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This essay’s main theme is loneliness and social isolation.

It would appear that in the modern world people are feeling increased loneliness and separateness. Reports of studies show that a shockingly high proportion of adults have one or fewer persons with whom they can share their personal problems: Could it really be that over the last 20 years we have gone from a quarter of adults to almost half being in this near-friendless condition? Regardless of the authenticity of such studies, we can find any number of factors that might have contributed to such a situation.

As background for examination of the evidence and causes, let’s review a historical perspective on such matters. This time we’ll go way back. No, not back to the first people but to the days when bacteria were first learning to cooperate. (Is that far enough back for you?  J ) Back then, bacteria discovered that when different kinds of bacteria cooperate, they could make things easier on all of them. They formed bacterial mats with different bacteria in each layer of the mat. Such bacterial cooperation exists to this day. There are probably bacterial mats growing in your mouth at this moment. (That should make you want to floss well tonight.) These bacteria became dependent on one another, and could not thrive in isolation. Mutual interdependence was born. So cooperation and the presence of others can be traced back as far as you’d like to go in the story of life on this planet. Primates also live in social groups and do not survive long without them. Therefore the context in which human beings evolved was one in which a person would almost always be in the presence of other people. Certainly in hunting-and-gathering society the men hunted in groups because the hunt was more likely to be successful that way and it was considerably safer. If one of them got injured or sick on the hunt the others could take care of their weakened companion. For the women, there were always the children and then, too, women also would find working in groups more productive. There are many human tasks that are impossible or quite difficult if one attempts them alone but quite practical with the help of others.

From birth until death people were rarely alone. The human mind evolved to need, require, and thrive only with interaction with others. Picture a person with no language at all. Would such a creature be considered “human” in any meaningful sense? How could he think, imagine, entertain concepts, or communicate? We can see this in the consequences of isolation, solitary confinement, or people marooned on a desert island. Without other people we all go a little mad.

So why would modern humanity – living in those huge apartment buildings and walking through those bustling streets crowded with people – be lonely? In what sense are they alone in any particular? At this point we will have a small digression to distinguish between two types of interaction. The first type is called primary interaction or the interactions of people in primary groups. A primary group is a set of people who have close, personal interaction and who know one another well. A husband, wife, and dependent children will ideally compose a primary group. Cases in which they are not a primary group are very sad cases indeed. In order to be primary an interaction must be between people who know one another very well. They must care about one another. They need not love each other or even like each other. In fact, it is likely that if two people hate each other, they have a primary relationship. This is why the first person to suspect when a man or woman is murdered is their spouse. This is why siblings can hate each other for decades. It’s also why authentic love requires really getting to know the person you love.

The other type of interaction is called secondary interaction, of course. That’s the other end of the dimension from personal, intimate, emotionally-affected interaction… so secondary group interaction is impersonal, distant, and unemotional. You drive past the toll booth on the interstate and you nod at the attendant as you throw a couple of quarters into the hopper. You hold a door open for some woman you never saw before in your life – and never expect to see again. You order a meal in a restaurant from a server you may never even make eye contact with and whose name you may or may not learn. These interactions with strangers are commonplace in the modern world. But are they satisfying and affirming as primary relations are? Not at all: You can be a very lonely bus driver despite spending the day giving rides to strangers who want to get across town. In secondary interactions we don’t care about those other people. We know almost nothing about them though we may judge them within a couple of seconds of seeing them.

As with any dimension, there is that overlapping region in the middle which is not strongly one thing or the other. With interaction we have our relationships with coworkers who have not yet become friends. We have that waitress whose name we have learned, because she frequently serves us lunch on Tuesdays. We have internet friends. But all those Facebook “friends” aren’t really friends, even though you have shared intimate photos and comments with them. They are really only acquaintances. You know something about them, but not a lot. In fact, they may not be who they represent themselves to be at all!

