Tuesday, 8 January 2013



One true thing, at least, was said by Kurt Vonnegut - that loneliness was the big problem of modern life.

People are not built to live alone, to eat alone - yet so many people do, more and more as marriage and families are avoided and destroyed against a background of secularism.

People use their wealth to live alone, to be independent of ties and hassles - they are addicted to mental isolation.


I used to suppose that the increasing numbers of single and divorced would lead, spontaneously, to new forms of group living - to something like colleges, where people could eat together and share social activities. 

Yet if people are plagued by loneliness, neither are people built to live herded randomly in institutions - they are meant to live in organic groupings, tied by meaningful affiliations.

New forms of group living have not arisen - atomistic disintegration proceeds apace. 


The pain of loneliness may be alleviated or blotted-out by distractions; by immersion in the mass media, by communication technologies, by the serial psychodrama of modern sexual relationships, by travel, by consumerism and fashion, by drugs - but these are analgesics: the problem remains.


Indeed, the problem of loneliness is ultimately spiritual, not a matter of proximity to and contact with 'other people'.

The reality is that we are never alone because God is with us always; therefore loneliness is a part of our state of sin - which is why loneliness is ever-more prevalent.

Loneliness is a side effect of alienation. A society without meaning or purpose or a personal relationship between the individual and the world, is a society where loneliness is intrinsic, existential and un-assuage-able.



The Great and Powerful Oz said...

Every day of my life is filled with soul crushing loneliness. Living in a society that would rather see me dead than offer me the slightest bit of help is hard. Going to church and being told that I and people like me are the source of all evil. Listening to the sermons that preach "we should help those other people over there, because we have reason to pity them" instead of offering the slightest bit of support to members of the congregation is rough. Hearing that a member of a church I used to attend committed suicide and knowing that not a single person from the church had done anything to help her in her overwhelming pain was very distressing.

I'm tired of the isolation. I've tried and tried to do something about it and uniformly failed.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GAPO - The only churches, of which I am aware, that function properly in this regard are some large Conservative Evangelical churches, and the Mormon/ LDS church.

A lonely person ought to make major changes to his life, as a matter of priority - change location, change job etc.

But not of course with the *primary* purpose of overcoming loneliness. This is a side-effect which comes either from a real marriage and family, or via primary service to God (but, as I said above, nowadays restricted to a minority of churches and denominations).

Jonathan C said...

This post is spot on. I, too, am surprised that no new forms of communal eating have emerged to give single folks living alone a group to dine with.

I do spend a lot of my meals reading blogs. Which sounds terrible, but it's rather nice to have more like-minded dinner companions than I could find in the flesh in the ultra-liberal city I live in.

C. said...

The "a group of friends can be your chosen family!" idea was really big on television in the 90s and early 00s. In real life, groups like this almost never got too close in the first place, because everyone knew deep down that individuals would drop everything and leave the group if they got married and had children, got a better job offer in another city, etc...

Anyway, regarding Oz's post, I've moved around a lot and have generally found Orthodox churches are very welcoming and church community-minded (maybe because the congregations tend to be smaller...) This Christmas, I was visiting distant relatives and wanted to go to church on Christmas Eve, but the only one nearby was Catholic. I was really shocked at the end when everyone just shuffled off avoiding eye contact with us. On Christmas Eve! Usually at even the most closed-off ethnic Orthodox churches at least one person will grab you and question you a bit...

MC said...

I have been thinking about loneliness quite a bit recently, with my wife and kids out of town visiting family. I hear a constant voice ringing out, "It is not good that the man should be alone."