Is Modern Isolation the Cause of Unhappiness?
In the Beginning...
When our ancestors took their first steps upon this planet they were immediately recognizable as a gregarious species, a living being that needs to be in fairly constant contact with others of it's kind. In fact this might be the reason we are equipped with bigger brains and higher IQs in comparison to the planet's other more solitary creatures.
Scientists have long said that social and semi social species often have enormous benefits from their herd mentality. Of course there is protection in numbers but some animals also gained better communication skills, larger brains, and a better ability to adapt. Wolves, lions, orcas and many other social species had to learn how to communicate with each other and organize a hunt. This is far more difficult than it might seem, particularly the more animals you add to the equation. Wolves are far smarter than dogs which have the intelligence of a young wolf puppy all the way through adulthood. Is this a coincidence? Probably not.
Having stated this we know that people in all cultures have always relied upon each other, their community, for survival and socialization. Rarely have there been documented cases of people living completely and utterly on their own without any help from others. It's a strong bond we hold, even to strangers, when we find ourselves isolated.
It makes sense we'd be social. In a lot of ways we all make each other's lives easier. People go to their jobs and help the world and all its human systems run with efficiency. Although few of us farm anymore we can still usually obtain food grown by the labor of others. We can also achieve great things talking to each other and adding upon old ideas to make even better ideas.
It all sounds very harmonious but is it really? Are we missing something in our lives? Are our communities shrinking in the modern age? Are we part of the whole or merely a mass of individuals out for ourselves and no one else?
Primitive cultures and tribes still exist across the world in various remote locations. People who live in these tribes are normally fiercely loyal to each other, even if they are perfect stranger so long as they are part of the same tribe. We as a species have come up with thousands of ways to tell each other apart by community standards. Many tribes still tattoo and scarify each other to signify they are one of the clan, and they can never escape from this.
Gender roles and family units in these cultures seem to be far less defined then in our own Western culture. The raising of children, their education and protection does not normally fall solely on the mother or even the mother and the father; instead they are the responsibility of the entire community. The live, grow up, and learn under the careful guidance of everyone who is around them. If their parents lack in parental skills in one way or another they are free to seek others who can provide what they need, be it emotional support or a wise word.
This is a world in which community is at the most importance. Individuals are seen as contributors and it's less likely these people will create their own class systems outside of the basic leader/follower complex. There is rarely a lower, middle, and upper class. Everyone must carry their own load, share in the work, and share in the benefits of their community. To separate yourself from the community or to be shunned would either mean a slow and painful death or at the very least a much harder life.
The Birth of the Nuclear Family
The birth of the nuclear family and the start of larger western civilizations probably went hand and hand. With more people coming into contact with each other from farther distances things like disease became more of a problem. Also with the influences of other cultures and the burst in population people began to separate, to believe in different things, and to form smaller tribes within larger communities. Because of all this provisions had to be made for the children. They were no longer the responsibility of the entire community (which could now teach them all sorts of contradicting things) but instead they became the responsibility of solely their mothers. In time realizations and opinions came to be formed that the children's father should also be responsible for their upbringing in which case moral law changed. It is only at this point in history that virginity, separation of the sexes, and marriage took on any significance at all.
With two parents these new nuclear families could take on the world. They could believe what they wanted to believe and be their own tiny tribe with their own cultural differences. Children born into these families were born into a new rigidity. No longer were they able to go elsewhere to seek what they were lacking in their lives, instead they were stuck with the families they were born into, regardless of personality or effectiveness of the family unit.
Separation of the Sexes and a New Moral Code
In Western Society Christianity took hold and a new moral code appeared. No longer was it considered safe to live among the temptation of the opposite sex and so women started to live in female communities and men in male communities. Women stayed at home, took care of hearth and home, and raised the children. Men went out to work with other men to bring home money to support their families. Husbands spent much less time with their wives and children then they did with their male co-workers.
A strange thing happened. Marriage, which was supposed to be the celebration of intimacy, turned into business arrangements. No longer was it necessary for a couple to love each other. The only thing that mattered was that the said couple produce as many children as they could. Of course loveless relationships could turn loving in time, but rarely were they intimate on a spiritual and emotional level. Instead women who were chained to hearth and home learned to seek comfort, advice, and general sociability with other women in the community. They would get together for feasts, festivals, quilting bees, or whatever they could come up with. Men on the other hand got most of what they needed from the male world beyond the doors of the home.
Children learned to rely on their mothers and each other before they too would be thrust into the now separated world. Elaborate moral codes held these practices in place. It was God's law that women, men, and children should all live almost exclusively separate lives. This way far fewer unwanted children would be produced in this respectable world.
The Coming of the Industrial Revolution
In time the industrial revolution came to the world and changed it forever. Instead of working on ships and farms men were now moving to the city and working in factories. Women used to country life found themselves in cramped quarters trying to raise their young in peace. When ends meet could not be made women eventually found themselves working for the first time in factories only with other women. Children too found themselves weaving between large machines, helping their fathers mine coal, and doing grueling jobs most adults could not bear. A normal work day for everyone involved could be as much as sixteen hours. Individuals in a family now rarely saw each other. Most came home too exhausted to want to socialize or learn in any way shape or form.
Schools became popular in the same time period and were vastly popular after child labor laws left many little ones without proper supervision during the day. In these schools part of the raising on the children (their education and sometimes their faith) was placed into the hands of strangers for the first time since the advent of the nuclear family.
Some schools went so far as to take the children to dorms and separate them completely from their family for months at a time. These were often the privileged but they too were in separate worlds. Boys went to academies, girls to dame schools. No longer were children allowed to grow with the companionship of their siblings. Now they found themselves separated from everyone except those of the same sex.
The Modern Age
Today much has changed. The sexes no longer live exclusively apart. Women have joined the workforce, politics, and the world at large. They even work and become educated alongside their male counterparts. Children however have faired little better. Although same-sex schools and factory work are no longer part of their lives they still suffer from lack of choice in their life. They are stuck with whoever is currently taking care of them.
Now instead of being the sole responsibility of mothers and fathers children can find themselves in the care of grandparents, aunts, uncles, or others. Sometimes this provides stability but other times it does anything but. The worst off are those tossed from foster home to foster home with no sense of stability at all. These children learn to be individuals against the world, becoming attached to no one, and learning to be strong without first learning to be weak.
As we grow we still insist upon nuclear families. Many of us marry and have children who we however subconsciously consider our property. How dare anyone else step in and tell little Johnny or Sue that what he or she is doing is wrong? That is the sole job of the parents and no one else!
STill we try to do our best. If at some point we stop loving our spouses, hating them even, a lot of us still stay in the relationship "for the children" bogging ourselves down in eternal unhappiness and unwittingly dooming the children to repeat our own shortcomings. Men and women alike throw themselves into work, charity, or other activities, any excuse not to come home. Children are left with sitters, nannies, and daycare centers. Somehow as we juggle our lives we often loose complete touch with our spouses, our children, our friends, and those we love. We become so involved in our own day to day business we forget to stop, to breathe, to take a moment to spend some time with each other.
Parents even push their own children into this isolated overworked lifestyle from the time they hit elementary school on. Between soccer and drama and the bake sale and the three other sports teams little Junior has been "encouraged" to sign up for by mom and pop, he doesn't even know what he likes anymore! The children aren't even given the decency and respect of deciding for themselves what they truly enjoy and what they're just doing to impress those all too distant parental units.
Children grow older, more independent, and then they discover the internet. Chat services like AIM and Yahoo promise to let them reach halfway across the world to meet someone living there and learn about their ways of life. Although this is true that is not to say it doesn't come at a price. Now our teenagers have finally grown up a little and cursed out dear mom and dad, told them basketball was not their game. After that they come home and sit alone in their rooms, tapping at the keyboard, staring at the letters coming up on the scream or playing games in solitude. By becoming more communal we've also made ourselves more isolated then ever before. We are no longer one in a community but rather one against the world.
We are so out of touch with our own nature that when we do find companionship we often have no idea how to deal with it and invite even more chaos into our daily lives. Is it at all surprising that teenagers find comfort in sex? It's a connection to another human being! Should we really be angry at them when they come home, wait four hours for their parents to arrive, and then let everyone know they've screwed up and they're going to be a new and horrendously underequipped mommy or daddy? Perhaps if we found other ways to teach them love, acceptance, and human connection they wouldn't seek out these reckless behaviors. As a human we all desire and need to be loved, however wrongly that may turn out.
Is this all there is? Is this how humanity will end? Is there no turning back or are we heading for an even more desolate existence?
If you found this article interesting you may like these other articles by Theophanes:
More by this Author
Soma was an intoxicating drink made 4,000 years ago by by devout Zoroastrians and Hindus but what was in this hallucinogenic elixir made of? Read about many hypotheses here and make up your own mind.
Feral children. Its a term given to children who have been raised by animals instead of people. Who are they? What are they like? Where do they come from? Are they real?
Bengal cats are beautiful and intelligent but what is it really like to keep them? All I can say is its a wild ride! Here is my personal story.