The absence of formal institutions, rather than give rise to the permissiveness that we would expect, is in fact associated with discipline and the strictest possible adherence to the tribal code of ethics. Behaviour, which in a disordered society could only be exacted at the cost of brutal coercion, is with them, ensured by the force of public opinion, the sanction of the elders, and the fear of the ancestral spirits.
In more advanced societies, we find the same principle obtaining in a less extreme form. Thus, in ordered societies where public opinion plays an important role, the need for strong government and in particular, dictators, is correspondingly reduced.
Conversely, in these disordered societies where public opinion plays but a small part, we find that the absence of the most authoritarian government, linked to an all-pervasive and coercive bureaucracy inevitably leads to lawlessness and mob rule.
By causing the disintegration of a society, by overloading the social system with too many people, or by increasing mobility so as to prevent their proper socialisation, one is reducing the power of public opinion and thereby the society’s capacity for self-regulation. We are introducing asystemic controls in ever greater quantities: more politicians, more bureaucrats, more laws, more tribunals, so one is rendering the systemic controls ever more redundant and further reducing a society’s capacity for self-regulation.
A society used to being run in this manner ceases to be capable of running itself. In many South American republics, the deposition of one dictator will lead merely to the installation of another. Real democracy is not possible since the essential social structure for rendering it possible does not obtain. A mass democracy is, in fact, a contradiction in terms, and as our society becomes ever more massive and ever less organised, i.e. as entropy and randomness increase, so must there be a proportionate increase in the precarious asystemic controls required to maintain a semblance of social order, and a similar reduction in its stability and hence in its capacity to survive.
We can thereby formulate the essential principle that the higher the entropy or randomness of a social system, the greater must be the need for asystemic controls of which the most extreme kind is a dictator.
Such controls are as unsatisfactory in social systems as they are in ecosystems and for the same reasons. A dictator gears his society to the achievement of what is usually an arbitrary goal regardless of environmental requirements: This can therefore only increase the society’s instability.
As we have seen, it creates a need for further dictatorship by destroying natural systemic controls which it renders redundant.
It is also highly vulnerable. One can exterminate a large proportion of the population of a self-regulating society without affecting its organisation or its capacity to govern itself, whereas in a dictatorship, it suffices to kill the dictator for the society to be plunged into chaos and civil war; a point that is particularly well illustrated by the experience of the later Roman Empire.
Dictatorship, in other words, involves a drastic simplification of a society’s control mechanisms, and must determine a corresponding reduction in its stability. Our industrial society is further affecting human society by absorbing non-industrial cultures. Whereas there were previously innumerable cultures geared to totally different ends, so as they fall within the orbit of industrial ‘civilisation’, they come more and more to resemble each other.
It is significant that in New Guinea, that last great reservoir of primitive cultural wisdom, there are still 700 different cultural patterns, each with its own distinct language. In such circumstances mistakes committed by one such social group are likely to have the minimal effect on the others and the probability that at least one cultural pattern provides the solution to a new environmental problem is maximised.
The absorption of these diverse highly differentiated societies into a common mass-society geared to the achievement of short-term material ends is a loss to humanity that cannot be over-emphasised.
It must seriously reduce the complexity and hence the stability of human social organisations on this planet. It must also lead to the irreparable loss of a vast store of cultural information which is as important to man’s survival as is the store of genetic plant variety so seriously compromised by modern agricultural techniques.
Social disruption and its effects
There is increasing evidence that deprivation of a satisfactory family environment will affect children profoundly and colour every aspect of their later life.  Such children are often referred to as emotionally disturbed. However bright they may be they will tend to find it very difficult to fit into their social environment; the reason being that the early and most important stages of socialisation were badly impaired. The earlier family deprivation occurred, the more will this be the case, for as D. O. Hebb shows, the effect of early experience on adult behaviour is universally correlated with age. 
Sadly, it is rarely possible for socially deprived and emotionally disturbed children to be satisfactorily socialised. No amount of school education can do much for them.
They are characterised by their inability to accept any social constraints. They are unable to concentrate on their work and are only interested in things which are of apparent immediate advantage to them. Regardless of their intelligence level, they are thus extremely difficult to educate. They are particularly concerned with the present and the short-term, and are predisposed to all pathological forms of behaviour such as delinquency, drug addiction, alcoholism and schizophrenia.
What is worse, when they grow up, they are unlikely to be capable of fulfilling their normal family functions: their children, consequently also deprived of
a normal family environment, will in turn tend to be emotionally unstable.
John Bowlby went so far as to compare a delinquent with a typhoid carrier.  He is as much a carrier of disease as the latter – of a disease of the personality which will affect his family and his community for generations, until his descendants are eliminated by natural selection.
Socially deprived, emotionally disturbed youths are a feature of disintegrating societies. In the black ghettoes of New York and other large American cities, they are the rule rather than the exception. There is increasing reason to suppose that the low standard of achievement and the high rate of crime, and various forms of retreatism that characterise such societies, are mainly attributable to family deprivation.
