A global epidemic of loneliness is spreading rapidly. 20% of the UK population claims to be always or often lonely, 3 out of 4 people fin the US are affected by loneliness, a quarter of Japanese men over 60 don't have a single friend or family member they can talk to, and there is an alarming rise of youth across borders who are feeling joyless, useless, and alien in their own homelands. This is a growing health disaster: loneliness has been shown to significantly increase the risk of early death, heart disease, stroke, and much more. Medicine and the high tech industry are working on "loneliness pills" and other high tech software fixes, but we're increasingly afraid that they've missed the point and are wasting time chasing symptoms. This week we explore the systemic causes of why we all feel so alone and look towards a world where we make the dramatic shifts to our social insitutions, governments, economic relationships, and very culture so we can begin to repair the frayed seams of our great big collective family.
[0:05] I'm David Torcivia.
[0:07] I'm Daniel Forkner.
[0:08] And this is Ashes Ashes, a show about systemic issues, cracks in civilization, collapse of the environment, and if we're unlucky, the end of the world.
[0:18] But if we learn from all of this, maybe we can stop that. The world might be broken, but it doesn't have to be.
[0:32] Loneliness is a global epidemic. In the United Kingdom, three out of every four older people are lonely, with 200,000 saying they have not spoken with friends or family in over a month, and 360,000 elderly who have not had conversations with friends in over a week. 25% of parents in the UK claim to be always or often lonely, and in total 20% of the entire UK population, or about 9 million people claim to be always or often lonely.
[1:07] The same is true here in the US. A 2018 study surveying adults between the age 27 and 101, which is a pretty big age range, living in San Diego, found that loneliness affects three out of four people, predominantly in their late twenties, guilty, when the responsibilities of life decisions create insecurities, during the mid-fifties, when signs of aging starts becoming acutely felt, in the late 80s, when people are most likely to have lost friends and family and are much greater physical need, those in lower income brackets and living alone, or most likely to be single across-the-board. Although loneliness itself leads to the habits of sedentary lifestyles. LOL at scientist figuring out that people who live alone are more likely to be single.
[1:53] Well I think the important realization, David, is that loneliness can lead to increased sedentary lifestyle, so it's not necessarily that you are alone there for your lonely but being lonely causes you to kind of lose energy and disengage from social life. But David the significance of a lonely population is not just our emotional needs but there are serious consequences to our health. In Japan, although overall suicides have fallen a bit of the past decade, suicides among youth have never been higher and as we'll see there's a strong connection between these suicides and loneliness. But there's also a rising trend of lonely deaths in Japan, where people die and no one notices, because they didn't have any social connections in their life until you know the landlord shows up to collect a late rental payment or something and discovers the body.
[2:46] Damn Daniel this is tragic and something that happens increasingly in Japan in other places. I mean, 25% of Japanese men and 10% of women over 60 don't even have a single person in their lives that they feel they can rely on. And as I mentioned, these trends are occurring in the US as well. According to Princeton researchers, death trends have been reversing for significant portions of the population as a result of "disengagement from the Main Street economy, declining levels of social connectedness, weakened communal institutions, and the splintering society along class, geographic, and cultural lines." Further, in a US meta-study of 148 papers with a total of 300,000 participants, researchers found that people who became lonely are 50% more likely to die early compared to those who remain socially connected. A similar meta-study of 3.4 million people found similar risks in Europe, Asia, and Australia. And as crazy as that sounds, one of the most sensational statistics has been that loneliness is just as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Another meta-study found that deficiencies in social relationships cause a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
[4:03] Well David last week in episode 61 Owning Change you mentioned how philanthropists choose to spend much of their efforts on things like poverty, the symptoms of underlying systems, instead of their underlying cause like economic inequality, and the growing loneliness that's being experienced by people in modern society is another symptom, if you will, that opens the door for profit-motivated efforts to fix without really addressing the underlying causes and to illustrate, I want to read you just the first few paragraphs of a recent article, okay.
[4:37] Okay hit me with this.
[4:38] The title is "Could the Cure for Loneliness be as Easy as Popping a Pill?" "Immense loneliness is building around the world, and with it our anxiety about solving the problem. But what if we've been thinking about it the wrong way? What happens if we think about the cure as a long, cool glass of water on a hot day? Okay, it's not that simple, but Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo, Director of the Brain Dynamics Lab at the University of Chicago School of Medicine puts loneliness in the same category as thirst, a human signal that can be dealt with through our actions. Just as we reach for a drink when we are thirsty or dehydrated, we might be able to take a pill to deal with the consequences of feeling lonely in the future. Like thirst, loneliness is a biological signal that has evolved to protect our survival, the researcher says. Her aim is to reduce the alarm signals in the brain that can result from people feeling lonely to make them better equipped to reach outwards rather than falling inwards into social isolation. She says the goal is not to eliminate loneliness, or thirst, the goal is to help prevent people from feeling lonely."
[5:46] Wow this is very Brave New World, you know, take your Soma pill and feel-good, ignore all the problems, citizen, so what if you're disconnected from everything, a pill can make you feel better and we can, in this case you know this like huge symptomatic loneliness we have everywhere can turn into a big business opportunity for all these pharmaceutical corporations.
[6:09] Right, and they've actually been testing this pill on at least 96 participants and some studies. But I love the self-awareness here, or like half awareness, where the the researcher says, look this isn't going to eliminate loneliness, but it will it will prevent you from feeling it right, potentially, and that's like the perfect example of what's wrong with trying to solve these problems at the symptom level like, if you're not really solving it why do we need to remove the feeling of it if we're still you know like you said if it causes this underlying structural, systemic sickness in our society?
[6:44] Well my favorite part is the researcher going, you know we evolved loneliness as an evolutionary mechanism to protect ourselves and make sure that we don't die by dying at the community and stuff.
[6:55] Let's just get rid of that!
[6:56] We don't need it anymore, pop a pill, let's go baby, 2019 here we come.
[7:01] Modern society, evolution has no place here.
[7:04] Exactly at the hubris of it is exactly what I would expect from from these pharmaceutical companies but what else is new.
[7:11] Well I'll tell you what else is new because it's not just the pharmaceutical companies, David, that are trying to solve or contribute to this problem. Google's been working on a product right now it's called Reply. So you have Gmail, right?
[7:26] You've used it, you know that when you're trying to reply to someone's email Google has phrases at the bottom, like it offers up these like pre-made phrases that you can just press and it will automatically send.
[7:36] Yeah, mine always says like "sorry for the delay" cause I'm bad about my email.
[7:41] All mine have exclamation marks, like, "sounds good!," "great, thanks, see you then!" And maybe that's how I type I don't know. Well they're working on a product that will do that, but for texting. And you won't have to select the choices it will just do it for you, and so the idea is you're out and about and you're being too busy and too good for digital interaction so when your wife texts you to see when you'll be home for dinner, Google just automatically reads the message, scans your calendar, and then replies for you.
[8:11] So instead of offsetting this loneliness to a pill to cure us, we're just letting machines run our relationships for us and that's supposed to somehow make other people feel less lonely I guess because they get their texts right away but we're cutting ourselves off from them with this technological divide.
[8:29] Yeah it's kind of hard to, it's kind of hard to follow the logic but I think what Google's idea here is that, we already know that social media and digital communication creates some of these social problems and we'll talk about that. And so I think their idea is well you need to focus more on your real life so let's manage your digital life. But it doesn't take a big leap of imagination to see how this is just another out-of-control conception of how we should relate to the world and to each other.
[8:57] Well I mean this is already a lot to unpack here Daniel we've got all these morbid stats, we've got these techno fixes and magic pills that are supposed to make everything better. And one of the nice things about this episode is as tragic as this sounds, we don't have to go into a huge amount of depth to talk about loneliness because it's something all of us know and understand, unfortunately and we can feel it when we are at lonely that it's not good for us, that it's not healthy, and we may not always be aware of why we're feeling lonely at a time, but there are a huge amount of reasons why, some of them systemic, some of them personal, and so I think it's a good opportunity for us to look at what has been described in some of these papers as, you know, the collapse of community and the dissolution of our social ties and how that contributes to this loneliness epidemic that we're seeing especially in first world, hyper-industrialized, individualized nations like the United States.
[9:55] Yeah so let's talk about some of the broad social changes David that might be causing all this loneliness. So in the early 1800s, a French diplomat and historian named Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and he attributed the country's progress in democracy to the easiness by which Americans formed groups around civic issues. He wrote "Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations." I mean, obviously we would exclude the racial divides going on at the time but [10:32] Robert Putnam writes about this in his book Bowling Alone and how the United States has seen a marked decline in civic participation among citizens and an erosion of social relationships across the board. And one significant effect of that decline is that our social policies and public institutions don't have the impact that we might help because it turns out public life and social programs work best in communities where people are actually engaged with each other. He writes "recently American social scientists have unearthed a wide range of empirical evidence that the quality of public life and the performance of social institutions are indeed powerfully influenced by norms and networks of civic engagement. Researchers in such fields as education, urban poverty, unemployment, the control of crime and drug abuse, and even health have discovered that successful outcomes are more likely in civically engaged communities."
[11:28] And that reminds me David of something you talked about in episode 48 Black Ballot Box in which, you know, we discussed the vulnerability of our voting infrastructure here in the United States. You brought up the point that the act of voting is one of the easiest, lowest impact bottom of the rung civic activities that we can perform, the idea being that our political and civic duty extends into the lives that we lead within our communities, not just the voting booth, but I want to offer you possibly one better, or at least on par with that. A few weeks ago I was participating in an event at the state capitol during which we were advocating for some social issue and, we kind of had a pep rally before we went to the capitol and we were told by some of our elected officials that speaking with a rep was the highest form of civic duty an American citizen can perform, and that by simply visiting the capitol and saying hi to our representatives, we were ahead of practically all of the Americans in the performance of civic duty and it died.
[12:32] I love it as like a competition, like you got more civic duty points today, congratulations.
[12:37] Yeah, exactly, that this competition that's in every part of our lives now. But it dawned on me how sterilizing those types of narratives are. They really allow us to forget that it was not long ago, David, like that the average American was steeped in a long tradition of mutual association in so many arenas of life.
[12:56] But today, the idea of being part of a union, for example, at work, not to mention, you know, the work of starting one, that's alien to a vast number of us here in America where are only conception of something like a union comes from these philanthropist-funded TV shows in which union reps are presented as unfairly collecting member dues, or causing jobs to close down, when a union is really about workers just coming together to say, hey we want a place at the same table that our boss sits at. But here we're being told by our representatives that the highest form of civic engagement is going up to your elected official and saying "uh excuse me, sir, would you please support legislation friendly to the things that I care about."
[13:42] And then the rep says "yes I'll, I'll think about it, thank you very much" and then we say, "thank you very much for your time" and then we go home and and now we feel like we've actually done something profound to impact our communities. We forget that coming back to this union example almost every single labor norm that we enjoy today like the 40 hour work week, the nine-hour days, overtime pay, vacation, the ability to strike, which we talked about in our pirate episode, all these things were one through collective struggle and often through blood. We didn't get a 40-hour work week by going out to our elected officials and saying "sir can you please tell my boss to give me better benefits because I don't like working in coal mines without any protection for $100 a week." But again going back to this book that Robert Putnam wrote, these social networks of people engaged in collective organizing has really fallen off a cliff here in the United States and its felt in so many ways.
[14:40] Yeah Iet's actually look at some numbers with this because that's a lot of personal anecdotes and some rambling there so, so what are we here at Ashes Ashes if we aren't throwing a lot of numbers at, at our listeners. Okay, between 1960 and 2000, voter turnout in the US declined by 25%. Between 1973 and 1998, the number of Americans reporting that they had attended a public meeting on town or school affairs at fallen by more than a third. The percentage of Americans involved in the PTA doubled between 1945 and 1960, which made it the largest non-religious community organization in the country, but that number peaked at 12 million in 1964 and has fallen to less than half of that in just two decades.
[15:26] And PTA of course being the Parent Teacher Association so I mean that represents a direct decline in parents participating in the very education of their children.
[15:36] Americans sign 30% fewer petitions, we are 40% less likely to participate in a product boycott, and while in the 1970s the average American attended some type of social meeting every month, by 2000 that stat had declined by 60%. While these stats of course are tracking participation in some official or formalize matter, it should be no surprise that these trends are paralleled in the purely social realm. In 1965, the typical American hosted friends at home around 15 times a year but by 2000 that number had more than halved. Another interesting trend and the inspiration for the title of Putnam's book, Bowling Alone, bowling has actually increased in popularity between 1980 and 1998 as Americans were bowling 10% more than they had been. What's significant is that our participation in bowling leagues drop by 40% in the same period and when we compared numbers from the 2014 and 2017 annual reports of the United States Bowling Congress and yes, that exists, we found a 25% drop in League membership in just those three or four recent years.
[16:40] How high on the civic engagement scale do I get David if I go talk to my US Bowling Congress representative?
[16:48] Well you're certainly not going to get a turkey there, Daniel. That's three strikes in a row to all of our non-bowling listeners.
[16:54] Which is probably 100%.
[16:57] Yes I mean as a result of all these declines in civic engagement, Americans are losing social capital which which is necessary you know for solving our collective problems from the big, like [17:09] how will we pay for the rising national healthcare cost, to the small like how do I get my children to soccer practice when I have to work two jobs, and so this broader erosion of community in America means that parents have fewer support systems to help raise their children among many other things. A poor parent today, for example, has fewer people to rely on to help watch their kids while they're at work or if an emergency occurs, whereas more well-off parents might be able to afford daycare here and there to help get buy and so more parents are finding themselves without the time, money, or energy or investing in their children's lives, and these children are growing up with fewer interactions, especially with like compassionate mentor type of adults, which means you know this erosion of social institutions means that these children of parents who are struggling they get fewer piano lessons, they have fewer birthday parties, there are fewer sports teams that they get to go to which require parents to drive them to practice or pay some kind of due and because public education has been eroded there are fewer coaches, teachers, and counselors in the lives of poor kids in general compared to those with well-off parents, all of which should come as no surprise, equates to no greater sense of loneliness, abandonment, distrust, and isolation among many youth.
[18:28] As an example of this, Putnam tells the story of two girls growing up in Orange County without parents or family in his 2016 book on inequality in America. Here's a summary from The Washington Post: Lola and Sophia have navigated life without coaches, pastors, tutors, friends, parents, counselors, neighbors, community groups, parents, co-workers, and family friends. They feel abandoned even by the one group of adults we like to think poor kids can always count on, their teachers. They believe their honors classes at their high school got all the good teachers but they don't understand how students were chosen for those classes, only the smart kids they say were told about the SATs, they tried to join after school activities, the very venue where they might find structure and mentors, but Lola was told her reading wasn't good enough for a reading club, and Sofia that her grades weren't high enough to play volleyball. Through their eyes, coaches and teachers were gatekeepers who extended opportunity only to chosen students.
[19:28] I mean first and foremost David, I mean we have me we have to acknowledge that as bleak and sad as is that is for children growing up today, that's an experience that any African-American or other oppressed minority in America could relate to but now that it's happening across the board to more white and middle-class populations both here in the United States and the UK and across the Eurozone in addition to some Asian countries which we'll talk about, now it's called an epidemic, right, but it still begs the question why is this happening, why are these trends occurring. And from Robert Putnam's perspective at least he offers a few possibilities including, we have more single and childless families, there is suburban sprawl which has spread people and communities far and wide with more time spent traveling between places then actually engaging with people in their communities, and the proliferation of electronic entertainment has in a lot of ways privatized leisure time and relax time. I mean I can personally relate to the idea of suburban sprawl encouraging loneliness and isolation as something I struggle with being in the outskirts of the city at the moment.
[20:37] Well I think sprawl is an important point here and the lack of public transportation and the ease of getting around are things that contribute to all this and so bear with me a little bit Daniel here because I'm going to go off on this exploration and this is something, I know I see this every single episode, that I want to explore in more depth particularly suburban sprawl, the way automobiles have redefined us culturally, how we relate to each other, but it's definitely an important component of this story especially here in the United States because, I mean think about the suburbs, you and I both grew up in the suburbs Daniel. I had friends who lived relatively close by, I had one or two friends I could ride my bike to if my parents would let me and that was that was the big thing like oh I could I could ride over there that's no problem. But if you wanted to get to like say your house from mine because we knew each other way back then, then it was a difficult, long bike ride that didn't seem possible to do and we really had to say hey mom drive me over to Daniel's and then eventually when we could drive and if we had a car, I'm going to go drive to Daniel's house then we'll do something there.
[21:41] And if we didn't want to be around our parents, for whatever reason, and there are many of course when you're growing up and a teenager, the question always became where do you go and this is an important part of this story I think and especially in the United States this lack of public space that we have, of places that we can just be, and be without having to be consumers at the same time. There are places you can hang out, but usually there's expectation that you're hanging out there as a customer so, think about the the suburbs, where do all the teenagers end up, invariably it's--
[22:13] It's the mall, the shopping mall, shopping mall or maybe like the movie theater.