In the modern world a lot of travel takes place. People commute – sometimes many miles – to work or school. Many people change their places of residence every few years. It’s a rare adult person who lives in the same house in which they were born. In fact, in the U.S., it is expected that one will complete one’s education, marry, and leave home to establish a new nuclear family of husband, wife, and dependent children. The average family no longer expects to inherit the family farm and herds and pass them on to their children. There is a lot of migration within cities, states, and nations. There is far more migration within nations than between nations. But whether that migration is across town, across the state, or across a nation the consequences are similar. You become a stranger in that new place wherever it is. Sure your old family and friends are still alive. But you don’t see them every day. You don’t take the time to hold long conversations several times a day with them. Work, commuting, chores, and errands take up a lot of your time. No matter how many labor-saving devices one has in the home, there is just not enough time to keep up with those old friendships. Besides, they don’t want to have you calling at all hours of the day and night, interrupting whatever they are doing. So the calls get fewer and further between, and the interaction grows ever more superficial. Old friends drift apart because they are not thrown together throughout the day.

So interaction with strangers or mere acquaintances becomes more and more common as a society industrializes or converts to the information economy. The economy and workplace demand those secondary relations for most people, and the frequent moves result in secondary relations whether one likes it or not. In fact, the nuclear family of husband, wife, and dependent children has become the only source of primary relations that many people experience. As the population ages and friends die off due to old age, many people simply outlive all their friends.

Thus modern people, living in those huge apartment buildings and walking those bustling streets crowded with people, are lonely. They deal with strangers, nodding acquaintances, and “Christmas Card friends” throughout the day. Some people are more fortunate than that, of course. Some people do develop strong friendships with others at work, with next-door neighbors, and those with whom they share a hobby or religious affiliation. You can see how different that is from friendships with permanent neighbors. If your family farm is bordered by the farms of several other families and those farms have been owned by those families for 6-7 generations your friendships with such neighbors will have begun in childhood and will last your lifetime. You and they never expect to move and you never expect to lose their friendship. The fact that you share friends with those neighbors also helps. Each of your friends knows all your other friends and they are likely friends with them as well.

Those people living in the huge apartment buildings are not likely to be more than nodding acquaintances with their next-door neighbors. They may know 100 people by their first names and at the same time know very little about any of them. This is how one can be lonely in a crowd. Who cares about you? Who would suffer if you were to be harmed? Who will sacrifice to see that you come to no harm? Who do you know who really understands you? If your answer is that almost no one does, then you are lonely and suffering from social isolation.

The phenomenon is so common that the society as a whole suffers as a consequence. For example, we are reluctant to allow our kids to wander about the neighborhood freely, since none of the adults knows them or will take care of them. 200 years ago children did roam freely about the neighborhood – and all the adults knew not only each one of them, but most likely their entire family as well. If a child misbehaved, it would soon be known by the child’s parents. The village provided the child a caring context in which to grow up. Today, parents have to worry about all those strangers who may be inclined to prey upon unattended little ones, and children are not even safe in schools. As another example you may have heard of cases in which someone is attacked on the street – and not only does no one come to their aid, but the witnesses do not even summon the police or stick around to give a statement about what they saw if the police do come.

How can one be loyal to one’s community, one’s state, or one’s nation if one feels isolated, abandoned, uncared for? What bonds can you feel to a school if you’re a virtual stranger there? What ethical imperatives will restrain or encourage us when we don’t feel like we are a part of a meaningful group that cares about us? In other words, loneliness and social isolation can destroy a society. Social disorganization and chaos can result from each person individually feeling that no one cares about them. When we see a breakdown of society, when we see a flouting of everything one should hold sacred, when people see no worth in traditional values then we can be sure that those people are isolated and lonely.

