Aloneness: The Problem with America in 2017

Regular readers may have noticed that I have not posted a blog in a long time. There is a reason for that: I could not come up with anything that was as interesting as all the other news that has been going on of late, so, rather than fail out of the gate, I gave up.

However, now that I have had some time to recover and reflect on what I am observing day to day, I hope I can offer something that actually may be of some use. It is a simple yet grand question: how the hell did we get to this sorry state of affairs as a society and as a nation?

People who know me know that I rarely take anything at face value as mere phenomena. I always look for the underlying fundamentals that have produced whatever we are observing. Is it just natural and normal for human beings to behave the way we have been of late? Or is there something manipulating us into this way of action?

I will start with this observation: There has been a disintegration of language. The language itself has become corrosive. I myself, have had my own language corrupted. This has happened even though, for my entire life, I have prided myself on my command of the English language. From an early age I was often told that I had “a way with words,” and I debated successfully with my English teachers as to how language works . . . But now, as a force of habit and as a reflection of the emotional dialects I hear all day every day– I am finding it difficult to speak in open forums in terms and phrases that do not carry a kind of electrical charge of shame, anger, and/or protective preemptive disdain. This is understandable, since so many voices I hear speak this same way and strike me as needing and deserving such a response. But wait– is this just the inevitable order of things, or– was it foisted upon us?

Here is my theory: language is simply labels we put on experience. And our collective and individual experience is, more and more, becoming one of isolation and abandonment. If you place a person– or, for that matter, a dog or a cat– into a state of isolation, they will start to deteriorate emotionally. Their language starts to become labels for that experience.

Every problem starts out in life as a solution, and one problem we now have is the solution of too much isolation, even within crowds. For example, take “education.” High test scores are fine by themselves, but consider the cost– In Sweden, they have eliminated homework and tests because they figured out that the real learning, personal development, and growth occurs best when kids interact with other people, not from being immersed (read: emotionally isolated) in homework and tests. Just as every battleship means 27 hospitals not built, every hour of homework or Facebook or Youtube is an hour spent away from the company of our own kind.  This profitable, even sometimes well-intended lessening of genuine social interaction has led us to here. Freedom of speech morphs easily into license to kill if there is no real tribal connection that one can lose by abusing precious trust and connection. If you have nothing to lose, if there are no consequence of loss of connection, or social joy to be lost due to lack of etiquette, the incivility that rises from, and seeks to conceal, the underlying aloneness takes over. If I am separate and lonely, then my language consists of labels for the ensuing pain and fear.

Let’s look past the labels and understand that we have been sold a bill of goods.  There is always a tradeoff, and the empty emotional calories of social media and every moment spent staring at a computer screen, or a test, or a textbook, is, in the final analysis, time spent alone. And aloneness is always the gateway to the most destructive emotions and actions.

In the construction trades, there is a delightful phrase known as “a real s**t show.” This refers to a building that needs new siding, but you can’t put up new siding because the framing underneath is also rotten, but it can’t be replaced because the foundation is cracked. You can’t patch it.  It can be fixed, but you have to rip it up and start all over.

Bad as it is, we can fix our situation. But first we have to get past our stoic denial, and realize how badly we have all been treated in order to be this far downstream communicating the way we do.

– Justin Locke

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