The politics of loneliness
“There are things I’ve done that make me cringe, and there are things I’ve done that I would defend. If you asked me if I have regrets the answer would be yes, however my regrets are between me and my God, they are not fruits for the colosseum of twitter. Perhaps apologies would be warranted if our culture had any interest in apologies at all, but it’s quite clear they don’t. What the crowd wants is for me and others to bend a knee to their power, to not just submit to their performative wokeness but to start singing from the same hymnal out of fear rather than from genuine agreement.” — Lauren Southern
Recently, the ABC reported that the four loneliest types of people in Australia included One Nation voters:
“Interestingly, a third group that reports disproportionately high levels of loneliness is One Nation voters. Nearly one in 10 (9 per cent) of Pauline Hanson’s followers report being lonely “always” compared to around 2 per cent for followers of each of the other parties.
We believe feeling disconnected from the world and its institutions often drives people to find solace in marginal political movements. This indeed, is the developmental trajectory of multiple forms of extremism.”
I’m not surprised. I’ve never voted for One Nation, but I can see why this statistic is the case. When I started working in Canberra in 2017, I started to feel disconnected from the world I knew, including the institutions that made my world. I was in a very isolated workplace, and outside of work, I struggled to form a social support network to keep me sane. Unsurprisingly, I started to find solace in marginal political movements, amongst other things. And I started to develop a number of mental health issues.
I’ve more or less resolved those mental health issues, especially in the past few months, and I’ve sort of reconnected to the world I knew again. The reconnection is not smooth sailing, because scars don’t fade away that easily, if ever. But I try my best, and now that I’m permanently back in Sydney, time will tell if time heals. I’m still politically active, but I’ve certainly seen the errors of my ways in flirting with marginal politics and polemics. The flirts have ceased, made easier by not having gone beyond the flirts.
I want to say sorry for flirting with marginal politics and polemics, but I don’t feel all that motivated to do so. When I started to disconnect and found solace in things that don’t deserve solace, no one reached out to me to ask if I’m okay, especially by those who judged me for acting out. So much for contemporary discourse on mental health — lip service is a joke. I had to pick up the pieces to reconnect, and I’m bitter that the judgement is still there. I know I shouldn’t stress about people who aren’t worth my attention… perhaps it’s just a case of time will tell if time heals.
Moral of the story: next time you come across a One Nation or similar type, before you hide behind a computer/smartphone screen to judge and criticise them, ask them: R U OK? Sometimes disconnected people act out as an indirect way to cry for help to reconnect with the world. Having been there done that, I certainly will be asking the politically marginalised that question more often.
Afternote: Someone replied to me with the following:
“You have assumed a simple causal relationship between loneliness and ‘marginal politics’, that there is begotten from the loneliness a kind of descent into the ‘marginal wings’, searching to ‘reconnect with the world’.
The relationship is more complex and ultimately would vary person to person on exactly how it formed. But the loneliness that is more common amongst those who vote for ‘marginal politics’ is developed through the process of ‘radicalisation’ itself, and isn’t the preceding principle or begetter of the ‘radicalism’.
People feel lonely when their experience of life isn’t shared by others. This is why someone can be very social but still suffer loneliness. Typically, for someone to fall into ‘marginal politics’, something happens within their lives that shakes up the way they see things. Whether this happening is reading literature or experiencing some kind of event, the happening reshapes their experience of the world.
This new world experience is unalike anyone else’s, and this is where the loneliness begins to set in. As the internal experience is never reflected back, and worse sometimes leads to ostracism when it’s expressed to others, loneliness is an essential byproduct of this.
Naturally then people who experience this disconnection between their own experiences and the experiences of those around them will seek out groups who share their experiences. This is where it progresses as it becomes evident that only those within the group seem to share the same world experience, and so they then build resentment towards those who don’t share it.
These echo chambers then compound the common experience within all of the participants’s minds, resulting in what people would call the ‘radicalisation’ of the person. The loneliness doesn’t truly leave them because while they found a community they can relate to and find belonging, they still must live amongst the world. The greater the ‘radicalisation’, the more severe the disconnect.
This is just an example though, and I think this is the most common story, but it varies person to person and manifests differently depending on different factors like social situation, location, intelligence, resources, etc.
But the point of all this is to point out that simply asking “R U OK?”, as if to imply their beliefs are the product of mental issues, dismisses the actual causes behind why they hold their positions. Everyone holds their beliefs due to their experiences, whatever they may be. They are interwoven with their mental state and their expressed beliefs. All these things influence each other simultaneously and develop simultaneously.
Getting to the root of why anyone believes anything can’t be through a mental health assessment, but must be through knowing their experiences.”