Saturday, May 6, 2023

Surgeon General to fight “epidemic of loneliness”: I’m from the government and I’m here to help

Vivek Murthy, President Biden’s Surgeon General, issued an advisory a few days ago,alerting the nation to an epidemic of loneliness. According to Dr. Murphy’s report, about half of adult Americans experience loneliness, and the Surgeon General warned that loneliness can contribute to depression, high blood pressure, dementia, and other serious medical conditions.

Dr. Murphy announced a “National Strategy to Advance Social Connections Across Society." He called for more research on loneliness, and he pledged to enact pro-connection public policies and to cultivate a culture of connection in American life.

A few years ago, Americans would have greeted the Surgeon General’s advisory with derisive hoots and catcalls. Who believes the federal government can do anything to make Americans feel less lonely? What is Dr. Murthy proposing, Americans might once have asked: A government-run dating service?

Today, however, Dr. Murthy ‘s advisory is taken seriously. Maybe a few billion dollars in federally funded research at the nation’s elite universities will reveal how the nation can conquer loneliness After all, who knows more about loneliness than a university professor?

Perhaps federal money can banish loneliness from our daily lives, but I am skeptical. Americans once looked to their churches, their families, and social clubs for social connecutiveness. Unfortunately, many Americans have turned their backs on these institutions. Do we really think the federal government can provide the social connections that our religious faith, our families and our bowling leagues offer?

Besides, a little loneliness may not be such a bad thing. Throughout history, loneliness has inspired great art, great literature, and great music. Edward Hopper’s famous painting, “Nighththawks,” for example,masterfully captures the anomie and isolation of early 20th century urban life. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye has spoken to generations of American adolescents because it is an almost perfect expression of youthful isolation.

Country music, perhaps America’s most original art form, speaks to millions of Americans because it expresses the loneliness that most of us feel from time to time. Roy Orbison's “Only the Lonely,” Johnny Cash’s “ I still Miss Someone,” and Merle Haggard’s “Looking for a Place to Fall Apart” are so powerful because they express one of the most basic of human emotions, which is loneliness.

In my view, the Surgeon General’s assault on the epidemic of loneliness will not make us less lonely. It will just make our loneliness more banal.


  1. None of this is new. Let us go back even further in time, to Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther. From chat bot.

    "The Sorrows of Young Werther" is a novel by German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, first published in 1774. The book is an epistolary novel, which means it is composed entirely of letters written by the protagonist, Werther, to his friend Wilhelm.

    The story follows Werther, a young artist who falls in love with a woman named Charlotte, who is already engaged to another man. Despite their mutual attraction, Charlotte marries her fiancé, and Werther becomes increasingly obsessed with her. As his despair deepens, Werther becomes more and more isolated, and eventually takes his own life.

    The novel was widely popular upon its publication and is considered a classic of German literature. It was also highly influential in the Romantic movement, as it explores themes of unrequited love, individualism, and the conflict between emotion and reason. However, it also sparked controversy due to its portrayal of suicide, with some critics accusing it of promoting and even glamorizing the act.

    Is it true that suicides after its publication were blamed on Goethe's novel?
    Yes, it is true that there were reports of individuals who took their own lives after reading "The Sorrows of Young Werther", and that the novel was blamed for inspiring these suicides. In fact, the book was so controversial in this regard that it was banned in several countries, including Italy, Denmark, and Leipzig.

    The phenomenon became known as the "Werther effect" or "Werther fever", and it refers to the increase in suicides that occurred after the publication of the book. This effect was first observed in Germany, where a number of young men reportedly took their own lives in a manner similar to Werther's suicide in the novel. Some critics blamed Goethe's romanticized portrayal of suicide for the phenomenon, arguing that it encouraged vulnerable individuals to follow Werther's example.

    However, it's worth noting that the Werther effect is now recognized as a complex social phenomenon, with many factors contributing to the increase in suicide rates. While exposure to media depictions of suicide can be a risk factor for suicide, it's important to note that mental health issues, social isolation, and other factors also play a role in suicide.

  2. Technology is making the situation dire for youth because it impedes their transition into adult humanity. I'm beginning to see why people are now talking about extinction of the species, that is, for those tied to the web.

    1. Thanks for that insightful reflection. I lived in Alaska for 9 years and i remember reading a story about 20 suicides or suicide attempts in a year in a Native village of only500 people.Ally0ung people.

  3. And this for more nuance: