It is getting harder and harder to see through much of the fog that permeates our modern world. It seems like our culture itself has an insidious way of spreading loneliness. It is easy to blame technology on this, but the issue is more all-encompassing than that. No, modern loneliness is sourced in the very ideals that our society has put forth.
Loneliness is a modern issue, the term itself only coming into public consciousness in the late 17th century. More people live alone now than ever before, with about 10% of American households being the home of only one person. Jealousy and envy seem to be ever-present. We are increasingly lonely in the presence of others, stuck in our own minds around friends and family.
Make no mistake, this is a problem. Loneliness is considered a public health issue. Feelings of loneliness can impact how the body reacts to illness, with isolation actually making people sicker. The effects of loneliness on mental health aren’t to be ignored, either. We are better at detecting mental illness nowadays, but to act as though isolation does not incense existing or latent problems would be ridiculous.
We know loneliness is on the rise, and we know that it is a bad thing. There are many ways in which it seems evident in our culture, but it almost seems as if there is no way around it. Why has this disease managed to affect us all so deeply? How can we detect and destroy sources of loneliness?
This problem affects each and every one of us, targeting us in different ways. NPR recently reported on how masculinity causes men to be particularly vulnerable to loneliness. It turns out that when people are told culturally to not show weakness or vulnerability, they end up feeling a lot less willing to reach out to others for help, therefore becoming more lonely.
This illuminates some of the root causes of loneliness. Toxic masculinity serves to pit men against each other, making everyone less happy in the process. While this is perhaps the most clear example of societal competition, it is far from the only one. In fact, we can generalize, seeing the problem for what it really is. Our culture’s strict adherence to hierarchy and competition is the direct cause of isolation.
When success is rated only by one metric — money — it is no surprise that competition moves through our blood. We as a society tell people that they need to be ambitious and get to the top, but plainly put, it’s lonely at the top. Why do we rate life by a metric that doesn’t end up making people feel happy or fulfilled?
It is disgusting how foolishly we have built up our society. We fetishize independence and individuality without taking even a moment to stop and ask ourselves why. We pit people against each other for any and every chance at advancement. We gut mental healthcare to only what is profitable and then wonder why everyone is breaking down at this.
The problem is how we have structured our entire perception of success and growth. When both must come at the expense of others, it should be no surprise that we end up shifty-eyed and nervous at the kindness of others.
It is as if we stare into the fog, worried about any threat to what we have built up. We cannot see others out there, but we know they are there. However, we have been told not to look at this as an opportunity to work together but instead to be wary of, or perhaps use for personal gain. Through all of this, the fog is the only real threat to us; the loneliness and isolation slowly strangle us, eats at us. It is only when we open the door and step outside from this society we have built up that we can realize this.
Peter Fenteany is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.