Loneliness and Our Craving for Community – Free Ebook

We are, a lot of us, a great deal sadder,
more anxious, more incomplete and more restless

than we really need to be because of something
very large that is missing from our lives.

What’s worse, we don’t even know what
this thing is and how much we crave it, because

we don’t have the right concepts, experience
or encouragement to help us locate it. What

we long for and are slowly dying without is:
community.

They tell us that we are suffering for all
sorts of reasons: because we’re afraid of

intimacy or are low on serotonin, are beset
by anxiety or trauma or are chronically dysfunctional

around attachment or trust.
These may be accurate enough descriptions

of our symptoms but they arguably leave the
real causes of our miseries untouched. To

come to the point, it’s worth holding on
to a basic historical insight: for most of

our time on this planet (by which one really
means, for 99% of homo sapiens’s evolutionary

existence), we lived in communities. That
is, groups of 20 or 30 people who worked together,

cooked communal meals, and lived and died
around each other. For most of history, we’d

watch the sun going down with the same people
we knew deeply, trusted, sometimes bickered

with but overall felt overwhelmingly connected
to. We’d shoot the breeze, we’d comfort

each other when we were sad, we’d drop in
unannounced on one another’s quarters, we’d

chat over our pains and stresses and at special
moments, we’d dance together and occasionally

fall into ritual ecstatic states where the
normal barriers between egos would dissolve.

It’s only very late on in history that we’ve
started living in condominiums, commuting

to work in offices with people whose values
we don’t share and eating for one in cities

of ten million strangers. Of course, arguments
from evolutionary history aren’t always

useful. For most of history we suffered from
chronic toothache and didn’t have access

to hot baths – but no one would argue against
our abandonment of our natural state in these

areas. Nevertheless, holding on to the idea
that we were once tribal and now most definitely

are not can help us to put a finger on something
that we may legitimately miss and urgently

need to recover a semblance of.

What happens to us outside of life in a tight-knit
community? Firstly, we get very concerned

– far too concerned – with falling in
love with one special person who (we’re

told) will end our customary sadness and provide
an answer to all our societal needs. Unsurprisingly,

this enormous pressure on what a relationship
should be is the single greatest contributor

to the collapse of unions that might, with
more manageable expectations and a more close-knit

friendship circle, be entirely viable. We
end up having to throw a lot of people away

when we want them to be that most cruel of
things: everything. Secondly, the very pressure

to be in a couple means we bolt into relationships
that should never have started and stick far

too long inside toxic situations out of terror
of singlehood. Thirdly, in our alienated condition,

the desire for connection can morph into a
longing for extreme success, fame and reknown:

we grow materially wildly and insatiably ambitious
out of an unquenched emotional need for nothing

more esoteric than some good friends. Even
if we do have some, they’re liable to be

scattered around the world, cocooned in their
own relationships or unavailable to us most

of the time: we’ve let our terror of intruding
on one another scupper a yet more precious

need for an atmosphere of near-constant mutual
assistance. Finally, our picture of what that

nebulous category ‘other people’ is like
grows very sombre because we meet one another

not in person, but via the media, which constantly
gives us cause to believe that other people

are fundamentally mad, extreme, dangerous
and cruel.

Even though we collectively pride ourselves
on living in highly innovative times, we remain

absurdly traditional in thinking about social
set ups. We have a million new apps a year,

but no one ever seeks to reinvent how people
might live together. Sadly but understandably,

communes don’t have a good reputation: one
thinks of religious extremists, weird fanatics

and messianic leaders. None of the genuine
advantages of bourgeois life or simply of

reasoned existence seem compatible with communal
living. Furthermore, everything legal and

commercial seems set up to frustrate any wish
to live together: land costs a fortune, building

is only for the very brave or the naive, how
would one work, who would do the laundry,

what would everyone think…?
Nevertheless, it’s worth pushing the imagination

a little, and sidestepping some of the practical
hurdles for long enough to get the mind working

(the material questions can always be solved
once an idea properly takes root).

Imagine, for a moment therefore, what it would
be like to live in an ideal kind of community.

It might be an elegant set of buildings in
a desert or on the edge of a forest. Everyone

would have a room, twenty or thirty in all,
modest but dignified, laid out amidst an array

of charming communal areas. Breakfast, lunch
and dinner (simple and nutritious) would be

eaten in company at long tables. There’d
be a commitment to look after one another,

and fellowship based around shared ideals
and values. The craving to ‘get ahead’

would subside: it would be enough just to
be accepted by this group. This would be one’s

tribe – to whom one would open one’s heart
and entrust a substantial part of one’s

life. We’d have a joint sense of what meaningful
labour was and some of the most important

work would be offering one another reassurance.
We might have partners, but we wouldn’t

expect them to be everything; a chance to
share thoughts and emotions with others would

take a lot of the pressure off couples. We’d
have a daily impression of mattering to people.

Our impulses to addiction, power and paranoia
would lessen. We’d rarely go online.

The point isn’t, right now, to have an exact
blueprint for a commune but to wake ourselves

up to our desire for one; after which everything
can flow. Our ancestors were unfortunate in

a thousand ways, but they may well have had
something we’re unknowingly dying for: their

own tribe.

Our perspective cards feature tools for a wiser, calmer perspective on life. They help to restore calm and clarity, even during difficult times.

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