Solitude during a Pandemic
Selected Paragraphs on Social-Distancing & Self-Isolation:
"All human evil comes from a single cause, man's inability to sit still in a room!"
— Blaise Pascal
As humanity evolves, more work will depend on the brain and machine, and less on the body; physical movement will be minimal, while slowness/stillness becomes the norm and motion only limited to basic survival needs. Stillness will be maximal, all day, all life long, as we think more and move less, keeping the mind active and the body still, like an atrophied organ. In The Last Question, Isaac Asimov suggested that we will totally do without our bodies, that we may still keep anyway, somewhere, safe and sound, but unused, while our minds will be freely traveling, at maximum speed. However, for the nearer future, the picture will be close to this:
Physical exercise is complicated by many unnecessary obsessions. People exercise for several reasons:
To socialize with other people during exercise.
There is no need to leave your home and find a place to exercise, surrounded by people and hearing music, conversations and an instructor you don't like, sharing objects used by tens of others like you, only to risk your health more. No need to search for an empty peaceful street where you can safely walk, jog or run, without getting hit by strangers, or cars, Heaven forbid.
When we enter a restaurant we have no longer control over what will happen next! We put our fate on a silver platter and hand it over to those in charge of the place, hoping that they will care. But why should they? They have tens or hundreds of others like you to wait on; they know nothing about each one's health conditions, family history, food preferences, nutrient deficiencies, allergy, etc. And above all, there is no or minimal censorship over what they serve: once you fall ill, it's no one's fault but you. You cannot even choose the company of other customers or complain about them; you chose to share in public what is in fact so personal and private: your health, let alone your taste. You chose to share the same air in their lungs, the seats and tables where they sat, the conversations forced on your ears, the smell of food you never ordered. Forget about dental care or proper hygiene before or after eating, if such things matter. It's strange that after all this, you have to pay more of your hard-earned money in the end. You pay for taking your own risk. Neuroscientists are right then when they say, "It's naturally thrilling to take risk." Enjoy.
Tribalism is instinctive; it's an innate behavior we are born with. Only afterwards it begins to take different forms we learn from society as we grow up.
Nature taught us to live in groups, and fight, kill and die for those groups. We flock around an alpha male to idolize, or demonize and trample a weakling, when we see others do so. Our body chemistry automatically changes when we move from a solitary mode to a social one, where individuals become no more individuals, merging into one individual. Oxytocin and vasopressin, the social hormones, naturally make us relax, trust and sympathize with those we are more familiar with, than those we are not, to easily mesh together.
Even enjoying the human touch or being with familiar people we love (which triggers the release of oxytocin and vasopressin, the social fear-fighting hormones) is a misleading animal instinct. Most of our insecurities cannot be permanently eliminated except through actions and decisions we alone can make, with or without socializing, however enjoyable the latter is. Having a safe place to live, a regular income, a network of contacts, and sufficient knowledge of the world and ourselves, are some of those actions. Our ancestors needed the closeness of bodies for collective physical work and for fighting intruders. What we need now most is the connection of minds and mindsets, which is more challenging, and not necessarily requiring the physical presence of others.
Michelangelo, Mozart and others were men of great intellect who had given their share to civilization. Yet, humanity has to move forward. They lived at an age with so many restrictions on free thinking, leaving less outlet for creativity except through arts, which had been even more mysterious then before the advances in neuroscience and biology explaining the chemistry and evolutionary function of senses. Had they lived today, they would have used their genius more effectively and directly to solve humanity's problems with.
Refining our senses by music, fine arts, travel, perfumes, gourmet food … makes us always attached to physical pleasures and reliant on our senses for perceiving the world, thus letting instinct interfere and our primitive brain flaw such perception. Senses are only the doors of the house, not the house itself. It's difficult to live in a house with constantly open doors. To focus, one must close their senses from inside first, without expecting someone outside to do so. One had better turn off their animal senses by their own will, not by wearing an earplug, blinder, mask, muzzle or muffler, that will make them look like animals anyway. "We are superior to animals," and animals aren't offended to hear this. They don't pay much attention to what we, humans, say, because to them we too are "just animals."
Looking at a work of art or listening to a piece of music evoking all the good
things in nature we instinctively love doesn't mean we should feel happy or even
As a pleasure, many people prefer nature's company to people's company, finding nature's pleasures less complex, awkward, intrusive, restrictive, and "emotionally costly": lifeless heartless nature is usually safer to love than living feeling humans. Similarly, many favor "working" on improving nature (discovering, inventing, designing, etc.) for themselves and others, over other social activities. Favoring objects over humans for company doesn't mean favoring lifelessness (death) or selfishness. It's the "paradox of life" to be born out of death; and the "paradox of self" to EXPAND through others and improve others' life more while keeping a distance from others (as do solitary scientists in their labs, writers at their desks, etc.).
