Canadian Durkheim, is balance and stability in a

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Last updated: May 7, 2019

Canadian Literature has always been in the shadow ofeither American Literature or British Literature.

Canada was known as a quiteand peaceful country, with no risings or upheavals and the greatest issueplaguing the Canadians, and through it, their literature, was the severeweather. However, this all changed with the publishing of Irene Baird’s Waste Heritage, a novel that not onlybrings forth the economical and political issues plaguing Canada, but alsodistinguishes Canadian Literature on the world stage as something more deep andcritical than just the harsh weather and landscape. In the novel, there is aconstant struggle between the shifting from traditional to the contemporary;from Emile Durkheim’s view of a collective society to Karl Marx’s view of anindividualistic and Capitalist society.

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This struggle is portrayed through thetension between the labour organization Matt Striker works under and how it isoperated, and the function of the government and the state to ensure success ofthe modern society. A pioneer in the field of Sociology, Emile Durkheim’stheories although outdated, are still fairly present in Baird’s Waste Heritage. Durkheim was aprogressive thinker, concerned over how social order in society is created,maintained, and why it breaks down.

For Durkheim, the society is an entity inof 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.

Durkheimwas concerned about the decay of a sense of community, brought on bydemocratization and Capitalism and in order to figure out how to maintain thevalues, beliefs, and solidarity in the community, he introduced thefunctionalist approach.Functionalism, according to Durkheim, is balance andstability in a society. The analogy between society and social forms is that ofa living organism. The society and its social functions are a lot like theliving human body. Each function performs a specialized task and if it breaksdown, so too does the whole organism break down. Ultimately, each institutionin society serves a function, and if any aspect of it gets out of line itcauses problems and social disorganization within a society.  So for Durkheim, in order to ensure thesuccess and progression of this modern world, individualism and uniqueness mustbe sacrificed for the collective and sense of community. ForEmile Durkheim, there are two types of societies; organic solidarity andmechanical solidarity, with Durkheim rooting for the latter.

Organic Solidarityis all about the individual; beliefs, values, and sense of obligation that areunique and personal to each individual (Durkheim 1893). This type of structureis associated with urbanization and the contemporary Capitalist society. Thekey feature of this theory is that unity is based on difference andinterdependence. Members prize individuality, with a strong belief thateveryone is highly unique and different, and there is an emphasis on personalskills and meritocracy. There is a shift from the collective to the individual.

The division of labour in Organic Solidarity is vast; there is much variationbetween the types of jobs and the classes that perform those jobs. There is aninterdependence on one another; everyone needs each other in order to progressand be successful. It gives way to the harsh reality of Capitalism that isplaguing Irene Baird’s Waste Heritage.The exploitation of the proletariat by the Bourgeoisie can then be excused bythe interdependence stated by Organic Solidarity.

The rich need the poor forlabour in order to make money and the poor need the rich to labour in order tosurvive. Thus, Organic Solidarity may seem like the equivalent of Capitalismand the appropriate approach for success in the contemporary society. However,it is not what the characters in WasteHeritage see as the solution for their dilemmas.    Mechanical Solidarity, in contrast is definedby the feeling of sameness.

Everyone is expected to be, by and large, likeeveryone else. Morals, expectations, beliefs, how everyone thinks of the world(Durkheim 1893). What everyone does is similar, and it is these similaritiesthat keeps everyone united. Because of this, the division of labour is flat,muted, and everyone’s jobs and duties are relatively similar, albeit the slightclass differences. Members of the mechanical society are tethered to the “collectiveconscious”, a term that refers to the “totality of beliefs and sentimentscommon to the average members of a society” (Durkheim 63).

There is less focuson individuality, it does not exist, and in its place, is the unity andcollectiveness of a community, built through a stronger shared understanding,morals, dress codes, food, and goals in life. There is a real power, accordingto Durkheim, to the collective conscious, that is independent than theindividual. It is not a subjective matter, it precedes the individual, and itserves the social purpose of unity and equality There is very little deviationbetween the collective and the individual, for the individual is tied to thecollective. Although this type of community is associated with the moretraditional and small scale communities, it ultimately manifests itself in theway Hep runs his labour organization in WasteHeritage. Matt Striker, the protagonist in Baird’s novel, is apart of Hep’s labour organization, albeit the emotional withdrawals at time.Despite the doubts and uncertainty Matt has for the organization, which Hepruns in Durkheim’s mechanical way, there is always a return to the confidenceand commitment to the greatness of an organization.