[22:17] Exactly and you get this sort of place where oftentimes teenagers are just walking loops around the mall, they're not actually buying anything. Stores hate them, the patrons who were trying to purchase stuff hate them, but the reason they're there wandering around is because the mall is one of the only accessible places a teenager can go, and get away from their parents and hang out with her friends that isn't going to kick them out because they're not buying something even though the expectation is if you're in the mall maybe they'll go in the store and then buy something. You might hang out at the movie theater, but you can't really do anything outside the lobby unless you're buying a ticket and buying beverages and popcorn or whatever. Growing up now you know you want to hang out with friends what do you say to friends, let's go to a coffee shop, let's go to a bar.
[22:59] Let's get some drinks, yeah.
[23:00] Exactly have to go somewhere and we have to buy things just to hang out and be. And there's no places you can go and just say hey was just hang out here. Let's just be in this place together and when you don't have access to places to be, places where you can meet people then it becomes that much harder to meet people, add in the suburban sprawl where you have to drive everywhere to do this process even to get to these places that aren't really public spaces and it's that much harder to meet people in the first place so what you have in teenagers in the suburbs, if they have driver's licenses at all, which is increasingly less common, they just often times, and I remember doing this, drive around aimlessly because that's something to do. You can all sit in the car and say let's just drive somewhere and that is how you hang out it's a place that you can have privacy, you can drive around and do something, if you're fortunate enough to have a car, and that is one of the only places a teenager can find privacy. Yes we have parks and things but those are limited to when the weather is nice and your activities there are limited. This is in every single aspect of our society, we can't get around, we can't meet each other, and when we can there's nowhere to go and of course we're lonely in this process, of course we grow up learning to be lonely and thinking that this is the way that we have to exist and it's better in some places, Europe is better about having spaces like this and so of course they do have a loneliness epidemic but it's maybe not quite as intense as we see here in the United States in our hyper-individualized sprawl that we experience everywhere.
[24:25] But we are converted from a very young age into consumers and taught that the only way we can spend time with people is if we're spending time with them as a consumer and so no wonder when we think about ourselves and each other in these ideas that a relationship is built around consumption that we have so many difficulties in our relationships and our lives and then so much trouble relating to each other and feeling connected to each other to fight that loneliness that invariably creeps up when we are reduced to this idea that relationships and existence is one built around consumption. It's an incredibly alienating idea but it is a status quo of our life right now.
[25:00] And I suspect that this lack of public space and the inability to like just go and be with friends especially in a suburban setting where like you know everyone has to drive 20 minutes just to get to the next thing, I think that might be why we are seeing this explosion of digital consumption, which is the perfect marriage of like everyone turned into a consumer where all your interaction with your friends occurs on this platform that is also being watched and managed by corporate interests who are trying to figure out how to convert that consumption into some kind of prophet.
[25:34] Well it turns your very existence as a consumer into a profitable notion, and then your interactions can also be commoditized in that process. It's the endgame of this, you are nothing but the consumer mindset that has so permeated every component of our society.
[25:49] So you know how in the United States, well I mean not just the United States I mean this is the phenomenon of the world, like streaming, gaming streaming is a huge thing right where you have these personalities that emerge that play video games, they video tape themselves while they're doing it and then people jump online to watch them, they donate money to them, and a little community sprouts around these brands, these personalities if you will.
[26:14] Wait, really quick I want to pinpoint that word choice brand and how much we think of ourselves as branding especially on social media like oh I can't post this is not my brand. That is the quintessential example of this commodification of our very notion of self and that is partially why social media in itself is so alienating in that process, it's brands, in this case, each of us interacting with other brands and paradoxically if you go on Twitter the actual brands like Wendy's or Sunny D or whatever are trying to act like depressed people in this very strange dichotomy where regular people are trying to be brands, brands are trying to pretend to be regular depressed people, and nobody knows what's real and what's not and we're all miserable and lonely because of it. Sorry continue.
[27:01] No, exactly, but I've got one better for you David and so this trend has emerged in China but it's taken on its own form and I watched a documentary on this called the People's Republic of Desire, it's fairly recent so check it out.
[27:17] But just like in America, just like what we're going to talk about in Japan there's a huge class of people who find themselves in precarity, they work migrant jobs, they work irregularly, they're poor, they don't have a lot of security in life, and because of this hyper-consumer model that's being adopted everywhere, many people in China, many youth especially, don't feel connected to anybody and so what has emerged is this platform of posts, its individual people often coming from poor backgrounds themselves that get on a webcam and adopt a personality, and what they do is they try to attract fans from these working class people to identify with them and become their fan base, and these fans become invested in these hosts because the more popular their host becomes, the more they feel validated that they actually are part of something in their world. And the ultimate goal of all this is that the more fans a host can amass, the more likely they are to attract what are known as patrons, so these are rich fans that come and they donate money to the hosts, they buy them gifts, and the host responds to them and interacts with them and every time this interaction happens, all the fans can feel like their host is gaining in popularity, and every year there's this annual competition to see who the best hosts are.
[28:39] And the way it's decided is through money. This ultimate platform comes down to this giant money accumulation machine where in order to win a competition a host has to get votes but those votes have to be bought, so all the fan base are spending money to buy votes on on their host that they want to see win, and they're encouraging their patrons to spend a lot of money to get votes, and in the middle of this you have often agencies who control the host and direct them to say certain things or promote certain products, and make it a cut of all the money that comes into these hosts, and I think it's just us this perfect example of this hyper-isolation consumer marriage where these people's entire identities get wrapped up in this online brand that they've chosen to associate themselves with because they have no means of connecting with anyone else in their world, even some of these rich patrons choose to spend you know $100,000 a month or $200,000 a month in some cases on these hosts because they get social validation from all the fans that applaud, making their hosts popular and so its really interesting and I encourage anyone who can to go check out the documentary and it shows that these trends are happening all over the world and not just here in the United States, not just in the UK, and maybe we should talk about how some of these broader trends are eroding the very social fabric of a major nation, Japan.
[30:06] Before we jump straight into Japan Daniel I just want to touch on a couple points there and you and I have talked outside of the show about doing an episode on or at least talking at some point about parasocial relationships and I think it's absolutely related to what you're talking about right now. Some of our listeners have talked to us about this and I think it's a really interesting topic. There's a great YouTube series on this we can link it it's worth checking out if you're interested in what this means but it's basically like you said Daniel people start forming relationships with these people that they consumed their content, whether they're a video host, whether their streamers, whether they are podcasters, like us, and part of this is filling in for those gaps that we have left in our society because of the way that we interact with each other we're so used to interacting through consumption, in this case, a product whether to stream or something,
[30:55] That is one of the places that we look for for these relationships to fill that gap in our life something that we need on an evolutionary level like you mentioned earlier. I think also this is why we see such intense celebrity worship at the time and not just traditional celebrities like movie stars or something that are marketed to us to be that type of person. Increasingly especially with reality shows like we might try and catch up with the Kardashians and think of them in some ways as friends or that we know about them and we follow all these details about their lives to fill some sort of gap that we feel of the gossip that we need in our own communities but we're missing out on.
[31:29] Beyond that even I think also it links up with our philanthropy episode last week how we see some of these, very wealthy capitalist as our daddies to go back to that phrase again because I just want to say there are a lot of people who want Elon Musk to be their dad and that is absolutely filling a hole that our society and culture is leaving in their heart. And I say that very la-de-da, spirituall, but this need for people to step in and feel like they're doing something that we can relate to them and that we know them because Elon tweeted this guy this random person once upon a time therefore he's cool and just like me and a friend, even though he's just like smashing unions and shitting on the environment all this time, that's okay because he seems like a cool person you know and all these celebrities yeah, whatever they're shitty and stuff but it seems like they'd be fun to hang out with, yeah George Bush was a war criminal but I'd love to drink beers with him. Every single part of our lives, we're seeing it, the presidential primaries are getting started right now and the conversation is always about the candidates, about oh I like them they seem dynamic or they seem cool or interesting or hip like, like we talk about with Beto.
[32:37] It's it's why characters like Kamala Harris can spend their whole careers throwing people in prison for decades for minor marijuana possession and then get on a talk show and joke about how she once smoked a joint and listened to Tupac even though the music wasn't out at the time it's, it's very much this personality branding, crafting where we aren't even looking at the policies or like--
[32:59] Yeah there's no conversation about issues or anything, because it's all a "I stand for this person and that's the end of the story and if you don't agree with me then it's because you're racist or you're sexist or because you're a paid Russian bot" or something of that effect. But I've gotten way off topic here.
[33:19] Yeah well what are we talking about again, loneliness or something like that.
[33:21] I don't know, loneliness and then we variably get back to the primaries which I really hate and I'm going to try not talk about as much as possible on this show. So let's take attention away entirely from the United States and all the fucked up things that happen here and instead go look at Japan and all the fucked up things that happened there.
