Canadian Durkheim, is balance and stability in a

Canadian Literature has always been in the shadow of
either American Literature or British Literature. Canada was known as a quite
and peaceful country, with no risings or upheavals and the greatest issue
plaguing the Canadians, and through it, their literature, was the severe
weather. However, this all changed with the publishing of Irene Baird’s Waste Heritage, a novel that not only
brings forth the economical and political issues plaguing Canada, but also
distinguishes Canadian Literature on the world stage as something more deep and
critical than just the harsh weather and landscape. In the novel, there is a
constant struggle between the shifting from traditional to the contemporary;
from Emile Durkheim’s view of a collective society to Karl Marx’s view of an
individualistic and Capitalist society. This struggle is portrayed through the
tension between the labour organization Matt Striker works under and how it is
operated, and the function of the government and the state to ensure success of
the modern society.

A pioneer in the field of Sociology, Emile Durkheim’s
theories although outdated, are still fairly present in Baird’s Waste Heritage. Durkheim was a
progressive thinker, concerned over how social order in society is created,
maintained, and why it breaks down. For Durkheim, the society is an entity in
of itself. It is far greater and powerful than the individuals that make it up.
In essence then, it is society that completes us, and keeps us whole. Durkheim
was concerned about the decay of a sense of community, brought on by
democratization and Capitalism and in order to figure out how to maintain the
values, beliefs, and solidarity in the community, he introduced the
functionalist approach.

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Functionalism, according to Durkheim, is balance and
stability in a society. The analogy between society and social forms is that of
a living organism. The society and its social functions are a lot like the
living human body. Each function performs a specialized task and if it breaks
down, so too does the whole organism break down. Ultimately, each institution
in society serves a function, and if any aspect of it gets out of line it
causes problems and social disorganization within a society.  So for Durkheim, in order to ensure the
success and progression of this modern world, individualism and uniqueness must
be sacrificed for the collective and sense of community.

For
Emile Durkheim, there are two types of societies; organic solidarity and
mechanical solidarity, with Durkheim rooting for the latter. Organic Solidarity
is all about the individual; beliefs, values, and sense of obligation that are
unique and personal to each individual (Durkheim 1893). This type of structure
is associated with urbanization and the contemporary Capitalist society. The
key feature of this theory is that unity is based on difference and
interdependence. Members prize individuality, with a strong belief that
everyone is highly unique and different, and there is an emphasis on personal
skills and meritocracy. There is a shift from the collective to the individual.
The division of labour in Organic Solidarity is vast; there is much variation
between the types of jobs and the classes that perform those jobs. There is an
interdependence on one another; everyone needs each other in order to progress
and be successful. It gives way to the harsh reality of Capitalism that is
plaguing Irene Baird’s Waste Heritage.
The exploitation of the proletariat by the Bourgeoisie can then be excused by
the interdependence stated by Organic Solidarity. The rich need the poor for
labour in order to make money and the poor need the rich to labour in order to
survive. Thus, Organic Solidarity may seem like the equivalent of Capitalism
and the appropriate approach for success in the contemporary society. However,
it is not what the characters in Waste
Heritage see as the solution for their dilemmas.  

 Mechanical Solidarity, in contrast is defined
by the feeling of sameness. Everyone is expected to be, by and large, like
everyone else. Morals, expectations, beliefs, how everyone thinks of the world
(Durkheim 1893). What everyone does is similar, and it is these similarities
that keeps everyone united. Because of this, the division of labour is flat,
muted, and everyone’s jobs and duties are relatively similar, albeit the slight
class differences. Members of the mechanical society are tethered to the “collective
conscious”, a term that refers to the “totality of beliefs and sentiments
common to the average members of a society” (Durkheim 63). There is less focus
on individuality, it does not exist, and in its place, is the unity and
collectiveness of a community, built through a stronger shared understanding,
morals, dress codes, food, and goals in life. There is a real power, according
to Durkheim, to the collective conscious, that is independent than the
individual. It is not a subjective matter, it precedes the individual, and it
serves the social purpose of unity and equality There is very little deviation
between the collective and the individual, for the individual is tied to the
collective. Although this type of community is associated with the more
traditional and small scale communities, it ultimately manifests itself in the
way Hep runs his labour organization in Waste
Heritage.

