Shalom and Merry Christmas, especially if you're a Jew, like me.
And today we are going to discuss another uplifting and cheerful subject, loneliness, loneliness and how you can weaponize it and make it a source of strength and personal development.
But before we go there, a little philosophy, or at least a little philosophical questioning.
Do we really need friends? Do we really need families, intimate relationships, partners, mates, spouses, children? Do we need all this baggage? Do we need to be surrounded by people in order to feel good? Is it a precondition to well-being, inner peace?
Ever since we are that small, ever since we're born, everyone has been telling us that yes, you can't live alone. Living alone is bad for you, bad for your health, bad for your finances and bad for your psychology. Living alone is a recipe for ultimate personal disaster. You should surround yourself with people in a variety of capacities if you ever want to make it through life alive.
But is it true? Is it true or is it another lie? Is it another form of social engineering, a culture-bound syndrome, loneliness? Is it something the elites want us to believe? Is it something our parents want us to adhere to? And if so, why? Do they want to share the misery of their own marriage with us? Misery loves company and if you refuse to get married, you can't share the misery.
So is this for real or is this some kind of figment of fiction, something we were plunged into, this belief that we need never be alone, that loneliness is a form of pathology, individual and collective or societal pathology.
Being alone and being lonely are often conflated exactly like being sexual and being sexy are conflated and confused. Being sexual means having a sex drive. Being sexy means being an object of desire. It's a passive voice.
Similarly, being alone is one thing, it's usually a choice. And being lonely is a reaction to that choice.
But this is a socially conditioned and determined reaction, it would seem to me.
People are lonely because they had been told repeatedly, they had been brainwashed into believing that being alone should make you feel lonely.
Are we really zoon politikon, Aristotle? Are we social animals? Or, given the chance at technological self sufficiency, do we reveal our true nature as atomized, schizoid creatures, loners, lone wolves?
When technology renders us self-contained and self-sufficient, so many of us choose to not be with other people. So many of us find other people irritating and nuisance and imposition and a burden.
As so many of us are making this choice of remaining essentially alone lifelong, it raises this very crucial question. Do we naturally prefer to be alone in order, for example, to maximize the efficient allocation of scarce resources such as time and attention and personal energy and of course money? Is there a difference between loneliness and aloneness apart from the societal interface or intervention? Are these bad? Are these self-defeating or even self-destructive lifestyle choices?
If you look at the world, if you look at reality without pink tinted glasses, loneliness and aloneness are actually rational choices. They're rational choices because the world sucks big time. It's even ominous. It's threatening.
Reality today is hostile. It's not conducive to personal growth, development, inner peace, harmony. There's hopelessness everywhere.
And whenever you try to reach out to someone, there's abuse. The friction between individuals had become absolutely life-threatening. Abuse is everywhere in a variety of forms, passive-aggressive, aggressive and in between. Hopefulness and abuse render self-isolation a rational choice. Hopelessness, abuse, climate change, intergender wars, the collapse of institutions, all institutions from family to nation state, the disintegration of authority and expertise, all these make it rational, make it logical to not have children.
And if one does not want to have children, what is the logic in having a family?
So if you look at the world today and you do so impassionately, dispassionately, and you do so objectively and you're not pollyannaish, if you look at the world today, you would do well. It would be rational of you to stay alone and not to procreate or propagate yourself or perpetuate yourself in any way.
Let's start with the facts.
The facts I'm about to mention pertain to North America, mainly the United States and Canada. But North America is the harbinger, the harbinger and the beacon and the messenger of global trends, the canary in the mine.
Via mass media and social media, North America propagates the seeds of transformation and change. They are in a way agents of global change.
So whatever you see today in the United States and in Canada is going to come to a theater near you very soon. It's going to affect your country, your culture, your society, your relationships.
Talking about or analyzing the United States and Canada is like discussing the future. When it comes to the future, we are all North American.
In North America and in several countries in Europe, for example, Scandinavia, United Kingdom, men and women postpone having committed relationships. They don't want to enter committed relationships of any form. Not marriage, not cohabitation, at best or at most, they establish some kind of a long distance relationship or friends with benefits relationship.
This would be the peak of closeness and intimacy in the lives of many, many men and women under the age of 35.
So men and women are no longer having committed relationships. They focus instead on their studies, their careers, having fun, traveling, what they call self development.
So men and women had sacrificed intimacy, relationships and what comes out of relationships, for example, having children. They've sacrificed this in favor of self centered, self focused emphasis on personal evolution.
By the time women, and it's mostly women, start to seek intimate partners, men had already moved on. Men had become used to not strings attached sex and to solitude. They refuse to commit or to invest. After the age of 35, majority of men refuse to establish, refuse to enter committed relationships of any kind.
Prior to age 35, ironically, more men want intimate relationships than women. Women are now the engine of disengagement because women are now much more focused on their careers and on their studies than on having a relationship with the men.
But at some point, the picture flips. Women discover the ticking biological clock. Women find out that surviving alone in the big city, at least financially, is very onerous.
So around the age of 30, there's a flip, there's a switching, a switch where men become much less interested in intimate relationships and women discover the Holy Grail.
But at that point, there's such a mismatch between men and women. 80% of women at the age of 30 or older are looking for intimate relationships, committed relationships, one on one relationships, true, deep, including if possible, love. But only 40% of men are now available emotionally to establish such a liaison, such a dyad.
And this mismatch creates a huge chasm, a huge abyss, a huge gap between the expectations of the genders.
Consequently, almost half the adult population in the United States, half, shocking, 45%, are singles. About 31% have never been in a long-term committed relationship, including marriage or even cohabitation. This is the Pew Center.
Marriage rates are down by half since 1990. And about 60% of such unions end in a divorce within a few years, if you take into account second and third marriages.
Marriage had become just another form of non-committal medium-term relationship, and extra dyadic sex, cheating, adultery, infidelity. This is very common nowadays. About 40% of women and probably 60% of men commit adultery at any given year. Childbirth rates have collapsed totally. Population growth has stagnated even in immigration destinations, such as the United States.
In Europe, populations have been declining for well over two decades. And many countries in Europe have fewer citizens today than they had in 1989, for example, when the Iron Curtain was torn asunder.
What about friends?
Okay, you don't have an intimate partner. You don't have children. You have your pet, of course.
There's been an explosion in pets, cats, dogs and others.
But what about friends? IRL friends, in real life friends, not online friends. What about friends?
Friends are even more rare than before. There's a marked decline in the number of friends people have. A sizable minority of people don't have a single friend, according to studies. And the rest usually have about one friend on average.
So today, the vast majority of people are either friendless or they have a single friend. People spend a lot more time alone and at home consuming entertainment and consorting with a bewildering assortment and array of animals known as pets.
Okay, so there's no intimate partner. There are no children. There are no friends.
What about sex? Even for one night, a warm body, an affection, something, an encounter between people.
Well, sex in all its forms, including casual sex, is on the decline.
And that's a perfect opportunity for me to plug in my electrical cord, which I forgot to do before the recording.
You thought you got rid of me, eh? Not so fast. Not so fast.
Sex in all its forms, including casual sex, is on the decline, celibacy and sexless relationships, on the other hand, are today the norm.
There is a marked rise of sex with artificial intelligence apps and replicas. There's sex with sex dolls. And there is an explosion, a supernova of production and consumption of online pornography, including, and maybe especially, self pornography.
Sex, real sex, two bodies touching each other, merging with each other, swapping fluids and perhaps a bit more, experiencing some kind of intimacy, however fake or fleeting, this kind of sex is becoming exceedingly rare.
The frequency of sex, even among the young, has declined by close to 25% over the past 10 years. And in many, many countries, Japan and the United Kingdom, for example, sex is anything but obsolete among the young and a rare, very rare occurrence among older people.
Very many people simply give up on sex altogether.
Now, people used to go to work. They used to go to an office. And that was how and when they had contact with other people. They didn't have a family. They didn't have an intimate partner. They didn't have sex. They didn't have friends.
But they were forced to interact with other people in the workplace. This kept their social skills more or less honed.
But long before the pandemic, telecommuting, flex time and other developments in the workplace had eliminated this last bastion of human contact.
Come the pandemic and everything fell apart, social isolation, medically prescribed social isolation, working from home, offices closing down left, right and center. Nothing is left of human contact in any form.
Now, we are truly, perhaps for the first time in human history, truly, truly on our own. This is in North America, but other parts of the world are getting there.
Contemporary singles are likely to end their lives this way. This is lifelong singlehood.
We no longer use the term bachelor because it implies that it's a temporary stage of the way to marriage. We use the term single.
And there's another phenomenon of what I call virtual singles.
Virtual singles are people who ostensibly are married, allegedly in a union or a committed relationship, or they cohabit, and yet they behave as singles. They behave exactly as singles. They have casual sex with other people. They date, they flirt, they can, and sexed. They behave as singles do.
So, if we were to take a closer, deeper look into the dynamics of relationships, intimate relationships today, we would have discovered that even within committed relationships, people still behave as singles do.
Atomization, malignant individualism, technological self-sufficiency conspired to render us irredeemably lonely.
Now, the solitude of singles adversely affects their income and their health, both mental health and physical health. These are facts. These shocking, shocking data reflect terminal deficiencies in the skill set required in order to maintain intimacy in relationships.
People don't know how to be in a relationship. They've spent 15 years having hookups and casual sex. They don't know how to have meaningful and emotional sex. They've spent decades alone on their own, avoiding assiduously any hint of catching feeling or having a relationship. And all of a sudden, they want to have a relationship. They don't know how.
Decades of sexual, casual sex, decades of placing career above love or over love hardwired our neuroplastic brains to shun both intimacy and love.
But what are these missing skills?
The ability to compromise, to set boundaries, to be vulnerable, to tolerate frustration, to give space, to trust, to cooperate. None of these exist today. People don't even know how to date.
This famous dating assignment where an academic teacher, professor, created a dating assignment for her students to teach them how to date. They had no idea what to do outside the scope of a hookup.
Okay. So this is the situation. Majority of us are alone. We have no type of human contact or communication whatsoever. And it's going to be a lifelong condition.
Statistically, you're as likely to spend your entire life alone as you are to end up in a committed relationship. And even if you do end up in a committed relationship, it's temporary. Your marriage is temporary. Your relationship is temporary. Your cohabitation is temporary. It's going to dissipate. It's going to go away. You're going to find yourself alone again.
Statistically, over the lifespan, most of your life, you're going to be without anyone. Just you and Netflix and your pet. This is it. This is the new world. This is the new normal. Get used to it. Make the best of it.
How can you make the best of it? How do people react to aloneness? How do people react to loneliness, which is the emotional experience of being alone?
I suspect it is dictated by society and culture. How do people react to that?
The first and most common reaction is busyness.
Now, the very word business comes from keeping busy, busyness, routines. So people fill their days with all kinds of activities. And these activities are structured. They have dates. They have times in the day.
And so people get up in the morning, they make their first coffee. They go to work virtually via Zoom nowadays. Then they have a drink. Then they watch their favorite series on Netflix in between the cook. And before you know it, the day is over. You kept busy. You did your thing. You read a book. Those of us who still do, you played video games. And you keep doing this time.
And again, routines have become the main coping strategy when it comes to being alone. People are becoming more and more habituated creatures of habits.
The second reaction is creativity, writing, painting, composing, anything else. Creativity is a way of escaping reality, of course. When one is creative, one actually constructs an alternative universe where one can pretend that one's true and real existence is suspended.
Hans Eysenck compared creativity to a psychotic process. He actually claimed that psychoticism, one of the main characteristics of personality, has to do with creativity, implying that creative people are a bit cuckoo or lala.