[33:38] That's a perfect transition, David, but you're right this is not a uniquely American thing and in Japan right now suicide is the number one cause of death for men under 40 and for youth between 18 and 24, according to anthropologist, the causes stem from a sense of hopelessness and futurelessness that comes from living in what is now being commonly referred to as the relationless society, in which one third of the entire population lives alone, and lacks meaningful social ties. So according to Anne Allison, an anthropologist writing in an article titled "Ordinary Refugees: Social Precarity and Soul in 21st Century Japan," the result of this relationless society is a social precarity that many are referring to as the refugeeization of Japan, which is now a place no longer materially or socially secure for many of its citizens.
[34:36] It's very likely that the underlying causes of the loneliness crisis in Japan is economy and labor. In both America and Japan our post-war economies were very specifically modeled on capless production and our social values in many ways became structured around that production framework. In both our countries this post-war economic restructuring came with ideals of individualistic hard work and success, keeping up with the Joneses type consumerism and heteronormative family structures, that is a hard-working career-driven man, a sacrificial wife to take care of the children, and the children who themselves were taught these values through school so that they could reproduce these norms, carrying progress forward, but as we talked about the foundation of our economies has been unsustainable from the start, and so now that we have economies in decline, the social structures that we evolved around these ideals are starting to collapse. In Japan, for instance, the idea that society progresses through these economically stable family units with father's working lifelong jobs and firms that protect them.
[35:44] And having children that parlay their own economic success into taking care of their aging parents, that's kind of been totally disillusioned by this never-ending recession that's been occurring in Japan leaving the youth unemployed, and resulting in negative population growth where huge significant proportion of the population is now the elderly who don't have the children to take care of them but David I said that the underlying cause of this loneliness crisis in Japan is related to labor.
[36:14] Oh yeah that's absolutely one component of it and today a third of all Japanese workers and it's actually 50% of those between 15 and 24, which we mentioned is a crucial suicide group, are employed irregularly or in inflexible type work. And 77% of those people earn less than $26,000 per year. And this economic reality that may be at the heart of loneliness and the fraying of social connectedness so again from anthropologist Anne Allison and I really recommend all of you read this paper, it's amazing it's one of the best things I've read in a while we will link it on the website. But from this paper there is a care deficit in Japan that stems in part from the fact that the corporation and family with a de-facto welfare institutions under Fordist Japan, people were taken care of not so much by the state, which would provide a little welfare as is still true today, but by those groups they laboured most intimately for, workplace and family but with the dissolution of both, a care deficit is spreading across the country. If the government, prompted by its neoliberalization and reliance on individual responsibility, defers to privatize caregivers, those unable to pay for such commodified care, or just basic health insurance are left stranded, stuck alone in their homes or on the streets, or one hears of more and more deaths due to economic deprivation.
[37:37] Yeah, so what's unique about the situation in Japan is that the majority of those in poverty are youth, are young people who find no work except this kind of irregular job that might be paying as low as $70 a day and there's a 2007 documentary that shows how many of these youth end up essentially living in cafes David, they're called net cafe refugees and they pay up to $26 each night for a small cubicle with a chair so that they have a place to like have shelter for the evening. Think about how lonely that situation would be, you're drifting around town from dispatch work to some day labor job, one day you have work the other day you don't, whenever you can you sleep in a cafe, then another cafe, and these are the only places you can lay your head, for the privilege of which you give up 37% of your entire income. And for those fortunate to have parents to live with, the precarity of this situation may cause them to become a hikikomori, shutting themselves off from the world and never leaving the bedroom at all.
[38:42] Hikikomori, Daniel so what is that exactly? I know some of our listeners are asking themselves so a hikikomori, and I'm sorry for a Japanese listeners if I'm butchering that word but I think it's sort of close is essentially somebody who has decided to cut themselves off from everyone else. We might call them a shut in here but it's something more than that. This is somebody who because of a variety of reasons social anxieties, of a feeling of worthlessness, of depression there are many, many reasons that people end up labeling themselves hikikomori, they have decided to cut themselves off from the outside world and stay inside in one place for years at a time, some of them are going on decades at this point, and, they might be a parent's house, it might be one of these net cafes, it might be an apartment that they're able to support themselves in. Whatever it is, they are separated from the rest of society they've chosen to cut themselves off and it's always an intentionality, it's not somebody who has agoraphobia who's too scared to step outside the home, it's different than that it's not somebody who can't go out for some other medical reason, it's somebody who has chosen deliberately that it's easier to live inside cut off from everyone else than suffer or experience something or whatever it is outside of this bedroom or this net cafe or whatever.
[40:02] And there's a lot of them. In 2016 the Japanese government estimated around 540,000 people are hikikomori, between ages 15 and 39 and it's likely to be much higher than that, possibly as high as a million people, considering that these people are by definition hidden from society and they can also occur in older populations as well so it's hard to take a count. And speaking of the elderly in fact the fastest-growing occurrence of crime in Japan today is being committed by them. 20% of the prison population in Japan are senior citizens and 90% of the crimes committed by them are just things like petty shoplifting. Why do you think that is Daniel?
[40:39] Because the elderly realize David that the price of goods are expensive and if you steal them you don't have to pay that price.
[40:49] Well that's a good reason to shoplift and encourage all of our listeners to do that. Oh wait, can I say that without getting charged with something, strike that from the record. But that's a good reason Daniel but it's not the reason here. In fact what's instead of just projecting whatever prejudices I have on it, there's a quote here from one woman speaking in her reasons for choosing more last to go to prison. And she said "I enjoy my life in prison more, there are always people around and I don't feel lonely here. When I got out the second time I promised that I wouldn't go back. But when I was out I couldn't help feeling nostalgic." This is literally old people fleeing to prison, because of the socialization it offers those who at this point in their lives have no one else to consider friend or family who feel they are alone in this world and the only places to find that connection with others is in a setting like prison.
[41:43] Yeah that's really heartbreaking David, and it what is especially heartbreaking is how a lot of people when they hear about the hikikomori and elderly people, they assume that there must be something wrong with them, like this is a mental sickness these are maladjusted people you know something specific to them as an individual in terms of like character failings or something.
[42:05] Well yeah and there's a lot of conversation even of whether or not this is a mental illness or something larger and societal, and to me that idea that this could just be a like very large undiagnosed mental illness unique to Japan is absolutely ludacris, you know, when you talk to these people there are so many different reasons of why they say that they're doing what they're doing and all these reasons though they can always be tied back to these very large symptomatic cultural components that have pushed them overboard that we talked about before with labor and we'll get to some other topics in a second. And the fact that there are a large amount of people who are saying no this is a mental illness maybe we can carry with a pill, as we talked about earlier, or some type of therapy and not saying therapy is bad, we should all be in it, absolutely, but, there is a very strong urge from a lot of people to say this is an individual problem and not something larger because that larger problem is something scary because it's saying that this society and culture that we built, that these ideas that we have that that a lot of people are dependent on in order to profit and live well, well they might be wrong.
[43:12] Yeah the idea that this is an individual failing when there's as many as 1 million youth that have shut themselves off from society I think is really ridiculous. In one study in 2007 for instance of youth between 18 and 24 found that 70% of youth in Japan relate to the idea of feeling like a hikikomori even if they don't live that lifestyle so there's a clear sign that this issue is systemic, and in fact many hikikomori have been resentful at the media and documentaries about them which paint them as ill,
[43:42] Shameful and even murderers and violent people, and so in response a newspaper called Hikikomori News was founded by a former hikikomori to help provide a voice to these people and a reason to feel that they're not alone, and this newspaper is actually being translated into Italian, and growing in popularity there because like you said David, this isn't an issue unique to Japan but it's happening all over the world and no doubt in large part because the type of insecurity caused by a labor market that offers nothing but inflexible work is soul-crushing. One Japanese woman who used to work flexible jobs calls the situation "numbing" because "she could be fired anytime, the pay was minimal, rarely what she addressed by name, and the work could be done by anyone, as a worker and human being, she was disposable" and I think we can draw so many parallels from this to, you know the economy in the United States for example where we have this emergence of the gig economy and although it's painted in this like very positive way like I'll look at all the flexibility you can set your own schedule by being an Uber driver, the net result I think is very similar to this social precarity going on in Japan where
[44:58] The work you do lacks soul and lacks the ability to connect with other people and form some kind of meaningful association. And it makes me wonder David if we here in the United States are simply on a earlier point on the same curve that Japan is experiencing you know Japan is so different culturally from the United States culture in so many ways but a lot of these things parallel each other right, after World War II we both had these kind of ideals of individualistic hard work and success. We had social values oriented around the family unit, and while Japan might be like a hyper-fragile example of this lacking a robust social welfare, Social Security net system, that in the United States we kind of have, although it is being eroded, there's a lot of parallels here, and even the negative population growth we're experiencing here in the United States it's only being offset by the fact that we have a lot of immigration coming in.