Again the physical object nature of our money, our POM, plays a leading role in bringing about those conditions. If you are hungry and no one will give you food, if you are sick and no one will care for you, if you are ignorant and no one cares, if you are homeless and no one welcomes you, the reason is that the economy is a POM economy. If you are hungry and have no money who will feed you – can you expect that the next person you meet will give you food, or the next café you pass will offer you a meal? Without an exchange of POM they will likely let you go hungry. If you are sick but not desperately ill, no medical treatment will be available to you unless you can pay. If you need to learn a trade or how to play the piano, or whatever: that costs POM. If you are homeless you will be asked to move along. No one will welcome you in unless you can pay POM. We all know this and accept it as normal and reasonable. It would have been considered to be shocking 2,000 years ago. It would have been considered strange even 200 years ago. 50 years ago in many parts of the U.S. it would have been a sign of how society was changing. Today, well, today society considers people in need to be “takers” and treats them with contempt. After all, we have no friends who cannot afford the basic necessities of life. If a person is poor it must be their own fault. We don’t owe them anything. Or at least, that’s what I see when I pick up the newspaper and read the letters to the editor.

Naturally these attitudes are due to the nature of our money. We fear that others are after our money –and they are. We fear people we don’t know well so we can’t possibly trust them. Knowledge is power, and knowledge of ourselves gives other people power over us. At least it does when those around you are opponents, rivals, competitors, or enemies – and POM transactions give that false simulation of a zero-sum game. The more money one has the more power one can command. That makes relationships which should be permanent and long-lasting more likely to be temporary and stressful because they are two-party relationships.

Things are getting worse because, as we industrialized, money transactions became more common, frequent, and necessary. Whereas in the very old days one could go weeks without spending or gaining money, in today’s world, it’s almost impossible to go a day without spending money. Those utilities are used daily. One burns gasoline almost every day. One eats food that is not home grown. One’s recreation even costs money. All of those relationships which did not involve money hundreds of years ago – except in rare cases – today do involve money. And we have seen time and again in these essays what money does to interactions.

Now I’m going to assume that all my listeners live a life style which is common these days rather than being hermits living in caves off in the woods. I will trust that you are well aware what POM has done to your interactions with others, particularly if you have had the misfortune of being divorced. But I think it is reasonable to assume that you have no idea how life would be different in tenor, tone, and quality if you lived in a non-POM economy. So I will attempt to describe that to you in ways which will make it easy for you to imagine and comprehend and – perhaps – feel to some degree.

In your family relationships you will still find close, personal interaction. There will be less stress, tension, anxiety, and competition than now. Since there are no taxes you will never need to file an income tax return. Since you will have no medical expenses you will not have to worry about health insurance nor about being bankrupted by medical bills. It will cost you nothing but time and inconvenience to get a medical checkup for yourself or a child. You don’t have to worry about losing your job. Your spouse and your children will never ask you for money. You will not have to budget. You never need to worry about caring for your parents as they become elderly and infirm. You don’t have to worry about paying for private schools for your children, nor will you need to save for college. You don’t need to pay for life insurance since there’s no need for life insurance. And you cannot be sued.

But these are mostly sources of stress that are lacking in a non-POM economy. There are also some family things that are added. For example, if you have children you can earn non-POM by caring for those children. As those children get older and earn non-POM for themselves, you will also gain non-POM by virtue of the fact that you helped them to gain the skills and abilities which they employ to produce the net benefits for which they are paid. Those who care for children are paid if they do it well no matter whose biological children they are. You can earn non-POM just by being nice and helpful to your own family.

Of course, if you harm your family, if you abuse your spouse or children that will result in harm, and thus reduce your potential future income. Let’s say you have done work in construction and have made significant contributions to several buildings which are generating income in non-POM every pay period. If you harm a family member, that action will reduce your income for pay periods until that family member no longer suffers from that harm. If the harm is permanent, you will have less income than you otherwise might have enjoyed until you or the family member dies. If their death is contributed to by that harm, you may lose even more income for the rest of your life. That’s because you earn based on net benefit: overall benefits minus any harm done. This gives you a money motive to be kind to your family even if they may make you angry from time to time. This also gives others a money motive to prevent you from harming your family, since they would earn non-POM by doing so. Neighbors are far less likely to ignore abuse if they can gain significant income by doing something to stop abuse. Harming your family also becomes a matter of public record and is a part of your permanent reputation. If, say, you beat your wife (assuming that you are a man) then anyone who asks about your personal reputation would be informed that you had beaten your wife, and this would be true for the rest of your life. It would be something you could not hide or escape from.

