As a society we like to break down and to quantify. We like to take a problem and to reduce it to its components and to examine each of those and measure them and fix them up. And obviously that has great utility in oh so many ways, and is the most correct approach in a broad sweep of disciplines. I studied astrophysics at university so I’m steeped in the values of empirical analysis and mathematical rigour. Philosophically I consider myself tied to materialism—the belief that all existence, including phenomena like consciousness, is tied to manifestations of the physical—more than any other framework of understanding. So I have great sympathy for the quantitative method.
There are areas, however, where that method’s limitations can become apparent. No, don’t worry, I’m not about to go all mystical on you and beseech you to open your third eye. I’m sticking very much within the realm of the rational and real here. I’m talking about things like medicine. Modern medicine is a goddamn miracle. One of the few vindications of our too-often rotten and deadly progress as a species. We can perform truly unreal wonders with the cumulative medical and scientific knowledge we’ve gathered. Unborn babies can be removed from the uterus now to be operated on before being put back in to continue their gestation. It’s insane what we can do. Yet too often our laser-like focus on singling out issues and problems means that when it comes to an analysis of people’s health, we can sometimes miss the woods for the trees. Or rather we don’t think holistically enough, or sufficiently long-term, for the uber-complex organism that is the human. Mental health is often cited as one of these areas.
One of the worst public health crises that is not talked about enough is loneliness. This is a building epidemic that is only get worse with time and that just simply does not command as much attention as something as immediately violent and explosive as say an outbreak of measles caused by the actions of a few bug-eyed anti-vaxx idiots. No, loneliness is more insidious than that. It has been building for so long and spreading so gradually that it has been difficult to spot. It is a symptom of our atomisation under modern capitalism. The system has wanted us to be as cogs in a Ford-style production line for a good while now, and with the rise of platform capitalism via the likes of Facebook and Google not only is our labour time and energy now being quantified and bought and sold, but so are our likes and our desires and our free time too. The citizen under capitalism is thus fully reduced to living as an individual unit—a lonely bit that produces value through labour during the day and value through monetised data at night—within a vast system that she has no real control over and also—crucially—has no power to link up with others. Obviously this benefits the owners of industry as the one thing they fear is worker solidarity, but in terms of affecting the worker not only does it disempower them pragmatically, it also erodes their community-based human spirit. This is after all why the right-wing consistently and passionately attack institutions like libraries and unions that help prop up the social fabric.
The popular YouTube channel Kurzgesagt has produced a quite lovely video on the silent epidemic that is loneliness. It is simple, clearly told, and with a hopeful air near the end that echoes one of my favourite lines from one of my favourite movies of all time, Before Sunrise:
I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.
Check it out:
Header Image Source: YouTube