Matt Striker, the protagonist in Baird’s novel, is a
part of Hep’s labour organization, albeit the emotional withdrawals at time.
Despite the doubts and uncertainty Matt has for the organization, which Hep
runs in Durkheim’s mechanical way, there is always a return to the confidence
and commitment to the greatness of an organization. When Matt, a lone wolf
wandering around province to province looking for work during the Great Depression
of the 1930s finally stumbles upon this specific labour organization, he has
conflicted feelings. On the one hand, “Matt was experiencing an odd feeling of
black-out, as though his identity was being sucked away and absorbed by the
powerful currents of an organization” (Baird, 23), which, in Durkheim’s view is
exactly the purpose of mechanical solidarity. The individual does not exist,
there is no unique identity that distinguishes or separates a single member
from the rest of the community. The organization and the collective has immense
power, and that power is drawn and “sucked’ from the individual members making
up the whole. However, just as quickly, seeing the organization and bustling of
the crowd of men running back and forth “gave Matt a sting of excitement. He
tried to pick up the atmosphere quickly, the feel of a mass of men, of hurry,
of action, of numbers, of detail” (Baird 23) and after being alone for so long
and trying to survive in the harshness of Capitalism, Matt finally found the organization
to be “Jus’ one big happy family” (23). The organization provides a source of
solidarity, of unity, of everyone coming together and working towards the same
cause. Everyone was pitching in, with men “hurriedly cleaning dinner away” or
“sweeping up cutlery and clashing it into tin pails” or even “stacking dirty
dishes and carrying them to the basement below” (Baird 22). They are all doing
the same thing, labour division is flat, and yet that is precisely how and why
the organization is still up and running.

It
is the sameness, as Emile Durkheim stated, that is at the core of mechanical
solidarity. Members share a sense of monotony and dedication to the whole and
not the individual, is at the base of the organization. As Matt looks out at
everyone occupying the warehouse the organization has lodged them in, he sees
“grim, brooding faces” that all “wore the same look…heavy, red-eyed, keyed to
the same exasperation” (Baird 26). The feelings, emotions, expressions, and
atmosphere in that room was the same from everyone, and “the fact that it was
cumulative gave it power and made it unpredictable” (26). Durkheim’s power of
the collective stemming from the sameness of the community and with the flat
division of labour among members is strongly portrayed through Matt’s
assessment of the people. The organization is more than just the individuals
that make it up, as Hep’s talks at the boys would always be about “to see this
fight as bigger than themselves” and he “didn’t care what happened to him
just so long as the organization was going along okay (Baird 179). Sacrifices
are made on behalf of the whole, for the society is what completes us, not the
individual achievements as Hep so passionately believes. Matt has picked up on
this, and he too, after spending time within the organization, believes that
what is happening with the Great Depression and the economic downfall and lack
of jobs and the destruction of Capitalism is “not just a little local fuss.
They’ve got to think of the situation as a whole, not just themselves all
the time” (Baird 179). As one unit, those in the organization are not just then
responsible for their own selves, but for everyone else around them. They are
not acting as individuals, but rather their actions represent and reflect the
entire group. Hep clearly explains this to Matt regarding the issue of Eddie
and Matt taking responsibility for him, saying, “if anything goes wrong you’re
responsible to every other man in this organization” (Baird 33). You win as one
and you lose as one. Have to be selfless and not selfish. Work towards the
common goal and not personal satisfaction. These are the rules and guidelines
of an organization and in order for it to run smoothly and succeed, every
single person must work together towards the collective goal. Although Matt is
all for the structure of mechanical solidarity and the system of organization,
he always encounters moments of doubts against this very structure he seems so
passionate about.

Matt Striker has conflicted feelings about the
organization. He loves it, sees it as beneficial, and provides a structure and
comfort to the disorganized life forced upon people like him. But he also hates
it, for it is demanding, controlling, and strips everyone of individuality and
personal hopes and dreams. Matt, like everyone else, wants a stable job, a
wife, family, and place all his own that he can call home. These are his, and
many other young men’s individual goals and dreams. However, living in the
Great Depression brought on by the harsh Capitalist movement has snatched these
goals and dreams away from the people. What were once considered necessities of
life, have now become commodities to be earned. If the state and government
have turned their back against their people and are exploiting them for their
own advancement and benefit, then labour organizations and the message of unity
and solidarity it presents seems like the next best step.  For Matt, he sees the organization as the
solution to his dismal life, for Capitalism and the state have long failed him.

