Loneliness is a historically specific condition

Loneliness has become a "plague," and "epidemic" that strikes young and old. But loneliness is not a universal human condition. It is a historically specific one.

Before 1800, the word loneliness was not really used in the English language. Where it was used, it meant the same as oneliness - the state of being one or single. Trees were lonely; roads were lonely. Before the 19th century, people did live alone, but they weren't lonely.

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Loneliness requires two thing:

  1. A lack of meaning in one's relationships
  2. A sense of the self as separate from others

In pre-modern society, religion gave meaning to all existence. God was always there. But modernity brought uncertainty. Scientific medicine questioned the certainty of the soul, urbanisation disrupted traditional communities, and existential philosophy searched for meaning without God. In this context, loneliness was invented and maintained by neoliberal policies.

When we consider this emotion a product of history, rather than an automatic biological response, we can find more nuanced solutions to loneliness.

Loneliness is not a single emotion. It contains emotional states such as anger, sadness, jealousy, resentment, grief, and hope. Structural loneliness caused by poverty, infirmity, disability and illness is different from existential loneliness where a person is yearning for others. This means that tailored interventions are vital.

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