When robots' intelligence surpasses humans', doing most human jobs, as some scientists expect in a few decades, other people will be there mostly to enjoy life and direct robots to serve such enjoyment, that robots can't feel. "Loving" other people's company then will be pointless, with artificial intelligence providing better "security & pleasure," the fundamental goals of living (self-preservation & self-gratification), than that provided by humans.
[However] the pleasures of nature are not as cheap as some naturalists claim, nor its benefits some environmentalists claim. Physical pleasures are the prime cause of GREED in humans' hearts, leading to materialism, decadence, and most crimes and wars. Such genetic insatiability is incurable and unstoppable so far. Who wouldn't like
Some can't live without traveling, spending much of their income on trips alone, to make regularly or occasionally. Yet, there are people who enjoyed their life without ever traveling, some by choice, some by disability or circumstance. Immanuel Kant never traveled more than 10 miles from Konigsberg, his native city. Al-Maarri, the medieval Arab philosopher, was blind and isolated, calling himself "The Double Prisoner." And so with Asimov's claustrophilia, Montagne's retirement from society, etc. Whether forced or chosen, bored with or accepted, it helped them be more creative and useful to humanity.
Tourism is an unstable field because it's based on instinct. No wonder some in the tourism industry go to extremes, doing whatever handy, expedient, ethical or not, to attract tourists. They know they must pander to customers, sometimes acting like pimps, pathological liars, or outright beggars, all because of their fear, if not certainty, that sooner or later their stock will expire, that they must squeeze every penny out of their victim.
[...] Objects can do that we and others can't, in sex and other fields of life. As civilization moves forward, objects become part of us, literally, playing common human roles, physical and social. We are objects ourselves, who come from and return to nature.
Books, tools, machines, inventions, science and Mother Nature herself are lifeless entities, yet they GIVE life and improve it better than our mere social or physical intimacy does. These were the "passion" of great minds throughout history (Newton, Tesla, etc.) who have changed our life by devoting theirs to those objects they loved and spent most of their life with. Such or any love can turn into lust, and vice versa, esp. if one knows that libido can be directed toward virtually anything, and one believes they direct it toward "worthy" things, helping oneself and others most.
Addiction to other people is the most prevalent type of addiction, afflicting the majority of humans; yet it's the most ignored, misconceived, and even applauded. Its causes, harms and possible treatments thus remain the least discussed. Somehow people are afraid to discuss addiction to other people, lest they offend or lose other people, ending up alone and facing the stigma and curse of solitude, that most cultures and books negatively depict. Living alone on a desert island or in solitary confinement would be a nightmare to many, and a harsh punishment in several judicial systems.
This is simply a broader argument about and against addiction to being with other people, to the company of other people, any people, which is the root problem of all the above problems. A chronic people-addict merely suffers for being alone, or silent, that they always need others to socialize with, friends or strangers—while standing in line, sitting in a waiting room, traveling a long distance, chatting on phone, on line, etc.
People think they would be missing life if they stayed alone. They believe life is too short to live in solitude. They want to have maximum happiness, but they don't know "how to be happy." So, they run to each other seeking the answer. They keep moving from one group of people to the other to find the answer. They fail, and all they get is diversion, not happiness.
The nature of addiction to people differs from other types of addiction, because it involves several body hormones and different evolutionary functions. Oxytocin is usually mentioned, positively, as the fear-fighting, cuddling, social hormone that bonds people together, and pleases them too by keeping the levels of other endorphins stable. We don't mention its negative side, when such strong bonds eventually break, after having been growing for years, or a lifetime. The price we pay is so high:
1. We lose great energy with other people, consuming our mental and physical stamina, and leaving little for our other non-social needs. Developing few or many relationships can equally consume our "life energy," that we devote to finding, nurturing and maintaining such relationships. We have to find time in our schedule to attend weddings, funerals, birthdays, parties ... preparing ourselves with the right words and the right gifts. We have to regularly meet, talk, smile and interact from time to time, else we will slip their memory. Even when we are apart, we must send post cards, flowers, parcels; or make apologetic phone calls, in all special and non-special occasions, on public or private holidays ... otherwise, we become far from heart as we are from sight. And if we fail to fulfill any of these social obligations, one must be armed with the right apologies, excuses, lies, and most eloquent expressions of guilt and remorse in our dictionary, for circumstances we have no control over.
4. We sacrifice physical security, by sharing the same air we breathe, the food we eat, and even our bodies, when showing affection socially or sexually, with all the health hazards resulting from such sharing. Most obviously, we share the same space, which leads to crowdedness, as in populous areas, minimizing the quality of all aspects of life: education, health, transport, communication, security, work, and cooperation. It minimizes life itself, as life turns into chaos and order gets lost. Then when a disaster strikes it's the loss of human life that is maximized, as the other ugly face of "socializing" shows up in
Sometimes, the human bondage isn't only regressive, but fatal. Refusing to abandon one's environment and relationships they have had for years, despite its harms, is literally "clinging to one's grave," like those overstaying in war/pandemic zones, or mere pathetic relationships. Their knowledge of the price they pay and risk they take every minute is useless, up until the end when a tragedy strikes. Many die this way, apparently by a gunshot, bomb or virus, but in actuality they die by their attachment to the past, land, and people they can't break away from, the real culprit. The very source of happiness—other people—becomes a cause of death. Had they reasoned with and accepted reality, exercised caution and not thrown it to the wind, and refused to be blinded by instinct and mere brain chemistry, they could've seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and survived.
