The Silent Epidemic That’s “Killing Us” (Part 2) by Akos Balough (Gospel Coalition)
In part 1 Akos raises the huge problem loneliness is for our western culture and then looks at 4 thoughts on why it is happening and why…
5) The Underlying Cultural Shift: Individualism.
Although technologies like social media do shape us (for good or ill), loneliness was already a growing problem before Zuckerberg and his Silicon Valley mates came along.
Many argue that the modern western ideology of individualism is also to blame. At this point it’s worth quoting English journalist George Monbiot, from his article ‘The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us’:
Yes, factories have closed, people travel by car instead of buses, use YouTube rather than the cinema. But these shifts alone fail to explain the speed of our social collapse. These structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation.
The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time…For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is no such thing as society, only heroic individualism. What counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage.’
Individualism may feel good – at least for a while. But ask anyone who’s socially isolated about the impact of every man (and women) for themselves. It’s not good.
So what are the consequences of loneliness?
Well, feeling lonely for one – and that’s bad enough. But prolonged and unwanted loneliness brings with it a host of other issues as well:
6) Loneliness Brings With It a Host of Other Problems
Including both mental and physical health problems.
Loneliness is not good for us.
UK journalist George Monibot summarises the research as follows:
Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; it’s twice as deadly as obesity. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents – all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut.
Evidently, we cannot cope alone.
So what’s the solution? Well, it’s not wealth:
7) Is More Wealth the Solution?
No – even wealthy people are affected by loneliness.
You might think that wealth is a cushion against loneliness. But although wealth might protect against some problems, loneliness is not one of them.
A survey by Boston College of people with an average net worth of $78m found that they too were assailed by anxiety, dissatisfaction and loneliness.
Having millions in the bank isn’t enough to protect you against loneliness.
So what are we to do about this epidemic? Here are some thoughts:
8) We Need a Better Way of Measuring Wellbeing In Our Society
‘GDP’ alone will not do.
So many on both sides of politics are fixated by material wealth, as if the main thing a successful society needs is money. The Left talks about material inequality (as if material equality will make for a better society); the Right focuses on individual wealth.
But focusing on material wealth alone misses how vital relationships are to our wellbeing. We need a new lens through which to measure the wellbeing of our society: namely ‘social capital’. After all, statistically speaking, a working class family with strong social capital (e.g. family and relational bonds) will have better mental health and wellbeing than a lonely person in the so-called ‘top 1%’.
But what about addressing loneliness itself?
This is where Christians are at a huge advantage, through our local church community. (See part 3 next week)