Monday, 18 April 2011

Anomie, nihilism and suicide

I don't think there is a single Inuk in all of Nunavut who has not lost someone to suicide - either a friend, a sibling, a spouse, a child, a parent.

In the discourse on suicide by Inuit, I have not heard of the notion of "anomie", or "a personal feeling of a lack of social norms", as something to be examined to try and address this extremely important issue in Inuit Nunaat. Anomie is a feeling of a breakdown of social norms and values, something that most Inuit feel or intuit in a profound way.

I know that most researchers and interveners have not come across this term nor considered it as something insightful. Perhaps it's something that is ideologically daunting to consider seriously but we're talking about human lives wasted.

"Nihilism" is a philosophical term for the notion that there is no meaning to life but it is, in my view, a logical conclusion and not the source of the social malaise which we all feel. Anomie, by contrast, is, to quote a Wikipedia entry:

"For Durkheim, anomie arises more generally from a mismatch between personal or group standards and wider social standards, or from the lack of a social ethic, which produces moral deregulation and an absence of legitimate aspirations. This is a nurtured condition".

I know in Nunavut (in Canada) there is willful resistence to honestly see our "modern" society as founded on a wholesale displacement and colonialization of other societies, peoples. Couple this unvoiced policy of assimilation with the absence of overt draconian exploitation agenda and Inuit will drop like flies.

Ostensibly, our supplanting system is "secular" and views "spirituality" as antithetical to its aims, but it is something not founded on discourse but imposed. One can be "secular" yet at the same time be educated in the liberal arts curriculum. In fact, that is how the modern Western world came into being, through liberal arts.

The Nunavut Government pays much lip service to valuing IQ but it doesn't know what it's talking about for it views Inuit culture as something strange and untrustworthy. This disingenuous power dynamics has to stop in order for self-murder to stop. Since Inuit children spend inordinate amount of time in a "foreign" school system (for all intents and purposes), it is up to the school system to provide moral and ethical guidance that it has supplanted by default. That moral and ethical guidance is in the form of a liberal arts curriculum where archetypal values of humanity are discussed and assumed with "informed" consent.



  1. Blessings ...
    This is a powerful and well-articulated piece. So much of that self-destruction can be also seen within other ethnic and indigenous groups, a good example is the black on black crimes and proliferations of addictions where it is viewed as "the group specific problems." to ensure the absolution of moral, social and political responsibility.

    stay blessed.

  2. Thank you, Rhapsody B, for your comments on my blog. I agree that it's easier and more convenient to seek absolution (from God(?)) than to try and engage in dialogue. The class, ethnic and ideological divides are certainly daunting but (like you say) how do we know it's not worth trying if we haven't tried it. I think we buy into that cop-out because all we've been told is our differences so we resort to institutions (NGOs, charities, the UN bodies, etc.) to try and solve these problems for us. Change begins with knowledge and desire, not envy, not being forced into a program, because educating ourselves on transcendence (which is not an idea but a practical condition) is not an easy task and can only be sustained by desire for betterment.