So the thin line separating creativity from madness is still there. And very often we do cross it in these lonely times.
When people are alone, they tend to create. Hence, the enormous explosion in Amazon Kindle self-published books, in Instagram posts, in photography, in everything creative. People are creating left, right and center. Their dogs are creating, their cats are creating. Creativity is everywhere. It's an explosion of escapism. It's an attempt to deny reality by creating your own. It's to wave goodbye.
Some of it is good. Creativity is good in principle. It's disruptive. It changes our view of the world. It teaches us new things. It leads us down paths which are untrodden. It very often opens our eyes and allows us to better our lives.
But when creativity is compulsive, when it is a substitute for reality, it is a pathology.
And I would say that most creativity nowadays is pathological.
The next way of coping with aloneness is magical thinking. It's the belief that you're alone by choice.
So there's a lot of grandiosity and defiance here. I'm alone because I choose to be alone. I feel better when I'm alone. I love it to be alone, etc. Not because of a failure at relationships and I have no idea how to manage intimacy, but because I'm choosing to.
But then this leads to magical thinking. If you are the one who had created your own world, who had formed your universe and you're godlike, and this is a bit narcissistic or a lot narcissistic, magical thinking and narcissism go together.
So people who think magically, they believe that by dint and by force of their own wishes and cognitions, they can affect actual change in the world. If they just want something bad enough, they will get it. If they put their mind to it, something will actualize, manifest and get realized. The secret, the law of attraction and other such nonsense.
So people who engage in magical thinking believe that the universe is there to serve them. They can rearrange and reorganize the universe in self efficacious ways. They can extract favorable outcomes from the world and from other people just by thinking about these outcomes.
They don't really need to work or to invest or to study or to do research or anything. All they have to do is sit there and really, really want something or really, really be convinced of something.
Magical thinking is a fabulous way of countering loneliness or countering aloneness.
Because if you're the king of the world and if the universe is at your beck and call, the universe obeys you, then you don't really need anyone because you're godlike.
People mistakenly identify intimacy with neediness, especially in today's age. People conflate and confuse intimacy with clinging.
If you want to be intimate with someone, you're needy and you're clinging and you're demanding and you're nagging and it's not okay.
So to be godlike, to have this magical thinking, if I only put my mind to it, things will happen. That renders you divine. You become a divinity or a deity and you don't need anyone in order to cling to anyone and you don't depend on anyone. You're utterly self-contained and self-sufficient. You are the world. We are the world. You are the world. If you are the world, you never feel lonely. That's a very common mechanism or strategy of coping with aloneness.
Another one is itinerancy. Itinerancy is a desultory life. Having a life which is disjointed, has no continuity, no unifying thread, no direction, no goal, no theme.
Relocating all the time, changing professions all the time, breaking up and creating new relationships all the time.
Itinerancy, desultory existence, they are a sound or a cure for aloneness.
If you're on the move all the time, on the move between careers, between jobs, between intimate partners, between professions, between interests, between hobbies, between places, relocating from one place to another, you're too busy to notice that you're alone.
You're also surrounded with people who are there to facilitate these moves.
So you have the notion or you have the feeling and later on you convince yourself that you're actually on the way somewhere, on the way to something.
But of course here the process, the very process of change and transformation matters. This is what gives you the impression that soon, soon, soon, a few minutes away, a few days away, a few months away, a few years away, everything, the dust is going to settle and you will find yourself fully embedded in a fabric of human relationships.
This never happens of course.
People generally, when they find themselves alone or lonely, they create paracosms. Paracosms are alternative universes, virtual realities, augmented virtual realities. Imaginary worlds where they can survive better than in the harsh reality in which they find themselves.
Facebook has glommed into this trend. They realize this is the next big thing. So they're coming now with a metaverse.
Multiplayer games provide this immersive, immersive environment.
It is the paracosm, it is a full-fledged, full-scale alternative to every dimension and aspect of reality.
It even provides faux or fake relationships, immediate intimacy via interactions with avatars of other people and so on.
