‘Epidemic Of Loneliness’: Why The Left Ignores The True Causes Of American Despair

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Gage Klipper Commentary & Analysis Writer
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America has an “Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” according to a new U.S. Surgeon General report released earlier this month.

This on its face is unsurprising. Years of Covid lockdowns, mandating or terrifying people into staying home, all but criminalized community engagement. Thus, it’s unsurprising that a massive multi-country study that surveyed tens of thousands of people found that overall 21% of people reported severe loneliness compared to only 6% before the pandemic.

America’s young adults were hit hardest by the Covid induced loneliness, with 61% reporting frequent feelings of loneliness compared to 36% overall. Yet this is not only a Covid-era problem – millennials and Gen Z were already the loneliest generation in American history. The surgeon general’s report is a necessary assessment, but perhaps overdue. (RELATED: Nearly Half Of Gen Z Identifies As Non-Religious, New Study Finds) 

The advisory report makes the welcome first step of admitting there is a problem. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has a substantial record of research and writing on the issue, and his heart appears to be in the right place. He does an excellent job of detailing the extent of the problem across the country and how it is detrimental at both the individual and societal level. However, his diagnosis of the roots causes, and by extension his prescriptions for a solution, are constrained by the same ideological blinders that have plagued his fellow Democrats for generations.

The report addresses how nearly 50% of Americans report feeling some level of loneliness or isolation, a consistent problem across all demographics and social classes. As social animals, humans physiologically require social connection in much the same way they require food or water. Lack of connection correlates with increased risk of heart disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. Murthy even cites a study that shows it can increase the risk of premature death to levels comparable with habitual smoking. (RELATED: Loneliness Posing Risk As Deadly As Frequent Smoking, Surgeon General Says)

The report recommends four steps people can take to combat the epidemic (on top of its more ambitious recommendations at the societal level): phone a friend; invite someone over for dinner; engage in deeper conversations; and look for more opportunities to serve others. These solutions sound as naive as they do commonsensible. Who wouldn’t engage in these activities if they were as easy to accomplish as they sound?

Despite being on the left himself, some critiqued Murthy’s report from the left flank. These four simple steps are so difficult, as with all problems it would seem, due to the predations of capitalism. The report “was a missed opportunity to point out the volatile mix of economic precarity, status anxiety, and disconnection from meaningful work” that stems from capitalist competition and leads Americans to prioritize productivity over well-being.

This is true to an extent. Certainly the hollowing out of America’s manufacturing sector has weakened the sense community and obligation that many small towns were based upon for generations. However, capitalism was never meant to provide a holistic approach to society. It is not itself a value system that can provide a shared sense of community. Rather, it grafts onto pre-existing social foundations, some of which are better disposed to human flourishing and connection.

The left’s solution is to provide more of the social foundation already failing people — the state acting as caregiver and facilitator of all things good. Built into the solution is the assumption that social connection cannot take root unless the government takes steps to facilitate it.

Take for example, pillar one of Murthy’s societal recommendations: that steps be taken to “strengthen social infrastructure in local communities” and “establish and scale community connection programs.” But who really thinks more community gardens or bowling leagues are going to establish substantial connections between individuals where none already exist?

Social connection builds up organically through repeated interactions that establish trust and obligation between community members over time. “Social infrastructure” can only help foster connection to the extent that community members have an interest in developing it to meet shared goals and needs. This is not something that can be so easily replicated externally by a government planner. (RELATED: The Most Conservative Movie Of The Year Exposes Everything That’s Wrong With Biden’s America)

This reveals the true shortcoming of the Murthy report. He can never admit how public policy over the past several decades has been a major factor in eroding social connection in the first place. The progressive social engineering of a more secular and gender neutral society has led to a decline in both church attendance and voluntary organizations that once built the bedrock of organic American social connection. Now that it’s gone, it will be exceedingly difficult to replace artificially. However, those with absolute faith in the progressive worldview can still not accept it has produced negative outcomes.

The solution, according to the architects of these policies and their ideological forebears, is always more government action in pursuit of progressive utopia. Murthy’s report cannot produce its stated goals because success would require a rejection of the very ideology they’re based on.