We Are the World

December 31, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

The ISIS threat to carry out terrorist attacks on New Year’s Eve celebrations shows what a unique holiday this is.

As Durkheim pointed out long ago, the underlying purpose of a ritual is group solidarity.  Rituals mark group boundaries. That’s why participation is so important. To take part in the ritual is to define yourself as a member of the group. To stay away is to declare that you are not a member. “Why do I have to go to Grandma’s for Christmas?” “Because you’re a member of this family.”
Because they define the group’s boundaries, rituals draw the line between Us and everyone else. “Us” might be a family, a team, a religion, a nation, or any other group. New Year’s Eve is unique in that the group it defines is the whole world. The year changes for everyone. On television we can see people in Sydney or Singapore, Mumbai or Madrid, celebrating the same festival. We are all taking part in the same ritual, therefore we are all part of the same group – the world. An attack on a New Year celebration, no matter where, is like an attack on a global sense of community.

That sense of community might be phony, or at least fragile and fleeting, but on this one occasion, we get a feeling of it as an ideal. We rarely articulate it specifically; instead, it is the unspoken assumption behind the celebration. As the announcers in the media say, “Tonight, people all over the world are celebrating . . .” This year, the Global Us becomes clearer because of those who have declared themselves to be on the other side of the boundary marked by this ritual.

Happy New Year!


brandsinger said...

"The ISIS threat to carry out terrorist attacks on New Year’s Eve celebrations shows what a unique holiday this is." ?? -- that's pretty funny. Let's be real, Jay: The threat to murder people on New Year's Eve or any day shows what a depraved, heartless death cult the Islamic State is.

How about the community of travelers in a jet plane piloted by professionals hired to carry men, women and children safely to distant lands? Murdering pilots in their seats using box cutters revealed no empathy for the ancient bond of travelers -- or any human feelings normal to civil life. I state the obvious, however.

Jay Livingston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay Livingston said...

Yes, ISIS and Al Qaeda do horrible things. But that’s not what this post was about. It was about New Year’s Eve as a ritual. Because that was the topic, and because everyone knows about ISIS and Al Qaeda, I figured that discussion of them in this post was irrelevant and unnecessary, so I omitted it.