In his defense of the British soldiers who fired on and killed eight colonists during “The Boston Massacre,” John Adams said:
Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
Given the degree to which misinformation, conspiracy theories in search of evidence, and unrestrained lying characterize current American political discourse (and probably that of many other societies as well), one suspects that facts are falling out of favor. Many Republican Party candidates and platform planks have virtually no relationship to facts:
Climate change? A hoax!
Diversity? A left-wing plot hatched at the UN!
Biden’s Election? Stop the Steal!
Viruses? Invented by George Soros using satellites put up by the Rothchilds in the 1800s!
The truth stands about as much of a chance these days as an allied bomber did flying over Berlin at Noon on a sunny day in 1941!
One could discount my concern about the state of facts by asserting that this "lies lead over truth" has been around for a long time. After all, Mark Twain said that “a lie can get halfway around the world in the time that it takes truth to put on its shoes.” Given the speed of social media, lies can now get to the moon and back several times before truth has even thought about putting on its shoes.
Why is the truth in so much trouble in the Anthropocene when climate change and other threatening trends are creating such a desperate need for it?!
I believe that loneliness is closely connected to the willingness to lie and to believe lies.
As I’m using the term here, loneliness is a feeling of terrible emptiness and anguished longing for connection. One wishes to be with others, to be cared for by others, to belong to associations with like-minded people, to be liked, and to feel loved and supported.
One of the key benefits of fused families is where everything is thought about and spoken of in the context of a “hive mind”, where there is no “dead air,” no moments or extended periods of independence from the talk, the thinking, the faith, the chores, the gossip of the family and, frequently, the clan to which the family belongs. Fused families aren’t all the same. They can range from conditions where every member of the family thinks and feels “happy” to ones where family members all feel miserable, but still, stick together because they aren’t lonely. The promise that you won’t be lonely is what keeps many social units intact.
Think of people who are constantly on the phone with someone or forever tuned into television shows or are compulsively knowledgeable about everything that’s happening in sports or join gangs or spend every weekend going to parties or cruise around in packs of thousands of motorcycles.
Many of these people are lonely and will become enraged or break down in tears if anyone says so.
FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out] has become a national compulsion. If one has a bad case of FOMO, it’s well-nigh impossible to get a break from it. There is so much to know and all of it seems so important!
The Anthropocene presents us with virtually unlimited options for stimulation and almost no limits on lifestyle options. It’s impossible to be cool across all the fronts that all of us are encouraged to learn and know about. The vastness of possibilities may increase loneliness because choosing anything means knowing that so many alternative paths aren’t being followed and all the people one might meet by doing so. The tree of life presents so many alluring branches. It’s hard to choose, but not choosing can lead to a deeper sense of psychological disquiet, a feeling of being lost and not knowing which way to turn. Economic anxiety augments the paralysis of not knowing what to do. Applying attention to poor choices puts people in a deep hole.
Loneliness is knowing that you could be such a wonderful friend or lover if only people would give you a chance. Loneliness is having a lot of secret thoughts that you know you can’t share. Loneliness is living day after day with no one else touching you. Loneliness is longing to receive the kind of attention and support you are so entitled to and knowing that it will never come. Loneliness is living a life of quiet (or loud) desperation in the context of a society that frequently cares a lot more about possessions or profits or ideologies than it does about people and nature.
Loneliness is a precursor to being manipulated. It’s a vulnerability that makes many of us willing to say or do anything to belong to something that is bigger than us, something that will make us feel that we fit in.
Demagogues know that lonely people are available selves. They don’t have a core identity even when they are sure they do. They can be enrolled in extremist movements.
The character of Professor Rath in Blue Angel (1930) is an example of someone who begins the film quite confident that he has a very solid, upright self, who tolerates no foolishness or lasciviousness from his students. But then he goes to a nightclub and becomes completely entranced by Marlene Dietrich, a femme fatale with a well-formed identity, who chews the professor up and throws him away like trash, sort of like Trump devouring a Big Mac and then chucking his leavings on the floor for someone else to clean up.
