A person who recently bought The Socialist from one of our street stalls asked: “Have you seen the latest figures about loneliness in Australia? Why is it on the rise and what do you think is behind it?” We answer below.
The ABC’s Australia Talks survey has given us some new insights into loneliness in Australia.
For example, the survey showed that only 54% of people ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ feel lonely. The other half of the population clearly feel that they lack adequate social support, and have an absence of proper social connections.
Loneliness is actually a major health issue with a number of studies showing that it increases your risk of death. Some researchers think it’s just as harmful as heavy smoking!
The picture that many people have is that loneliness is an issue that mainly affects older people, and those in remote regional areas. But loneliness is an issue for all age groups, and it’s more common in inner-city areas.
It’s actually young people that say they feel loneliness the most.
Among 18-24-year olds 30% say they feel lonely ‘always’ or ‘frequently’. It’s also more common amongst those on low incomes, which is a growing cohort in Australia due to wage suppression and increased underemployment.
Whether we like it or not, it takes time and money to cultivate a social life, things that are in short supply for many of us.
Socialists have always explained that loneliness flows from the alienation we face under capitalism. In many ways it’s not surprising that it’s getting worse as capitalism slides further into crisis and puts an extra squeeze on working people.
Karl Marx analysed these matters and said that under capitalism workers are estranged from the world they live in.
This is a consequence of the class nature of society where the capitalist class own and control what gets produced. The rest of us are essentially at the beck and call of the bosses, treated as mere cogs in the machine.
Major decisions about how we live, work and consume things are made almost exclusively by the capitalists. People have a general lack of control over their existence and this promotes social isolation.
Workers are alienated from what they produce because they don’t own the means of production and because they can’t afford to buy back everything they produce. But people are also alienated from each other. Capitalism pits us against each other in a competition for things like jobs, homes and services.
In that sense our desire for positive social contact and support goes against the grain of a system that puts profits before all else.
Working people however are pretty resolute. They find all sorts of ways to resist the dog-eat-dog world and build social networks. This can be though family, friends, sports clubs, community groups, online, or just down at the local pub.
But all this becomes a bit harder when our jobs are casualised, when we are forced to work long hours for low pay, and when we don’t have much spare time or disposable income. That all of these things are on the rise partly explains why people are feeling lonelier in recent times.
While Marx developed the tools to help us analyse these processes, he also explained how the problems can be overcome. He said that if the same people that did the producing owned the means of production, we would have more of a stake in our work, and in society as a whole.
Similarly, if the majority of people were in control of decision-making, and they set priorities based on their needs rather than profits, we would have much more control over our lives and we would be more connected to our peers.
Loneliness is blight on our society but it can be overcome. By struggling for a bigger share of the wealth we produce, for a shorter working week, and for more control over our lives, we can lay the basis for people to build better social connections.
But the best way to ensure that alienation and loneliness is reduced is to reorganise society along socialist lines. A system based on collective ownership, democracy and co-operation would allow human relations to flourish.
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