If a child is seriously affected by being deprived of a satisfactory family environment, an adult is also adversely affected by being deprived of a satisfactory communal environment.
As we have seen, in a stable society, a cultural pattern provides an individual with a complete goal structure and an environment within which these goals can be satisfied.
In a stable society the principle goal appears to be the acquisition of prestige, to be looked up to by one’s family and community.
In our industrial society, prestige is achieved in a variety of ways, including the right education: entering a socially acceptable profession: and perhaps most
important of all, making money.
Those who have not been subjected to the normal socialisation process, and in particular members of different minority ethnic groups, may for various reasons, find these avenues of success barred to them. In such conditions they have no alternative but to develop a substitute set of goals. Cloward and Ohlin interpret the development of a criminal sub-culture in the slums of a big city in these terms. It provides people with a new set of goals which they can achieve. Once crime becomes big business and requires the same sort of qualities that permit success in the mainstream culture, then a further substitute outlet is required. 
It is in these terms that Cloward and Ohlin interpret the violent gang subculture which also has its own ethic and goal structure, so different from the mainstream culture. However, those who have not succeeded in shedding the latter’s values find themselves incapable of participating in it. They are forced to indulge in one or other form of retreatism – to isolate themselves psychologically from an environment which not only fails to provide them with an essential set of goals but also denies them.
Merton describes a retreatist in the following way:
“. . . Defeatism, quietism and resignation are manifested in escape mechanisms which ultimately lead him to ‘escape’ from the requirements of the society. It is thus an expedient which arises from the continued failure to near the goal by legitimate measures and from an inability to use the illegitimate route because of internalised prohibitions, this process occurring while the supreme value of the success-goal has not yet been renounced. The conflict is resolved by abandoning both precipitating elements, the goals and the means. The escape is complete, the conflict is eliminated and the individual associalised.” 
In a disintegrating society one would tend to find sub-cultures developing along all these different lines in varying degrees, i.e. there will be an increase in delinquency, violence and all the various forms of retreatism, such as drugs, drink, strange religious cults, etc., and mental disease. Such a society will be characterised by a general feeling of aimlessness, a frantic, almost pathetic search for originality, over-preoccupation with anything capable of providing short-term entertainment and beneath it all, a feeling of hopelessness of the futility of all effort.Back to top
In the United States, according to Mr John Mitchell, Attorney-General, crime in cities of more than 250,000 inhabitants is two and a half times that of the suburbs, which in turn is twice that of rural areas. Crime, needless to say, is on the increase. In the United States it has doubled in the last 10 years. In 1969 there were 2,471 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. There were 655,000 violent crimes and 4,334,000 crimes against property; 14,590 murders; 36,470 rapes; and 306,420 aggravated assaults. This is an increase of 12 percent over the previous year.
In the United Kingdom, crime is increasing at a similar rate. In 1970, according to a BBC Newsnight investigation, there were one and a half million indictable crimes, 300,000 in London alone; an increase of about 10 percent over 1969.
Crimes of violence and burglary and battery in particular are increasing at the fastest rate, at more than 15 percent per annum. There are at present 66 crimes of violence per 100,000 people in the United Kingdom as opposed to 324 per 100,000 in the United States. At the present doubling rate of five years it will take approximately 12 years to achieve the US rate of 324 per 100,000 which is so bad that life in cities has become intolerable and economic activity seriously menaced.
Professor Michael Banton of the Department of Sociology, Bristol University, told the British Association for the Advancement of Science that
” increased disorder is part of the price we pay for the adaptation of our social arrangements to an economic system which brings us such great material benefits”.
The relationships between crime rate and urbanisation has been established in a recent study in the US (see Table 9) which shows that it is considerably higher per capita in cities of more than 250,000 than in small towns with a population of less than 10,000.
Crime is part of the price of affluence, or more precisely, of the social disintegration to which affluence gives rise.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of our industrial society is the behaviour of people when the elaborate mechanisms of the law are for some technical reason put temporarily out of action. In Montreal, during a 24-hour police strike, shops were pillaged, women raped and houses burgled. In London, during a power strike, theft increased to such as extent in shops and department stores that many had to close until the light came on again.
Nothing better illustrates what can happen when the self-regulating mechanisms which normally ensure the orderly behaviour of the members of a stable society break down and are replaced by a precarious set of external controls.Back to top
As the family unit breaks down, it is not surprising to find that illegitimacy, another symptom of social disintegration, increases. Nor is it surprising to find that it is closely linked with other symptoms of social disintegration. According to W. R. Lyster, an Australian statistician,
“Crime and illegitimacy rates are simultaneous in their incidence. The illegitimacy rate in England and Wales per 100 of all births has increased since 1955 from 4.7 to 7.8: crime has increased from about 45 per 10,000 to 120 per 10,000; thus, both have more than doubled.”
Illegitimacy is costing our government £52 million per year. In industrial slums and other societies that have reached the more advanced stages of disintegration it is not unusual to find that up to 70 percent of children are illegitimate.
