The Loneliness of American Society

A modern condition that isn’t improving. To the contrary.

By 5.18.14

The National Science Foundation (NSF) reported in its General Social Survey (GSS) that unprecedented numbers of Americans are lonely. Published in the American Sociological Review (ASR) and authored by Miller McPhearson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, and Matthew Brashears, sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona, the study featured 1,500 face-to-face interviews where more than a quarter of the respondents — one in four — said that they have no one with whom they can talk about their personal troubles or triumphs. If family members are not counted, the number doubles to more than half of Americans who have no one outside their immediate family with whom they can share confidences. Sadly, the researchers noted increases in “social isolation” and “a very significant decrease in social connection to close friends and family.”

Rarely has news from an academic paper struck such a responsive nerve with the general public. These dramatic statistics from ASR parallel similar trends reported by the Beverly LaHaye Institute — that over the 40 years from 1960 to 2000 the Census Bureau had expanded its analysis of what had been a minor category.  The Census Bureau categorizes the term “unrelated individuals” to designate someone who does not live in a “family group.” Sadly, we’ve seen the percentage of persons living as “unrelated individuals” almost triple, increasing from 6 to 16 percent of all people during the last 40 years. A huge majority of those classified as “unrelated individuals” (about 70 percent) lived alone.

The compelling findings about loneliness and isolation and the ramifications for American society prompted numerous publications and talk shows to focus on the prevalence of loneliness in America. It is no accident that the social interaction trend declined sharply in the mid-1960s when “doing your own thing” became vogue and “sexual freedom” separated the physical act of sex from the embrace of an emotional attachment and/or a romantic relationship. Rabbi Daniel Lapin suggests that “we are raising a generation of children who are orphans in time.”  He laments that today’s generation of young people is “incapable of integrating their past and their future … [living] instinctively in an almost animal-like fashion only in the present.” He notes that it is virtually impossible, then, to connect time and space in a way that enables them to build their “present.” Thus, they wander aimlessly about without connections — physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

Rather than acknowledge family breakdown, some commentators blame the increase in social isolation on television. In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam cited a dramatic increase in television watching — five percent of American households had televisions in 1950 compared with 95 percent in 1970. Now, many homes have a TV in every room. Putnam provides further reasons for the fragmentation of the family circle and disintegration of family life since the 1960s: Families have 60 percent fewer family picnics and 40 percent fewer family dinners.

Other analysts see longer work days and longer commutes as sources of isolation. The Washington Post estimated that for every 10-minute increase in commuting time, there is a 10-percent decrease in time spent establishing and maintaining social ties. The number of people who indicated that they had a neighbor with whom they could confide has dropped more than half since 1985 — from around 19 percent to about eight percent. As both the work week and commutes have extended, those people who would ordinarily take the lead in developing and maintaining social structures — the well-educated and higher-earning people — are no longer available to mobilize efforts that build communities.

In short, with the growth of two-career and single-parent families, people have lost connection with neighbors and have little time or energy for groups or volunteerism. With the growth in “bedroom communities,” there aren’t enough moms available for field trips and community service projects that depend upon volunteerism. One of the most frequent complaints of home-schooling moms is that they are the only adults in their neighborhoods during the daytime.

In an era of instant communication via cell phone and e-mail, some would argue that it doesn’t make sense that people are lonely. Nevertheless, sharing — the antidote to loneliness — is not the same thing as talking. Chattering with another person can simply be a mask, a veil, a barrier, a poor substitute, and distraction from loneliness, similar to having the television on in the background to keep the house from seeming empty and barren, or to make it less obvious that the people inside are not interacting with each other.

While sharing may be thought of as an event that takes place at a particular time, in a particular place, and in a particular manner, it springs from a set of attitudes and values rooted in the timeless Scriptures. The Scriptures provide a clear understanding of the big picture issues that bear on our loneliness. They teach that human beings are driven by two distinct sets of impulses: our higher nature and our lower. Sharing flourishes when those who are interacting are driven by their higher nature to trust each other and have the capacity for affection and empathy. But trust requires mutual respect and caring, insight and understanding. Perhaps more importantly, trust — and thereby, sharing — involves the indispensable ingredient of vulnerability — a quality sadly lacking when excessive self-reliance and self-sufficiency rule the day.

Indeed, a spirit of independence can be a barrier that impedes sharing. Aloofness is the opposite of all of the favorable ingredients necessary for camaraderie. Likewise, pride — the desire to be viewed as a “winner,” the determination to be “in control” at all costs — is a quality that isolates us from each other and keeps us from interdependency with our family and friends.