Non-POM would reduce fear in the family by making intra-family abuse costly in money and in reputation within the community. Those tempted to be abusive would have to think twice about physical and psychological abuse. The added feelings of security would make it easier to trust. Knowing that everyone in your family will benefit from your happiness and satisfaction will make it easier to believe what they say. After all, lying to you can cost them non-POM.

Beyond the family, we come to the workplace. It’s a rat race, a dog-eat-dog competition to get the best of the competition these days with POM. There’s only so much money (that is POM) in the budget and what you gain others must lose. Only the best get the bigger raises and others therefore get less. Well, that’s how things work now. With non-POM things don’t work that way, the context is entirely different. You can’t gain non-POM at anyone else’s expense. If you are working with someone and they gain, then you will gain as well. If they lose, then you will also lose. So you know for sure that they are on your side. They selfishly want you to succeed because they will benefit from your success. The better you do at work, the fatter their own account balance will be as a consequence. If you find success working with some other people, what motive will you have to leave them and go somewhere else? No management decisions can break up your team in a reorganization of the company. That’s because each person is an independent entrepreneur. You have no boss. You don’t work for anybody, you work with people. You are not dependent on any particular person or group. You operate in a free-market context which is really free. You cannot be fired. All of these things lower the work stress levels of practically everyone.

The people you work with can be your friends, since they will never have a need to work against you nor will they have any motive to be your rival, your competitor, or your enemy. You will do things to help them and they will do things to help you. In fact, you will spend quite a bit of thought and attention trying to find ways to help them. You will try to help prevent their making any mistakes and to mitigate the harm done when they make errors – and they will make errors, because they’re only human. You will do this because it will improve your own earnings and because you know they are doing the same kinds of things for you – and because you like them. The norms of the workplace in virtually every instance will include such expectations. Those who do not accept these informal, typically unspoken rules will find great difficulty in getting people to work with them. They will accumulate a work reputation of being unfriendly. Now… since there are a lot of friendly people in a non-POM context (most people sort of “default” to friendly) it is relatively easy to find others who can do any job that needs doing and who have a better attitude toward their fellows. So people will try to at least appear to be friendly. Faking friendly in this context will require actually thinking friendly, so as to do friendly things. The habits of thinking friendly will generate actual friendly thoughts and behaviors. It’s like smiling actually makes people feel happier even when there’s no one around to smile back at them. The sensation of a smile on your face makes your subconscious feel happier. Thus when people fake being friendly it tends to actually make them friendly, especially when there’s nothing to gain by fraud through such make-believe friendly behavior.

The current economic and social forces which make people move frequently in today’s economy will be somewhat reduced in a non-POM economy. Yes, people will still go off to college and to a job somewhere else. Yes, the dynamic economy will bring about changes in production and which will require the movement of labor from one location to another. Those moves are independent of the nature of the money in use. And non-POM economies will adapt and adjust to changing circumstances much faster than POM economies. (We won’t go into why here but some of the reasons are dealt with in the innovation essay.) So in some ways, the non-POM economy will have more pressures to move. But in the big pressures, in the factors that move millions, the non-POM economy will have far less migration motives.

First of all, you can’t lose your job – since you work only for yourself. No one can fire you. So you don’t have to move in order to find work. There’s no government oppression, so there’s no fleeing bad governments. You cannot have a mortgage so you can’t have your home foreclosed upon. There will be fewer divorces and less incentive for spouses to remain in an abusive marriage. There is no eminent domain so your home cannot be taken from you against your will.

