the age of loneliness is killing us
I ran across a couple of articles today that impacted me. Ever since I began studying sociology, and even before, I have come to realize the power society and social institutions have over individuals. We are not the masters of our own universes, and are (mostly) not to blame for many of our individual problems. C. Wright Mills calls this having a sociological imagination. It is the ability to decipher between personal problems and public issues. It is the main message of the Sociology 101 course I teach.
However, this lesson is difficult for many of us to grasp, as is it so ingrained in us to think so much of what we experience is our individual problem. I keep on learning this lesson for different parts of life, and the two articles above continue to teach this same lesson.
The first makes the claim that addiction is not an individual's problem, and it's not even the problem of chemical impact on the brain. If you look, for example, at gambling addiction, it surely can't only be chemicals causing addiction. The author argues that it is in fact our loneliness and isolation (among other aspects of our society) that drives so many to addiction. And the solution to all this isn't to isolate addicts, but to love them and provide them with healthy relationships.
The second article is a treatise on the current century, calling it the Age of Loneliness. The statistics are dire. We are a lonely people and it is killing us.
These two articles are connected (the first cites the second) in that it is really the structure of our society that causes so much of what we think of as individual problems. Are you lonely because no one wants to be your friend or because no one sees each other anymore? Are you addicted (even to caffeine or alcohol or television) because you're lonely? Well, you're lonely because of how our society is set up.
I am reminded of something one of my favorite authors once said. He was attempting to live happily in American society and was finding it difficult. He told himself to simply be "a lotus in a cesspool." That is, even if the society is unhealthy, he could attempt to rise above it and be happy despite his surroundings. What he found, he says, is that he just ended up being "a dirty lotus" (MorrisBerman.com). I like this anecdote because it captures the essence of the above articles and sociology in general. You cannot rise above your environment. Your environment makes you up. So, if you want to be different (or you don't want to become who this unhealthy society will make you up to be), then you have to find a place that you think aligns better with who you want to be, and move there. And this is not just the U.S. As the article states, it is at least in the U.K. and probably many other industrialized societies. Get out. Before you die of loneliness or addiction or both.