Killing the myth of the anomie of modern life once and for all


An interesting little paper regarding the rise of most of the population up out of blue collar jobs into white collar ones. Or, as we might also put it, from proletariat to bourgeiosie:

Rising individualism in the United States over the last 150 years is mainly associated with a societal shift toward more white-collar occupations, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The study, which looked at various cultural indicators -- including word usage in books, trends in baby names, and shifts in family structure -- suggests that a shift toward greater individualism is systematically correlated with socioeconomic trends, but not with trends in urbanization or environmental demands such as frequency of diseases or disasters.

"Across many markers of individualism, social class was the only factor that systematically preceded changes in individualism over time, tentatively suggesting a causal relationship between them," explains psychological scientist and study author Igor Grossmann of the University of Waterloo.

Both Adam Smith and Karl Marx warned about the problems of the "excessive" division of labour. Smith pointed out that the man who performed the same boring task again and again might become brutalised to the point of being a beast. And Marx certainly railed against the boredom of industrial work: what later became known as anomie. The interesting thing about this finding is that it's telling us that the death of those industrial jobs in the boring factories is actually the cure for this.

"We were surprised that only one of the six tested cultural psychological theories was any good for statistically predicting changes in US individualism over time," says Grossmann. "The only theoretical claim that we found systematic support for is the one suggesting that the rise in individualism is due to societal changes in social class, from blue collar to white collar occupations."

So as we all move from those factory jobs into service ones we seem to all be getting richer, that's certainly the experience of the past century. Plus we all seem to be gaining greater liberty to live our lives as we would wish (that is indeed the same thing as individuality). Plus, of course, we all get to do indoor work with no heavy lifting.

Difficult to see what is wrong with this really. But perhaps the most important point is that that anomie is decreasing, that brutalism that was warned against. The good old days really are right now.