There will be considerable social mobility, however with non-POM. People will not be stuck in whatever social class they were born into. The opportunities made available by a true free market will expose talent and entice people to try new ways of producing benefits and preventing or fixing harms. Therefore, people will be moving from the neighborhoods of their childhoods into the neighborhoods of their productive maturity. Children of the wealthy will almost certainly move down in the social class hierarchy because they will not be able to match their parent’s abilities or luck. Although one’s wealthy family can provide luxuries, one cannot inherit wealth. So in general, there will be a drift downward of the children of the rich and a rapid rise upward for those few in the middle and lower classes who hit it big for whatever reason. Such social mobility will result in some migration. But the wealthy, whether old-line wealth or nouveaux riches will be able to live pretty much where they want. They don’t need to move to impress anyone since their non-POM account balance will say everything that’s necessary. They don’t need to fear kidnappers since they cannot pay ransom. They don’t have to fear unwanted media attention since the news agencies will not care about them. Reputation does not depend on a big car, an expensive suit and cigar, and a mansion. One’s reputation, as revealed on the internet, will tell the story quite well.

How can you tell whether a person is your true friend or not? A true friend is there offering help when you need help. A true friend gives you a needed boost. A true friend tells you the truth even when it hurts. In other words a true friend rationally does what that friend can do to make your life better. In a non-POM economy, people will practice true friendship because that increases their income. People will learn to provide rational help. Not the slap-dash token help of the wedding or baby shower. Not the insincere suggestion of “let me know if I can do anything to help.” In a non-POM economy, only help which actually does some good for someone generates income. People will rapidly learn to distinguish token help from a meaningful contribution that improves someone’s life. Let’s take as our example a death in the family. If you have the good fortune of living long enough, some member of your family will inevitably die. When they die, your friends will hear about it. In today’s world, they express their condolences, offer to help in some cases, and then ignore your pain. In the non-POM world your friends will not only hear about that death quickly but they will be told things they can do to help. If you have obligations, others will make themselves available to handle them while you cannot. If you have particular psychological needs which this death has caused or triggered, your friends will be counseled in how to help you meet those needs. You will be assisted to grieve if that is what you need. Different people react to the death of a loved one in different ways. The aid you receive would be tailored specifically to your psychological state.

How is this possible? It’s possible today. We have the technology. We have the knowledge of psychology. We have the means of communication. But what we don’t have is a money motive to employ that technology, to apply that knowledge, to communicate for this purpose. We also do not reward friends who provide comfort as we would with non-POM. In a non-POM economy, there’s money to be made in counseling people regarding how to help others when they are faced with death. In a non-POM economy data about an individual and his psychological makeup is a precious resource which is accessible only to those who will be able to help. Think about it. Wouldn’t an employer be able to manage a set of workers better if their psychological makeup were known? Well in the future, we will have huge amounts of data about every individual. Computers make that possible and profitable. So the information will be collected and will be used. In our POM economy it will be and has been used for all sorts of exploitation. In a non-POM economy such information would be used to provide help to people when they need it and to prevent harm.

So those persons who suffer from social isolation would be identified and people would seek to aid them in a non-POM economy. Those people who have no friends or few friends would be helped to find others who would be good matches. Matches for friendship are every bit as important as matches for romance. In a non-POM economy that’s an opportunity to make money by helping people. In a POM economy such activities would be somewhat dangerous.

The psychological state of persons living in a non-POM economy is quite different from that of persons in a POM economy. POM, as we have shown, turns people into enemies, rivals, competitors. Non-POM, as I have explained, gives everyone a monetary motive to care for and trust others. Clearly friendship is easier, longer-lasting, and more sincere with non-POM than it is with POM. Living with non-POM is like living in the comfort of a loving family whose members all know you and want the best for you. They will go out of their way to spare you pain and suffering and to enrich your life. They are trustworthy, sincere, and considerate. This is how non-POM shapes the minds and expectations by providing a greatly different context for behavior. Under these circumstances, the human mind reacts quite differently from the way it does within the current delusion, the context falsely constructed by POM.

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