When Matt, a lone wolfwandering around province to province looking for work during the Great Depressionof the 1930s finally stumbles upon this specific labour organization, he hasconflicted feelings. On the one hand, “Matt was experiencing an odd feeling ofblack-out, as though his identity was being sucked away and absorbed by thepowerful currents of an organization” (Baird, 23), which, in Durkheim’s view isexactly the purpose of mechanical solidarity. The individual does not exist,there is no unique identity that distinguishes or separates a single memberfrom the rest of the community. The organization and the collective has immensepower, and that power is drawn and “sucked’ from the individual members makingup the whole. However, just as quickly, seeing the organization and bustling ofthe crowd of men running back and forth “gave Matt a sting of excitement. Hetried 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 longand trying to survive in the harshness of Capitalism, Matt finally found the organizationto be “Jus’ one big happy family” (23). The organization provides a source ofsolidarity, of unity, of everyone coming together and working towards the samecause. Everyone was pitching in, with men “hurriedly cleaning dinner away” or”sweeping up cutlery and clashing it into tin pails” or even “stacking dirtydishes and carrying them to the basement below” (Baird 22).

They are all doingthe same thing, labour division is flat, and yet that is precisely how and whythe organization is still up and running. Itis the sameness, as Emile Durkheim stated, that is at the core of mechanicalsolidarity. Members share a sense of monotony and dedication to the whole andnot the individual, is at the base of the organization. As Matt looks out ateveryone occupying the warehouse the organization has lodged them in, he sees”grim, brooding faces” that all “wore the same look…heavy, red-eyed, keyed tothe same exasperation” (Baird 26). The feelings, emotions, expressions, andatmosphere in that room was the same from everyone, and “the fact that it wascumulative gave it power and made it unpredictable” (26). Durkheim’s power ofthe collective stemming from the sameness of the community and with the flatdivision of labour among members is strongly portrayed through Matt’sassessment of the people. The organization is more than just the individualsthat make it up, as Hep’s talks at the boys would always be about “to see thisfight as bigger than themselves” and he “didn’t care what happened to himjust so long as the organization was going along okay (Baird 179).

Sacrificesare made on behalf of the whole, for the society is what completes us, not theindividual achievements as Hep so passionately believes. Matt has picked up onthis, and he too, after spending time within the organization, believes thatwhat is happening with the Great Depression and the economic downfall and lackof 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 allthe time” (Baird 179).

As one unit, those in the organization are not just thenresponsible for their own selves, but for everyone else around them. They arenot acting as individuals, but rather their actions represent and reflect theentire group. Hep clearly explains this to Matt regarding the issue of Eddieand Matt taking responsibility for him, saying, “if anything goes wrong you’reresponsible to every other man in this organization” (Baird 33). You win as oneand you lose as one. Have to be selfless and not selfish. Work towards thecommon goal and not personal satisfaction. These are the rules and guidelinesof an organization and in order for it to run smoothly and succeed, everysingle person must work together towards the collective goal. Although Matt isall for the structure of mechanical solidarity and the system of organization,he always encounters moments of doubts against this very structure he seems sopassionate about.

Matt Striker has conflicted feelings about theorganization. He loves it, sees it as beneficial, and provides a structure andcomfort to the disorganized life forced upon people like him. But he also hatesit, for it is demanding, controlling, and strips everyone of individuality andpersonal hopes and dreams.

Matt, like everyone else, wants a stable job, awife, family, and place all his own that he can call home. These are his, andmany other young men’s individual goals and dreams. However, living in theGreat Depression brought on by the harsh Capitalist movement has snatched thesegoals and dreams away from the people. What were once considered necessities oflife, have now become commodities to be earned.

If the state and governmenthave turned their back against their people and are exploiting them for theirown advancement and benefit, then labour organizations and the message of unityand solidarity it presents seems like the next best step.  For Matt, he sees the organization as thesolution to his dismal life, for Capitalism and the state have long failed him.Matt, after his initial negative reaction towards theorganization claiming “his identity was being sucked away” by the”organization” (Baird 23), quickly warmed up to “the feel of a mass of men, ofhurry, of action, of numbers,” and “of detail” (23). He even goes as far assaying that “it’s great to belong to an organization” (Baird 28) while he hasonly been there for a few hours. This is explainable, as Matt has spent thelast decade roaming from province to province, never settling down in one placeand never having a sense of security or belonging. With the organization, Mattcan finally feel like he is a part of something, has some sort of purposeinstead of aimlessly wandering around.

