In the Lonley Century Hertz draws the reader’s attention to the scale of the lonliness crisis in the twenty-first century, how we got here, and how much worse it will get if we do nothing to respond. It is a call for action. To businesses, governments, as well as individuals- because reconnecting society can not be only a top-down approach, even though disconnecting society largely was.
Hertz argues that loneliness is not just a subjective individual feeling it is also a collective state of being that costs us billions of dollars, poses a threat to democracy, and results in millions of deaths annually. Hertz expands the traditional definition of loneliness- the feeling of isolation and abandonment- to include feeling invisible- by your neighbors, government, and employer. She also captures stories of people all across society reeling from the effects of the loneliness crisis.
Finally Hertz provides hope with examples of precedents set by organizations and governments across the world to tackle the loneliness epidemic. It is a thoroughly researched book packed with actionable insights to motivate change at an individual level or at one with far-reaching consequences for society. This is an important book to understand how we can shape the world that is reeling from the challenges that covid-19 exacerbated.
I’ve lived alone away from family and friends in an unfamiliar country for over two years now and over a year was spent in the pandemic. While starting anew in a strange place is daunting enough the pandemic exacerbated certain aspects of life. Hertz’s book was enlightening- it helped me feel a tad less lonely, reason with my emotions as well as understand a wider take on loneliness.
Hertz makes the case for how lonliness affects not just our emotional and mental well-being, but the physiological effects on our bodies. She discusses “blue zones” and “helper’s high” which is the positive physiological reaction we experience when we help another person (when our motivation is not resentment or obligation). And several other examples that show the positive effects of a more compassionately connected community.
She discusses why it is populists- particularly right-winged populists- who understand and take advantage of the causes and consequnces of loneliness. Hertz calls cities the epicenters of isolation and provides examples of the systemic perpetuation of lonliness (like the so called “afforable” housing markets).
But not all hope is lost (yet). By making people feel seen and heard,addressing the many ills of Big Tech, re-assessing captitalism and how we measure success at every level of society we can hope for a better future. But perhaps most importantly we must care for each other- because the less skilled we become at this the less humane we become as a society.
🕵 How I Discovered It
I heard Noreena speak about loneliness and what she calls the ‘lonely economy’ on this episode of the Knowledge Project’s podcast- a Podcast I strongly suggest you check out if you haven’t already. I wanted to learn more so I picked up this book. It isn’t the non-fiction fare I usually tend to gravitate towards. This one touches multifarious subjects- sociology, capitalism, health, democracy, and the influence of businesses and big tech.
✍️ My Favorite Quotes
Neoliberalism has made us see ourselves as competitors not collaborators, consumers not citizens, hoarders not sharers, takers not givers, hustlers not helpers, people who are not only too busy to be there for our neighbours but don’t even know our neighnour’s names. And we collectively let this happen. In many ways this was a rational response. For under neoliberal capitalism, if I am not for “I”, then who will be? The market? The state? Our employer? Our neighbour? Unlikely. The trouble is that an “all about me” selfish society in which people feel theu have to take care of themselves because no one else will is inevitably a lonley one.
Neoliberal capitalism. A self-obsessed, self-seeking form of capitalism that has normalised indifference, made a virtue out of selfishness and diminished the importance of compassion and care. A ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’, ‘hustle harder’ form of capitalism, that has denied the pivotal role both public services and local community have historically played in helping people prosper and has instead perpetuated the narrative that our destinies are solely in our own hands. It’s not that we weren’t ever lonely before. It’s that by redefining our relationships as transactions, recasting citizens in the role of consumers and engendering ever greater income and wealth divides, forty years of neoliberal capitalism has, at best, marginalised values such as solidarity, community, togetherness and kindness. At worst, it has cast these values summarily aside. We need to embrace a new form of politics – one with care and compassion at its very heart.
Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding views which others find inadmissible.