1. The Age Of Alienation: Becoming Hyper-Individuals
‘All of us are pretty good at carrying the secret of our own loneliness’ Carl Rogers
Somewhere along the way, we lost touch with each other. After millions of years of evolution in tight knit tribal communities, in the blink of an historical eyelid we became a society of alienated hyper-individuals. In the words of Waldo Noesta ‘a society of hyper-individualists no longer functions like a single organism, but as an aggregate of parts each looking out for its own interests, cooperating only as they see fit as a means to their own private ends’.3 In other words, a society soon destined for decline, and the cracks are already showing.
In the Global North we have less close friends we can confide in and live further apart from our family members than ever before.4,5 Our elders are left stranded in social isolation and our youth feels increasingly disconnected and alone6. Worst of all is that we now know such conditions are incredibly detrimental to our physical and mental health, with recent studies showing that loneliness and isolation can result in up to a 50% increase in the likelihood of a premature death.7 From the increasing time we spend at work, to the hours spent navigating traffic in our burgeoning cities, we’ve engineered a system that literally drives us away from each other and towards an early grave.
The Japanese phenomena of Kodokushi illustrates just how alienated we’ve become. It describes an increasing trend of people dying alone and not being discovered for extended periods of time. In the year 2000, a man’s corpse was found a full three years after he’d died,8 and only then because his savings account had been automatically emptied by his bank and he could no longer cover the cost of his rent. He died alone, and had no one in his life close enough to wonder whether or not he was still alive.
Such statistics and stories illustrate that our modern way of life is slowly eroding the threads of human connection that hold us together. But we weren’t always so alienated from each other, as Carl Sagan explains ‘most of human history was spent in hunter-gatherer communities. And in these kinds of communities today—there aren’t many of them—you find a degree of cooperativeness, an absence of alienation that is unheard of in modern society. To ignore our social heredity is a serious mistake. There is a human capacity for good-natured cooperation that is simply not encouraged in modern society. That must change.’9. But before exploring what such change might look like, let’s first take a look at what is likely to happen to our civilisation if we continue down the road we’re currently on. It’s an outcome that can be summed up in a single word, and it begins with the letter C.