Sean Seepersad, Ph.D.

Sean Seepersad Ph.D.

Web of Loneliness

Police Shootings, Racism, Brexit, Trump. What Is Going On?

Thinking about the deep divides in society and how it is related to loneliness.

Posted Jul 08, 2016

K-Screen Shots/Flickr
Source: K-Screen Shots/Flickr

What is going on in the world? Why do we allow fear, hate, racism and xenophobia to become a rampant mobilizing force in society? It seems that there is no end to the violence that is perpetrated in society. Just look at some of the most recent events that have been happening.

The most recent of these is the killing of five police officers and the injury of seven others in Dallas, TX. It took place at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. These protests were in response to the most recent publicized killings of two black men in separate incidents by police officers – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. These killings became nationwide news, with President Obama in his latest statement calling police shootings “an American issue.” Even the Governor of Minnesota said, "Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and the passengers, were white? I don't think it would have. So I'm forced to confront, and I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront, that this kind of racism exists."

But these most recent cases of violence, whether against the police, or against minorities, appear to be symptomatic of a much broader issue of violence based on distrust, fear, hatred, and racism. Just a week ago Jesse Williams gave a moving acceptance speech on BET about race and social justice, which immediately went viral and produced both positive and negative reactions. Many folks applauded Jesse for raising these issues, while others accused him of being racist and petitioned for him to be fired. The deeply divided reaction to his speech shows the strong feelings that exist in Americans, feelings of being attacked by the “other” group.

And while America certainly does show up with the most glaring examples of these divides, it is certainly not alone in the developed world. Brexit over in the UK highlighted the strongly divided feelings that exist over there as well. Brexit was a referendum held to determine whether the UK should stay or leave the European Union. The referendum created strong emotions on either side. Some have argued that the whole motivation behind votes for “leave” with Brexit was based on xenophobia and racism. The argument was that the UK needed more control over their immigration policies.

And while Brexit is an example of it in other countries, presidential candidate Donald Trump has been a polarizing figure in these discussions in the US as well. In one of his earliest speeches he talked about Mexicans crossing the border, saying, “They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He has also advocated for a ban on all Muslims traveling to the US. It is no secret that his rallies have had strong racist elements in it.

I could certainly go on and on with examples. It is sad indeed that it is not only easy to come up with these examples of divides within our society, but that I’m sure most readers know about all of these events quite readily. They have become viral, venomous, and numerous. The point of this post is not to argue for one side or another, but rather to ask the question, why?

Understandably there are many reasons why these incidents seem to be occurring and occurring more frequently – racism, gun laws, immigration policy, the economy, etc. The list can go on and on, but one thing I think contributes to it, is what seems to be the continued fragmentation of society. Drawing from a few different studies, prominent loneliness research Cacioppo argued that rates of loneliness have been increasing in society. One can also think of other trends contributing to society’s fragmentation: people are more likely to be living alone, the age of marriage is increasing, less people are getting married, and the increasing rates of narcissism.

It seems to me more and more that it is becoming harder to establish and maintain relationships. People are becoming much more focused on their own individual needs and desires, less likely to compromise or empathize, and as a result are becoming more distrustful and fearful of others. The need to belong, to connect to others, has been described as fundamental, universal human need. Not only is it a basic need but it also serves an evolutionary purpose ensuring the survival of the species. When you have a society in which its citizens are becoming more lonely and less trusting of others, it negatively affects not only the individuals’ health in that society (increased mortality, sleep disorders, obesity, increased blood pressure, depression, etc.), but on a much broader level, it seems to lead to a collapsing of society as well. It may be overly simplistic to say reducing individuals’ loneliness will lead to be better society. It is hard to imagine things getting so out of hand though, if individuals became more trusting, empathetic, and self-sacrificing; essentially developing the basic building blocks needed for strong relationships.

For more on loneliness, visit Web of Loneliness

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