristic of the churches and of modern preaching and Biblical teaching is antinomianism, an anti-law position. The antinomian believes that faith frees the Christian from the law, so that he is not outside the law, but is rather dead to the law. But there is no warrant whatsoever in Scripture for antinomianism.

The law is one law, the law of God. To the man on death row the law is death; the same law which places another on death row, is life to the godly man, in that it protects him and his property from criminals.

The increasing breakdown of law and order in society must first of all be attributed to the churches and their persistent antinomianism (anti-law; lawlessness). If the churches are lax with respect to the law, and worldliness, will not the people follow suit, like sheep?
Nor can civil law be separated from Biblical law, for the Biblical doctrine of law includes all law, civil, ecclesiastical, societal, familial, and all other forms of law in this time world we currently and temporarily live in. The social order which despises God’s law places itself on death row: it is marked for judgement.

Law in every culture is religious in origin. Because law governs man and society, because it establishes and declares the meaning of justice and righteousness, law is inescapably religious, in that it establishes in practical fashion the ultimate concerns of a culture. Accordingly, a fundamental and necessary premise in any and every study of law must be, first, a recognition of this religious nature of law.

Second, it must be recognized that in any culture the source of law is the god of that society. If law has its source in man’s reason, then reason is the god of that society. If the source is an oligarchy, or in a court, senate, or ruler, then that source is the god of that system.

Modern humanism, the religion of the state, locates law in the state and thus makes the state, or the people as they find expression in the state, the god of the system. In western culture, law has steadily moved away from God to the people (or the state) as its source, although the historic power and vitality of the West has been in Biblical faith and law.

Third, in any society, any change in law is an explicit or implicit change of religion. Nothing more clearly reveals, in fact, the religious change in a society than an legal revolution. When the legal foundations shift from Biblical law to humanism, as in our contemporary American society, it means the society now draws its vitality and power from humanism, not from Christian theism.

Fourth, no disestablishment of religion as such is possible in any society. A church can be disestablished, and a particular religion can be supplanted by another, but the change is simply to another religion. Since the foundations of law are inescapably religious, no society exists without a religious foundation or without a law-system which codifies the morality of its religion.

Fifth, there can be no tolerance in a law-system for another religion.l Toleration is a device used to introduce a new law-system as a prelude to a new intolerance. Legal positivism, a humanistic faith, has been savage in its hostility to the Biblical law-system and has claimed to be an “open” system. But Morris Raphael Cohen (Reason and Law, 1961), by no means a Christian, has aptly described the logical positivists as “nihilists” and their faith as “nihilistic absolutism”. Every law-system must maintain its existence by hostility to every other law-system and to alien religious foundations, or else it commits suicide.

That, to whet the appetite of any thinking person who mite be perusing this site.

Thanks for dialoguing!
Presbys Domesticum

I entertain and anticipate any replies, on any topic….

Parts of the above are snipped from
Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) by Rousas John Rushdooney

122 Robert Fenwick May Jr January 9, 2014 at 9:21 am

I think that there is something to be said about what your father did for you. Supported a family. Got up every morning at the crack of dawn, made his coffee and drove to his job without complaint and put food on your table and clothes on your back. I know it is not the answer for all but i can’t think of anything that would make you feel more accomplished and like a man than that. Why has this fallen out of style? My grandfather was just a butcher and was more man than any one i will ever know. He was smart and practical and no nonsense. He was strong, physically to be sure, but spiritually and in a deep sense of the word, he eminated it. He knew where he stood in the world. I can think of no more worthy goal than to provide for a family, like your anscetors have done for millenia bringing back the kill to the village. It’s in our genes, millions of years of evolution. No wonder we are lost. We need heros that are not fabricated on a movie screen… Men are becoming rare.

123 shirley cuffee January 21, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I have puzzled over our current societal enigma for quite awhile. If I read enough material, I eventually locate someone who has the answer.
Thank you so much.
I first saw the word”anomie” in UPROOTED AMERICANS by William G McLoughlin.

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