No wonder no one feels like living
Over the past few months, I have been overwhelmed by the feeling that we are not meant to be living like this. When I speak to friends and engage with the outside world, I often feel a sense of rot and decay surrounding my every move. I have never once seen this dreamed up post-pandemic utopia; one where we all finally join hand in hand and relive the feeling of community & belonging in person. I just see a worse reality than the one we left in 2019.
The clear fact to me is that at the heart of the current epidemic of depression and anxiety I see everywhere is the way we live. There hasn’t been something put in the water that’s made us all so much more miserable than our equivalents 50 years ago; it has been a complete transformation of society to make us all alone. This transformation has had its positives of course, with an information age and civil rights movements bringing more equality and freedom along with it. However, alongside this, the past few decades have brought a culture shock that’s turned nearly every hub of community that was once found toward mass decline, or worse, simply into ashes.
The pandemic has accelerated us along the track to this end goal for certain, but it is a track we have been trundling down on a handcar for a long time. If you look to churches or pubs or working men’s clubs, there is nothing but downturn. As work has shifted from grim times among friends to occasional afterwork drinks to now often not even being in the same place, nearly all sense of comradery and collective spirit is gone. People my age now rarely know their neighbours, as they occupy flats seemingly designed for as little interaction as possible. And yet even on the victorian terraces our ancestors found fraternity in, now it seems there is little to none. We are drifting through, aimless and alone, as all the planets that should be drawing us in have floated away.
The results of this are obvious and omnipresent. We are social creatures living detached from all that is social, therefore we collapse and slowly die. It feels like every other person my age I talk to is suicidal or has been recently. There is an emptiness inside, not always sadness or anger or fear, but always a void. We go to work, often just from home, and we often live essentially alone. And as life remains exhausting, we often skip out on social occasions. These oftens turn into a whirlpool of atomisation that makes being alone to become expected. “I do better when I’m alone”, you could say, as all worldly circumstances convince you to find many social occasions alien and tiring. But that doesn’t make the gnawing gap in your heart go away. I saw a comment recently where someone described that they “feel like a dog that needs to be put down”. It seems to summarise this perfectly. As a generation, especially one where people to encourage and guide us have gone, everything around us teaches us not to have goals or aspirations. So all that’s left, after all these solid components have melted into air, is this blank monotony of a bad film on repeat you can’t wait to switch off. I may be generalising too much, I’m sure not everyone feels like this, but every circle I interact in seems to feel this sentiment in such a brutal consensus that it feels to me like our zeitgeist.
This is especially true to me when I think back to being a student. Getting involved with Labour Club really helped me meet new people in a type of community where I could guarantee I saw friends once or twice a week in a space devoted to helping the common good. That only came about in my third year though. In my first and second years, I was regularly depressed and alone as I was pent up in a tiny room in a makeshift bubble town isolated from the outside world. I had no base of comfort whatsoever as I moved away from home and was wholly responsible for my own life, both for the very first time. Despite all the advertisement of societies and events to the contrary, it’s no wonder university is a place that breeds loneliness. Looking now to towns & cities with tiny rooms for one, no socialisation without Going Out and an expectation to be alone most of the day, it feels like modern universities have been a blueprint for times to come. With their population feeling statistically four times more likely than average to be lonely, the consequences of this blueprint are no mistake.
There is a massive hole in our lives where the beauty of community should be, but rarely is. Every time I see friends in person I’m reminded how right it feels to be like this. I’m 22, graduated, but going on more nights out than I ever did at university, just to fill in the gaps of complete isolation that my regular life makes. This realisation of loneliness and decay hasn’t comforted me in finally revealing a deep truth either, but instead makes me more and more terrified as I act recklessly to try stave off the existential dread. I see other people do the complete opposite, bunkering down still imitating lockdown as the world seems too terrifying now to re-enter after 2 years without it. Addiction too is rife, as so many I know look to vices to keep us going through the lonely hours as the sun sets. Even in online communities, where people try to replicate the old in new ways, it ends up being a toxic, radicalising pot as everyone tries to find a sense of belonging in a world no longer created for it. The pattern remains though that many of us are lonely, depressed and afraid, and just trying to respond to it in any way we can to make the feeling go away.
So when I see medical professionals scratching their heads on what could possibly be up with everyone going mad recently, I find it almost laughable. It feels like getting a group of 14th century plague doctors together to create a polio vaccine. For sure there needs to be a massive expansion of healthcare to treat this epidemic, but it’s not the final answer. We cannot drug and talk therapy our way out of this. It’s inviable with the scale of the problem, but also it’s pathologising something which is mostly just humans reacting normally to the miserable conditions they find themselves in. What we need is a total restructuring of society to destroy common loneliness and make community at the very heart of all we do. People shouldn’t have to make leaps and bounds of effort simply to see other people they know, and the fact they do sucks the lifeforce out of us in an almost incalculable way.
This vision of a better communal world is completely incompatible with our current structures, especially modern capitalism, which thrives on people being as isolated from their neighbours, colleagues, families and friends as much as possible. If every man is an island, change for the whole world is impossible. It’s hard to offer solutions as it’s hard to even imagine a world beyond the wretched one we’re living in today. All I know is that we are not meant to be living like this.