The Epidemic of Loneliness: Analysis and Solutions
Alien-Nation Transformation, Loneliness and Mass Frustration
The Epidemic of Loneliness
Long before social distancing and self-quarantining at home, loneliness was already an epidemic.
In 2018 the UK government set up a commission to combat the “public health challenge” of loneliness.
Japan has appointed a Minister of Loneliness.
The US Surgeon General has declared Americans must confront the loneliness epidemic.
Elderly New Yorkers are now being given robots to relieve their loneliness.
Loneliness is a quiet, but pervasive crisis. How did we get here? What does it all mean? What are the consequences of widespread loneliness? And what are the solutions we can act on individually?
How to recognize loneliness
Most of us, if we’re honest, only have one or two friends. Some of us have none. Friendship is about a relationship where someone loves you enough to tell you the unpleasant truths about yourself you don’t want to hear, because they care. Friendship is perhaps even beyond articulation.
– Chris Hedges
Loneliness brings a certain image to mind. Often of someone completely and utterly alone, staring out the window. While that can be the case, it would be more accurate to say that a lonely person is a disconnected person. You can be surrounded by people and be perfectly lonely.
So what does loneliness look like? What does it feel like? What are the “symptoms”?
We know it’s linked to adverse health effects such as heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s. But the markers of loneliness itself are not immediately clear, because you can also be pretty well isolated and far from lonely. I would encourage everyone to do their best to recognize how it feels to them.
That said, here are some of the identifiers according to WebMD:
You don't have any close friends. The people you see are casual acquaintances you can spend time with, but you don't have a deep connection with them.
You experience feelings of isolation even when you're surrounded by other people or in large groups. It may feel like you're constantly on the outside looking in.
You struggle with feeling like you're less than or not good enough.
When you reach out to others, your interactions feel shallow, and you don't get a lot from people emotionally.
You have exhaustion and burnout when you socialize with others. It can feel like you're constantly drained and unable to interact the way you'd like to.
According to other sources angry outburst or passive aggression might be a sign too.
And, according to WebWM, some of the health risks include:
Inflammation throughout the body
Depression and anxiety
Problems with sleep
High blood pressure
Modern medicine seems to be catching up to the old wisdom that the mind can effect the health of the body. That dis-ease cannot always be medicated away. Rather we can understand and treat the psychogenetic origins of what ails us.
A self perpetuating problem
You and I, who yearn for blameless intimacy, we will be unwilling to speak even the first words of inquisitive delight, for fear of reprisals.
- Leonard Cohen
The problems of modernity are stacking atop each other. Our technology disconnects us. Our invisible ideologies disconnects us. Our lack of fulfillment in our work disconnects us. Our lack of trust disconnects us. And the more people around us are disconnected the lesser our chances of connecting with them.
With no one to confide in people feel disconnected. We’ve lost our confidence in each other, and frankly, there’s often good reason for this lack of trust. People have been made to be ego-centric, as Bertrand Russell declared they would engineer society to be decades ago. The culture of the self is at best an emotionally uncaring environment, and at worst one of cut-throat backstabbing, rumor-milling, and a lack of respect for personal boundaries. People are used as friends. Friendship is in many ways reduced to amusement. The average person may hide much of themselves from their friends.
What we call political correctness is amplifying and we are increasingly afraid to express how we really think and feel about things for fear of social repercussions, job loss, etc. We learn to self-police our thoughts so much that we may even lose sight of how we really think. We live in an atmos-fear of suspicion and free-floating anxiety.
Increasingly we’re taught we can’t take these anxieties to our friends, rather we must confide in the new technocratic priest class: therapists, counselors, mental-health care workers, all the rest of it. Instead of working issues out with those we know and trust, we have to take our messy personal lives to professional strangers, who, for a fee, will listen to us. For whatever good that may do, a relationship founded on commerce is not an authentic relationship. Nor is the expert/patient relationship one of equal footing.
We are not to blame for this situation. We’ve all been trained to ignore the unpleasant and focus on what makes us happy. This is what is sometimes referred to as “positive psychology”. Just stay positive, its mantra. Except life isn’t all positive. Sadness is just a natural state of mind, and it will come and go pretty well on its own until we start to internalize that something is wrong with us just because we are sad.
When it becomes socially unacceptable to express natural human emotions where do you suppose we’re headed as a society? It’s awfully hard to trust others when you can’t be yourself around them.
Of course, it would be foolish to simply prescribe trust as the antidote to loneliness. Many people born trusting, are trusting people they shouldn’t be. Their intuition may know better. The pervasive idea throughout mental health fields, that anxiety is a sign of something wrong with the individual, is missing the forest for the trees.
Solutions we can implement individually
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
- Jiddu Krishnamurti
1. Building trust
Trust is still part of the remedy to loneliness. Not blind trust or trust for trust’s sake.
Trust is built slowly. Incrementally. A give and take of opening up.
Trust also fundamentally requires getting back in harmony with our intuition, so that we may trust ourselves. Learning to trust your gut, is an art form. We have to do the work to distinguish between our quiet, spontaneous “gut-feeling” our nervous system communicates to the conscious mind, and the loud, conditioned knee-jerk responses that have been drilled into us through years of socialization.
What you need in order to listen to your intuition is some peace and quiet. Writing can be useful too. Take note of what you discover about yourself.
2. Finding meaning
We’ve become so left-brained, so rational, so pragmatic in this scientific-worshipping technocratic world, that we have forgotten that we can’t think our way into a meaningful life. What gives life meaning is something you feel in your bones. And meaning is simply not an equivalent with happiness. It’s beyond what we can express, for the same reason it’s beyond what we can put into rational thought.
Rational thought, you see, is not the only way of understanding. You’re not just a mind. You have an entire nervous system that is intelligently aware of itself and your environment, and only so much can be brought to the attention of the rational/conscious mind at a given moment. What is sub-conscious is not inferior, it is technically greater, ie. more expansive. Nor is what is sub-conscious permanently so. Sometimes it just takes a refocusing of your attention to bring it to the surface. You are more than the little part of you that is currently aware of what you know.
Self-discovery is another part of the remedy to loneliness. If you have yourself to confide in, you already have more than many others do. I don’t say this to put others down. To know thyself requires a deep personal honesty and an embrace of maturing (growing old) as a human. It’s simply not something everyone has interest in. Many people want to stay forever young, and have the grown-ups, or the experts, or their peer group (who gets their talking points from the media), or whoever, take care of everything for them. They outsource their thinking. All the while they think their thoughts are their own.
You can’t break out of a bind like that unless you are driven, like a mad man, to find the truth. You can’t discover who you are if you let others talk you out of yourself. You can’t trust yourself without self confide-ence.
4. Our environment
Unplugging from social media is a double-edged sword. In a sense, it can contribute to loneliness. If you’re not on social media, some people may very well drop out from your life and act as though you no longer exists.
But unplugging can also re-connect you to your true self, and give you more of that much needed quiet time to discover self-confide-ence.
Getting back to our physical environment is much needed.
Ideally our world would not consider it progress to re-create the illusion of “presence” (the feeling that you are really there with someone) in the metaverse, as a substitute for reality. Rather we would love the real world for what it is, and experience real presence with those nearest and dearest us.
Life is a vibration. A rhythm. There’s a spiritual aspect to the material world. This is why artificial reality is no substitute for the real thing. We’ve got to embrace reality again. We’ve got to re-connect.
The effects of mass-loneliness on a population
Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.
– Joseph Goebbels
It may come as a surprise to learn that mass loneliness is theorized to be the precursor to and a necessary condition for the rise of totalitarianism. Why? The theory, popularized by professor Mattias Desmet, goes something like this:
When the mass of people feel disconnected from one another they develop a free-floating anxiety and an aggression (they do not know why they are anxious). When a new narrative arrives that projects the cause of this anxiety onto another group of people, the mass of disconnected, lonely people ban together against this group of scapegoated people. The mass then feels connected, however not to each other as individuals, but to the mass. It alleviates the symptoms of loneliness, and leaves untreated the root cause of all the loneliness.
Hence the name mass formation, or mass formation psychosis. The mass formation isn’t so much the mass of people, but an ideology that brings the people together. But it’s an ideology that is dangerous even to those in the group. As the cause of the alienation is never relieved, the anxiety persists.
This is how Stalin managed to kill 60 percent of his own party members. Hitler, more known for killing outsider groups, also wanted to eliminate the Germans the Nazi party considered unworthy of life.
And so, like the famous Martin Niemöller poem goes, there is a duty to speak out when you find yourself against the mass formation. Not because you will persuade them with logic - you can’t, they didn’t get there through logic. But because you aren’t just speaking up for yourself. You’re speaking up for them. Members of the mass who will find themselves targeted later down the road. And though it is risky to speak up, according to Desmet, you remind people in the grip of the mass formation of the scapegoat’s humanity, thereby preventing the mass from descending even further down the genocidal rabbit hole.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemöller