U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently released an advisory titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.” It warns that social isolation is a major public health problem. The 81-page document presents six government-directed “pillars” of action to address the health hazards of social isolation.
On the surface, these six directives may look innocuous, but they present a clear and present danger to the autonomy of our private lives and relationships. The project is potentially so massive in scope that it’s not an overstatement to say it threatens to regulate our freedom of association in ways we never could have imagined.
Let’s look in greater depth at those pillars and the risks they pose.
‘Building a Social Infrastructure’
The first stated goal is to “strengthen social infrastructure in local communities.” It defines “social infrastructure” as the regular events and institutions that make up community life, and says the federal government should both fund local organizations and direct how they’re structured, including their locations. This can only mean that all local communities must answer to the federal bureaucracy in the quest to strengthen social connections among people.
Social infrastructure, the report says, includes physical parts of a community, such as housing, libraries, parks and recreation spaces, transport systems, and so forth. The report expresses concern that some people have better access to such locations than other people, and recommends federal interventions.
Those are likely to be used to promote densified housing along the lines of the “15-minute city” (more accurately termed 15-minute ghettoes), as well as the eventual dismantling of single-family housing. The goal of replacing private vehicles with public transportation fits easily into this scheme too.
I don’t presume that this plan will, by itself, drive wholesale changes in our physical infrastructure. But it would certainly provide authority and justification for changes supported by radical environmentalists, all of which diminish our freedoms.
The advisory warns that participation is mandatory if the plan is to work: “It will take all of us — individuals, families, schools, and workplaces, health care and public health systems, technology companies, governments, faith organizations, and communities — working together…”
The report’s proposed infrastructure to solve the problem of social isolation seems designed to lock everybody into compliance with and dependence upon federal mandates. Local control is then lost.
We end up with a massive federal infrastructure that can monitor the levels of social connection and disconnection in every nook and cranny of society. As described in the report, this would mean every institution, every governmental department, every volunteer association, every locality, every church, every faith community, every organization, every club, every service club, every sports league, and so on, would likely be assessed and “strengthened” to promote social connection.
‘Enact Pro-Connection Public Policies Everywhere’
According to the second pillar, “Government has a responsibility to use its authority to monitor and mitigate the public health harm caused by policies, products, and services that drive social disconnection.” How will these be tracked and mitigated? It “requires establishing cross-departmental leadership to develop and oversee an overarching social connection strategy. Diversity, equity, inclusion, [DEI] and accessibility are critical components of any such strategy.”
In other words, some people are more socially connected than others, and that’s not fair. They enjoy benefits — as in “unearned privileges” — that put others at a disadvantage. So the government needs to intervene for the sake of equity to “spread the wealth” of social connections.
DEI is a creature of identity politics, which serves to erase human individuality and replace it with demographic identity markers that label people as either oppressors or victims, thus cultivating more resentments and hostilities in society. By injecting the codes of DEI into all social relationships, we’re bound to become even more divided, alienated, and lonely. And the federal government is bound to become even more authoritarian and meddlesome in our personal relationships and social interactions.
‘Mobilize the Health Sector’
Another threat to the private sphere of life comes under the directive to “mobilize the health sector” by expanding “public health surveillance and interventions.” This sounds very much like tracking your social connections and intervening when the bureaucracy deems it necessary. Big Brother sitting in on your doctor visits and therapy sessions?
The report indicates that health care workers will be trained to track cases of what the government views as social connection and disconnection. As they obediently report to the federal bureaucracy, most individual and local control will be lost. Medicine is bound to become more federalized and less private than ever when answering to these mandates.
Consider also that mental health practitioners are already suggesting that signs of racial or cultural bias should be classified as a mental illness. Of course, to the promoters of DEI, all white people are inherently racially biased, simply because of their skin color. This brings to mind the disturbing practice in the Soviet Union of consigning political dissenters to psychiatric treatment. The official line was that you must be mentally ill if you disagree with communism.
‘Reform Digital Environments’
The advisory recognizes that overuse of the internet and social media can drive people deeper into social isolation. But it also promotes centralized government control over technology development, especially in human interactions: “We must learn more by requiring data transparency from technology companies,” it says. So government would decide how to design and use such technologies. It would very likely compel technology companies to provide data to the government on Americans’ social connections.
The advisory also backs the “development of pro-connection technologies” with the goal of creating “safe” environments and “safeguarding the well-being of users.” Such phrasing has been used in recent years to justify censorship under the guise of protecting certain demographics.
In light of the importance of DEI to the overall strategy, this sounds ominously like a call for further “protection,” i.e., government control of the private sphere. Again, the primary director of all these remedies is the federal bureaucracy, not a trusted family member, friend, pastor, or neighbor.
‘Deepening Our Knowledge’
The fifth pillar of the advisory pushes a “research agenda” that enlists all “stakeholders” — that means every level of government, every organization, every corporation, every school, every family, every individual — to deepen their knowledge about social connection and disconnection. Of course, the advisory has already predetermined the outcome of much of this research, and we can be reasonably confident this research will reflect the outlook offered by the advisory. After all, that’s how researchers get grants and research contracts.