So paracosms are a very appealing, a very, very appealing alternative. And more and more people are gravitating to these imaginary kingdoms in imaginary realms, which are mostly online, and finding that more and more of their time is consumed in these nether areas of the internet.
And so I call it the real dark way. This is the real dark way because it's a black hole.
Once you're absorbed in something like this, you never re-emerge. You never come back. There's no incentive to return to reality as it is. You'd rather be in reality as you wanted to be.
The paracosm provides you with all your needs, including social interactions, and therefore you have little incentive to come back to us.
Social media, again online, provides yet another outlet, and that is what we call in psychology imaginary friends. Facebook friends are imaginary friends. On social media, we maintain brief, actuated, punctuated interactions with people, with very little content.
But these interactions give us the illusion that we're still in touch. We're still integrated within the fabric of society. We have not been cast out. We're not pariahs, but there are people out there who still want to talk to us and learn about our lives and interact with us in a variety of ways.
These imaginary friends on social media, they're taking the place of real world friends, in real life friends, because they fulfill several very critical and important psychological functions, not the least of which is relative positioning, the ability to compare yourself to other people, position yourself within the social network or the social hierarchy, and thereby gain a sense of self-worth or regulate your sense of self-worth.
Social media is a way to outsource your ego functions. That's why social media is highly narcissistic. That's exactly what narcissists do. They outsource the regulation of their internal landscape to the outside. Social media provides you with this.
I mentioned relative positioning. It is at the core of social media, but you get the same from video games. Video games provide you with the same function, relative positioning, comparing yourself to the attainments and accomplishments of other players.
Generally, social media provides you with pre-packaged, highly structured, very confined, highly ritualized social interactions, which are not social and not interactions, but give the impression that they are.
And so, exactly like pornography, pornography is not sex, but it gives you the distinct impression that it is. It deceives your brain, pornography deceives your brain into believing that you had engaged in sex.
Social media and video games deceive your brain into believing that you were just engaged in a social interaction when actually you had not.
Many people focus when they are alone on skill acquisition and self-improvement. They delve deep into self-help literature or they study a new language or acquire a new skill via online certification. Alone time is very good in this sense.
They do give you the peace of mind and the emotional and psychological will to evolve on a personal level.
But the problem is that a lot of this skill acquisition, a lot of this self-improvement and self-help is not goal-oriented. It is the goal. It is another form of keeping busy.
It's not an integral part of some personal plan of evolution and self-growth. It doesn't lead anywhere. It's a dead-end activity which is not part and parcel of some path or journey at the end of which there is self-actualization.
So people study new languages but then they do nothing with it. Or they study a new skill just in order to while the time away and to be able to say that they have another skill. Or they go into self-help and then form their own opinions and become instant experts on everything.
It's a problematic strategy because again it gives the illusion of leveraging your alone time, maximizing the utility of your loneliness to improve yourself.
But in reality you're not doing anything of the kind.
Many people in a desperate attempt to belong become conspiracy theories.
Conspiracism is a psychological trait which predisposes one to believe in conspiracies. It is closely aligned and closely allied with victimhood. Victimhood is another personality construct or personality trait. Victimhood and conspiracism usually go together. Conspiracy theories regard themselves as victims of conspiracies, which is a bit self-vibrantizing of course.
But conspiracies and victimhood provide one crucial thing. They provide a framework, a social framework, other like-minded people in bubbles, in monoculture, where one can interact with these people, obtain supply, obtain reassurance, obtain affirmation or self-affirmation, and this creates good feelings. It feels good.
So it feels good to belong and to be affiliated with other conspiracy theories within online communities, online forums.
And so, conspiracism, irrational beliefs, for example in the occult, the irrational in general, religion, these are all forms of belonging, these are all forms of ersatz community creation or community formation.
When you don't have real communities, flesh and blood, people you can go out of home to meet, spend time with, talk to, interact with, learn from, evolve with, when you don't have this, then anything else would do. You would go online, you would find a group of avatars in effect, group of handles, these are not real people.