[45:58] Well I think it's also no coincidence that the number 1 and number 2 and nations in the OCED for poverty are the United States and Japan, respectively. And we find the same exact social and economic precarity in both these places and the resulting loneliness and isolation and alienation as well exploitation that occurs because of this poverty that enables things like this temporary work or the gig economy that we see it should come as no surprise and it should come as no surprise that when you take away whatever meager social safety nets we have, whether it's family, whether it's corporate-provided, like Japan is trying to do or like we used to have with pensions and lifetime jobs, or government systems that are being actively eroded and attempted to be torn down by certain members of political groups.
[46:50] That people end up in a shitty position, that they're lonely, that they feel exhausted from trying to survive this world where so many people are trying to tear them down, rip them apart so that they can be profited off of more. And that is the reality that we see in Japan, in the United States and all over the world. And maybe it's just most readily noticeable here because we have such intense examples of culture, of of this individualized, atomized culture, in the United States and Japan, we have these studies we have this data we can see the declining amounts of social interactions of the way that our networks are falling apart, but this is a global problem and it's something that were exporting culturally, economically from United States to places that haven't quite caught up with us in the developing world, and that is a crime.
[47:36] Right we talked about in various ways how globalization and Industrial capitalism works hard to turn everyone into disposable labor, and that creates insecurity and triggers existential crisises, and the way is impacting Japan through the social erosion I think is a really poignant example of this idea of slow collapse where it doesn't happen in an instant but you see this broader erosion occurring over time and here's a passage again from Anne Allison's anthropological essay "as Mizushima posited, the situation facing Japan is akin to war, producing refugees out of ordinary youth—kids excluded from the very life they once were expected to reproduce. Picking up on the terminology, activists Amamiya Karin and Yuasa Makoto extended this concept further, arguing that the country itself is at risk of refugeeization, a state of not being able to provide security—of job, life, homeland—to its citizens. And, implicit, here is the sense of loss: of a Japan vanishing from the Japan it once was, should be, and may never be again."
[48:49] There's a lot to unpack there. But what was most impactful for me in this section of the essay and as a larger concept and has sort of stuck with me since I first read this was this idea of refugeeization and the fact that you know when you start thinking about it a lot of us are actually refugees and this ties in with some other things we talked about some of the concepts and in separate shows. But I mean when I say the word refugee we have this image that pops up into a mind of this mother and these children and they're in rags and they're fleeing this war-torn country and they're starving, you know there's a very media-created image of what a refugee is, and refugee it implicitly sort of suggesting that a war or some sort of violence push these people out.
[49:37] And we started seeing more recently the idea of economic refugees, of economic migrants, people who are pushed out of a certain area forced to flee because of a collapse in the economy. And yeah we absolutely have some of that here, you could say actually that a lot of people moving from rural areas to cities seeking jobs are economic refugees, you could say people who are fleeing the very expensive cities because they can't afford rent anymore are
[50:02] Absolutely economic refugees. Refugees don't have to just be from one nation into another. In a nation as large as United States or as industrialized as Japan, there are refugees absolutely moving around within these borders, but beyond that even and this is one of the important concepts from this paper as a whole, which talks about precarity and the precariat which is typically a word used for people who are economically vulnerable, and Allison relates it to a sort of soul precarity, and our relationship and selves and communities that ties together are in a precarious position and when we are emotionally precariat, then we are primed or find ourselves in this loneliness and this alienation and I think absolutely along with that many of us are emotional refugees, people who have had to flee bad situations, people who have had to flee emotional hardship, who are currently cut off from their friends and family and find themselves a refugee emotionally because of that. I talked about some of my friends from other countries and a lot of them are here, they're not they're not refugees fleeing the war-torn country, they're not refugees fleeing some sort of economic system, but they are fleeing emotional things, they cannot deal with the baggage that their home country has, they cannot deal with the baggage that their immediate life had, and so they have come somewhere new to start over, and those are absolutely emotional refugees. And in fact many of us might find if you look in your own life, are you an emotional refugee?
[51:28] I mean I moved from my hometown to New York, most of my friends ended up in Los Angeles or Atlanta, I made new friends here of course some of my friends came up here and I'm fortunate enough to have a social safety network.
[51:42] I know plenty of people who didn't didn't achieve that, came up here and found themselves cut off from everyone and when I talk to them I hear them talk about how lonely this city is, how a city with 8 million people can be incredibly isolating and I've talked to Japanese friends who say the same exact things about places like Tokyo with tens of millions of people there, feeling absolutely and completely alone. These are emotional refugees, and we built them because of our economic systems, because of the ways that we relate to each other, because of the social systems that we've torn down in order to push this economic system that dominates every component of our life, because growth must come at all cost even if that cost are the connections that we feel among each other. And sometimes this separation and alienation from ourselves leads to violence, leads to things that we never saw coming. I want to read another passage from this paper: When citizens feel plugged into a sense of collective beyond themselves and a future beyond the here and now they are more likely to feel hopeful. When not, there's a tendency towards what Hage, another academic author, calls paranoid nationalism. Clinging to a sense of nation or community which when feeling excluded from, one attempts sometimes violently, to exclude others from as well.
[52:59] And tell me that that sentence doesn't ring a bell and make you look at the situation happening in the United States right now with the violence and xenophobia we see, the dedication to building these border walls that are going on right now don't echo these same sentiments. In a world where we've cut ourselves off from each other, from our community we have to cling to whatever we can find. In many cases this is nationalism, a sense of larger being, I'm an American I am Japanese, somebody in this paper, a person that she interviewed, was advocating for this need you know we need a good war, Japan needs a war to tie us back together. I've heard that exact same phrase from some more right-wing leaning individuals here in the United States who say Americans have become soft, what we need is a war to sort the soft from the hard out to make a strong again and tie his back together.
[53:49] This alienation is making some people feel like the only answer is violence so I think that's something important we need to take away from this conversation, that yes you know, we're impacted individually, our health is cut short, we are our lives are made miserable but these actions can also multiply they can affect our collective awareness and how we interact as a whole with the rest of the world, pushing this sense of violence, of xenophobia trying to cut ourselves off from each other in order paradoxically to feel more connected. When you view so many events going on in the world right now especially in places like the United States through this idea that alienation and loneliness is pushing a lot of the reactions of individuals and the greater collective response, and so many things suddenly makes sense and so we look towards these systemic issues that create this alienation and what do we find: economic systems. Overwhelmingly.
[54:44] Absolutely and you know you mentioned how we can be a refugee in our own country that's something I think I can relate to to a degree and I want to come back to that although with the caveat being I don't want to downplay what is experienced by political refugees, the area I live in for example is a big settlement region for these refugees I've met some, and what they've gone through is truly extraordinary. I met two women recently who each fled Bhutan and then spent 17 years in a refugee camp in a different country before finally being admitted to the United States. But I do agree that we can extend this concept of non belonging to more situations than just this literal political definition. [55:29] I think you are absolutely right David about the broader economic trends
[55:32] that lead to this isolation which can then lead to a sense of nationalism and need for violence. I mean we talked about that episode 28 No Entry about how these broader economic forces of globalization and financial capital create insecurity even at the national level, like individual countries don't know how they fit into these global systems anymore that trickles down to the insecurity at the citizen level and you know results and some of these anti-immigration border security policies that we see going on all over the place but, there's just a couple things I want to hit on smaller offshoots of these broader trends and one of those is these what we're seeing is this rise in individualistic narratives about how to lead our lives, these are coming from self-help gurus and entrepreneurs that no doubt are responding to this need that is occurring in our population, it is coming from people who feel isolated, who don't feel a part of anything and these self-help gurus can step in and say well here's how you fix your life and that can be compelling at first, but as Carol Birch writes in The Guardian "a staple of self-help dogma is that to protect ourselves from negativity we should give up our more needy friends, surround yourself with positive people, we are told, back off from the emotional drains the sad saps they really must not be allowed to bring you down, and so those most in need of a friend are abandoned."
[57:00] I want to talk about this for a second because it's become a common value to hear especially from like I said these startup culture people that our problems in life can be traced back to having loser friends but if we can get rid of the losers and replace them with winners we'll be on the right track. Tim Ferriss for example, an investor who has over 300 million podcast downloads, loves to promote the quote by Jim Rohn that says "you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with" right, and side note but I think it's really interesting that this quote by Jim Rohn is so repeated when Jim Rohn's claim to fame is creating a bunch of direct selling pyramid scheme type companies and mentoring people like guru Anthony Robbins and Mark Hughes who was the founder of Herbalife which is probably one of the largest pyramid schemes on the planet, but this is the guy that these celebrity entrepreneurs put on a pedestal. I'm sure there's a deeper lesson than that but anyway.
[57:56] It's actually multi-level marketing Daniel it's totally legit and I've got a good sales pitch for you after the show is done.
[58:02] You going to ask my credit card and then give me a high five and tell me how--
[58:07] You're on your way to financial independence today.
[58:10] Right but anyway it's now common to see these headlines that's like five reasons you should leave your loser friends behind or to be successful, get rid of the losers in your life. Here's one of my favorite that comes from the website wikiHow, "how to get rid of losers in your life with pictures."
[58:29] We'll link that on the website so all of you can take away something useful from this episode.
[58:34] Right and what I particularly find interesting, so I was reading another study on loneliness a journal article but I can't remember which one it was but the authors were looking for signs of depression and loneliness in people and elderly populations, and they found that what they called wisdom can help stave off the effects of loneliness and they defined wisdom as having empathy, being able to understand other people, self-awarenesses and these type of things but these individualistic narratives of like look at your friends and get rid of all the losers, encourages us to go the opposite route to eschew empathy, to not really care about other people, that's exactly you know the opposite way if we're trying to avoid this loneliness and David I got to play this clip for you it comes from a guy named Gary Vaynerchuk okay he's a big celebrity in the arena of self-help, he's an entrepreneurial guru, he's a part of this hustle culture mania you know the spreading around the country and here is him speaking in 2017. You ready for this?
[59:36] Let's go.
"Here's a big one. If you're not feeling it, find new friends. I'm being dead serious about this. This one is real big for me. Who you hang out with is a huge deal and again this is all tried and true things, we've heard all the, you're the whatever of the five friends--that's really big deal--that one put in the bank, cut your loser-est, loser friend and go find a winner friend, go somewhere, like go to meetup.com, go to a Facebook group, join some shit, DM the 800 people you think, make sure they're not bullshitting, they're doing what you want, and just make one new friend, I see it, like DRock, it's unbelievable to watch my team, they get faster, they get smarter, they get more confident, right, it's real man, it's real, confidence, and like hunger get's passed on to each other. It's like team dynamics, it's why great players can fuck a team up, go audit your circle, add one more winner, decrease one more loser."
[1:00:28] I love that inspirational music. It's like really...
[1:00:40] Before even saying you know addressing what he said about friends and losers, the end there where he's like go audit your friend circle and add one and subtract one, talk about you know that concept were always harping on, the over-quantification of everything, like it's not even enough to judge your friendships on like you know, I've been friends with this person for years they have value, I'm empathetic to them, you know like we are emotionally connected, we have a deep relationship but instead like what's convert this to math is your friend of winner or loser you know are they impacting your bottom line if they if they are negatively hurting your profit, dump em, like what the fuck?
[1:01:20] I also think it's profound in that it's kind of like a credit debit balance you know it's like it's like balancing the books because it kind of implies this never-ending process like every 6 months, look at the list of your top--
[1:01:34] I'm going to sit you down friends for your performance review you just haven't been like meeting up our standard so you got to tighten it up if you don't want to get dropped 6 months from now.
[1:01:42] Well not even that they're not meeting the standard the idea is that you look at your list of friends, you find out which one is the bottom and you just, you just get rid of them right and just like and so you're always pruning this list, updating it, which to me is is the never ending process so that's like kind of like you're going to live your life in this chronic state of comparison and judging right where even if you have a mediocre friend well if they don't live up to the best nine friends you have you might as well just get rid of them cause you're the average of all your friends and you always want to get stronger and more confident faster and better.
[1:02:15] I mean we talked about social Darwinism and how that's been disproved but this is also a management technique that you see a lot in companies where they are trying to make sure they have the most agile and confidence and up to date workforce where they'll be doing constant performance reviews and have all these metrics debasing how much productivity you have and whatever and they will say okay you know every 6 months or every 3 weeks or whatever we prune the bottom X percent and we hire new people to replace them. And these techniques have been huge failures, enormous failures because it cuts productivity across-the-board, everyone is miserable people are constantly like sabotaging each other and shit and a world that runs based on this is a disaster, but it sounds really good in the sound bite so I guess if I'm some self-help guru that is something easy to pitch especially to a bunch of people who already feel isolated from each other who already view their relationships as consumption right you know like I have this thing I'm using it, oh no my friend is not sparking joy in this moment or I guess in this way that joy is specifically profiting me, I'm going to throw them away and find something else.
[1:03:18] That is the commodification of every element of our life, and of course they're talking about it that way because they think about everything as commodity, so of competition of consumption because that's their entire worldview. And so it shouldn't be surprisingly we find such terrible advice there but unfortunately these are the self-help gurus who talk to millions of people who are unfortunately adjusting some of our culture because of this process because this has a ripple effect. No wonder we're miserable if these are our heroes.
[1:03:47] Appropriately enough David here's Anne Allison again, that anthropologist writing on social precarity of Japanese "this is the state of precarity when, speaking of post-Fordist production, life gets organized according to the market model which reduces humans to an algorithm of abstract, competitive—and for those who fail to measure up, failed—productivity. Feelings of ineptitude, isolation, and defeat are endemic, generating panic and depression." Like I said, it's an appropriate quote, but David there is one of the thing that really stands out to me about Gary V's rant on why we need to get rid of a loser friends and that's where he says look at your real life actual friends and then replace them by going on meetup.com or Facebook or just sending out these mass 800 tweets to people that are successful, which brings me to the other like offshoot of these.
[1:04:41] This is actually ties into to my theory Daniel let me let me enter interject for just a moment here.
[1:04:46] Wait you have a theory David.
[1:04:47] I have many theories and this one isn't even close enough to actually be called a theory it's a mess of words I'm going to vomit out at you. But this is this is relevant to it, the way that we've sort of outsourced some of our friendship seeking or attempting to to these algorithms and websites and products and stuff. Let me get to that in a second. Let me introduce you Daniel to my grand opus of this episode, the five points of loneliness or hopefully what's the opposite of loneliness?
[1:05:21] Togetherness the five points of togetherness that we need to have to feel as a complete and whole person. Number one is family and--
[1:05:33] This sounds like a self-help, the beginning of a--
[1:05:36] It is. I'm turning into an MLM scheme and I'm going to publish a book on Amazon everyone subscribe to my YouTube channel. So the first one is family and unfortunately not all of us have a family or are still with our families but this is a very typically Western sense of what family is you know it's a mother, it's a Father, its siblings to lesser extent its grandparents maybe they're alive, maybe they're not but family and redefining that and finding that you know your relationships closest with people, people that you can always depend upon is an important component to making sure that you have that immediate social safety-net, the world. This was one of the major areas that people were depending on in Japan that has collapsed because of falling birth rates and also the ways that relationships have changed in their culture over the past 75 years. But okay so that's number one family. Number two is your romantic relationships. And in that Anne Allison article she was writing about what essentially we would refer to in the west today incels but she was writing about this seven years ago before many people were talking about that and she's dead on with a lot of points, it's a great article, please read it.
[1:06:39] This is something that we've really done a good job of commodifying because of apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, OkCupid, you know there is a huge market here for going out and trying to find this romantic connection to somebody, and sometimes it's lowered down to a very commodity-based thing like look at these people, they want to sleep with you or they don't which is essentially what Tinder is doing right you know like you flip through you say yes or no swipe left swipe right. And if you both say yes then at the very least you know well this person would sleep with me, they at least find me attractive enough that they would say, if this person is cool and the moment is right and I'm feeling whatever then I would sleep with that person. That is the basis of forming a relationship with that individual whether you chat with them, whether you never respond, whether you meet up in real life, and like you know at the very least they say this is what's happening and that's the same in basically all these which are picture based and immediately you're like well you know the person's Hot or Not. I'm sorry for all of us that are out here that are not attractive enough to do well in these applications but the Western beauty standards have doomed us so sorry about that. [1:07:48] That that's another conversation. But what's interesting I think about this is that it works okay you know there's a lot of conversations about how this commodification of romantic relationships of sexual relationships has made us, you know, there's a tendency to ghost people, to disappear, to never settle because you feel like there's always something better out there waiting another swipe away, and what it's done for romantic relationships there's a lot of papers being written right now a lot of explorations on it, another topic for another time again I'm saying that, but you know it is a very great example of this commodification that we've been talking about. But apps aside, romantic relationships are important, and Western ideas of monogamy ties down to very specific way of doing that and there are other other angles that can be explored maybe somewhere better or maybe somewhere worse, but it is an important part of not feeling lonely because a romantic relationship can become part of that greater support system, it can become a family relationship depending on your definition of family.
