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Fear And Sadness: The Price Of Our Atomized Society

Personal empowerment is a modern social value that fuels loneliness, anxiety and depression. The remedy for those is not pills or "programs," but kindness and sociability.

Photo of a man looking down at his phone

"Nnothing left but individual appetites"?

Daniel Scarfo*


BUENOS AIRES — Statistics suggest anxiety has become the condition for which medics are most frequently prescribing drugs. Our worries, and our anticipation of pain in its various forms, have become a constant. There has never been as many lonely and isolated people as there are today, with many willingly living this way. Their numbers contribute to and even compound this collective anxiety.

French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) saw the deterioration of communal living as a cause of some of our gravest social problems. The French philosophers, he said, had exalted a "science of the me" instead of a science of "us" that would help forge social individuals. Without an overarching authority or effective moral and legal checks, he observed that it was in fact unfettered selfishness that had flourished since the Enlightenment.

And this was already making life intolerable in a society where people felt something essential was missing even as their parents had known the joys of companionship and security.

Society weakened by individualism 

In Durkheim's time, the world was diverting its focus and attention from a God expecting moral sacrifices toward the very sanctification of private interests. The sociologist now had a new area of study: the moral degradation that accompanied this change in social priorities. With nothing left but individual appetites, the result had to be a society chasing the bourgeois dream of personal happiness while filling itself with criminality, suicide and divorce. Durkheim saw violence as inevitable in an overly acquisitive society weakened by individualism.

Our inability to tolerate too much reality has pushed us to escape into fiction.

We live in a time of jaded masses who seek therapies, which ultimately only teach people about "self-realization" and shielding themselves from others, instead of committing to a group or social institution. The context itself threatens the possibility of resurrecting the "us."

Do the various therapies we carefully select, which teach us to live in alienation inside a "normless" society, really diminish the many, customary frustrations of everyday life? Society entered a phase of menacing instability a while back, and our inability to tolerate too much reality has pushed us to escape into the most plausible or legitimate fictions at hand.

Black-and-white portrait of French sociologist Emile Durkheim

French sociologist Emile Durkheim

Wikimedia Commons

No living without fear

That fiction includes the potent tale of "me" and my power. Today some of the most beautiful aspects of the human condition — friendship, love and commitment — are threatened.

The horizon looks forbidding and we're finding it hard to feel at ease. But if we continue to be goaded into empowering ourselves, boosting our ability to influence others as the chief way of building a personal identity, and despising our condition and potential as social beings, there will be no living without fear and in peace with ourselves and others.

That is something to explore in therapy.

*Daniel Scarfo is a sociologist and an adviser to Argentina's ministry of justice.

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Where Imperialism Goes To Die: Lessons From Afghanistan To Ukraine

With multilateral diplomacy in tatters, the fighting gumption of weaker states against aggression by bigger powers is helping end the age of empires.

Man walking past an anti-Putin graffiti on a destroyed wall in

Man walking past an anti-Putin graffiti in Arkhanhelske, near Kherson, Ukraine

Andrés Hoyos


BOGOTÁ — Just a century ago, imperialism was alive and kicking. Today, the nasty habit of marching into other countries is moribund, as can be seen from the plains of Ukraine.

The invasion was part of President Vladimir Putin's decades-long dream of restoring the Russian empire or the Soviet Union, for which he would resort to genocide if need be, like his communist predecessors. Only this time, the targeted victim turned out to be too big a mouthful.

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When Putin leaves, sooner or later, with his tail between his legs, this will have been a sorry end to one of the last illusions of empire — unless, of course, China tries a similar move down the line.

This isn't the only imperialist endeavor to have failed in recent decades (and it has, when you think Putin thought his armies would sweep into Kyiv within days). Afghanistan resisted two invasions, Iraq was the setting of another imperialist disaster, as was Kuwait, with a bit of help from the Yankee sheriff on that occasion. In fact, besides some rather targeted interventions, one would have to move back several more decades to find an example of "victorious" imperialism, for want of better words. Which is very good news.

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