Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Justifiable Alienation

Introduction by the blog author

Alienation is an often fanciful concept that was made popular by Karl Marx, who contended that capitalism was a disease-causing phenomena that separated people from each other and engendered their alienation from each other.

As preposterous as that politicized concept is, there are indeed people out there who feel like Martians.  There even are a few categories of persons who should feel alienation – and below are two such groups.

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Social alienation, a sociological concept developed by several classical and contemporary theorists, is "a condition in social relationships reflected by a low degree of integration or common values and a high degree of distance or isolation between individuals, or between an individual and a group of people in a community or work environment". The concept has many discipline-specific uses, and can refer both to a personal psychological state (subjectively) and to a type of social relationship (objectively).

Among returning war veterans

Because of intense group solidarity and unique daily hardships brought by combat, many veterans feel alienated from citizens, family, and friends when they return. They often feel they have little in common with civilian peers; issues that concern friends and family seem trivial after combat. There is a clarity of focus and purpose that comes with war that few in civilian life will ever know. Afghanistan veteran Brendon O'Byrne says, "We were really close. Physically and emotionally close. It's kind of terrifying being in such an emotionally safe environment and then suddenly be expelled into an alienated, fractured society." They know how to deal with bullets, and in combat they're dealing with bullets together. But now they're dealing with their loneliness, by definition, alone. It is loneliness and normlessness why so many soldiers choose to return to combat.  As filmmaker and war correspondent Sebastian Junger says, "They didn't want to go back because it was traumatic, but because it was a place where they understood what they were supposed to do. They understood who they were. They had a sense of purpose. They were necessary. All these things that young people strive for are answered in combat." War twists and shifts the landmarks by which combat veterans navigate their lives, casting light on darkened areas that for many people remain forever unexplored. Veterans often see their wartime experience as the most selfless and meaningful period of their lives. In a different perspective, "even in the quiet moments, war is brighter, louder, brasher, more fun, more tragic, more wasteful. More. More of everything."

The experience of the Vietnam veteran was distinctly different from that of veterans of other American wars. Once he completed his tour of duty, he usually severed all bonds with his unit and comrades. It was extremely rare for a veteran to write to his buddies who were still in combat, and (in strong contrast to the endless reunions of World War II veterans) for more than a decade it was even rarer for more than two or more of them to get together after the war. Korean War veterans had no memorial and precious few parades, but they fought an invading army and they left behind them the free, healthy, thriving, and grateful nation of South Korea. No one spat on them or called them murderers or baby killers when they returned. Only the veterans of Vietnam have endured a concerted, organized, psychological attack by its own people. Never in American history, perhaps never in all of Western civilization, has an army suffered such an agony from its own people. The Vietnam War was a long, contentious conflict (1955–75) which in the mid to late 1960s started to lose political and domestic support, most notably in academia and film that often portrayed soldiers of this conflict as ignoble, adding to their social alienation. That the Vietnam War was ultimately lost, on April 30, 1975, furthered the sense of meaninglessness and malaise. It has been demonstrated that as the perception of community alienation increases, an individual's sense of confidence or mastery in decision making will decrease, and so too their motivation to socially engage.


Differences between persons with disabilities and individuals in relative abilities, or perceived abilities, can be a cause of alienation. One study, "Social Alienation and Peer Identification: A Study of the Social Construction of Deafness", found that among deaf adults one theme emerged consistently across all categories of life experience: social rejection by, and alienation from, the larger hearing community. Only when the respondents described interactions with deaf people did the theme of isolation give way to comments about participation and meaningful interaction. This appeared to be related to specific needs, for example for real conversation, for information, the opportunity to develop close friendships and a sense of family. It was suggested that the social meaning of deafness is established by interaction between deaf and hearing people, sometimes resulting in marginalization of the deaf, which is sometimes challenged. It has also led to the creation of alternatives and the deaf community is described as one such alternative.

Physicians and nurses often deal with people who are temporarily or permanently alienated from communities, which could be a result or a cause of medical conditions and suffering, and it has been suggested that therefore attention should be paid to learning from experiences of the special pain that alienation can bring.

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