“What should I do with my eyes? What should I watch?”


The association of loneliness with the personal is based on a lingering myth. Far from being an individual symptom, loneliness is the inevitable outcome of an individualistic society. It is a state of being that prevents a person from exercising class prerogative and realizing their revolutionary potential. And to that extent, loneliness is a politically disempowered experience.

Normalization of loneliness therefore, typifies capitalism, without reference to its deliberate construction. Instead of recognizing it as a contradiction within an irrationally class based society, it is glamorized, iconized and in many instances mourned as an aberration, as individual failing. From the suicides of celebrities to abstract artistries, select group of achievers are exalted for leading lonely lives. The abandoned in love are sympathized, the Devdas is romanticized, raw emotions of the jilted are exemplified. Reactionary arrangements of conservative ethos thrive through the cries of lamenting souls, the deep nostalgia of the good old days making the lonely present ever more miserable. The future appears cynical, pessimistic; its tone contemptuous and promises wry.

A sense of helplessness supported by individual failures reifies the collective – in identification and uncritical celebration of the lonely, they may appear to be exceptions, but in reality, within a regressive system founded upon irrationalities, the lonely can never be unique. Loneliness is the rule of capitalism. Some of us merely live in denial of how lonely we are. Not because we aren’t intelligent enough to discern, but because we lack the courage to embrace the facets of loneliness, to own our petals of dejection, to simply give in and immerse in our wretchedness. Failing to completely appreciate our loneliness, the inalienable alienation, the deep despondency that truly characterizes us, we indulge in falsehoods, in make-believe worlds of romancing the abstract and falling for our fellow commodities. As extreme examples, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad are not symbols of i-liberation, they are i-llusions we must chase after, lest we end up like our heroes, the paragons of loneliness – the suiciding artists – those who refused to live in denials of their loneliness.

“To convey a purpose and to build power, the rebels among us have recently manufactured an outlet we conveniently call social media, formerly known as virtual media.”

And we must sail through this ocean of denial as we emerge alienated. The workers at the car factory who can never own one, the voters of the democracy that can never rule, the consumers of the market who will never get to monopolize, the crestfallen audience falling in love with stars of the silver screen, the vast majority of paupers who will never don the clothes of the prince, the rags who will never become riches, the slumdogs never to become millionaires, the daily wage labourer spending his savings on a jackpot. The alienated must carry on because to even commit suicide, one needs to feel sufficiently attached to loneliness.

As Ernest Mandel noted of alienation, it was “seized upon to explain the miseries of modern life, and the ‘lonely crowd’, those aggregations of atomized city dwellers who feel crushed and benumbed by the weight of a social system in which they have neither significant purpose nor decision-making power.”

To convey a purpose and to build power, the rebels among us have recently manufactured an outlet we conveniently call social media, formerly known as virtual media. Traversing this path from virtual to the social has made compulsive liars of us; faintly suppressing our wishes to emerge as legends in our own minds, we compete for our moments of online fame, to aspire for a higher Klout score and collect who we call our followers. They follow us to our graves, for we as such are politically dead; merely social, virtually. In the veil of status updates and tweets, we relinquish the requirements of what comprises a political act. In the name of new media, we comfortably ignore the need to organize a historical force that can effectively challenge the status quo. In a refusal to surrender our comforts, we exaggerate the role technology plays so that we can pass judgments on armed resistance. We equivocally denounce the violence perpetuated by ruling classes as well as those by organized masses. Failing to physically stand with the resisters, we become the virtual peaceniks, or depending on how co-opted we are, the virtual (paper) tigers. We attack the military and the Maoists, the patriots and the Snowdens, the police and the occupiers. Apparently we understand the repressive governments and yet are taken aback when oppressions happen closer home. We recognize the illogic of free speech, but we seem never to get enough of that freedom as a birthright.

In isolation and without a political will, as relentless workers and ceaseless consumers, we remain as alienated today as we were when Herbert Marcuse wrote how the individuals are isolated from and set against one other – “They are linked in the commodities they exchange rather than in their persons. A person’s alienation from himself/herself is simultaneously an estrangement from his/her fellow beings.” In so far as we keep producing wealth, knowledge, or status updates for the growth of the entities that own them, none of that matters as revolutionary tools. As Marx wrote, “The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he/she produces, the more his/her production increases in power and size. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he/she creates. The devaluation of the world of men/women is in direct proportion to the increasing value of the world of things. Labour produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity – and this at the same rate at which it produces commodities in general.”

This reification (Verdinglichung) through which “capitalist society makes all personal relations between beings take the form of objective relations between things” (Marcus), has rendered our most personal engagements essentially a matter of material exchanges, much as we human participants are rarely treated more than commodities. In fact, with the models of advertising that various media platforms adopt, we are no longer the customers, but have emerged as products ourselves – as a result, our personal information is sold to various corporations for commercial gains, with or without our consent. In the world of mass produced yet scantly organized dissent, devaluation of revolutionaries becomes a repercussion. When being lonely in a crowd no longer remains an epithet but an accompanying feature of our atomized society, powerlessness becomes a payoff.

“Fortunately, the options are still available while we have the necessary means to critically explore loneliness.”

Loneliness therefore stands opposed not to fun, frolic, requited love; rather it clashes with the collective. One remains lonely despite the partying, but when it comes to effectively ruin it, the courage appears lacking because zombies surround the scene as a matter of rule. And instead of utilizing history as a tool of mass liberation, we get seduced by the idea of nirvana; self-actualization triumphs over all others as a goal, bank savings a tactic, and retirement plans a reverie. From alcoholics to drug abusers, from wealth addicts to fame chasers, our sources of inspirations remain self-proclaimed nonconformists who otherwise conform to an individualistic value system. Because within our impossibly competitive society, where most of us generally wait for our turns to die anyway, we find ourselves succored through the war stories of our tragic figures. TED events and chicken soups sustain our parasitical souls, while self-love fetishism goes parallel with our favourite makeover actors.

As Marx observed of a society that has not yet altered radically, “On the one hand, there have started into life industrial and scientific forces, which no epoch of the former human history had ever suspected. On the other hand, there exist symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors of the Roman Empire. In our days everything seems pregnant with its contrary. Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labour, we behold starving and overworking it. The new-fangled sources of wealth, by some strange weird spell, are turned into sources of want. The victories of art seem bought by loss of character.”

Fortunately, the options are still available while we have the necessary means to critically explore loneliness. Even as an idealistic pursuance would result in a state of resignation and make us fall in love with solitude once more, a materialistic interpretation of our loneliness can indeed convert the living history in our favour in an empowering, meaningful way, considering the need to recognize the huge majority among us as the lonely – rendered thus politically. Contrary to claims, people at the top are not lonely, they are escapists. The lonely are at the bottom rung. And we shall remain no longer so, once we see ourselves forsaken not in some inescapable selfish love, but find ourselves unwilling to escape the political struggles to break free from the chains that bind us to solitary confinements.

Saswat Pattanayak is a New York-based journalist, photographer, atheist, third-wave feminist, LGBT ally, black power comrade and academic non-elite who refuses to give up his association with Kindle. A true comrade.

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