​​Vol. XVII, No. 204, December 2018​​​​

Why Are Americans Becoming
So Lonely?
By M. P. PRABHAKARAN



 
 
 


​​

​​
"Why are we becoming so lonely?” asks Arthur C. Brooks in a recently published Opinion piece in The New York Times.
 
This is not the kind of question one would expect from the president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). So I was pleasantly surprised to see an article authored by Mr. Brooks, the current president of the AEI, grappling with the question and proffering his own answers. More so because the causes of loneliness he has enunciated in the article are the direct outcome of the economic theory that the right-wing think tanks like the one he presides over promotes. The article was published in the November 24, 2018, edition of The Times, under the title “How Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart.”
 
I am equally surprised that Republican Senator Ben Sasse should write a book devoted entirely to this topic. The “loneliness is killing us” theme expounded in the book, “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” is a creature of the kind of crude capitalism that President Donald Trump has been promoting, with the backing of Republican lawmakers like Ben Sasse. It is so ironic that Mr. Sasse, who supported the legislation giving huge tax-cuts to the wealthiest in this country, which Trump bulldozed through Congress last year, should wonder “Why We Hate Each Other.” Doesn’t he know that the unconscionable tax-cuts, which has widened further the already-wide economic gap between the rich and the poor, have given the latter one more reason to hate the former?
 
At the same time, I don’t want to belittle the causes of loneliness Sasse has articulated in his book, which Arthur Brooks’s Times article has heavily drawn on. I haven’t read the book yet. But based on what I could glean from Brooks’s article, I can say that the observations Sasse has made on the causes of loneliness among Americans are very perceptive.  
 
Brooks’s article draws readers’ attention to a survey “Examining Behaviors Driving Loneliness in the United State,” conducted among 20,000 Americans by the health care provider Cigna. Nearly half of those surveyed said that they sometimes or always felt alone or “left out.” The article also makes another stunning revelation: 13 percent of those surveyed “say that zero people know them well.”
 
Brooks tells us how “the changing nature of work” has led to loneliness among workers. “Work is one of the key sources of friendship and community," he says. "... people hop from job to job, and from city to city, as steady work becomes harder to find and the ‘gig’ economy grows.” Developing friendship and community at transient workplaces is almost impossible.
 
That loneliness is a topic many, many Americans can relate to is reinforced by the fact that the online version of Brooks’s article in The Times generated comments from 1,085 readers. I was one of them. Here is a slightly edited version of my comments that appeared in nytimes.com of Novemebr 24, 2018:
 
"First, a word about the survey Brooks has referred to. Like the nearly half of those surveyed, I too often 'feel alone or ‘left out.’ Thankfully, I am not one of the 13 percent surveyed who 'say that zero people know them well.' In my case, it is slighly above zero.
 
"It’s true, as the author says, that the changing nature of work has deprived people of one of the key sources of friendship and community. To which I would add: If being unemployed means starvation, people would take up any job they can get, as long as it is an honest way of making a living. They find themselves spending most of their waking hours on jobs which have nothing to do with what they spent years preparing for. And they do it in the company of those who have nothing in common with them.
 
"True friendships and sense of community seldom develop among people who have nothing in common. After spending long, lonely hours at workplace, they retire to the emptiness of their hearths that are unfit to be called homes. That's the case especially with single people, whose number is rapidly growing in America. As said in theis article, a home is where 'people know and look out for one another and invest in relationships that are not transient.'
 
"In a social set-up of this kind, those who are not mentally strong could snap any moment. That’s when they do things which they normally wouldn’t, like killing themselves or killing their perceived enemies. Evangelicals and rabble-rousing politicians relish portraying those who don’t subscribe to their views as enemies of God or enemies of the people. At the forefront of the latter is President Trump."

​​​(First Published on November 27, 2018. It has since been slighly edited.)

(Comments from readers are welcome. Send the comments to 
[email protected])



​​Books by M. P. Prabhakaran​​

You can edit text on your website by double clicking on a text box on your website. Alternatively, when you select a text box a settings menu will appear. Selecting 'Edit Text' from this menu will also allow you to edit the text within this text box. Remember to keep your wording friendly, approachable and easy to understand as if you were talking to your customer