Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Getting high on isolation. On self, society and solitude.

As I suspected three months in and the smell of the dole queue is starting to get to me. Sure I've worked temp and I've been to three interviews now (I was recently told nine is allegedly the magic number) and some days I just get tired. Tired of making phone calls and tired of attempting to sell myself to people I've never met, for jobs I don't fully understand. The terrible thing about the modern age is the level of insincerity required to get through each working day.

But I am still enjoying myself regardless, moving back to London is definitely a positive step, something about the pace of this place is good for a young person and the monuments around every corner are a nice reminder that anything is still possible.

I've noticed since returning to London that time alone, peace and solitude are more precious probably because they are more finite resources here in the capital. I've noticed several times that cancelling because you want time alone people always assume the worst. I must be depressed or exhausted or I must have some deep emotional trouble. It seems in the war of People Vs NonPeople if you reside in the NonPeople camp you must be fit for the asylum.

Weirdly these are often the times I'm happiest. Most of classical psychology would string me up as a fully fledged crazee. It is widely believed that man is a social being, that interpersonal relationships are the main, if not only source of human happiness. When did we become so afraid of being alone?

As habit dictates I investigated such behaviours and unsurprisingly much of it condemned this choice, until I stumbled across a paper published in 1958 entitled 'The capacity to be alone' by Donald Winnicot who seemed to argue there are healthy aspects to solitude.

“It is probably true to say that in psycho-analytical literature more has been written on the fear or the wish to be alone than on the ability to be alone... Its seems to me that a discussion on the positive aspects of the capacity to be alone is long overdue.”

It seems to me that Solitude is important for at least two reasons. Firstly time alone allows us to develop as individuals, personally. Much of my reading has declared that other persons are dangerous to individualism, and developing false personalities on the basis of reacting, and being subject to, constant external stimuli is probably societies most commonly accepted form of insanity.

Secondly it allows to us to imagine. Remember when we did that all the time? It's funny that something deemed essential for the healthy development of our children is something adults either hardly do, or at least never talk about. Creative spark doesn't come from concentrating so hard something appears, it comes from having the time and the peace to imagine the form of things we wish to create.

For this laptop to exist someone had to imagine it. Reality is simply the affirmation of collective imagination married with physical possibility. I think we need to give ourselves more time to be alone, to imagine and to know ourselves.

Solitude is perhaps the only access we have with individualism, certainly many case studies have revealed that group mentality allows our social image or 'ego' to override the conscious choices the self or 'Id' may have made. Bruno Buttlehiem made this observation with Israeli teenagers forced to conform to a set of group values. Immediately even outside the value remit, as social conscious grows, the individual (and therefore the artist) diminishes.

I think this struggle with our social-ego produces bigger damage than we realise. At the group level it begin to threaten our own needs and desires. Beyond that I am unsure how anyone shares themselves with somebody else when we don't give ourselves enough time to develop a solid sense of self. Being defined, even partially by someone else is a fallacy. We can't be someone we are not.

Post-modernists may try to view us as social constructions, but when we are alone we have to be the ones to make the decisions for ourselves of what we think about, what we dream about and what we decide to care about. It's the only time we become pro-active people rather than simply reactive individuals.

I'm well aware isolation is not always a healthy drug. Certainly excessive use can result in nihilism, the inability to form any relationships or just fear of other people. I think solitude need to be approached in much the same way our relationship with alcohol is. It must be used occasionally and with mild dosage to enhance experience and not deny it.

I suspect this might be harder than it sounds as we seem to have become great 'information addicts'. It is hard for people to not be doing something sometimes anything to avoid doing nothing. I would appreciate a more constructive approach to down time. One that reminds us exploration of self is valuable commodity in a time where, much of who we are is defined by what other people expect.

Anyway in an act of sheer hypocrisy, I've been feeling myself getting a little lonely of late. So I think struggling against a blank screen maybe off the menu for a few a days. Such is the form I would like to end on a quote-

"Real misanthropes are not found in solitude, but in the world; since it is experience of life, and not philosophy, which produces real hatred of mankind"

Without imagination reality becomes static, without individualism society becomes sterile and without solitude and a sense of self none of these things are possible.

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