George Monbiot’s attempt to politicize depression is manipulative, and ignores the necessity for society and individualism to peacefully coexist.

The Politicization of Loneliness Why making depression about ideologies makes me angry
Blog Blog Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 22:11

Two necessary disclaimers are in order before I pour out my anger and disappointment at British writer and political activist George Monbiot’s seemingly excellent (but in reality extremely misplaced) ideas about loneliness, depression, society and individualism.

One, I am recovering from clinical depression which plagued me for 2 years, and was characterized by suicidal loneliness.

Two, I believe in individualism, that ‘society’ and ‘state’ are not necessarily ‘good’ although very much required, and that individual freedoms are supreme.

There can be no disagreement with anyone who says that undesirable loneliness is dangerous and needs to be addressed at a social level. Which is why, Monbiot’s musical project to address this problem of epidemic proportions is to be appreciated, notwithstanding his latest article, which makes all sorts of wild and mindless conjectures and seems to be a plug for his music project.

To begin with, Monbiot seems to have a very convenient enemy for his cause: Neoliberalism (whatever he or The Guardian mean by that, because no one really uses it anymore except as a meaningless abuse.)

He says that the mental illness plague that we are witnessing today is an indictment of the ‘system’, a sweeping, White-Imperialist generalization that the whole world runs under one definitive ‘system’ of his imagination.

He complains about ‘social rupture’, without understanding why it happens and asking if it is always undesirable.

He writes,

“There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.” (emphasis added)

You can pardon one for not understanding my mental illness, but what is unpardonable is misrepresenting my mental illness with a political agenda.

George Monbiot.  (Image: Adrian Arbib via Wikimedia Commons)

Ideology plays about as much a role in my depression as my diet – which is to say that it does, but that’s not what it’s about.

We are not told “everywhere” that we will prosper through “competitive self-interest” and “extreme individualism”. On the contrary, where I grew up, self-interest is looked at with derision and individualism is almost satanic.

His argument is a nice little strawman. Blaming ‘neoliberalism’ for depression is nothing but abdicating personal responsibility each of us has to make this world a better place. Much like how capitalism is blamed for ‘hijacking feminism’, as if our patriarchy is not entrenched beyond ideologies.

Monbiot seems to assume that societies are good, and social rupture is bad.

At the centre of Indian politics today is the rupture of a society, a society which remains exclusionary, conservative and depressing. So much so, that Dr. BR Ambedkar called the oppressed castes as “Depressed Classes”. They were depressed by the society, with a social system, their individual identity made irrelevant. The fight against the caste-system is what “social rupture” looks like, and the more liberal and sensible among us celebrate it here.

In our ‘system’, it is the society and family which decides who we are. They snatch our individual identities away from us for a ‘better society’ or in the ‘interest of the family’. The faceless society decides our class, caste, gender and sexuality. It is the human community which seeks to control the way individuals think and act, even in our most private spaces. It imposes ideas of ‘normal’ on us, sometimes to the extent that the genuine need to be alone is diagnosed as a ‘disease’.

Why is seeking individualism and independent identity wrong, and society higher than the individual, especially when the root cause of depression itself could be the society and people around you?

In his TEDx talk several years ago, Andrew Solomon made a perceptive point - the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.

What pulls some of us out of depression is not just knowing that there are people around us who love us, but in knowing that that we matter. I need to love myself.  I need to know that I have an individual identity, something to give to this world. What brings me back is knowing that whatever “society” might throw at us, I am special with something to offer. Knowing that I will be the last man standing for myself, if the need be, strengthens me. That is individualism, and I shall embrace it, and it does not stop me from extending a helping hand to another person.

The opposite of loneliness is not being a part of a human society and caring for people. I could be in a room full of good people, care for them, and yet be depressed and lonely. The opposite of loneliness is feeling the pulse from within, at an individual level.

Loneliness goes away when you want to interact with other people, and you do so only when you are self-confident and look after your own needs. Our needs are our greatest assets, Solomon remarked in the same TEDx talk, and it is in catering to our needs that we also learn to participate in the give and take of society.

Competition too is important. A society which does not reward enterprise kills individual human spirit. Every human being is not cut from the same cloth, we are all different people with different needs. Many of us need to compete and win, because that’s what brings us back to life.

Neoliberalism has nothing to do with any of this. In fact, our loneliness often emerges from a particular idea of ‘social well-being’ being imposed on us. People who disagree get suffocated, unable to express their differences with a society which restricts our freedom to experiment with our minds and bodies.

The imposition of this ‘homogeneous’ idea of a society seems pretty close to the ideology of Monbiot's now dead Respect Party. Oh how depressed and lonely I would be in a room full of self-important Leftist activists telling me what I should do with my life.

He concludes,

This does not require a policy response. It requires something much bigger: the reappraisal of an entire worldview. Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together or we fall apart.(emphasis added)

Yes, it does not require a policy response. What it requires is not listening to harebrained, politically-motivated, blinkered, clueless, White-crocodile-teary men with ideas such as the above.

There is no doubt that “extreme” individualism is bad – because “extreme” anything is bad. “Extreme” society is the worst.

We don’t have to tell people that they should go it alone, but that they are capable of going it alone if need be. It is indeed in our interest to live within a society and care for each other.

We don’t have to stand together OR fall apart, that is a manipulative false dilemma. You can stand at a distance, you can even stand alone and you certainly can choose not to be pulled down with everyone else or stand amidst everyone and suffocate yourself to death.

It is societal imposition of the worst order and pretty cheap politicking to provide us with such impossible choices.

We could all blame some concept like neoliberalism and fight an easy and false battle, but it takes real courage to own depression and loneliness as our personal battles, which we fight inside our homes and social circles, for any ‘system’ is the anathema to encouraging individual spirit, and it is that spirit which pulls us back from the dark side.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

Identity of the author withheld on request.


Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.