Archives for posts with tag: Durkheim
2500 later

Rio 2016: The Syrian Refugee who swam for her life – all the way to the Olympics. BBC.Com

At some point in time 12 tribes of nomadic herders had settled down on the banks of Jordan.

Conditions were good so they had enough time to think about things further than meeting their immediate needs.
For me it doesn’t matter much whether their religious teachings were a gift from their God or just a product of their own minds. The fact that they are choke full of useful advice for all of us and that the sharpness of that advice has not been dulled by the passage of time should be enough. We’d better continue to pay attention.

“For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, Scripture imputes (guilt) to him as though he had destroyed a complete word, and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel , Scripture ascribes (merit) to him as thoough he had preserved a complete world. Furthermore, (he was created alone) for the sale of peace among men, that one might not say to his fellow ‘my father was greater than thine’, and the minim might not say ‘there are many ruling powers in Heaven; again to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He: for if a man strikes many coins from one mould, they all resemble one another, but the supreme king of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first one, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: the world was created for my sake”

How come, then, that we are still killing each other in an organized manner?

OK, some go bonkers and kill themselves.
Some go so bonkers as to blame others for their unhappiness. They decide to go out with a bang and to kill as many of the ‘others’ as possible in the process.
The number of people going bonkers is naturally swelled by the present economic and social crises. Emile Durkheim, one of the fathers of sociology, had written an entire book on the subject, more than a century ago.

I can dig all this. It’s unacceptable but sort of explainable – aberrant behavior is not un-natural. That’s what evolution is for, to weed out aberrations that are too unfit to survive.

What completely baffles me is how come two and a half millennia after some simple herdsmen have demonstrated such acute but also noble thinking, some of us, most of whom pretend to be sophisticated intellectuals, continue to fashion religious teachings and ethnic/cultural values into wedges.
And use them to drive us into warring factions.

Why are they still doing this?
Why are we still heeding to their prodding?

Not only that we allow ‘them’ to ‘organize’ civil wars that kill hundreds of thousands of us and drive millions of the rest in exile but then we also allow some of ‘them’ to rule over some of the media that, supposedly, keep us informed.

“Unfortunately, some of the celebration was overshadowed by a completely unnecessary “omission” or outright censorship by Hungary’s public broadcaster. Refugee athletes are participating in the Rio Summer Games. Yusra Mardini, originally from Syria, is one of them and she has garnered a great deal of media attention, including in the Toronto Star.

“In the water, Yusra Mardini feels alive. In the water, Yusra Mardini swam for her life. In the water, Yusra Mardini helped to save the lives of many others”–writes Rosie Dimanno in The Star. The 18 year old ended up winning in the one hundred metre butterfly heat on Saturday. Not too long ago, Ms. Mardini had to swim to safety, fleeing her war-torn homeland, through Turkey and then across the waters in Greece. She and her sister swam for over three hours straight and, incredibly, made it to Europe safely. (They also helped save the 20 people that were in the boat they had been towing during those three hours) She trained for the Olympics in Germany.

Disappointingly, during the Hungarian public broadcaster M4′s coverage of the one hundred metre butterfly, they completely and seemingly deliberately neglected to mention Ms. Mardini. Jenő Knézy Jr., who is reporting live from Rio on behalf of the public broadcaster, mentioned four out of the five females competing–the only one he did not utter at all was the name of the Syrian refugee. It was as though she did not even exist– even though viewers could see her on their television screens. Mr. Knézy managed to avoid mentioning her, even after she won.

The news site wondered aloud after the incident: “Is it forbidden to even utter the name of a refugee on Hungarian public television?”

Mr. Knézy claims to have made an innocent mistake, when he forgot to mention the name of the winner of the competition.” (Christopher Adam, Hungary wins gold, breaks record on Olympics Day 1, but why did public television censor the coverage? August 7, 2016,


“The Brexit vote may or may not have been a tragedy, but Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary appears determined to follow with a farce. On Monday, he scheduled a referendum on keeping out refugees for Oct. 2, further threatening to undermine the weakened European Union. The referendum question — “Do you want the European Union to be able to order the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without parliament’s consent?” — is a textbook example of voter manipulation.