I mean there are real people behind, but you're not interacting with real people, you're interacting with their representations online.
So interacting with representations, interacting with symbols, interacting with narratives, with stories, with artificial sets of symbols, these are substitutes to the real thing. The real thing is acting social, being social, having a social circle, socializing, being gregarious, engaging in social activities.
People who don't have that or have no access to that anymore in a fragmented, alienated and disjointed urban landscape, these people go online and they adopt and get adopted into what appears to be communities, communities of symbols, communities of representations actually, and that's the best they can do. They do become however heavily emotionally involved, they're invested in protecting the newfound community, they often become even aggressive.
Regrettably, all this seems to lead to a massive increase in mental illness, especially anxiety disorders, depressive illnesses, and substance abuse. There's a massive explosion in mental illness. It has started long before the pandemic, but the pandemic of course catalyzed it and accelerated it to the point of no return, to the breaking point in my view.
But long before the pandemic, the more people became atomized, the more they were alienated, the less of the fewer social interactions they were exposed to, the more time they spent alone trying to cope the best they could, trying to conjure up alternative worlds and alternative occupations and hobbies, and trying to somehow fulfill their life with content, to somehow self-gratify, to believe, counterfactually, that they are going somewhere, evolving or developing or improving.
When all this fails, anything variably fails in the absence of other people, because we all need observers, we all need friends, we all need input, we need input, we need feedback, we need feedback loops for calibration, self-correction, and so on.
When all these are absent, or when they're skewed, and online they're often biased, whatever the information you get online, the feedback you get online, it's often biased, often prejudiced, very often aggressive and hateful.
So ultimately, the majority of people who find themselves all alone for prolonged periods of time develop one kind or another of mental illness.
Substance dependence is extremely common, but anxiety and depression are catching up. They develop impaired reality testing, they become avoidant, they withdraw, they become hypervigilant and aggressive, and they end up in bad shape.
The thing is, this is a process that is extremely difficult to reverse. It's extremely difficult to reverse because, on the one hand, these people who spend most of their lives alone, they don't have the skill sets, they don't have the toolbox necessary to embark upon meaningful interactions, even with a therapist.
They just don't know how to talk to other people. They don't know how to internalize feedback, they don't know how to affect change in themselves, they don't know how to communicate simply, and so there's a barrier there.
Clinically, these people are infantile, and there's a barrier of communication there, and that's on the one hand.
On the other hand, they're little incentive, they're little incentive because they're terrified of the alternative.
They're afraid of intimacy, they're afraid of the intrusion of others upon the turf and closely guarded territory. They're comfortable in their ways, however delusional and however detached from reality and however pathological. They feel erroneously that all their needs are being met and fulfilled via technology and its various offerings.
They develop an ideology around their loneliness, they convert their aloneness into an ideology and they say, this is my choice, my aloneness, my loneliness empowers me, I'm stronger for it because I don't need anyone and I cope very well on my own and I'm very happy, very happy because I don't need anyone.
And so it's very difficult to break through these defiance and through these communication barriers.
Gradually, such reactive patterns become entrenched and in the integral part of one's identity.
So there is a loneliness identity, an identity of aloneness and lonely people or people who live alone subscribe to it, they convert themselves into loners and they coat their loneliness with a veneer of ideology which render any debate or any attempt to convince them otherwise futile.
In other words, they develop, they join the cult of loneliness and aloneness.
If you want to see this cult in action, in all its perniciousness, go to any college in the United States, talk to young people.
They firmly believe in a world without emotions, without attachment, without intimacy, without connection and without relationships. They make it a brand of an ideology, they're proud of it, they pursue it with force and vengeance, they penalize anyone who dares to doubt this dogma.
So this is the generation that later on become adults and are incapable of ever joining another in any endeavor, romantic or otherwise, totally atomized, floating through space until the end of their natural lives.
And we're not talking about 4% of the population, we're talking about half the adult population.