In which Pitirim Sorokin appears to scoop Zygmunt Bauman by forty years…

Pitirim Sorokin

‘Nothing has sufficient time to crystallize. Everything is in a liquid state. Nothing has a chance to be tested for its good or bad qualities.  We really do not know which of the incessantly changing “ models” and values are good and which are poor. Therefore the whole social life and the whole mentality are also in a liquid state, formless, shapeless, foggy, like a primeval protoplasm or a crowd of fleeting shadows. One would look in vain, in this fog of shadows, for clear-cut boundary lines between the sinister and the benevolent, the good and bad, the true and false, the beautiful and ugly, the wholesome and harmful, right and wrong. The shadow values are so crowded, so foggy, they come and go so fast, that no such lines can be established. Hence the supreme reign of relativism in our mentality and culture — relativism of everything. Hence a lack of any certainty, stability, and security in our mental and social life. In this atmosphere of queer, dancing shadow values nobody can feel secure; nobody can have firm ground under his feet. We try our best to “ adjust ” ourselves to this continuous change. A hopeless task, more hopeless than that of Sisyphus. The only result of this desperate “adjustment of maladjustments” is exhaustion, fatigue, and the senseless state of “ being busy doing nothing”‘ (Sorokin, 1957/1970, p.320).

From Social and Cultural Dynamics (4 vol., 1937–41; rev. and abridged ed. 1957) by Pitirim Sorokin.

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