Illustration by Abby Raymundo

Our loneliness is killing us

I must confess I still believe in the power of community

The United States prides itself on being an independent society, championing individuals’ ability to carve out their own path and narrative in life. However, while we espouse the rhetoric of self-actualization, are we truly fostering it or are we merely romanticizing a hyper-individualistic society which is increasingly dysfunctional? 


The pandemic has heightened awareness of isolation. However, according to an article published by Social Science & Medicine Population Health (SSM Population Health), socialization has decreased steadily even outside of how the pandemic affected our interactions.


Socialization in the U.S. has declined since the 1950s, as highlighted in the research captured in Robert D. Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, which describes the phenomenon through bowling. 


At the time, more people were bowling but fewer were participating in leagues. Despite continued engagement in shared activities, they are pursued in increasingly fragmented ways. Moreover, the diminishing availability of communal spaces exacerbates the perception of isolation. It seems there are fewer places where one can simply exist and connect with others.


As social beings, humans naturally crave connection. Insufficient community and a sense of belonging can have tangible neurological effects, contributing to elevated rates of depression and anxiety, as Newsweek reported. 


SSM Population Health indicates that social isolation affects mental health and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia and infectious illnesses. 


According to Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, our understanding of ourselves is deeply intertwined with how others perceive us. Disconnection from social networks can lead to a loss of validation of our identities and a decrease in self-esteem and confidence.


Unfortunately, some individuals capitalize on this vulnerability and target those most susceptible to hyper-individualism. According to research published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, men are particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of individualism, perpetuating the myth of the lone wolf which is glorified in mainstream narratives. 


In our patriarchal society, men are often pressured to embody strength and dominance, leaving little room for vulnerability or communal support. Research published by Frontiers in Psychiatry suggests that societies and individuals embracing individualistic beliefs are more prone to suicidal tendencies, aligning with the higher rates of suicide among men. 


Hyper-individualism thrives in a capitalist landscape where individuals are encouraged to fend for themselves and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In the absence of community support, individuals often feel compelled to accept toxic and menial employment opportunities out of sheer necessity.


Similarly, this dynamic extends to those who exploit others for gain. Empathy can create moral dilemmas for individuals involved in modes of production reliant on exploitation. According to an article by Rachel Dalrymple—a wealth and real estate writer for Leaders Media—wealth often correlates with diminished empathy, as the powerful may prioritize their interests over the well-being of others. 


As income inequality worsens, the disparity in concerns between different socioeconomic brackets becomes stark. While some focus on asset management, others struggle to meet basic needs such as food and shelter.


Empathetic individuals may find it challenging to witness the suffering of others, potentially leading them to perceive empathy as a weakness. Consequently, blaming individuals for their circumstances becomes easier than seeking ways to alleviate their suffering.


Socially, lower empathy is evident in the discourse surrounding masking and vaccination. The focus on personal freedoms and weak assertions of bodily autonomy has marginalized the most vulnerable members of society, leaving them with reduced access to protection and heightened fears of exposure.


Even within spaces which advocate for activism and collectivism, the pervasive environment of isolation has distorted our understanding of justice and activism. 


Take, for instance, cancel culture—not as reactionary critics portray it, but as a phenomenon which often excludes individuals without offering a path to redemption or forgiveness. While not everyone on the internet subscribes to this extreme standard, it reflects the deep-seated individualism that pervades our society. 


Even in spaces which aim to reject individualism, actions such as cutting off relationships and avoiding conflict perpetuate its values.


Hyper-individualism is deeply ingrained in modern society, influencing the thoughts and interactions of all who inhabit it. We must actively work to reject individualism and create space for the communities and collectives we aspire to build. While this journey is challenging, the connections we forge ultimately enrich our lives and make them worth living.