“Neoliberalism is creating loneliness. That’s what’s wrenching society apart”

“human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.
In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles — at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament — instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract…
If social rupture is not treated as seriously as broken limbs, it is because we cannot see it. But neuroscientists can. A series of fascinating papers suggest that social pain and physical pain are processed by the same neural circuits. This might explain why, in many languages, it is hard to describe the impact of breaking social bonds without the words we use to denote physical pain and injury. In both humans and other social mammals, social contact reduces physical pain. This is why we hug our children when they hurt themselves: affection is a powerful analgesic. Opioids relieve both physical agony and the distress of separation. Perhaps this explains the link between social isolation and drug addiction.”

I am a much better person, all around, when I am in community with people I can rely on and who can rely on me. We could achieve so much more than the sum if our parts if we were to emphasize healthy models of support and reliance instead of fearing the bogeyman of toxic codependency (except of course within your state-sanctioned nuclear-family).

Individualism seems like a particular piece of the project of white-masculinity. I’m really intrigued by the argument that this particular social identity was intentionally socially crafted and designed by European enlightenment thinkers. It’s based on various false assumptions about what it means to be human and what it means to be superior.

I also wonder if this is a reason why it’s much easier for white men than others to stay in “high success” positions — this idea that you have to be really independent in order to be successful. It’s going to trigger stereotype threat for non-white/non-men (given that basically everyone besides white men is stereotyped as groupish and interdependent), while we ignore the ways that successful white men have relied on the labor of white women and people of color to tend to their physical and emotional needs. That makes it hard to seek the support and community that is necessary for social belongingness, because seeking support will feel like a violation of the rules of the identity you are trying to build.

Related: “Why animals eat psychoactive plants”; “The Space Between Families”; “Friends at Work? Not So Much”; neuroscientific research on the specialness of social touch; “Does the myth of the solo genius scientist contribute to imposter syndrome?”; “The trouble with the Enlightenment

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