Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ideology and Loneliness

Here's a thougtful post by Ennyman on loneliness in modern America, and I quote:
Olds and Schwartz may be correctly sounding alarm bells regarding isolation, but what they're seeing is the fruit of what Packard cited more than forty years ago. In his 1962 analysis, "Personal isolation is becoming a major social fact of our time. A great many people are disturbed by the feeling that they are rootless or increasingly anonymous, that they are living in a continually changing environment where there is little sense of community."
It's almost paradoxical that people may indeed feel more isolated in dense and large urban centers than in small cities and rural areas. There's something about large and dense cities that's clearly dehumanizing.

A popular interpretation is that technological progress and industrialization are the main factors behind it. I disagree. The use of technology may have reduced our dependency on our neighbors and the time available for local social interactions, but in most cases it allowed for the elimination of barriers that were once important impediments to socialization. Just think about the success of Facebook and other social network tools that came up with the Internet. The demand for these socialization services can be seen as proof that there's indeed much loneliness in the world, but it's also proof that technology is able to provide solutions to the phenomenon.

My three-year-old son was born and always lived in America and nonetheless he communicates in French with his granny in Europe on a daily basis using web cam technology. When I was his age, I only had the pleasure to talk to my grandmother twice per year, even though she was only 600 miles away from us. Telephone calls were just too expensive at that time. The barriers of space and time could not be overcome. Technology solved these problems.

I prefer a simpler even if highly speculative explanation for the phenomenon. I believe that loneliness in modern societies and urban centers, when not simply a result of extended longevity, has its roots in ideology. I'd say it's one of the many intellectual diseases brought to us by the disfunctional statist ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries, a disease that's yet very alive among us.

The problem with these statist ideologies is that they glorify state regulation of human actions and collectivist activism at the cost of meaningful interactions at the individual level, particularly when these interactions have a normal, human and mostly benign self-serving nature. Because they propose that all individual actions must be framed by some dirigist higher purpose or some collective definition of social good, and not by the "selfish" needs of those immediately around, they may lead to dehumanization, like what's found among people under totalitarian rule.

In other words, this ideological frame of mind induces loneliness because it minimizes the role of meaningful individual relationships, such as simple interactions among family members, neighbors and friends, favoring instead drone-like behaviors that cannot be good for anyone's mental health.

My own personal experience tells me that this may be indeed an important factor, and I'd also say that it helps to explain phenomena like the one reported in this post.

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