This isn’t really designed to address the EU’s plan to settle 1,294 refugees in Hungary — the country’s share of the 160,000 people that European authorities have proposed resettling from the Middle East. Hungary and Slovakia are already suing the EU over the refugee quotas, and, in theory, Orban could veto any such plan. The referendum will help him prop up his domestic popularity and give him a “democratic” bargaining chip with other EU leaders — even though his strategy will be glaringly obvious because the question is framed in a way that produces only one answer.

Direct democracy’s biggest vulnerability may be that it can be subverted by political players who ask the people loaded, incomprehensible or otherwise rigged questions.”

“Orban has no one to correct him. Earlier this year, Hungary’s Supreme Court approved the referendum question. So now a Hungarian voter has a choice between agreeing with Orban or effectively recognizing that the EU can do whatever it pleases in Hungary without any national authorities having any say. The only other option is not to show up, thus refusing to be manipulated. If enough voters do that, Orban will be made to look a fool. But given the combined popularity of Orban’s party, Fidesz, and the hard-right Jobbik, whose thunder Orban is trying to steal with the vote, there’s a good chance the turnout will be sufficient.” (Leonid Bershidsky, Hungary’s Manipulative Referendum, July 5, 2016,

Going back to Durkheim’ Suicide,  there is something there that I find of enormous importance. After studying how suicide rates vary, both in time and across borders and religions, Durkheim has noticed that each suicide act was indeed determined by the individual itself who, in his turn, was influenced by prevailing socio-economic conditions but that there could be noted another very important influence.
The members of the Jewish communities were the least likely to commit suicide, the Catholics came next while the Protestants were the most likely to end their lives, of those belonging to any of these three categories.
Durkheim explained this phenomenon by using  the concept of ‘social solidarity’ – for a society to survive its members need to stick together.
Then Durkheim went further and elaborated on the matter. ‘While it is good for a society to develop strong bonds among its members – the Jews have survived for so long and against such odds, these ties must not be allowed to become strong enough to stifle the individuals – otherwise that society would loose its ability to innovate, hence to adapt itself to the inevitable change that befalls upon its head, no matter what.’An equilibrium has to be met between social solidarity – which pushes us to think alike and to align ourselves to the values shared by the entire community – and individual freedom – that which allows each of us to depart, somewhat, from the social norms without being punished by the rest of the society.

I’m going to use, again, the Jews as an example. They have survived, as a people, for so long and against such odds that they must have done something right. Well… they do take care of their own and they do cherish individual autonomy.

After all they are the ones who came up with ‘God created Man in His image’. Hence all men are considered equal – because they have been cast in the same mould – and assigned a spark of ‘something special’.

Jews have done well in this world. Given the circumstances and until some of us have completely lost their minds.
Why don’t the rest of us follow their example?

They don’t kill each-other!
Not physically and not even symbolically.
No matter how much two of them might hate their respective guts, when push comes to shove  they’ll help each-other out of the mess.

Why have we, the goyim, ignored for so long such a fine example?
Why do we continue to do so even now, after we’ve found out that the only one Planet we can call home is rather small and that no one seems to be coming, anytime soon, to rescue us from ourselves?
And even if there was anybody who could have done this… would any of you lift a finger to help a bunch of quarreling idiots who are continuously threading on each-others toes? Specially when/if each of us would get their due after their death…

Then why would He?

Why would He help us before we start helping each-other?



For the last 3500 years humankind has been busy writing Laws.

Which can be grouped in two main categories.
Natural laws and man made (normative) laws.
According to this classification while all laws have been written by Man those belonging to the first category are active regardless of Man being aware of their existence and those who belong to the latter come to life only as long as Man chooses to enforce them.

Another classification could be ‘phusical’ laws – ‘phusis’ being an ancient Greek term for ‘grown naturally’, all things that came to be in a ‘natural’ manner – ‘statistical’ laws and, again, ‘normative’ laws.

Both these classifications depend on how much influence Man has over how the laws work, besides the obvious fact that the wording, in all cases, belong to Him. To Man, of course.

The difference between them being that while the first sees Man as an individual making decisions by himself the second takes into consideration the fact that Man cannot function properly outside of a community.

Before going back to discuss some more about both classifications I have to note that laws are important mainly because they define areas of opportunity.
People are, from a functionalist point of view, self aware decision makers. But since none of them has an infinite amount of knowledge at his disposal nor an infinite capacity to process what ever information he has on a subject, people find it very useful to have the reality around them partitioned into ‘safe’ and ‘enter at your own risk’ areas.
In this respect it doesn’t matter whether the law itself belongs to either of the 5 categories. The consequences of the law are the same. Those who are aware of its existence have a lot easier job at discerning the safe from the potentially dangerous places than the ignorant ones. What each of them does after finding that out is another matter.

Coming back to the first classification, ‘natural’ versus ‘normative’ laws, let me elaborate a little about what ‘natural’ means in this situation.
It is obvious that the law of gravity, the one formulated by Isaac Newton, belongs here.
It started to produce consequences as soon as ‘mass’ came into existence – regardless of who, if anyone, made the necessary ‘arrangements’ and regardless of anyone being aware of its very existence or not.
But how about the law against killing another human being?
Animals belonging to the same species occasionally do kill each-other so this doesn’t seem to be an all encompassing natural law.

On the other hand history has compellingly taught us that communities where individuals are treated fairly by their peers fare a lot better than communities where some of the members kill (some of) the others. In a Darwinian sense the communities who do protect the lives of their members have an evolutionary advantage over those who don’t.
In this sense the ‘do not kill’ law becomes ‘phusical’. It is both ‘man made’, hence ‘normative’, and acts regardless of people being aware of its existence.

And no, this is not the same thing as ‘ignorance of the law offers no excuse‘.
As I said before, the first classification, ‘natural’ versus ‘normative’ considers Man mainly as an individual – who cannot hide himself under the cloak of ignorance and who has to bear the consequences of his acts, if apprehended – while the second classification, ‘phusical’, ‘statistical’ and ‘normative’, considers Man as an individual member who both depends heavily on his community and contributes decisively to the well being of the place where he lives.

In this respect ‘do not kill’ becomes a ‘statistical’ law. If enough individuals refrain from killing other people and if the community successfully puts in place and operates a protection mechanism  to guard the lives of its members, without otherwise stifling the ingenuity of its people, that community will fare better than those who either fail to protect their members or protect them so jealously that transform them into hapless puppets unable to fend for themselves. Those who are interested to find out more about the equilibrium between protection and freedom of expression might want to check Crime and Deviance, Functionalist Perspective.

By now you must have noticed that ‘statistical’ laws are both ‘objective’ – in the sense that they will produce consequences even if people are not aware of/do not care about their existence, and ‘normative’ – in the sense that those consequences do depend, heavily, on how people act.

So. Does this make me a staunch defender of ‘normative’ laws?

Not at all. Just as Durkheim noticed long ago telling people what to do will only stifle their ability to adapt. To cope with change.

That’s why I strongly feel that ‘normative’ laws, the few that are really necessary, must be written in a ‘negative’ way. Do not kill, do not rape, do not discriminate, do not steal are quite different from ‘all of us have to be maintained alive’, ‘we must assign an armed guard to every nubile woman’, ‘we must write millions of pages of rules to cover every possible act of discrimination’, ‘we must arm ourselves to the teeth in order be able to defend our property against all odds’.


As you can very easily infer from the title, I define myself as being an agnostic.
I’m reasonably satisfied with the scientific explanation about how the world came to be but I cannot rule out any intervention from an out-side agent during the process.

Hence my unwillingness to commit myself to any of the extreme positions.

And hence my conundrum.

A significant portion of the theist believers are convinced that God, their God, is behind everything that takes place on the surface of the Earth. And beyond.

All scientific materialists are convinced that everything takes place according to some immutable and implacable ‘natural laws’.

Then how come any of them has enough gumption to contradict any of the others?

How come a religious believer can say to another ‘your God is false’ if he is convinced that nothing in this World can happen without the knowledge and approval of his own one? Isn’t this a form of censorship towards his own God?
How come a religious believer can say to an atheist ‘you are going to rot in Hell’?
Last time I checked all Gods were very jealous, all religious teachings I know are clear about this: ‘You do your job and let Me do the judging.’ Then how come so many zealots feel free to usurp the place of their Gods and pass judgement on their peers?

How come so many of the atheists feel free to poke fun at the believers?
According to their own creed, religion is a natural thing. It does exist, isn’t it?
And by its mere existence it necessarily observes the very natural laws the atheists so staunchly defend. As if any of them needs any defense, let alone to be imposed upon the others…

When are we going to accept that religion, any of them, is nothing but an environment, not a yoke?
Just a place with some rules, not some kind of a prison?
That the final responsibility for our acts belongs to us, regardless of any God watching or not over our fates?

Here on Earth, anyway.

Let me elaborate on some concepts first.

We have religion and we also have religions.

Regardless of whether religion comes from the Latin ‘religare’ or not it is obvious for the concerned observer that inside what is commonly known as ‘culture’ there is a tightly knit set of traditions which constitutes the common ground where all members of the community that share those convictions come to meet and ‘find the time of the day’.
Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of sociology, has written a whole book on this subject – The Elementary Forms of Religious Lifeand John Faithful Hamer, one of his disciples, has summed up brilliantly the whole idea: “Religion is largely a function of sociology, not theology.”

Only each community has evolved in its own distinct environment. Hence, even if for each community ‘religion’ plays the same role, there are no two religions that are similar. Simply because each of them consists, as I’ve said before, of a certain set of traditions whose main goal is to help the community make the most of the environment into which it has to make do. And since each environment is different from the next one…

And now we have arrived at the second role played by religion. To offer a certain degree of solace and certitude to the individual believer. Just as nobody can make it out by himself – regardless of whatever the anarchist libertarians might think/preach – all of us need some assurance about the world having some kind of congruence. Some of us find it in science, some others in stories which involve a God or a team of Gods and yet others in a godless narrative about how to behave in order to find, eventually, a way out of this Earthly ‘Valley of Tears’.
In order to offer that solace each individual religion has developed a certain ritual. Just as rigorous performance of calisthenics provides a certain physical well being by performing a religious ritual individuals forge a strong connection with the same minded people belonging to the same flock. That’s why some people believe that ‘religion’ comes from ‘religare’ – the Latin word for ‘binding’.

Let me now put two and two together.

We have religion as a set of guiding traditions and we also have religion as a ritual which is performed in order to bind people together so that they no longer feel alone and helpless.
Putting things this way it’s easy to observe that there are some people who are firm believers in those guiding traditions but who, for various reasons, do not feel the need to constantly reenact the ritual; others who are more or less skeptic about the traditions but who are convinced that their world would come apart if the ritual would no longer be performed and still others who are both firm believers in ‘their’ traditions and staunch performers of the ritual attached to those traditions.

From a more practical point of view the non ritualistic ‘firm believers’ will live and let live even if they are convinced the others will rot in hell while those who attach great importance to the proper performance of the ritual will try to impose it as widely as they (even im)possibly can.
So, if we need to reduce their militancy it would be easier to reduce their perceived insecurity/helplessness than to try to change their ‘religious’ convictions. Maslow taught us that it’s relatively easy to lift an individual from the base of his famous pyramid to a more comfortable level while history has taught us that it takes a lot of time to change a time-honored tradition.
Also, by helping them to overcome their perceived helplessness we’ll also help them notice the fact that each religion offers a great degree of autonomy to its followers.
BTW, that’s why many would be dictators insist on religious-like values (nationalism is also a religion), on the corresponding rituals being faithfully respected AND simultaneously do their worst in order to reduce their followers – the ordinary members of the community they intend to dominate – to a state of abject dependency. The most poignant example being Pol Pot’s Cambodia but this has happened, to various degrees, in all communist states. But not exclusively.

girls chose ISIS

mothers of ISIS


Some 30 years ago I stumbled upon a book by Desmond Morris.

The Naked Ape.

I read it overnight because next day it had to be returned to its owner. Books published in their original languages were hard to come by in communist Romania…
Little did I know at that time that my interests will slowly shift from Mechanical Engineering to Sociology and then on to decision making… Anyway…
In that book Morris tries to convince us that women have so many periods because in this way they are a lot readier to receive their mates, thus ensuring a tighter bond inside the couple. In turn this is beneficial in an evolutionary sense because a tightly knit couple is better suited for raising the kind of slow growing children that is characteristic for the human species.
In short Morris proposes that monogamy was a step forward in human evolution.
I tend to agree with him and I even have a further argument. Imagine what would happen if a small number of alpha males would ‘corral’ – one way or another – most of the available nubile women, as it’s the case with the chimps or the gorillas. Do you think the rest of the males would be able to cooperate in any way towards the survival of the community they belong to or they’d be constantly obsessing about how to get laid?

Which brings me to my subject.

Emile Durkheim used suicide as a pretext to introduce us to his theory about social solidarity and the social function played by what we consider to be a crime.
Durkheim’s research had led him to see suicide as an individual decision but one which is heavily influenced by the cultural medium to which the decision maker belongs. More over, the same line of thinking produced his conclusion that a society must keep a fine balance between ‘solidarity/intolerance’ and ‘laisez-faire’. One that is too intolerant drastically reduces its own ability to adapt to changes that occur in its ‘environment’ while those that do not care about the fate of their members will eventually auto-dissolve.

What if incidence of rape was to be studied in the same light?

Bill Cosby – a man who, let’s face it, could have had legions of willing women – is accused  to have drugged and raped some 40 women in more than 30 years before anything came to public notice.
Jimmy Savile, a British “larger-than-life character”, used “his celebrity status and fund-raising activity to gain uncontrolled access to vulnerable people across six decades” and to unabashedly rape them.
Rape not only occurs randomly in war time but has also been used as a weapon:
Sexual violence is also used to destabilize communities and sow terror”.
Meanwhile France – Durkheim’s own Motherland – has become the stage for some 7000 ‘tournantes’ every year. The English term for ‘tournant’ being gang rape.

As Durkheim said more than a hundred years ago suicide is indeed an individual act/decision but it’s incidence is heavily influenced by what happens around that person.
Same thing is valid for rape. A rape appears at the intersection between the history/experience/upbringing of the rapist, the social/cultural milieu in which he lives and his ‘on the spot’ decision.

Sex sells.
“It’s been said that as human beings, we have a lizard or reptilian brain that responds to certain primal urges. Food is one. Sex and reproduction is definitely another. This underlying, pre-programmed disposition to respond to sexual imagery is so strong, it has been used for over 100 years in advertising. And the industry, while abusing it more and more, would be foolish to ignore the draw of sexual and erotic messaging.”

How far are we willing to go in order to make a sale? As far as Dolce and Gabbana went when they published the picture above?

Morris said that our first step towards humanity was to change our very physiology in order to promote (at least an apparent) monogamy. It seems that we are now altering our culture in order to sell more…

Gang Rape taken to the next level… Manipulation went wild…

Scriam cu ceva vreme in urmă că depresia este si o boala a societatii, nu doar a oamenilor. De fapt ideea nu este foarte originală, a fost prezentată pe larg, chiar dacă ușor altfel, de către Durkheim în „Sinuciderea”. N-am menționat acest lucru atunci pentru că mi s-a părut nepotrivit să vorbești despre sinucidere în casa deprimatului.

Numai că viața bate blogul.
La câteva zile după asta tot ce au putut cu adevărat face serviciile de urgență pentru o femeie disperată care amenința că se aruncă de pe bloc a fost să aștepte 35 de ore înainte de a o aduna cu fărașul de pe trotuar.

Foto: Octav Ganea // Mediafax

”Negociatorii Poliţiei Capitalei au ţinut permanent legătura cu femeia, pe terasa blocului, ba chiar au reuşit să o convingă să bea apă şi să mănânce, însă nu au putut să o facă să renunţe, chiar dacă la faţa locului a venit şi soţul femeii, iar cei din bloc s-ar fi oferit să îi plătească datoriile la întreţinere pe care le avea.”

Teoria spune ca cele mai multe tentative de sinucidere sunt de fapt strigăte de ajutor și că pe măsură ce trece timpul și cel în cauză nu trece la fapte cu atât cresc șansele de succes a celor care încearcă să îl salveze.
Pe de altă parte pentru ca această teorie să funcționeze e nevoie de ceea ce spunea Durkheim. Cel care este în situația de a alege să-și învingă depresia și să continue să trăiască să aibe la ce să fie convins să se întoarcă. Legăturile dintre membrii societății din care face parte să fie suficient de puternice pentru a o face atât de funcțională încât cel care se gândea la un moment dat să se sinucidă să aibe motiv să se răzgândească.
Și încă ceva. Salvatorii înșiși vor fi cu atât mai convingători cu cât societatea va fi mai funcțională. Tocmai pentru că și lor înșiși viața le va părea mai frumoasă.

Numai că iată cum descrie poetul Florin Iaru situatia:

„Aşadar, dacă binele e ameninţat atât de rău din ambele părţi, un spectator admirând comédia ar putea spune cu îndreptăţire: „Să piară toţi!“. Comic e faptul că ambele tabere se agită în numele democraţiei, a progresului, a valorilor. Toţi apără un principiu. Şi, în acelaşi timp, sunt surzi la diversitatea fundamentală a naturii umane. Unul e de stânga, altul de dreapta, unul e tradiţionalist, altul, modernist, unul e trist, ultimul, şi mai trist. Sentimentul că fiinţa celuilalt nu te lasă să respiri, să trăieşti, că o conspiraţie a imbecililor, a serviciilor secrete îţi ameninţă viaţa domină România. Nu poate avea cineva o idee a lui, un sentiment, o părere. Nu. E a stăpânului, a mogulului, a ruşilor, a lui Băse, a lui Ponta. Nimic nu e întâmplător. Grupurile se fac şi se desfac şi, mare ciudăţenie – cei care erau duşmani neîmpăcaţi devin prieteni la toartă, iar cei care se pupau în bot la guvernare şi în Parlament şi-au jurat moartea. Dacă iubeşti câinii, vrei să-mi omori pisica.”

Asta să fie oare soluția? O sinucidere colectivă lentă prin marasm socio-economic? Să „pierim” cu toții?

N-ar fi mai bine să-i demonstrăm lui Florin Iaru că se înșală când spune „Crezul meu e că oamenii nu se schimbă niciodată.”?
Eu unul sunt convins că nici măcar el nu crede cu adevărat așa ceva!. Altfel ce rost mai avea să scrie articolul…
Așa că… la treabă! Dacă suficient de mulți dintre noi ne hotărâm că „așa nu mai merge” și ne îndreptăm în primul rând pe noi înșine cercul vicios descris de Iaru va deveni unul virtuos. Nu e nevoie să ieșim cu parul pe stradă pentru a-i pedepsi pe „ceilalți”  – așa cum au făcut minerii in ’90 la chemarea lui Iliescu. Este suficient să nu mai întoarcem, vinovați, capul când lângă noi cineva își bate joc de altcineva, spunându-ne că „n-are rost să mă bag dacă nu mă afectează direct”!
Păi tocmai d-aia trebuie să te bagi, așa cum și cât poți tu, tocmai ca să nu ajungă să te afecteze și pe tine. Ca să mai fie cine să îți sară și ție în ajutor dacă vei avea vreodată nevoie.

Altruismul are o explicație cât se poate de rațională, nu este pur si simplu un moft. Societățile care au grijă de membrii lor – fără să îi sufoce, supraviețuiesc mai mult iar membrii lor sunt mai fericiți decât cele care funcționează după legea junglei.
Iar asta e tot de la Durkheim citire.
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