Blow a kiss, fire a gun
All we need is somebody to lean on
-Lean On, Major Lazer & DJ Snake
Loneliness is the greatest danger to our society. Despite the persistence of material gains in our society, happiness is in decline. Loneliness leads to the anger, despair, and subsequent states of emotional dysregulation that are at the root of our society’s deepest problems once we control meeting people’s economic needs. Loneliness is at the root of toxic violence, which starts at the individual but can spread cancerously to the masses.
I first draw a distinction between violence and toxic violence. Violence is in our nature because we have long needed it. Oftentimes, less so in the modern world and certainly not always, violence is needed to meet and defend against other violence. It’s tempting to wish violence away entirely, but in truth we still need some healthy amount of it. One need only look at the history of Emperor Ashoka’s Buddhists to see that when nonviolent people are met with violence, they either become violent or die. Violence is not categorically bad, but common sense dictates that some violence is bad, and I call that toxic violence.
Toxic violence arises largely at the intersection of high levels of testosterone and human misery at the boiling point. School shootings are toxic violence. Rapes are toxic violence. Genocide is toxic violence. Individuals commit the two former, societies the latter. The cause isn’t always loneliness.
Sometimes violence is a reaction to violence or oppression. In other situations, it is a reaction to economic necessity. But increasingly, we are seeing toxic violence in free societies where basic material needs are being met. I contend that in almost all of these cases, violence originates when emotional needs are not being met, the most manifest of which is loneliness. Mass killers and violent demagogues pretty much all share one part of their histories: highly adverse childhood experiences.
There are many, many negative consequences to childhood trauma but perhaps to most dire, and frighteningly unassuming to those who have never experienced it themselves, is loneliness. Adversity in certain contexts can be motivating and drive growth. But loneliness is almost exclusively a path to darkness. Those lacking meaningful connection seek what they can in life: power, material, fame, attention, etc. But whether successful in such pursuits or not, the results are bad.
Success in such endeavors masks but does not resolve the deep discontentment that comes from loneliness. Often it is the loneliest people who are the most motivated towards success and gains, and thus those carrying the deepest darkness reap the greatest power. This is prominently on display amongst every single one of the major world leaders of the east. Plenty of business leaders and celebrities fit a similar mold. Most of course don’t become world leaders, wealthy, or famous,
Many of the loneliest struggle mightily and feel in their disconnection they have nothing to lose, and that is where we see the potential for the most brutal and horrific of violence committed by individuals. Loneliness can transmute into the desire to destroy everything. We attribute mental health issues to every mass killing. In general the pattern is similar. Childhood abuse, depression/despair, loneliness, and finally rage. Lonely people can be ticking time bombs. Once they go off, they are quite far gone. But if we trace their struggles to back their core, in most cases a little love could have gone a long way.
We all need somebody to lean on. Today, many of us simply don’t have that. Human connection is in decline and social media makes us more lonely. If we don’t change the course on loneliness and our shadow continues to outweigh our light, toxic violence will destroy us. We talk about mental health. I talk about spiritual health. But really, we need to make sure everyone is looked after.
We need community, kinship, and connection, especially for those who grow up in troubled homes. We should identify those with high ACE scores as early in life as possible and harvest every means by which we can give them the love and support they need. Policy should weigh on this, but ultimately the government is too clinical to solve this problem fully.
We must evolve our society at its core to manifest a world in which most people are emotionally resourced and readily available and willing to be there for those who aren’t. This won’t be easy, but we must figure it out. Humanity currently faces so many existential threats. If everyone has some somebody to lean on, we just may be able to survive them all.