[1:08:49] You can have all these other areas lack this romantic relationship and feel alone because you don't have that intimacy that specific type of human emotional need that needs to be fulfilled. So that's point two. Point three in this brings me up to what I rudely interrupted you about and that's friendships, so these are your greater relationships with others that are not romantic but your friends that you love or you feel connected to or you hang out with or they provide some sort of stimulus because you enjoy hanging out with them, doing activities or talking or whatever and we're really bad about turning this into a commodity, so we've tried I feel like in a lot of ways to eliminate it as much as possible or to turn into something superficial that can be turned into commodity like our connections on social media applications and so what's interesting here for me is that there are a number of apps and products, that are ostensibly dedicated to helping you find real life friends right. Bumble for example which is primarily dating website introduced two other components to the app one of which is I'm looking for friends and of course the other one is I'm looking for business partners which I think says a lot.
[1:09:55] The friends one is basically wildly unsuccessful and this also exists on OkCupid you can look for friends on that. There are applications that are designed just for looking for friends like Meetup saying if you're all into the same thing maybe you'll hang out and be friends that one's the closest to being successful but I think the big problem is when you're looking for a romantic relationship you can have at least that very, basic this person is hot or not so I at least have that to go on and then I can sort from there and figure out somebody I mesh with but trying to distill down a personality who someone is into an app is basically impossible how can you describe all the things that make somebody you or make somebody me or make somebody unique to themselves.
[1:10:36] In an application and friendship is such a difficult thing it's hard to make friends when you're not forced to be around people after college or high school or your workplace meeting new people outside of those worlds who aren't friends of friends is difficult it's hard to make friends and you'll hear this conversation a lot from people who are outside of school and they'll say I wish I'd known how hard it was to make friends, when you aren't forced to. And that's an important point. There's a lot of magic that happens there, the different ways people interact with each other all these unique things that make somebody wholly individual is so impossible to figure out, the algorithms and I hate to having say that word, can't do it yet maybe they will someday, but it's disaster and so we don't have this commodified ability to make these relationships real in the real world yet, the closest we can do is meet up like I said where we say a lot we're both into rock climbing so we're going to go hang out at the rock climbing gym maybe because we both like rock climbing we'll get along. That's about as close as we've gotten but there is no algorithm to fix this and so instead of doing that they've taken our already existing, social relationships our friendships and turn that into a commodity that can be analyzed and sold in order to advertise stuff instead.
[1:11:52] But I'm getting aside from myself here we need friendships to feel connected and increasingly they're trying to eliminate those or turn them into a digital-only thing and digital friendships which we'll get to in a second are not the same as real world connections. Fourth is community, Daniel and fourth and fifth are kind of related to each other. Community as a whole can be you know what we talked about on the show, do you know the people around you? Are they there for you? Are you a part of this larger thing this is about that sense of belonging to something bigger than you that we talked about that if you lack can cause this greater sense of nationalism or need for violence tie you into some common struggle.
[1:12:29] So finding this in a productive way that is healthy for you like in Bowling Alone where people were part of community organizations where they were actively working together to make their community a better place, but also just make it in the first place are important but increasingly lacking because again this is something that you can't commodify, and in face in many cases when you have these strong communities you're de-commodifying things, you're spending less time consuming and that's bad so we see this economic incentive not to do this. But even beyond that there is an economic component to the community section here. In Japan we talked about how businesses were important part of that support structure and yes you know a business, if it's doing some sort of social good can be part of your community. I hate I hate talking about "work families" as some sort of a replacement for this lack of points one, two and three, I guess but you know in a perfect world where we did have businesses that were looking out for us that were maybe collectively owned by us that would be a place of community that would look out for us and I could see that being a good thing. I don't think it's going to be that case in our bastardized, messed up destruction with a smile world that we see right now, but it is something that is possible. Instead we see very much the opposite where these business are trying to tear us apart in order to pit us against each other in order to say you know like you're being performance reviewed again somebody else. Fight each other.
[1:13:52] Well I think the I think the difference that you'd have to make to have a true work family though is not relying on the boss necessarily to supply those connections but like in the example of forming a union that's a direct resistance to the boss but it creates solidarity among the workers saying hey we're all in this together we are a family the boss is like by definition trying to make us work as long as possible for as little money as possible so let's work together to counteract his goals and make ourselves stronger and I think that's the context of a healthy work family.
[1:14:31] Well if you're looking for some sort of struggle to tie yourself together.
[1:14:35] Don't go to war.
[1:14:36] With a violent struggle like that seems like a more productive way to put your energies toward rather than killing some other helpless people but. [1:14:45] My opinions on bosses aside, point number 5 is maybe the hardest one you know this is a chakra system this is the hardest chakra to open and that is yourself, you know, you and who you are. And so much of our advertising of our modern world is about making sure that you're not comfortable with yourself. All these other issues you know they add up, our lack of relationships with our family, our friends, our community, our romantic relationships, all these chip away and rot our sense of self in the process and our love for ourselves, and in the way that culture interacts with us that tells us who we are what we belong to, all this degrades us, our work alienates us from the products that we try and create you know if I'm sitting there typing somewhere all day long and then don't see the product of what I'm working on all day and this is all I do and who I am because society tells me you know when you meet somebody you say, oh hi, what do you do as if we can distill who somebody is by the job they perform every day but as we'll talk about very soon, so many of us have bullshit jobs, things that shouldn't exist that are ultimately pointless we can't love ourselves if that is how we define ourselves we have to find these other things but oftentimes were denied the time because of our economic precarity to explore this, to explore relationships with each other and also to find fulfillment with ourselves and if we can't be happy alone
[1:16:11] then we can't find ourselves with other people, we can't find happiness with them, and that leaves us ultimately alone on a grander scale. There's a lot of reasons why this is the case, economic, cultural, and also the lack of those relationship we talked about and that's why this is the final boss the beat so to say, but it's also something we can work on individually alone all the time there's a lot of resources out there I'm not going to point you to them, explore, because everybody's journey is different maybe you know if we talked more about the fact that many of us growing up do feel isolated, alienated, alone, sad, depressed, and that it wasn't such a stigma to say those words, and we were taught the proper techniques to cope with them, to explore these feelings and ultimately make ourselves grow past them then it wouldn't be such a huge problem when we get older and life and find ourselves increasingly alone, cut off from those things we once depended on, family, friendships, community, school, whatever. There you go that's my five points of of loneliness.
[1:17:12] Let me see if I can summarize that cause there's a lot of wigwams and stuff. So you're saying that your theory to combating loneliness would be to find family you don't have one, try and craft your own.
[1:17:25] Redefine family for something that works for you. And just because you're related to somebody, if they're abusive to you or whatever it doesn't have to be your family, your family is what you make, it's not something you're born into though it can be but a family is something you define.
[1:17:41] Number two find a little romance in your life, don't shut yourself off from those opportunities, number three have friends, number four, find a way to be a part of some kind of community whether that's do your job, through some kind of struggle through some kind of collective action and number five love yourself appreciate yourself learn about yourself and learn how to live, and learn how to--
[1:18:05] Love yourself in and be comfortable alone cause there are times in our lives we will find ourselves alone but that doesn't mean we have to feel lonely, and I think that's an important distinction.
[1:18:13] Yeah and I think those are those are all great pieces of advice David and which reminds me I want to just come back really quickly I had some points on how social media has is driving this loneliness deeper but--
[1:18:25] Before I rudely interrupted you, yes please.
[1:18:28] But I don't think we really need to dwell on that I mean we can always come back to that as a topic and I don't think it's something people need to explained to them. But there's a book called Alone Together Why we Expect more from Technology and Less From Each Other a written by Sherry Turkle and she has some important concepts I think that are worth mentioning here which is how in the digital communication landscape that we've built for ourselves, we have increased communication like we're always constantly texting, emailing, responding to social media, but it's an illusion of connectivity because ultimately we're doing these things physically alone and the one thing that really stood out to me about this concept is that, in a physical real relationship David like if we were in a room together and we have to be together, there's going to be conflict, there's going to be boredom, there's going to be uncomfortableness that we have to work together or work through or try to solve, right, and adjust to but when every single relationship occurs through a digital medium
[1:19:26] It's very easy to regulate those interactions you know if someone starts saying something uncomfortable you can just avoid them you can not text somebody, you cannot reply, you can not read it. It's kind of like it turns relationships in effect to this consumption that you can choose when to take your doses in and that leads I think in part to this atmosphere we have fueled by those Gary V type people where we don't discuss difficult things with each other and of course this is exacerbated by concepts that we talked about in our episode on medical surveillance Do No Harm how companies are attempting to track our everyday life so they can build mental health profiles on us which insurance companies can use against us, our bosses can use to fire us, and our banks can use the charge us more interest.