Finally, the secular humanist view that human existence is disconnected from any higher power and from responsibility for anyone other than ourselves gives a certain freedom to make one’s own rules, but there is a price to pay for this freedom. Gone is human dignity. Gone is mankind’s special connection to the Author of beauty, truth, or goodness. Ultimately, we are “free,” but autonomy is just another way of being alone. Autonomous individuals have no responsibility to others, just as others have no claim on them. There is no obligation to care about others’ troubles, or even to listen when someone intrudes into another’s priceless personal space in search of a sympathetic hearing of their concerns and difficulties.

In the best of circumstances, sharing is not simple; it is a complex combination of conflicting factors. On the one hand, we have an innate need to be known and understood; the desire to be open and vulnerable with others is too strong in some and too weak in others. On the other hand, we need the freedom to control our lives and particularly our personal or emotional space. But the self-centeredness that results from a culture dominated by the values of radical individualism is not a pretty thing; it does not contribute to the maturing of individuals, the strengthening of family, the growth of friendship, or the development of communities. As a song, “Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” may be good for a laugh, but that attitude doesn’t work as a way of life.

 Comments:

I agree with the writer…..the american individual is like a man standing on stool with a hangman’s noose around his neck, trying as hard as he can to break the 3 legs of the stool and proclaim his ‘freedom’ from them….leg 1 FAMILY ……..with the collapse of marriage and the rise of blended groupings of partly related clumps of people there is no family or lineage anymore….leg 2 IDENTITY….with the collapse of Christianity there is no longer any spiritual identity and purpose, therefore no identity at all, and ….leg 3 COMMUNITY…our sense of belonging to a community, our country, has been smashed by corruption at the top, disparagement at the bottom, and attacks from polyglot aliens within and without who would do anything to destroy traditional America……………………..we are hanged men

If you read a post I left farther down this page, a huge issue is that American Christians have made far too much of the family (the “nuclear” family) as well as marriage, when Jesus taught the opposite.

The Apostle Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 7 that it is more beneficial for an adult Christian to stay single rather than to marry, but Christians do not want to grapple with that verse, accept it, or support adult singles or adult singlehood.

Most American churches prefer to funnel all attention and money into MARRIAGE (and married couples) when there are many never-married Christian adults who are over the age of 30, 40, and older. Churches should be equally supportive of adult singleness, since the Bible is, but they are not.

Jesus taught that Christians are to depend on other Christians (spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ), not flesh and blood relations for fellowship, and whatever else.

There are Muslims who convert to Christianity who are ostracized from their family of origins, who hate Christianity – such converts should ideally be taken into a local church group and adopted as though they are flesh and blood family.

Same thing should hold true for the 35 year old never married woman, or for the 70 year old Christian widower with no kids – such people should be “adopted” into the local body of believers (church), invited over for meals and holidays by other Christians – but this seldom happens in the United States.

American Christians have elevated marriage and the traditional family to a place not even the Bible affords it, which excludes and marginalizes anyone (such as the divorced, never married adults, widows) who does not fit the narrow demographic of “married with a couple of children.”

Jesus never intended for His body (Christians/church) to operate in that manner, though. It really should not matter if “the family” (as in flesh and blood relations) fall apart, because all Christians should be able to rely on other Christians (regardless of relation, if they are non- blood related) or not.

You can see in this following quote that Christians should not reverence flesh and blood family in the way that American Christians generally do:
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” – Jesus Christ, from Matthew chapter 10.

I’d prefer the company of a cat, dog, deer, tarantula, flea or tick to that of 99.99% of mankind anymore. The article correctly states that “trust requires mutual respect and caring, insight and understanding” all of which I once had for society until it became clear that the trust and respect I gave was a one-way street, and society basically defecated on me in return.

Add to that society now insists on its “right” to invade my privacy, and monitor my every move (almost) and I personally hope mankind suffers and goes the way of the dodo. Would I prefer to be not alone? … yes, of course, but not at the cost of any last shred of dignity and security I have salvaged, and oh yes – if you tick off anyone in society any more or give to a mainstream-but-not-politically-correct cause or get recorded saying something someone doesn’t like then you are denied the right to exist or earn a living.  Society can rot in hades.

Over 25% of Americans are considered to be introverted. These people are not bolstered by a constant barrage of interaction with others. They prefer long periods alone, and thrive in an environment that extraverts would characterize as being devoid of human contact.