Asceticism is not only for monks, recluses, loners or nerds. Nor is it just to fulfill a religious commandment, or to follow a tradition, or to subject oneself to voluntary punishment. It is to fulfill a commandment by our common sense, to obey the voice of Reason. It's for the recluse in the mountain, as it is for a city mother of five, or a middle-class employee who lives a 24x7 hectic, buzzing lifestyle. We are in dire need for asceticism, because we have higher aspirations in life, that our body senses not only fail to satisfy, but also interfere with pursuing such aspirations. Some call those higher needs spiritual, divine or mystic; but recently we found that they only take place, not too far from where we are sitting now, in the higher brain, primarily its frontal cortex—a part of the physical body you and I have.
Asceticism is superior to eremitism and other forms of monastic life, that are only limited to certain places and humans. The ascetic can live anywhere, adjusting himself to life in any environment with any people. He can be a hermit or a monk, secular or religious, but not necessarily, for he can also be anyone: a king, a servant, a soldier, a scientist …
An ascetic can abstain from all animal pleasures including social pleasures, that are also instinctive, equally shared by humans and animals, who spend much of their life mingling, watching, touching, prattling with each other, for no reason other than the compulsive urge to do so. A hermit, loner or introvert may abstain from the company of people, yet can still fall prey to sensual pleasures disturbing his solitude, to an addictive degree, and become addicted to food, TV, games, porn, or "social" media undermining the meaning of solitude. Asceticism is a broader concept, including eremitism, self-control and other virtues within.
An ascetic, a hermit or not, has the flexibility to live with or without other people, as one cannot avoid interaction with others, and people need people to keep the wheel of civilization turning. The Desert Fathers described the real hermit as one who can retire to himself, wherever he is. An ascetic thus needs prudence to distinguish between people and things he falsely loves and those he really needs. A virtue without prudence/wisdom is a vice.
Since eremitism is a form of asceticism, one cannot diminish the role of hermits in their hermitages, scientists confined in their labs, writers bound to their desks, stay-home mothers raising children, or just students studying for their exams: the benefits of creative solitude are many. But for such creativity to exist, one needs to remove all forms of disturbance, from one's room and mind. The relinquishment of unnecessary "feelings and possessions" is what asceticism is about. It's the adoption of simple living, by which we constantly remember the simplest fact in life: we live to enjoy ourselves.
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Asceticism is attained gradually, not suddenly, for one to take time replacing old pleasures with new ones. It is flexible and never strict; the ascetic mustn't enjoy asceticism for itself, as it's only a tool for happiness, otherwise he ends up with self-abuse and masochism, which undermine the whole meaning of life. No principle, belief or virtue should ever be taken seriously or for itself, except the constant pursuit of pleasure, without which all our actions and endeavors are void of meaning.
History is full of success stories of ascetic people from all walks of life, who managed to live as life-long ascetics while still enjoying life to the full. Inexperienced detractors call it austerity, but to the ascetic it is just simple living:
In ascetic societies people progress faster than those in materialistic ones. Great empires fell when rulers and citizens succumbed to physical obsessions, hampering free thinking and inflicting population with gluttony and greed for "extra" possessions and power, at the expense of fellow humans' "basic" needs, which creates inequality, division and conflicts among themselves as well as with foreign countries. Conversely, countries whose citizens could cope with austerity measures, temporarily implemented to achieve a national goal for a better future for their country, grew faster (than those who have the wish but not the will to realize it).
Some beliefs and philosophies were founded by enlightened ascetics who sought welfare for the entire humanity. Others were spread by force, deception and appeal to instinct. And many were the bitter fruit of "forced" asceticism whose followers eventually "vomited" it, shifting from extreme austerity to extreme materialism—as most Western societies did, unfortunately with millions of followers worldwide infected by their media.
Long before their demise, materialistic civilizations go through stages of decline. The intelligentsia becomes the property of corrupt court and ignorant masses, if not thrown behind bars or locked up in their houses or egos. Scientists design more tools of destruction and consumerism. And even media, arts and literature pander to the whims of the public (comedies, parodies, lifestyle, etc.). Meanwhile, reform, equality, or interest in future planning becomes more and more difficult. Thus resources are gradually wasted and environment damaged, because of Man's ominous abuse of Nature, to which he is superior yet without her he is nonexistent. Humans refine themselves by going "above" their nature (not against it), by rational asceticism.