The Lonely Century | Noreena Hertz

Summary of: The Lonely Century: How Isolation Imperils our Future
By: Noreena Hertz


Dive into ‘The Lonely Century: How Isolation Imperils our Future’ by Noreena Hertz and explore how neoliberal capitalism has contributed to a widespread sense of loneliness, affecting various age groups across the globe. From the Tochigi prison in Japan to Europe, the United States, and Australia, the rate of loneliness has risen alarmingly. This summary provides valuable insights about how this phenomenon is not just about personal relationships, but also extends to how we feel about our employers, communities, and governments. Learn how the ripple effects of neoliberalism have changed our values, fuelled loneliness-induced diseases, affected politics, and reshaped our urban and digital experiences.

The Ravages of Neoliberalism

The rise of loneliness in our society has a cause- neoliberal capitalism.

If you think loneliness is a generational problem, think again. The Lonely Century, where people of all ages suffer from extreme loneliness, has reached unprecedented levels. What is driving this tragic epidemic? Adherents of neoliberal capitalism, such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, in the 1980s promoted the values of self-reliance and market competition over communal values and the collective good. Four decades later, the grip of neoliberalism has seen wealth gaps increase significantly; in America, executives now make close to five times more than the average worker, while poverty, loneliness and isolation continue to take root. The corrosive effects of hyper-competitiveness on our mindset permeate our culture such that we are increasingly less inclined to reach out and help each other, as seen in the decline of solidarity and kindness. Furthermore, the pursuit of self-interest, at the expense of the collective good, reflects in the lyrics of contemporary pop songs. All in all, loneliness has become a pernicious feature of our times mainly because of neoliberal capitalism.

The Connection Between Community and Longevity

The Haredim, a Judaic community in Israel, have a longer life expectancy than their poverty and obesity rates suggest due to their tight-knit community. Conversely, loneliness causes illness and disease, triggering stress responses and persistent inflammation in the body, making it more susceptible to illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and dementia. This is why the current loneliness crisis is taking a physical toll and costing the global economy billions of dollars. Building and maintaining strong communities is essential for overall health and well-being.

Loneliness and Right-Wing Populism

A Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy poll shows that Trump supporters are less likely to have close friends or acquaintances than those who voted for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. This loneliness could be the key to understanding right-wing movements and their link with totalitarianism. Working-class men struggling with a loss of economic security and social status are vulnerable to right-wing populist leaders who promise a return to the traditional employment and community spirit of days gone by, as evidenced by Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign. However, this community is based on exclusion, as Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric shows.

Urbanization and Loneliness

Loneliness is a growing problem in urban centers with almost 70% of the global population expected to move into cities by 2050. Mukbang, RentAFriend, and other services alleviate loneliness but are transactional and require little emotional input. Real friendships are essential for building the social muscle that underlines democratic practices.

The Price of Going Contactless

The loss of human interactions in a world of contactless commerce increases loneliness, which is detrimental to our well-being.

As we gradually move towards a society focused on contactless commerce, it’s crucial to consider the cost of this trend. Amazon Go is an example of a store that lets customers buy items without interacting with cashiers. The downside is that it’s yet another way to avoid human interaction, which can lead to loneliness. The United States and the United Kingdom have been reducing funding for communal spaces, including libraries, playgrounds, and youth centers, which have been essential to learning how to interact with people who are different from us. The pandemic has caused many of us to avoid human contact completely, exacerbating this problem.

Micro-interactions, such as friendly chats with baristas, are essential to our well-being. According to a 2013 study by sociologists at the University of British Columbia, “friendly” group participants experienced increased connection and happiness. These casual conversations color our daily lives and make us feel more connected.

We must be mindful of the long-term effects of COVID-19’s social distancing requirements. Otherwise, we might risk losing the benefits of human interaction that we’ve come to rely on.

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