It turns out that when people are able to have more autonomy, they choose more solitude. People might be lonelier, but they’re probably a lot less aggravated. My parents grew up in big families with small homes without a shred of privacy. Lots of togetherness, no loneliness, but loads of conflict and aggravation. Few people live like that if they can afford more privacy.

Anyone who wants more human contact than they have can seek it out. There’s always a group to join, a class to take, a church or community group to join, a way to volunteer for a cause or an institution or to help those in need, a like-minded neighbor somewhere in your neighborhood, an elderly person to visit, an amateur sports league to join, etc. Unless you’re too ill to leave your house, if you want a more social life, you can create one. We’ve all learned that to make a friend, you have to be a friend.

Another reason people might find it harder to make friends is such a focus on diversity. When I lived in a neighborhood where everyone had a similar background, religion, lifestyle, and values, it seems there was much more easy unity and community activity than there is where I live now, where everyone is different.

We’ve demonized, or at the very least, denigrated the importance of the nuclear family. We’ve dismissed the influence of the Judeo/Christian ethic. We’ve sold our children on moral equivalency. We’ve cultivated the “me” society. We’ve done everything a narcissistic, self-centerered, hedonistic, selfish society can do to destroy the fabric of civilized behavior. Of course we feel alone. We’ve abandoned any semblance of the cultural glue that used to hold us together. When you’ve lost your identity, you are alone. You are, in the end, meaningless.

That’s what happens when people are led by a guy with no history of EVER having any Friends, that weren’t Dyed in the Wool Communists, or Eager Participants at the Local Chicago Bathhouses, back in the day.

Somebody, ANYBODY, produce ONE GIRLFRIEND that this Pro Gay EVERYTHING, ever had.  EVER!

 There are many conservative, right wing / Republican Christians who are over 30 and still single, who live alone, and-or who do not have many or any living, immediate family left.

And these are normal people. Some of these individuals are single by circumstance, as there are no single men over 30 in churches for these Christian ladies to marry, while others are single by choice – nothing wrong with that – as Paul writes in 1 Corininthians 7 of the New Testament,
(verse 8): Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do., and,
(verses 27, 28): Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
and, (verses 32 – 34): I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.

33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided.

An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.

But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.

Once again, the blame is placed on “individualism.” On the contrary, individualism is the answer to isolation and loneliness. If you want to see isolated and lonely people. go to an Indian reservation, where suicide rates are very high — 3 times the national average — despite all of the collectivist, anti-individualist policies involved in the reservation system.

There’s nothing about individualism that rejects collective action when it’s needed. Example: Mormon communities that get together for community action, like building irrigation systems, or a temple, or a school. States cooperating with the federal government to build the interstate highway system. Conglomerates of individual construction companies banding together to build the great engineering projects of the 1930s.

Individualism rejects the government forcing us all to live according to some sort of “one size fits all” collective ideal that doesn’t work and is fundamentally unsatisfactory.

exactly…these academicians think collectivism is so great because they surround themselves with like minded and exist in an echo chamber mostly…radical collectivism of the sort they promote is actually contrary to human behavior so it results is mass murder, suicide, and other pathologies because the group is suppressing INDIVIDUALISM …

Social isolation is INCREASING? Really? Once upon a time, in the cities, people lived cheek by jowl next to strangers who didn’t give a hang about them. In the country, they lived long distances apart and didn’t get to mix much, except at the occasional church social or town meeting.

There was one factor at work then, though: people belonged to civic organizations, the Masons, the volunteer fire department, the Eastern Star, the Knights of Columbus, the Grange, all the “little platoons” that are now considered passe. They went to church regularly and sang in the choir and belonged to the mens’ and womens’ groups. Hadassah, PTA, the VFW. The kids were part of Christian Endeavor, FFA, Cub and Boy Scouts, Junior Achievement. Kids had a society all their own and went out to participate in that community in a world in which they were pretty secure from risk, which they carried with them far past childhood. All of those things are gone or going,

http://spectator.org/articles/59230/loneliness-american-society

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About arnash

“When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” - Mark Twain - Politicians and diapers - change 'em often, for the same reason. "Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other." Ronald Reagan "Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views." William F. Buckley, Jr. “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” - Bertrand Russell The people are the masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it. Abraham Lincoln “Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” - George Orwell “Satan will use a lake of truth to hide a pint of poison”.
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