Why Are We All Ignoring Our Loneliness?
These days, when we pass a person on the street we usually don‘t say hello or even look them in the eye. In the city, we live in a world of strangers, the vast majority of whom we have very little to no personal relationship with whatsoever. Occasionally we may get into brief, interesting exchanges with the person behind the counter at the café or the grocery store, but these exchanges are predicated upon our purchase of something the shop is selling. This makes me wonder if such conversation is merely a byproduct of the capitalist machine in motion, a human byproduct of commerce whereby the exchange of cash sparks the expressive faculties while also providing an adequate social lubricant. While it is, of course, natural for human beings to talk and communicate with one another, unless we have a good excuse or reason to do so we seem to maintain our typical everyday stranger status with the entire general public surrounding us.
I don‘t think we can underestimate the impact that living in a world of strangers has upon our psychological state of being. At times, I find it to be painfully awkward to continually encounter other people with whom I have absolutely no personal relationship. At these times, I almost always feel a sense of uncertainty; Should I say hello? Or does it even matter? The everyday atmosphere of a general lack of interest or caring between modern citizens can be overwhelming. But how can we care about other people who we don‘t even know, when we live in a social context that supports a state of chronic alienation?
I know, I know ... you‘re thinking, ―Well, but we‘re all supposed to develop our own group of friends, family, and acquaintances who meet our needs for human interaction, for fun, love, and affection.‖ However, I must retort—notice how in talking about alienation I'm imagining a relationship of dialogue?!?—it doesn‘t always work that way. Statistics on depression and suicide demonstrate that meeting our own needs is an insufficient and tragedy-inducing agenda for a significant portion of all of us—over one million people commit suicide around the world every year.
One million ...
Perhaps the assumption of complete self-care is just a preposterous joke based on the Western ideal of the heroic ―rugged individual‖ who is ultimately responsible for meeting all of his own needs. As a citizen of the modern world, what does it mean, and what does it feel like, to be just one more human being lost in the crowd, in the midst of thousands of others?
Indeed, the tribe—an interconnected group of related individuals aspiring towards the mutual well-being of one another —has now become the mob—a collective of individuals who are, for the most part, unrelated and uninterested in one another, unless such interactions empower the individual to obtain their own financial, sexual, or social status-based objectives. I am not saying that tribal people were not selfish or self-interested, only that they appeared to have maintained an overall mutually reciprocal relationship with the larger community group in which they lived.
Although we boast of all the amazing benefits of modern living, there are many significant shortcomings in our having ―evolved‖ from tribal to technological society, from a way of life centered around people, planet, and community, to a way of life focused sharply on the individual and our ability to manipulate machines. Tribal societies function as a sort of unified whole, their members relying implicitly upon one another to meet their needs and fulfill their aspirations. Consider these words of the Pomo Indians of Northern California, from the book The Way We Lived, by Malcolm Margolin: