Loneliness and Solidarity06-27-2020
Barbara Taylor writes about the epidemic of loneliness that preceded the pandemic that has forced so many of us to isolate ourselves. And yet Taylor argues that within the pandemic we have begun to find practices of care and kindness that are actually working to make us less lonely and building a global solidarity.
The dangers of solitude are real. Care, past and present, mitigates them. Contemplating the likelihood of a second wave of Covid-19, we are collectively lonely. Long years of neoliberal austerity have paved the way, asset-stripping the NHS and care services, hollowing out the welfare state.
The pre-Covid loneliness “epidemic” was mostly a proxy for this assault on care. According to David Vincent, author of the recent A History of Solitude, rates of self-reported loneliness among older people have changed little over the last 60 years. There has been an increase in life changes (of jobs, marital status, geographic location) that can trigger bouts of loneliness, especially among younger people, but even here the figures are far below those publicised by media and government. So why the headlines about loneliness as the “plague of our times”? The answer lies with the demolition of services and institutions that have the public good as a core value, from youth clubs and day centres to public libraries and, above all, “social care”. The hypocrisy of governments that talk about loneliness while systematically destroying key sources of social connectedness is breathtaking.
Now we have a genuine loneliness crisis. And in this crisis, we are turning to each other. The huge upwelling of mutual aid and volunteer action across Britain has been wonderful to witness, as civil society seeks to provide what the government does not, from food and other essentials to psychological support and PPE for health and care workers. Black Lives Matter has brought solidarity to the streets. Kindness to strangers is everywhere, except among those whose commercial interests this government serves – corporations, banks, profiteering landlords – who are urged to show “compassion” at this difficult time. Flying pigs come to mind.
Shokoufeh Sakhi is an Iranian exile in Canada who in the 1980s spent eight years in a Tehran prison, two in solitary confinement. Sakhi has bloggedabout the emotional connections that allowed her to survive those years. Locked down recently in Toronto, she has reflected on how caring about people during the pandemic has meant physically distancing ourselves from them while remaining aware of their needs: “When was the last time we collectively stayed conscious for this long about the effects of our actions on other people? Can we give that proper recognition? Recognising the presence of an ancient feeling, our care for others? In this are the seeds of our empowerment and a global solidarity.”