W. A. W. Freeman, President of the Children’s Officers Association, has recently reported a startling increase in the number of women who are simply abandoning their children, something which would not occur in a stable society.Back to top
For each specific cultural pattern there must exist an optimum degree of alcohol consumption. It is likely that increases over and above this level will be in direct proportion to the development of disorder within the society itself. The number of offences of drunkenness proved in England and Wales for the year 1967 is greater than the number of offences proved in previous years. The increase as expected occurred in the large cities, the City of London having 476.43 offences for each 10,000 of its population. The Home Office with characteristic ignorance of basic sociological matters writes,
“No reason for the increase can be adduced. There was no significant change in the liquor licensing laws.”
According to the National Council on Alcoholism, alcoholism is costing the country about £250 million a year, mainly by absenteeism from work. About 7 workers out of every 1,000 have drinking problems and there are about 400,000 alcoholics in the country, a figure which is increasing annually.Back to top
Social disintegration is a major cause of mental disease. When an individual deprived of his essential social and physical environment is incapable of building a substitute one, or fails to isolate himself from the one he can no longer tolerate, by means of drugs or alcohol, his behaviour pattern, no longer adaptive to an environment for which it was not designed, tends to break down. One remaining position of defence is to build up his own personal world of fantasy which contains just those environmental constituents of which he has been deprived, and which he most requires.
There is considerable evidence to show that members of a society undergoing acculturation, whose culture is breaking down under the influence of an alien one, are particularly prone to mental disease.
As national boundaries break down, small communities are swallowed up by vast urban conglomerations, mobility is increased and people move about the place in search of better pay, so cultural patterns break down.
In the United Kingdom, mental disease is increasing at a phenomenal rate. According to Ministry of Health statistics 169,160 people were admitted to hospitals in England and Wales in 1967 suffering from mental illness, two and a half times as many as in 1951.
There were 600,000 mentally disordered people in England and Wales in 1967, 186,901 of them occupying hospital beds or 46.6 percent of all hospital beds. 32 million working days every year are lost because of mental illness, representing a cost to the nation of £100 million, and local authorities spent £20,250,000 in mental health; more than six times what was spent in 1957.Back to top
Durkheim regarded suicide as the ultimate manifestation of anomie. He found that the suicide rate was particularly low in poor rural communities where social structures were intact and high in disintegrating affluent societies, especially among the working classes and even more so among immigrants, in this case Italians, to the cities of Lorraine. He goes so far as to say that
“suicide varies in inverse proportion to the degree of integration of the social groups to which the individual belongs”.
In Britain the suicide rate has fallen over the last six years by about 200 a year. Nevertheless, according to the Samaritans, a lay organisation that helps depressed and potentially suicidal people, the number of potential suicides has more than doubled in the last two years.
In 1967, their seven London area branches dealt with 5,999 new cases. In 1969 the same branches dealt with a further 11,641 cases. The Reverend Basil Higginson, an official of this organisation, estimates that cases would go on rising at this rate.Back to top
There is every reason to believe that the social ills at present afflicting our society – increasing crime, delinquency, vandalism, alcoholism, as well as drug addiction – are closely related and are the symptoms of the breakdown of our cultural pattern, which in turn is an aspect of the disintegration of our society. These tendencies can only be accentuated by further demographic and economic growth. It is chimeric to suppose that any of these tendencies can be checked by the application of external controls or by treating them in isolation, i.e. apart from the social disease of which they are but the symptoms.
It is the cause itself, unchecked economic and demographic growth that must be treated. Until such time as the most radical measures are undertaken for this purpose, these tendencies will be further accentuated – until their cost becomes so high that further growth ceases to be viable.Back to top
|1.||Paul R. Ehrlich, “Hobson’s Choice”, The Optimum Population for Britain, edited by R. Taylor. Academic Press, 1970.|
|2.||N. Tinbergen, The Study of Instinct. The Clarendon Press, Oxford 1951.|
|3.||G. P. Murdock, Social Structure. The Free Press, New York 1965.|
|4.||Ralph Linton, The Study of Man. Peter Owen, London 1965.|
|5.||Jose Ortega y Gasset, Espana Invertebrada.|
|6.||Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines. John Murray, London 1966.|
|7.||See Abram Kardiner, The Psychological Frontiers of Society. Columbia University Press, New York 1945.|
|8.||Thucydides, ii, 37. Quoted by W. Warde Fowler, The City State of the Greeks and Romans. Macmillan, London 1952.|
|9.||Robert Lowie, Primitive Society. Routledge, 1952.|
|10.||Marshall B. Clinard, 1964. Anomie and Deviant Behaviour. The Free Press, New York. This book contains a very useful bibliography accompanied by abstracts of the books dealing with the whole subject treated in this article.|
|11.||D. O. Hebb, The Organisation of Behaviour. John Wiley, New York 1961.|
|12.||John Bowly, . Child Care and the Growth of Love. Penguin books, London 1965.|
|13.||Richard E. Cloward and Lloyd E. Ohlin, Delinquency and Opportunity. Collier Macmillan, New York 1966.|
|14.||Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure. The Free Press, New York 1967.|