But Lafe, another member of theorganization who has been there longer than Matt reminds him about the realityof any structure with power and authority, that “sure it’s great-just so longas you know where the organization is taking you” (Baird 28). A reminder thatan organization may be great, and may provide temporary comfort and relief anda sense of belonging, but ultimately, they are supposed to have a higherpurpose and work towards a goal for the greater good. Matt is being reminded ofthe purpose behind this mechanical solidarity function of the organization,that it may be great personally, but the goal is a collective achievementagainst the oppressors. This reminder to Matt “felt like someone had kicked theonly solid ground he ever knew out from under him” (28). For Matt, theorganization was supposed to be the clear and easy solution for the constanthardship the state and Capitalism put him through, however, with Lafe’sreminder, comes to light that no social structure is completely great and theyare not without their problems and misguidance. For Matt Striker, he is willingto take the risk of having his identity sucked away and to think about thegreater 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’ upagainst something you couldn’t see an’ not getting’ any place. But it’sdifferent now, he got an organization behind him to back him up…thatfeeling…of havin’ an organization behind him” (Baird 73).

Matt’s rush ofemotions of having an organization behind him and not being alone in hisendeavours plays into Emile Durkheim’s theory of “Collective Effervescence”.This is a state where people gather and experience and achieve heightenedlevels of acceleration, and the ability to do things that one would normallynot do (Durkheim 1897). It is the feeling of a crowd coming together andproviding each member a sense of power. It is the power of society that makesus powerful and whole. Matt feels the Collective Effervescence in his marchfrom Aschelon to Gath, when he “began to get a kick out of the crowds, out ofthe people in the streets; he felt the power of mass action, the significanceand purpose and weight of numbers. He grew increasingly conscious of theeffects of discipline and organization and…recognizing it as essential tosuccessful mass protest” (Baird 94). The organization with its power stemmingfrom sameness and the collective, provides the masses the ability to protestand stand up for their ambitions and goals, which, if they were independent andon their own, was something that they could not achieve.

Irene Baird’s novel Waste Heritage is a representation of Emile Durkheim’s view ofsociety of Mechanical Solidarity. Society is run by the sameness andcollectiveness of its members, with each individual functioning as a piece inthe whole. Society completes us, and without it, we are lost. The organizationin Waste Heritage is a representationof Durkheim’s Mechanical Solidarity, with the all the men working under onegoal, with one purpose, and thinking of the greater good. Durkheim believedthis to be the best way society should be run; the individual brought down andthe collective brought up. However, as seen in the novel, this view of societyis clearly not working with the labour organization Matt Striker is part of.

 For if it was the ideal operator for theadvancement of modern society, Hep, Matt, and the other young unemployed men inthe organization would have achieved their goal of employment and stable income.Mechanical Solidarity may seem like a flawless system on paper, but inpractice, is still an old, traditional, and rigid way of governing society.Contemporary society has instead shifted into, and thriving under theCapitalist system. It focuses on individuality, uniqueness, and skills of anindividual to better the state and economic status, or in other words, closerin concept to Durkheim’s view of Organic Solidarity.

There is a constantstruggle between the traditional way of running the organization and thecontemporary way the modern government works. Matt Striker also struggles withhis need to be a part of something, to belong, to be accepted, but at the sametime maintain his identity, his individuality, and his personal hopes anddreams. In conclusion, Irene Baird’s Waste Heritage, although pulsing with the concept of Capitalism andits evil and oppression it has caused to the lower and working class, can alsobe viewed from Emile Durkheim’s views of a well run society. In the Durkheimianview, Mechanical Solidarity, where there is no individual, but the collective;where society is based on sameness and not uniqueness, is an evidentrepresentation of the labour organization and how it functions. Matt, althoughglad to be part of a whole and something bigger, still struggles with thedownside of an organization; the sucking of an identity and one’sindividuality.

Emile Durkheim might see Mechanical Solidarity as an ideal wayfor a society and a community to function, but in modern societies, it isCapitalism and wealth and economic achievement that drives people towardssuccess and advancement of the modern world. Emile Durkheim may have a lot tosay about the organization and the story of Matt Striker, but it does notprovide the solution out of the Great Depression, out of the evil ofCapitalism, and out of the hopelessness of unemployment that is plaguing everypart of the story and every thought of the characters.

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