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Monday, 9 March 2009

the loneliness of the long distance writer....

"All the lonely people
Where do they all come from ?"
The Beatles, Eleanor Rigby

It's not often I quote approvingly from the Daily Mail, but there was an interesting article on loneliness here.

The writer, Lorna Martin, spoke of loneliness as a taboo made all the more poignant by the endemic nature of the condition of Western women. Whilst I would disagree with her overly feminine characterisation of the emotion - it was however an article written for the femail section of the paper so that should come as no surprise - it contained several elements which were pertinent for women and men.

This isn't to deny or denigrate her descriptions of its effect on women, merely to highlight that men have their own issues relating to loneliness that may differ slightly in causes in some cases but are largely similar in outcome.

I sympathise with her, having felt that unbearably intense sense of loneliness of many occasions throughout my life, and noted that they increased massively when I was either working from home or not working at all. Such are the travails of being a freelancer in the world we live in.

Martin points out rightly that we are ill equipped to deal with loneliness. This was something I mentioned in my first post on this blog when speaking about the old Indian tradition (quoted by Theodore Zeldin) of sending young men on retreat for 3 months to cope with a deadened form on loneliness that helps them face up to the condition.

As she notes, it is associated with failure and weakness. However, she stops short of asking why our society seems so talented at creating so many lonely people. It does not take a socialist to recognise that a system that requires values like individualism, mobility over community, and consumption as a signifier of success, is a system that will create endemic loneliness.

The dark side of individualism is the sense of isolation it breeds as we see ourselves as entirely distinct, with distinct needs from the group. I am not arguing for a return to some kind of prelapsarian community, merely an acknowledgement of the true cost of our philosophical stance in the world.

It is a terrible irony that Norman Tebbit who once exhorted Britain to get on its bike, later lamented the loss of community and family values that once bound together these Isles. The very mobility of modern society and employment that he helped to herald will inherently diminish familial and community bonds. I am not arguing for a return to some kind of Empire capitalism, merely an acknowledgement of the true cost of our economic stance in the world.

And at the root of these things is consumption. We produce and consume goods and services to trade in a global system. And in order to maintain this we much constantly strive for greater efficiency and competitiveness, making us work longer hours, committing more sacrifices on the altar of consumption.

And this is a system that the Daily Mail promotes, despite making noises in favour of family values and so on. But it does not recognise that the capitalism that it suggests its readers vote for at elections, that it promotes in its choice of news, features and its business pages pushes us further towards the treadmill of consumption and it's consequent ailments.

Martin notes the health problems that loneliness generates, both physical and psychological, and she is right to do so. She quotes psychologist James Lynch in his book 'Broken Heart: The Medical Consequences Of Loneliness', and how dialogue is key to escaping the vicious spiral of loneliness.

Not to undermine the value of Lynch or Martin's suggestions I fear it will take an awful lot more to deal with the endemic state of our societies. Communication will play a part, rituals to bind and bond us will too. And I think if we are prepared to be truly honest, we may have to change the way we do business with the world and the way the world does business...


Selchie said...

Hi Scot, this is my first time here. Thank you for this really interesting post. Mostly the world just feels so complicated for me to even begin to consider solutions. I agree that loneliness is endemic to this society and I think that the centralisation of everything doesn't help, replacing what would have been supplied by community, also as you say mobility means we have no idea who we are living next door to.

Thank you for all the thoughts..)

happy day,


scot in exile said...

thank you for posting selchie, it has been pretty lonely here on this blog, not least as i have not been as diligent as i'd like.

it is a complicated world but some principles underlying it remain simple. our relationships, from those with our lovers to a credit default swap on a bank trading floor being traded, are a mixture of competition and co-operation.

And where there is too much compeition then qualities perceived as weaknesses will remain hidden, and loneliness is one of those things.

you are right in that centralisation of resources, from a bank call centre to factory style food production all undermine an individual's relationships with the world - that will increase loneliness, which will be perceived as weakness, and immediately that person will have a heavy burden influencing many things about them, sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes in subtle ones.

but to take your example, do you know your neighbour?

Selchie said...

Lol! Yes I know a few of them. The place where I live whilst pretty much the centre of the city, has a village inside it. So people still smile and say hello as I walk along the street. That if they're not drunk and harassing me!!! If i need any gossip all I have to do is stop by the chippy.)

Sunshine days.)

scot in exile said...

glad to hear it - though i live in the middle of london it's a mix of neighbourliness, anonymity, and occasional harassment, but fortunately that is rare.

would you say it's not a lonely place in general where you are?

Selchie said...

Yeah I can't say I feel lonely here, though I'm not sure if thats an inner thing or outer. A couple of things, firstly I am living back in my hometown after living away for 10 years so I think the familiarity and the sense it's 'my yard' helps and also I have kids, twins actually and a lot of people are attracted to them and so talk to me as a by product. Also I think recognition, seeing the same people encourages that. But yeah people are in general friendly, chat to you at the bus stop etc. I lived in Lancaster for three years and I dont think anyone who didnt know me ever smiled at me or chatted to me the whole time I was there.
My hubby doesnt feel the same, he's Polish and finds it really lonely but he comes from a small village where everyone has lived for generations, so maybe its a case of what you're used to and maybe it's bc as you say you feel in exile). What kind of place do you come from?

Have a great day,


scot in exile said...

i grew up mostly in aberdeen which is a big village but for me in many ways a very parochial place that i never felt at home in. lonely in a sense yes, though plenty of others felt and home there and might find anywhere else lonely...