Sunday, October 21, 2018
Ben Sasse, Loneliness, & the Partisan Divide
Do we have "an epidemic of loneliness?" And is that what is driving the uncomfortable partisan divide that many people believe is the new normal in the United States.
Loneliness? Hmmm. Well, that's what Ben Sasse, the junior senator from Nebraska, is positing as the root of the anxiety and tension and general malaise he sees in contemporary American society. In Sasse's latest book Them: Why We Hate Each Other - and how to Heal, the senator describes how loneliness and a lack of community is the primary challenge the nation is facing. There is plenty of data to support his concerns that "Loneliness in “epidemic proportions” is producing a “loneliness literature” of sociological and medical findings about the effect of loneliness on individuals’ brains and bodies, and on communities (thank you to George Will for summarizing). Certainly, Americans are less connected to their communities than they were decades ago when the nation was smaller, less mobile, and less economically stratified. Even though people seem to be more connected to the nation as whole through media and technology, it's been pretty clear that community connections are weakening, a phenomenon described in sociological works such as Robert Putnam's well known book Bowling Alone.
However, I'm not sure I agree that it's loneliness as much as it is emptiness. Not all people need people, but people definitely need something. We might be less consumed by tribalism and ideological divisions if we had more art, music, nature, fitness, wisdom, nutrition, and quiet in our lives. Solitude is not loneliness.