The Lonely World of Contemporary Life

In his famous definition of man as a “political animal,” Aristotle acknowledges the social nature of human beings who seek a sense of belonging and participation in a family and in a society as an essential element of a happy life. Because man is not self-sufficient when isolated and is neither a beast nor a god, “man is thus intended by nature to be a part of a political whole.” Man is neither a lone wolf in no need of human association nor an Olympian god above mortal existence. The Bible also defines man’s inherent social nature. In the book of Genesis, God creates man and woman as companions because “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” And in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon teaches that “two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” The classical and Biblical view of man explains the origins of human society as natural and organic, not some social contract devised by man to protect the weak from the strong as Thomas Hobbes argues in Leviathan. Human beings live in families and belong to societies for the purposes of mutual helpfulness and mutual enjoyment.

In The Odyssey, Homer presents this image of man participating in a society on the basis of mutual helpfulness and mutual enjoyment as the height of civilization or the art of living well. When Odysseus visits Phaeacia and receives the welcome of old-world hospitality, he learns that the Phaeacians live in harmony and peace, everyone contributing to the good of the society: the king and queen who rule, the farmers who produce the grain and grow the grapes, the women who weave beautiful clothing, the men who build sturdy ships, the young dancers who delight their audience, and the bard whose lyre moves hearts with his music. As they entertain Odysseus as a royal guest, hear the stories of his adventures, and invite him to participate in their Olympic Games, Odysseus marvels at the fullness of joy and the abundant prosperity of the inhabitants. He remarks to his host, “I myself feel that there is nothing more delightful than when the festive mood reigns in a whole people’s hearts and the banqueters listen to a minstrel from their seats in the hall, when the tables before them are laden with bread and meat, and a steward carries around the wine he has drawn from the bowl and fills their cups. This, to my way of thinking, is something like perfection.” Man’s social nature of participating in a society by the labor he contributes for the common good and of enjoying all the talents of others and the blessings of festivity— dance, music, storytelling, athletics—grants to him an abundant life rich in happiness.

However, man’s social nature suffers when he lives a solitary life in isolation, removed from the benefits of association with neighbors and membership in a larger society. In portraying the Cyclops, the one-eyed monsters who live in caves and cannibalize their victims, Homer depicts the nature of barbarians who do not live in a society with rulers and laws but confine themselves to the darkness of caves they share with the animals. They live as individuals or outcasts responsible to no kings, contribute nothing to the common good of an entire people, and pass their time merely eating, drinking, and sleeping with gluttonous appetite. On an island where Odysseus seeks food, several Cyclops live in proximity, but they live without unity, a common purpose, or in a state of mutual cooperation. Living in slovenly caves fit for animals, they exist in a state of ignorance symbolized by their one eye that perceives only the physical dimension of life (the struggle for survival), not the festive, aesthetic, or social aspects that cultivate the art of living well. Their solitary, unsocial nature breeds their barbaric, crude way of way in which they neither give nor receive in mutual helpfulness or enjoyment.

Contemporary life also breeds its current forms of loneliness that also impoverish human lives. So much of modern society consists of fragmented lives and autonomous individuals who glamorize absolute freedom to do and live as they wish with no restrictions, obligations, or commitments. In the mania about diversity and multiculturalism as some ultimate, unconditional good, no common ground or moral consensus governs society about social and cultural issues. Marriage, family, and children do not have the status of desirable objective goods that enrich a person’s life. Divorce, contraception, abortion, cohabitation, and same-sex marriage do not carry with them the infamy of disgrace or shame. In short, the ancient Greek distinction between civilized and barbaric, living and living well, has been abolished. Many groups live in their own cave of ideology disconnected from the common purpose of a human society founded on man’s social nature of mutual giving and receiving for a higher purpose than self-gratification. The idea of a common good depends on a people’s knowledge of justice and an education in virtue and morality—truths founded on pillars of timeless laws and universal standards known as the natural Law or the Ten Commandments. The concept of the common good—meaning the flourishing of families, the welfare of children, and prospects of the future generations—does not influence modern political or economic thinking.

How does a government with a national debt of $19 trillion, a credit-card culture that enslaves many to a lifetime of interest payments, a culture that requires both parents to work to afford the cost of living at the expense of the care of children, and schools that promote alternative life-styles and gender ideology to the young generation have any sense of a common good? How can tax-funded organizations like Planned Parenthood indoctrinating schoolchildren in contraception, abortion, and sexual license contribute anything to moral responsibility or a stable society—a civilization formed by strong families that form the hearts and consciences of their children? How can population-control policies that endanger human health with chemicals, surgeries, and drugs add anything to the happiness of human beings or the common good of a society, especially when Western nations fail to replace themselves with low-birth rates of 1.2 children per family?

Loneliness abounds everywhere. Children in divorced families miss one of their parents. As the victim of divorce or a fatherless family, the abandoned spouse suffers the isolation of single-parent families that no longer have the benefit of a helpmate or the strength of another (“Two are better than one”). As families fragment and suffer attack in many insidious forms, their loss of unity and stability naturally affect the society at large that comes to consist of a random collection of individuals each pursuing their own vested interests or peculiar ideological cause with no concern for its effect upon children or the state of the family, the cell of society. Instead of a unified society with a moral consensus that respects the sanctity of human life and families with committed mothers and fathers who cherish children as the center of their lives, a culture degenerates to a number of isolated caves—groups who never think beyond their immediate pleasure or selfish appetite, who have no sense of a civilized society, and who live only in the darkness of the present moment with no sense of a future or with no responsibility to the next generation.

The cure to loneliness, as revealed in God’s words in Genesis, is marriage, children, and family. Families that honor marriage and value children create a culture of life, relationships of mutual giving and receiving, mutual helpfulness and enjoyment, that gives each person a sense of belonging, affection, and obligation that orders life toward a greater universal good and an abundant happiness that surpasses individual autonomy and the self-interest of one special group at the expense of an entire society and the next generation. Husbands and wives help and comfort one another, children care for their parents in their old age, brothers and sisters become each other’s best friends and confidants, and families becomes sources of grace to other families. Wherever persons and societies uphold the nature of the family as the cell of society and as the center of civilization, isolation and loneliness do not rob persons of the abundant life Christ promised all who follow Him.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
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