"Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday, I don't know."
These are the opening lines of the epoch-making novel The Stranger by Albert Camus where the anomie of the protagonist is portrayed meticulously. Antithetical to what is usually expected of a human living in the society, Meursault, the protagonist of the novel, exhibits a very stolid response and does not show any outward signs of remorse or grief at his mother's funeral. Unapologetic Meursault is not even moved by a significant event like his parent's death.
Consequently, society sees him as a 'stranger', an 'outsider', a monster to some extent, whose aberrant attitude is vexing and at the same time thought-provoking. Whether Meursault is a monster or not in the truest sense, that's a food for another write-up.
But, it's true that there are so many people in our society whose psyche is comparable to Meursault, at least in the sense that not a scintilla of emotion is left in those people. If not so, then how could people like Shahed and Sabrina even think of cashing in on a humanitarian crisis caused by the pandemic and dish out fake Covid-19 certificates?
If not so, then how come bearded businessmen in a Muslim country stack up daily essentials and orchestrate artificial crises to fish in troubled waters by jacking up the prices of those products?
This is only possible when an individual or society is suffering from anomie. To understand this, we must first understand what anomie is.
In layman's terms, anomie is a state of no moral or social principles in an individual or in society. In a broader sense, it is, as defined in sociology, a societal condition defined by a total breakdown of moral values, ethical standards that usually keep the society and its denizens on the right track.
Introduced by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in his book The Division of Labour in Society in 1893, the term gained currency after it was used again by him in the seminal book Suicide in 1897.
Well, just like me, many of us must have observed with trepidation that the society and its dwellers are in a state of anomie. There are actually two by-products of anomie, which are indicative of social degeneration – an insatiable will and an absence of legitimate aspirations.
While delineating 'insatiable will' Durkheim used the term 'the malady of the infinite' in his book because desire without limit can never be quenched, it only gets intense with every windfall you get in your way.
This is what we are witnessing now among our fellow countrymen. That's why people, driven solely by psychological egoism, are now so solipsistic and their hearts are sick with desires having only nefarious intentions and longings.
Hundreds of instances of mala fide abuse of power to misappropriate public money and fleece ordinary people can be adduced here to better articulate the point that people's yen for materialistic gains is only getting stronger, so are the means of corruption to satiate that hunger.
This is a country where government officials have bought a pillow at Tk 6,000, a chair at Tk 45,000, and a set of curtains at Tk 28.25 lakh. Again, despite the fact that a three-month-long shutdown was underway starting from 26 March last year (meaning no government official was attending the office), around 350 drivers of the government transport pool worked for extra four hours every day along with their usual eight hours' duty. Such dedication(!) and arduous overtime helped them embezzle around Tk 3 crores of public money.
Pulling wool over everyone's eyes, countless malefactors, someone belonging to the lowest rung of the social ladder (driver), and even someone from the highest echelon of the economic strata, are involved in this sort of deliberate deception. Can you just visualise the kind of rotten mentality one needs to embezzle money with such wild abandon?
Most interestingly, there is no admonition for such activity since society as a whole is sucked into the vortex of moral depravity. From individuals to society, degeneration has spread its tentacles in every sphere of our social life.
Such a lack of social ethic gives rise to an absence of legitimate aspirations. For example, a bevy of sanctimonious people now resort to under-the-table transactions and other proscribed ways to aggrandize wealth in our country.
Our acts of moral turpitude, further fortified by the indulgence of the state, have turned our society into a wasteland where even the law has been given teeth just to make way for those unscrupulous people to legalise their illegal money or assets. The abhorrent practice of whitening black money is the glaring example of such moral fluidity and our proclivity as a society for illegitimate aspirations.
In the first nine months of the current fiscal year (2020-21), undisclosed assets worth a whopping amount of Tk 14,295 crore have been legalised, according to information provided by the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
How mordantly sarcastic is this? The connotation is very clear – even if you hanker for things that are not legit and make a fortune illegally, no problem at all as long as you pay taxes for the aggregate wealth. Owing to such practice, more and more citizens are now harbouring illegitimate yearnings in their minds and keeping themselves aloof from abnegation and abstinence.
The aforementioned by-products, further compounded by a tendency to transgress every written and unwritten social standard, have transmogrified our society into an institution defined by deregulation and amoral outlook. There is no sign of rectitude among most of us, except a few straight arrows who are still trying hard to stay true to the traditional set of ethics.
If it was not the case, then traders could have never thought of gouging commoners during the holy month of Ramadan, hospitals would never swindle patients in this country, public servants and politicians would never get influenced by megalomaniac behaviour and their commitments to mass people would never wax and wane with their changing political fortunes, ordinary passers-by would never batter an innocuous lady to death in broad daylight, a mother or a father would never commit filicide, religious preachers would never sin by outraging the modesty of women or violating them and people from all walks of life would never derive silly fun from scopophilia. All these happenings reflect the zeitgeist of our anomie-stricken society and all these anomalies are happening under the very aegis of the society.
In short, as it transpires, we are skating on thin ice. So, what's the way out of this nightmare? Given that our conscience has been debilitated by forbidden fantasies and social institutions are in a diabolical condition, we are really left with a Hobson's choice.
We can, maybe, turn to religion, not one as preached by most of our clerics because they themselves have been equally hypocritical, but to one that is virgin in its essence and not mutilated by anyone.
Md Morshedul Alam Mohabat is a philomath who likes to delve deeper into the human psyche with a view to exploring the factors that influence it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.