Half of Americans suffer from loneliness. In my travels I've seen its prevalence around the world. The world, however, is spilling over with people. How is this possible?
To answer that question it's worth looking at how humans evolved. The Pharaohs of Egypt seem like long ago, but this was a recent event in the totality of our history. For 95% of this time we lived in tribes of 20-100 people that were completely egalitarian . Our ancestors hung out with all their family, friends, and homies all the time. They worked together, played together, grieved together, and constantly had each other's backs. Everything was shared. There is a strong possibility (as reflected in some modern day hunter-gatherer tribes) that they had no words for "mine" or "yours". Their concept of autonomy was much different than today's idea of individualism.
Flash forward to 2018. The tribes are gone. We are encouraged to believe that success means having your own house and living in it alone (or with a small nuclear family). The 4,000-5,000 ads you see in a day prod you to distinguish (i.e. separate) yourself from the pack: wear a better watch, drive a snazzier car, have cooler gadgets. "Exclusive" is an alluring word in marketing, but who is being excluded? Perhaps it's you.
Johann Hari, in his book Lost Connections, has called materialism a "junk value", comparing it to fast food. It hits the right signals in the brain but does not deliver the goods. Multiple studies have shown that people who think happiness comes from accumulating stuff and superior status suffer higher levels of depression and anxiety. This doesn't keep marketers from trying. That's the nature of today's economic game.
The philosopher Epicurus emphasized three things for human happiness: Friends, freedom, and thought. Author Alain de Botton has demonstrated how advertisers consistently link these three virtues to their products:
On top of all the advertising misdirection there are a couple more doozies: pervasive religious beliefs that the earth is, in fact, not our home; and agriculturist ideas that nature is our enemy. Whoof! No wonder why so many folks feel like lonely soldiers trudging through a hostile world.
The good news is we have the power to break free of this matrix and reform what we lost. If you were born in the bottom 95% of human existence you were born into a tribe. From the day you popped out of momma everybody in the group had your back. That tribe had an intimate relationship with nature, from which it did not consider itself separate. Today we get to form our tribes. It is, thankfully, not that hard to do. The toughest part is taking those first steps. Something I will ponder in an upcoming blog post.