By Saswat Pattanayak

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

Normalization of loneliness therefore typifies capitalism without
reference to its deliberate construction. Instead of recognizing it as a
contradiction within the irrational class 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 the lonely lives. The abandoned in love is sympathized, the
Devdas is romanticized, the 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

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 are 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

And we must sail through this ocean of denial as we emerge as the
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 huge 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 laborer spending the savings to hope for 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 a power, the rebels among us
have recently manufactured an outlet, we conveniently call social media,
formerly known as virtual media. Traversing of 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 fames,
to aspire for a higher Klout score and to 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 the comforts, we exaggerate
the role technology plays so that we can render judgments on armed resistance.
We equivocally denounce the violence perpetuated by ruling class as well as the
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 we are taken aback when oppressions occur closer home. We
recognize the illogic of the 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 each 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. Labor
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 are 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 remains no longer an epithet but an accompanying
feature of our atomized society, powerlessness becomes a payoff.

Loneliness therefore stands opposed not to fun, frolic, requited
love; rather it clashes with the collective. One remains lonely no matter 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 the history as a tool of mass liberation, we get seduced to 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, 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 favorite
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 favor 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.

(Originally published in Kindle Magazine)


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