As Clay Brown reminds us in his video essay, the Professor’s vulnerability, the loneliness that he did not know he had, his openness to be controlled and dominated by an aggressor as portrayed in the film anticipated the majority of the German population’s eager renunciation of that society’s profound achievements in art, culture, and science to embrace a blood-thirsty murderer’s insane ideology. Manipulators know that many, perhaps most, people don’t have a true core of being. Many of us are more like Kevin McCarthy than we are like Liz Cheney.
This weakness of character, which is difficult to acknowledge even to ourselves let alone others makes the lonely easy prey for cynical powermongers. In his monumental The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Wilhelm Reich referred to these narcissists as “freedom peddlers.” A freedom peddler is a con artist who leads others to believe that following him or her will liberate them to be their true selves when all the fraud truly wishes to do is to turn suckers into true believers who will pay the swindler to lie to them. Of course, the situation becomes even worse when the Jim Jones of the world believe their own horse pucky. These sociopaths are willing to die for their psychoses and to take everybody else with them.
Since despair and rage at the unfairness of the world are frequent companions of loneliness, the freedom peddler who gives meaning to the lives of the lost can persuade them to do all sorts of things that they would never have considered if they didn’t become part of a movement.
Lonely people can easily be transformed into fanatics, and large groups of people who are deeply alienated from everyone and everything – including themselves –can be turned into violent mobs by exploiters who know how to massage their fears and their neediness. As a colleague and friend says, “when things are pretty bad, people are willing to believe things that are too good to be true.”
For example, in the United States and in a variety of other societies, the lies of authoritarians and their regimes are getting louder and louder. Here’s what they sound like: “We are the master race. A hidden cabal of evil, corrupt, and filthy rich people that have sacrificed no blood for our soil are trying to replace us in our homeland! They are running a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor in DC! They are seeking to destroy the feelings of pride we have in our heritage. They distort our glorious history to try to make us feel bad and guilty! They are mocking the flag! Everything they say is fake news. These vermin are enemies of the people! Get rid of them and put people like me in power and your troubles will be over!”
Of course, all statements like these are lies, but ideas like these have been widely believed across centuries, as they are now. They continue to be held fervently even when they are disproven over and over again. QAnon didn’t suffer any great loss in popularity when it turned out that JFK Junior really is and was dead. The need to belong to something that validates one’s being and animates one’s passion is more important than the truth for millions, if not billions of people.
At the climax of George Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith is so tortured that he agrees with Big Brother’s party that when The Party says 2+2=5, it’s right. That is the sort of conformity people can be manipulated into believing devoutly when they are bereft of an internal compass. They would be happy to reload Big Brother’s gun when he starts shooting people on 5th Ave.
So, what is the antidote to the emptiness that loneliness generates?
This is an excellent question, for which I don’t think there is any easy answer.
One response is that loneliness presents us with an opportunity to develop an intense awareness of ourselves, an awareness that prepares us to make better choices about the communities we join and what we do in them. Loneliness gives us an opportunity to pay attention to what we pay attention to. The psychologist, Clark Moustakas, elaborated on these ideas in his books on the topic of loneliness.
Personally, I’ve found great value in remembering my dreams and paying attention to the powerful positive forces and feelings that can appear in them, as well as to worrying emotional reactions that point me toward doorways to change which I need to walk toward and through.
There are many viewpoints regarding dreams. I believe and I am confident that something called the collective unconscious is real and that through dreams, and probably other methodologies as well, one can become open to and influenced by primordial archetypes of the essence of human nature that can provide us with a kind of succor and insight that is greater than the sadness and trauma of loneliness.
But that’s just me. That’s my way of finding peace, sometimes, in the hurly-burly roller coaster of the ‘Cene. What’s yours?
If we could find unifying responses to the profound feeling of loneliness that so many of us suffer from, we’d have a heck of a lot happier and more hopeful Anthropocene.
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 I believe that this is an actual sign posted in the Paoli, Indiana News on March 15, 2021. Because I was not actually in Paoli, Indiana on March 15th, 2021, I cannot verify it was.