Sometimes, we find that when a dog is hungry but the moment he gets food and his hunger is satisfied, the dog will not bother with the food anymore. If we try to offer more food to the dog, he would turn away from the food. But suppose if a human gets hungry, then he will obviously find food to eat. But at the same time, he will be thinking about tomorrow and keep accumulating extra food he won’t consume now, to satisfy his need for tomorrow. And he may also keep a lot of money in the bank to meet his needs in his later years. And some people even will go beyond that where they will deposits all their money in a Swiss Bank account to satisfy the needs of not only their own generation but their future generation. And still, they may think that they don’t have enough resources.
Hence, unlike lower animals, human desires tend to be unlimited. Human desires do not end with the fulfilment of biological needs. And we know that no society can survive with unlimited desires because all of our resources are limited. So if there are unlimited desires, this generates conflict. The only way conflict can be avoided is for society to create norms to regulate the aspiration and desires of peoples.
This is why external control is very important and this control comes from society. And it is only society that puts a limit on how much each individual should take and no more. Or what French sociologist Emili Durkheim called a “conscience collective”. Conscience collective is society, as it exists at the psychic level. The moral belief, cognitive belief or secular belief all come under “conscience collective”. And they have a constraining nature. If we violate “conscience collective”, it is called crime. But sometimes, the “conscience collective” gets tired as if it were human. And when it gets tired, its control over people weakens. And that is why crimes are frequently committed. But the way of reasserting the supremacy of “conscience collective”, is punishment. And through punishment it gets strengthened and rejuvenated.
For instance, the famous Nirbhaya case was a brutal and violent crime against women. It shook the conscience of every person in India. There was so much protest. But the significant part is, once again, the idea that women should be respected and women should not be targeted for sexual violence was reaffirmed. And when the perpetrators of violence were hanged to death, this was to drive home the point that women’s rights to life should be respected. That is how the idea of “conscience collective” was rejuvenated and strengthened in the society. And the state is responsible for keeping a check. This control is essential for collective life to exist and without effective control, society cannot exist.
Durkheim stated that true freedom for man lies in being regulated by his or her society. And freedom is not the absence of control which would lead to anarchy. In fact, he asserted that happiness did not lie in the fact that we have less or more; rather, happiness lies in the fact that, when we declare, we want no more. And that is the point of the beginning of happiness.
However collective sentiment must not be too strong and too hostile to change. If they were too strong as Durkheim puts it, they would crush all originality, both the originality of the criminal and the originality of the genius. For instance, Galileo’s stance on the Copernican heliocentric system was deviant at that point in time for which he was put into house arrest for entire life. But his deviance turns out to be a revolutionary idea that represents future established order. So people should welcome any new idea with magnanimity so that society could progress instead of being ridiculed and opposed without being tested.
Durkheim argues that modern industrial society is driven by the pursuit of unlimited desires. And it is this pursuit of unlimited desires that is the cause of “anomie” or “normlessness” in modern society. This is the cause of conflict and disorganisation in the society.
This “anomie” or “normlessness” in modern society according to Durkheim result because traditional norms of regulating the conduct of the member have broken down. There are no ways by which, a moral regulation of the people can be effectively carried out. And therefore, he suggested creating a new arrangement so that moral regulation of people’s lives can be restored.
Earlier in simple society, when the division of labour was minimal, the law was very precise and exact, in every case of individual conduct. The “conscience collective” in traditional society describes in minute detail on how a person should dress himself or herself. They were governed by similar rules. And society enforces those rules to take “anomie” or “normlessness”. In modern industrial societies, there is no such prescription but there is only a “general rule” that we should not be dressed in obscene or immodest ways. But it does not prescribe in minute details how exactly the dress should be used and attire.
Hence, Durkheim argues that people need new arrangements for moral regulation. Durkheim suggested that for every profession, we must have a professional association to take “anomie” or “normlessness”. In other words, he suggested forming a professional association for every occupation. Because the rules that are to regulate the conduct of people, now, tend to be different. Earlier in low division of labour, people performed similar tasks, so they were governed by similar rules. In fact, the whole of society acts as a law enforcing agencies to enforces those common rules to take “anomie”.
But in this day and age, people are becoming specialised in different fields. Different people who perform different tasks are governed by different kinds of laws. For instance, a doctor’s life is to be governed by different laws as compared to the life of a lawyer. Therefore, the doctor association should regulate the conduct of doctors because the rule that doctors are specialised to them is different from that of lawyers.
For instance, these days doctor’s are being criticised for conducting unnecessary tests or treatment particularly in private hospitals. And in order to make more money, they go on to conduct all kinds of tests and prescribe all kinds of treatments for patients. So, they are able to earn more whether those tests or treatments are actually needed or not. If that is the case for instance, it should ensure that doctors do not suggest unnecessary tests or treatment in hospitals.
Similarly, lawyers may encourage people into frivolous litigation only to make more money. There are also lawyers who are expert bounty hunters. So there should be a lawyers association to regulate that conduct, and lay down the moral principle which applied to that profession. Likewise, every profession, every occupation must have its own association and that association must regulate the conduct to restore “moral regulation”.
Private sectors also need to be reorganised in such a way, where employers and employees fit together and arrive at a common rule. Common rules like how much profit is legitimate and desirable. They should put a limit on the profit. Similarly, they should put a limit on the wage that is legitimately desirable.
For Durkheim, it is not only capitalists who are guided by the pursuit of unlimited desires, but even workers have unlimited desires. They also want more and more wages. The more, the merrier is the belief. He says that trade unions do not solve the problem. All that it does is that individual greed is replaced by collective greed. Hence Durkheim suggested that industrial (private) organisations should take the form of cooperation in which various needs of workers are attended to.
The cooperation must take care of the need for health, education or recreation, for housing and so on. Only then, industrial strike would be checked and finally members of these professional associations and private cooperation must be represented even in the national legislative bodies so that the laws are made in such a way that they are compatible with the legitimate interests of different sections of societies.
Another aspect we need to address is corruption to prevent “anomie”. Some people are not able to nurture their merits due to poverty. People who cannot bribe a job in the market cannot acquire a position commensurate with their merits. So when people are forced out of poverty to take up roles in society which are not compatible with their merits, this creates frustration and anger and generates conflict in society. This Durkheim term as “force division of labour”. Hence, corruption and the culture of buying jobs from the market must therefore be addressed so as not to cause friction within society. And equality of opportunity must prevail both in letter and spirit.