[1:20:17] And then we have this idea that we're being judged as either losers to winners so there's this disincentive to make ourselves vulnerable, to discuss complex emotional issues to work through problems, and so in effect what we have is increased communication but at the same time a greater sense of isolation, and of course with social media things like Facebook where there's this performance aspect that we're always having to put on her best selves, our most ideal cells, we're only sharing the pictures that make us look good, and then we compare those--
[1:20:49] Gotta brand bro.
[1:20:50] Right we're crafting this brand that adds to the sense of isolation. But then there's another concept basically what you were just talking about being alone which is that because we're constantly communicating some of us don't learn how to be alone because any time an emotion comes up or some some kind of internal struggle, rather than dealing with that we can simply fire off a text message or start engaging in social media and in a way not engage with that so, and I noticed this with myself when I'm home alone sometimes the phones right there and let me focus on my work but every 15 minutes I'm picking it up reading a text message or something. In a way it takes us out of the moment.
[1:21:31] Look at Mr. Popular, getting text messages.
[1:21:34] Sorry David I know that's a sensitive subject for you. But in a way that constant communication makes it difficult to appreciate yourself when you're alone, I mean at least if you're not aware of it and you're not careful with that kind of thing so maybe we should get to the what can we do section David.
[1:21:53] Yeah I mean we're about at that time of the episode and like Daniel said, there's a lot more that can be said about social media it is incredibly alienating and isolating, we will at some point we talked a little bit about the addictive designs that happen in this process.
[1:22:10] Specifically in episode 35 Plugged In which we actually recorded that episode in a casino so I highly recommend checking that out if you haven't already.
[1:22:22] But really the social impacts is not something that we've entirely explored yet we didn't want to do it all in this episode because it would be 3 hours long so we're not going to we'll get to it eventually. As I say for the third or fourth time in this episode, we have a giant list but if you have topics, send it to us and maybe we'll add it but that aside what can we do? I mean the very easy thing for us to say is, go out and make friends, go out and build these relationships you know we'll plug in our patented "build a community" line, whatever that word means but that's really not what we want to do here and not the advice we leave at the end of this episode. We talked at some point about how some people see this hikikomori as a mental illness and some people say the same about this overarching alienation and loneliness that we feel, in the United States we diagnosis it as depression which is a real disease and I don't want to downplay that but we prescribe some sort of pill to make you feel better, we pat you on the back and say there you go this will be fine for your brain don't worry about it go on your way. And those drugs are important I'm not anti drug there are people whose lives have been saved by those drugs I don't want under play that but at the same time it's so easy for us to say, build relationships it's the same as saying to somebody "here take this pill." That's the easy answer maybe it works for an individual I'm not saying don't do those things because it is healthy building relationships, building real meaning between people is something healthy that we should all be doing.
[1:23:50] But it does kind of come back to this individualistic narrative of like oh you're lonely that must be your fault because you need to go out and make friends, I mean that's the type of pressure that leads people to become something like hikikomori where they feel shameful and like its just too much I can't handle it.
[1:24:06] Exactly and what's causing this loneliness epidemic across cultures, across countries, across the International Date Line is not just the lack of individuals to act, these are systemic issues in our culture and our society and in our economic systems. There's systemic problems in the way that were taught interact with each other because of people like Gary V who say you know we are just points on a performance report or something. The way that were taught to compete against each other, to step on each others toes in order to get ahead and people don't see that explicitly but it's always a wink-and-a-nod there where it says you know this is what you have to do, do you want to succeed if you want to be happy it's in every part of our society, it's in our media, it's in the way that were taught as kids, it's in our economic system that drives everything that forces us even if we don't want to play these games to do them anyway in order to survive. And that's the ultimate problem here we can't fix these things, we can't feel better about each other in a relationships about each other if the system is denying our ability to feel happy because it's not profitable are allowed to exist.
[1:25:14] Fixing alienation fixing loneliness is about systemic global change, about our cultures are economic systems and economic justice is the same as this emotional justice and since so many of us are emotional refugees right now we are linked at the same time to being economic refugees and we are refugees cut off from each other and the only way you can end a refugee crisis is by cutting off the conflict that created those refugees and when that conflict is the globalized economy that we see right now and the exportation of these cultural ideas to every corner of the world because it's profitable for a small group of people at the very tip top we have to say no more we are done with this we are not stepping forward any further into this world because we want something better. Because we're tired of feeling lonely and cut off from each other and we want to be together in this 21st century because as we see this future coming, this terrible tragic future we talked about so often on the show with climate change, with the catastrophes of a world that is dying caused in large part by this economic system, we know that we have to fight these problems together collectively, together as one and the only way we can do that is if we are not isolated from each other and so it becomes a life or death scenario for each and every one of us not to exist in this current economic scheme that is designed to tear us apart from each other. And our only option at that point is to tear that economic system apart and build something better.
[1:26:42] Yeah I think that's absolutely where the change has to come from is, we can do these individual things you know like, anytime to someone is feeling down or gets broken up with like on the Internet or there's just there's this internet joke that comes up where the advice becomes, lawyer up delete Facebook, and join a gym, and there's there's truth in that right like you mention one of your Five Points David is taking care of yourself and when you do things like exercise and you start taking care of yourself it can help alleviate these things like depression but speaking as someone who every now and then has to battle the feeling of depression and isolation, I noticed that these things while they do help, in the end for me I noticed that it can be a distraction almost really obscuring the fact that sometimes I just feel like I don't belong to anything.
[1:27:30] You like how I go to the gym maybe I exercise and I feel better about myself but then I come home and say would it really matter if I hadn't gone, would anyone miss me does my presence there really play an important role in anybody's lives in, that's when I start to feel like where do I belong in those ideas of being an emotional refugee in your own country can surface and
[1:27:51] The only way we're going to get around that as a society is to support broad and sweeping safety-net and welfare institutions that we can all belong to or some kind of collective association that we can say no matter what, no matter how smart you are a dumb you are how successful you are what your paycheck is we all belong to something, and like you said we don't want that to come from some sense that we need to go to war or engage in some violent foreign action we can create that at home. And coming back to that Anne Allison journal she does identify many things that people are doing in Japan to kind of resist the social erosion and she talks about performance groups where those struggling with these issues whether hikikomori or alcoholism or whatever they get on stage and they perform their emotions as a way of healing and reconnecting with themselves and with the audience members who also may be struggling through similar issues as she talks about activists who do night patrols to prevent stranded elderly or others from dying alone and community groups that train youth in caring for the elderly and each other. And some Japanese citizens have even begun turning their homes into common spaces, inviting anyone to come, with clear rules that leave judgment and expectation at the door, we're isolated individuals can care for each other eat together play cards and regain a sense of belonging.
[1:29:13] Any one of us could do something like this could open up our home could work towards these community initiatives and we should all be doing that, but again it cannot be a substitute for also getting engaged politically to support policies and institutions that can pull our collective voices into real fundamental change.
[1:29:36] It's really important and in trying to turn to all of this collective anger and angst and alienation into something that is actionable on a grand scale is absolutely critical because if we try to knock these things like you mentioned Daniel which are important and good, open homes and community centers whatever, if we just do this and we stopped there, all we've done is create a band-aid over these broken policies and enable all these problems in the first place and without attacking those problems at the root, whether it's through electoralism or other actions then we haven't solved anything we've just done the same as philanthropists covering up these symptoms, and it's important in good is being done but if we want real change then we have to act big.
[1:30:17] Yeah I also you know supporting things like public spaces, public education, there are so many ideas, so many ways to go about this type of work, and that's something that David we should all be thinking about because it is a lot to think about.
[1:30:31] As always Daniel but think about it we hope you will. You can read more about all the topics you can find links to that amazing paper you can see that Gary V video and much more as well as read a full transcript of this episode on our website at Ashes Ashes dot org.
[1:30:48] A lot of time and research goes into making these episodes possible and we will never use ads to support the show, so if you like it would like us to keep going you our listener can support us by giving us review, recommending us to a friend, or joining us on Patreon at patreon.com/ashesashescast where you can get a sticker and join our Discord community, you can also send us your thoughts we have an email address as [email protected], we will read them and we appreciate them.
[1:31:18] You can also find us on your favorite social media network @ashesashescast. We've got a lot of stuff coming up and an exciting show for you next week, so we hope you'll tune in for that. Until then this is Ashes Ashes.