Matt, after his initial negative reaction towards the
organization claiming “his identity was being sucked away” by the
“organization” (Baird 23), quickly warmed up to “the feel of a mass of men, of
hurry, of action, of numbers,” and “of detail” (23). He even goes as far as
saying that “it’s great to belong to an organization” (Baird 28) while he has
only been there for a few hours. This is explainable, as Matt has spent the
last decade roaming from province to province, never settling down in one place
and never having a sense of security or belonging. With the organization, Matt
can finally feel like he is a part of something, has some sort of purpose
instead of aimlessly wandering around. But Lafe, another member of the
organization who has been there longer than Matt reminds him about the reality
of any structure with power and authority, that “sure it’s great-just so long
as you know where the organization is taking you” (Baird 28). A reminder that
an organization may be great, and may provide temporary comfort and relief and
a sense of belonging, but ultimately, they are supposed to have a higher
purpose and work towards a goal for the greater good. Matt is being reminded of
the purpose behind this mechanical solidarity function of the organization,
that it may be great personally, but the goal is a collective achievement
against the oppressors. This reminder to Matt “felt like someone had kicked the
only solid ground he ever knew out from under him” (28). For Matt, the
organization was supposed to be the clear and easy solution for the constant
hardship the state and Capitalism put him through, however, with Lafe’s
reminder, comes to light that no social structure is completely great and they
are not without their problems and misguidance. For Matt Striker, he is willing
to take the risk of having his identity sucked away and to think about the
greater good and be selfless so long as he has someone or something to rely on.
Matt tells Hazel, that “before this it was always lone-wolfin’, fightin’ up
against something you couldn’t see an’ not getting’ any place. But it’s
different now, he got an organization behind him to back him up…that
feeling…of havin’ an organization behind him” (Baird 73). Matt’s rush of
emotions of having an organization behind him and not being alone in his
endeavours plays into Emile Durkheim’s theory of “Collective Effervescence”.
This is a state where people gather and experience and achieve heightened
levels of acceleration, and the ability to do things that one would normally
not do (Durkheim 1897). It is the feeling of a crowd coming together and
providing each member a sense of power. It is the power of society that makes
us powerful and whole. Matt feels the Collective Effervescence in his march
from Aschelon to Gath, when he “began to get a kick out of the crowds, out of
the people in the streets; he felt the power of mass action, the significance
and purpose and weight of numbers. He grew increasingly conscious of the
effects of discipline and organization and…recognizing it as essential to
successful mass protest” (Baird 94). The organization with its power stemming
from sameness and the collective, provides the masses the ability to protest
and stand up for their ambitions and goals, which, if they were independent and
on their own, was something that they could not achieve.

Irene Baird’s novel Waste Heritage is a representation of Emile Durkheim’s view of
society of Mechanical Solidarity. Society is run by the sameness and
collectiveness of its members, with each individual functioning as a piece in
the whole. Society completes us, and without it, we are lost. The organization
in Waste Heritage is a representation
of Durkheim’s Mechanical Solidarity, with the all the men working under one
goal, with one purpose, and thinking of the greater good. Durkheim believed
this to be the best way society should be run; the individual brought down and
the collective brought up. However, as seen in the novel, this view of society
is clearly not working with the labour organization Matt Striker is part of.  For if it was the ideal operator for the
advancement of modern society, Hep, Matt, and the other young unemployed men in
the organization would have achieved their goal of employment and stable income.
Mechanical Solidarity may seem like a flawless system on paper, but in
practice, is still an old, traditional, and rigid way of governing society.
Contemporary society has instead shifted into, and thriving under the
Capitalist system. It focuses on individuality, uniqueness, and skills of an
individual to better the state and economic status, or in other words, closer
in concept to Durkheim’s view of Organic Solidarity. There is a constant
struggle between the traditional way of running the organization and the
contemporary way the modern government works. Matt Striker also struggles with
his need to be a part of something, to belong, to be accepted, but at the same
time maintain his identity, his individuality, and his personal hopes and
dreams.

In conclusion, Irene Baird’s Waste Heritage, although pulsing with the concept of Capitalism and
its evil and oppression it has caused to the lower and working class, can also
be viewed from Emile Durkheim’s views of a well run society. In the Durkheimian
view, Mechanical Solidarity, where there is no individual, but the collective;
where society is based on sameness and not uniqueness, is an evident
representation of the labour organization and how it functions. Matt, although
glad to be part of a whole and something bigger, still struggles with the
downside of an organization; the sucking of an identity and one’s
individuality. Emile Durkheim might see Mechanical Solidarity as an ideal way
for a society and a community to function, but in modern societies, it is
Capitalism and wealth and economic achievement that drives people towards
success and advancement of the modern world. Emile Durkheim may have a lot to
say about the organization and the story of Matt Striker, but it does not
provide the solution out of the Great Depression, out of the evil of
Capitalism, and out of the hopelessness of unemployment that is plaguing every
part of the story and every thought of the characters.

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