A reader writes:
Hi Rod, I’ve been reading your articles for several months now. I’m a 29 year old male on the east coast. I think your most recent article is absolutely correct about the decline of American culture, and I think a lot of it is due to lack of sense of community as you’ve said. I’ve felt an absence of a community for a long time now and I have no idea how to fix it in a meaningful way. I absolutely feel lonely. Meeting friends through sports or hobbies won’t provide the sense of community that I feel is missing. I feel like the only people who I have in my life are my parents and my sister and her family. I think the only way to feel okay socially in our culture is to have a reliable significant other, and that’s very hard to find for the same reason that it’s hard to find reliable friends, because everyone just wants to do their own thing. I do have friends. But most have moved away, gotten engaged or married, and one is an alcoholic and our friendship is falling apart. I don’t think I’m an incredible social outcast or the only person experiencing this kind of social life.
I’ve been looking into different religions for years and have been searching for God and I pray sometimes, but I haven’t found an interpretation that is satisfying and seems like it will stick around against the massive cultural change. I was raised with very loose ties to Catholicism.
My grandma recently died and I told my dad that if he died I would have no idea of who to contact and how. Most of my relatives are the funeral and wedding only type. I have no connection to any of them. Regardless I only have two first cousins who live in different states. Our family is dying out. I think people who come from more recent immigrant backgrounds may have more of a more meaningful connections but that isn’t my experience so I don’t know.
I feel like socially we are falling apart as a country. There are no social expectations or rules anymore. And I get mad about it. I feel like I was given a preview of what normal was supposed to be while growing up and it has steadily been taken away. We had social rules that if maintained would pressure and shame some people, yes that is mean in a way if you don’t measure up, but it’s also necessary. Now instead everyone is free to become a degenerate and nothing feels like it makes sense anymore. People are becoming transgender subconsciously because they have no other way to feel like they have an identity or community. These reasons are definitely part of why I voted for Trump and I feel drawn to the alt-right. Everything about the supposedly horrible alt-right makes sense to me. I hate what is happening, I have very little hope for the future and I have no idea what to do about it. I admitted to the friends that I do have that I have no problem voting for Trump as a F*** You vote. Burn it down, it’s not working anymore anyway.
BTW my friends my age were all Bernie supporters and none of them are optimistic about our soon to be gender-less utopia society either.
Another reader writes:
I just finished reading your post covering the two essays by Umair Haque, and I thought both he and yourself brought up great points on the challenges facing the modern American youth. I don’t want to say we face the greatest challenge of any generation of American youth, but certainly one of the greatest, at least post World War Two. Yet it seems instead of aiding us, our leaders, if anyone in the US can really claim that role, instead seem intent on continuing to squabble like petulant children, fighting over every single little thing. And while many adults do care for us and our future, many others seem only to care for their own self interests and goals, whether they be a average person on the street or the leader of a Fortune 500 company, not bothering to lend a hand unless it benefits them, willing to stamp out a hundred futures if it helps theirs.
Loneliness, as was pointed out, is a huge problem. It often feels like there is an isolation, not just from those immediately around you but from society as a whole. That instead of each person living their own lives but still sharing the common human experience, there is instead everyone having their own, isolated experiences, cut off from one another by individual bubbles. That the only way to be heard is to do something loud or noisy, the equivalent of screaming in a crowded room to be noticed, if only temporary. And in some ways that’s how it feels. Walking through a room, everyone else glued to their screens, no one talking or interacting, except perhaps to show a “friend” whatever it is they saw on their phone, before going back into their own self contained bubbles. It feels isolating and in some ways saddening when you are having a conversation with a friend or family member, only to look and see them entranced by their devices. The internet was supposed to help connect humanity, but it seems it’s becoming abundantly clear what that means; connect humanity, not people. It has helped connect us as a collective, but our personal connections are severered. Perhaps it has delivered no greater tragic irony than that my ability to communicate with a person on the other side of the globe has never been easier, yet the ability for me to communicate with a person next to me has perhaps never been more difficult.
And there are those who would dismiss such talk of a loneliness crisis or pandemic as nonsense, or the ramblings of some madmen, but one need only see teenagers or a crowd of them to know it’s not. Perhaps you can’t tell at first, but if one were to look closer, in too many individuals you’d find the signs of loneliness, perhaps accompanied by that most despicable and foul creature, depression, both possibly visible in the gateway to the soul that are the eyes. If you go to a high school or any other place teenagers are gathered, you can also witness these anxieties, and at school almost sense it, beyond the normal worries of school, like a dark cloud hanging low on a stormy day, only it never seems to let up. I have had my own battles with depression and loneliness, still do, and that many either do not see this or worse, purposely ignore it is not just shocking, but horrifying beyond almost every sense of the word.
There is also sometimes a feeling of intellectual loneliness. By this I mean it seems that no longer can one formulate their own opinion or choose a moderate position, perhaps using a Hegelian Dialectic approach. No. Instead one must choose on of two extremes, or one of several prescribed political labels, and must choose from these groups. This goes beyond politics as well though. You have to engage in a sort of group thought, and have popular opinions, popular in that you’re with a group of people who share them, opinions invalid unless enough share them. It can be debilitating and suffocating.
Since perhaps the mid 1800s, a generation of youths could at least somewhat expect their lives would be better than that of their parents. Even during the darkest times, that light was always there, almost a beacon to follow to the end. But now it’s like that light is gone, burnt out, leaving us stuck in the wilderness, alone and forgotten, the darkness swirling around us, the predators lurking, waiting for the right moment to strike, like a pack of wolves surrounding a herd of sheep that have been abandoned by their shepherd, just led to the slaughter. It doesn’t seem like our lives will be better than that of our parents, or if our children’s will be better than ours, and though much of that will also be up to our own decisions, much of it is also going to be based on the hand we were dealt with when we were young, and that hand doesn’t look great. We are facing a crisis of the mind and spirit, one that is now becoming, and has for a while now, been also of the body, one of drugs and violence, one of harm.
We will have a hard and difficult future ahead of us. We will be left with a planet whose stewardship was neglected, whose nations are caught in never ending wars and disputes, and whose people are suffering needlessly.
But I’m an optimist, despite what this email may have indicated, and I do believe, God willing, we can pull through. Our generation is smart, and does continue to share those human qualities that have seen us through other times of great peril, ranging from our ingenuity to our endurance. It will be a tough journey, one that many will be lost upon, but it can be conquered. But the failure of our leaders and elders to aid us makes our task far more difficult.
Thanks for taking the time to read this sir. It does reflect a lot of my own personal opinions, so I know not all will share them, even other members of my own generation. But this crisis of spirit and loneliness needs to be addressed, and I’m glad writers such as yourself are. A problem can’t be solved at all if it isn’t even identified.
Thank you, men. These were hard posts to read, but you have articulated something that many people are dealing with right now. I was reading a book tonight by a psychiatrist who discusses the profound and spreading malaise in the West. He cites studies showing how much more anxious and unhappy people in the West are, not only compared to much poorer countries, but compared to our own populations in the 1950s. We were significantly poorer then, had harder material lives, and had less liberty, and freedom of choice, than we have today.
The difference, he said (again, citing studies) is that back then we had much stronger social networks. Real social networks, not social media.
I wish I had more words of comfort to offer these men. Maybe you do. Let’s hear them.