I imagine institutions will publicize their “studies” through a media monopoly that promotes the preferred narrative on what kinds of relationships we should have, what we can and can’t talk about. Essentially, we’ll get a flood of government propaganda about their preferences for human relationships.
In the context of today’s censorship regime, this means promoting a single narrative that will drown any competing views offered by critics and the public with the favored views of government and corporate interests, parroted endlessly by Big Media.
‘Cultivate a Culture of Social Connection’
Finally, the advisory advocates for cultivating “a culture of connection,” one based on “kindness, respect, service, and commitment to one another.” This sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, our government’s relentless push for woke policies tells us that we cannot expect to understand those terms as traditional virtues.
Rather, such terms will likely be used in woke Orwellian fashion, to direct our social interactions and behaviors. For example, not dating a transgender person is now labeled unkind and “transphobic.” “Gender affirming care” — i.e., castration and mutilation of children — is the only “respectful” way of treating gender dysphoria. Your “responsibility” is to comply without question.
The advisory also calls for the media and the arts to promote stories that encourage “connection,” most likely in the Orwellian sense that wokeness demands. Further, the report cautions that certain kinds of social connection are harmful for individuals and society. It warns that too much like-mindedness can lead to extremism and violence.
We should be very skeptical of the federal government’s role in deciding which groups it deems acceptable, given its growing politicization of law enforcement, its attempts to silence concerned parents at school board meetings by labeling them “domestic terrorists,” and its overall undermining of due process and the Bill of Rights.
The Historical Pattern of Big Government Is Atomization, Not Social Connection
Ironies abound in this advisory. The pretext for government injecting itself into our personal lives is to rescue us from the misery of our loneliness epidemic. Never mind that government policies are largely to blame for family breakdown, welfare dependency, urban blight, attacks on free speech, attacks on privacy, and countless other developments that result in an acute sense of isolation and polarization.
Never mind that the proven prescription for loneliness is the opposite: a private sphere of life where intact families raise their children with a sense of virtue; where institutions of faith give people a sense of order and purpose in life; and where friends can confide in one another without meddlers eavesdropping on their conversations. This sphere of life — the private sphere — is the fount of freedom, love, and trust that nurtures social connections. It can only thrive in privacy.
But this private sphere seems to be in the crosshairs of Murthy’s massive government project to “fix” the social connections of all Americans. The government will doubtless enlist a media monopoly and Big Tech for support in monitoring those connections.
Given the current direction of this administration’s policies, it will also deploy heavy-handed political censorship — of which Murthy already proved a huge fan during Covid — to enforce compliance and punish dissent. Such censorship heightens the fear of speaking openly, which only builds more walls between people. Ironically, we would end up more atomized than ever.
The Tentacles of Bureaucracy
This may sound over the top to a general reader who may find the advisory benign and even welcoming, and perhaps just a narrowly focused plan to address a recognized health issue.
I am very skeptical about that for two reasons. The first is the natural inclinations of bureaucracies populated by “experts.” Bureaucracies never shrink. They continuously bloat. That’s the nature of the beast. Their protectors keep pushing their relevance on some issue or problem. Their experts — who will always “know better” than anyone else — will present solutions to be deployed by the bureaucracy. Compliance will then be demanded. And the bureaucracy will continue to bloat until its tentacles strangle every area of life.
The second reason for skepticism is history, which is filled with examples of governments invading the private sphere of life, specifically the institutions of family, faith, and community. That private sphere is still the most decentralized area of life, the one in which individuals are most able to think and speak freely, unless the government invades. Communist China, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany are prime examples in the 20th century of government invading the private sphere.
Eminent sociologist Robert Nisbet wrote about the deep-seated tendency of governments to hijack the functions of the mediating institutions of family, faith, and community. When the government takes over those functions, we lose those institutions as buffer zones between the isolated individual and the all-powerful state. We become powerless in the resulting isolation.
Nisbet posed this rhetorical question: “What remains then, but to rescue the masses from their loneliness, their hopelessness, and despair, by leading them into the promised land of the absolute, redemptive State?”
I believe the surgeon general’s advisory vindicates Nisbet’s point. Indeed, the state creates the malady and then offers its authority as the only cure as it rushes into the vacuum. The strategy for doing so seems evident in the report’s “six pillars.”
Where Does It All End?
No one can say for sure where this “Ministry of Loneliness” proposal will end up. History — particularly recent history — has warned us about such projects. The goals of this advisory may seem unobjectionable, but the concern is about who decides how we connect socially.
When the “who” is the federal government, we should remember that the pattern of the mass state is always to induce loyalty to the mass state. That pattern always comes with a push to surrender our loyalty to one another as individual human beings capable of real kindness and real love. That amounts to something I call the weaponization of loneliness.
We must insist on making our own decisions to live as free individuals. That means pushing back in any way possible against potential intrusions in the private sphere of life. It means rejecting the pseudo-intimacy and pseudo-connection that our federal government seems intent on foisting upon us in exchange for control of our private lives and relationships. Otherwise, we end up in much worse isolation that renders us powerless and unfree.