Environmental journalist George Monbiot savages the era of selfish individualism that he argues is creating an epidemic of loneliness:
What do we call this time? It’s not the information age: the collapse of popular education movements left a void filled by marketing and conspiracy theories. Like the stone age, iron age and space age, the digital age says plenty about our artefacts but little about society. The anthropocene, in which humans exert a major impact on the biosphere, fails to distinguish this century from the previous 20. What clear social change marks out our time from those that precede it? To me it’s obvious. This is the Age of Loneliness.
When Thomas Hobbes claimed that in the state of nature, before authority arose to keep us in check, we were engaged in a war “of every man against every man”, he could not have been more wrong. We were social creatures from the start, mammalian bees, who depended entirely on each other. The hominins of east Africa could not have survived one night alone. We are shaped, to a greater extent than almost any other species, by contact with others. The age we are entering, in which we exist apart, is unlike any that has gone before.
Three months ago we read that loneliness has become an epidemic among young adults. Now we learn that it is just as great an affliction of older people. A study by Independent Age shows that severe loneliness in England blights the lives of 700,000 men and 1.1m women over 50, and is rising with astonishing speed.
Our society’s obsession with individualism is amazingly good at driving people to work more, so it is no wonder ‘the system’ works so hard to maintain the mythology of the individual. Can the vicious cycle of work, materialism and loneliness be broken? It’s a tough one given so much is stacked against community or working together for a common cause. It’s now so bad that anyone who attempts to buck the system is accused of being selfish themselves, and dismissed for offering alternative solutions to the never ending hamster wheel of capitalism.
Sadly, that Hamster wheel won’t ever stop. As Monbiot writes, “Hobbes’s pre-social condition was a myth. But we are entering a post-social condition our ancestors would have believed impossible. Our lives are becoming nasty, brutish and long.”
Time to get off, anyone?
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.