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Federal Loneliness ‘Advisory’ Threatens To Destroy Freedom By Occupying Private Life

We need to start understanding attacks on free speech as direct attacks on our ability to develop relationships with others.


“The mass state has no intention of promoting mutual understanding and the relationship of man to man; it strives rather for atomization, for the psychic isolation of the individual.”
Carl Jung, The Undiscovered Self

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently released an 81-page advisory titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.” I have already reported on the devil in the details of Murthy’s report here at The Federalist. Its sprawling plan to address social isolation as a public health crisis includes substantial elements of surveillance, mandatory “diversity, equity, inclusion” (DEI) policies, and federal control of local infrastructure and organizations—all beckoning with love language about the need for more “caring” and outreach.

In another article, I wrote about how that strategy opens the door to unprecedented and potentially unlimited government regulation of our private lives and relationships. But exactly why is the private sphere of life important?

After all, many of us seem content to forego privacy now that we’ve gotten used to convenient technologies that constantly mine our data for every detail of our lives. Maybe a lot of us now believe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing for the government to try to fix the loneliness epidemic by monitoring our levels of social connection “across the full scope of the socio-ecological model” and thereby provide a path to better mental and physical health.

Yet there is a very strong connection between the survival of freedom and a healthy private sphere. If we don’t want to be further atomized, we must vigorously protect and defend that sphere of life against government intrusion.

Private Life Is Necessary for Freedom

So why does freedom matter in an era when many believe freedom is “overrated”? And why is the private sphere of life so important to preserving freedom?

Most who preach that freedom is overrated would probably get mad if told they had no right to express that opinion and no right even to define who they are. But that’s what freedom means. It requires real relationships to exercise the freedom to define and express yourself.

The founders of our republic surely recognized this. That’s why the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees our freedom of speech and association. We develop a healthy sense of identity, inevitably and invariably, only in the context of strong personal relationships.

Ultimately, human beings seek social connection because we have a primal need for it. But we don’t consciously pursue it for our health. We are hardwired to seek connection with others, not only for survival, but because we need healthy relationships to live fully and joyfully.

Further, it’s only within these relationships in the private sphere of family, faith, and friendship that we can develop a sense of our place in the universe and of a true identity. We cannot forge a sense of identity in isolation. Whatever the cause, the more isolated you are, the more your sense of self becomes confused, or even non-existent.

No Privacy, No True Relationships

Why is privacy important to this? Privacy means freedom to engage with other individuals and communities without the intrusion of forces—such as big government, big tech, and big media—that tell us what we may think, what we may say, with whom we may associate, and what beliefs are acceptable. Privacy is the key avenue for you to maximize the freedom to define yourself, express yourself, and associate with individuals and communities of your choice—not the choices others have assigned for you.

Hence, privacy is an absolute requirement for developing true friendship and having real conversations. Nothing can be said in confidence if there is no privacy. There can be no human intimacy of any kind without privacy.

This human bonding in the private sphere is also critical to the process of discovery and exploration to find people or groups with whom we can share our perceptions and beliefs. It’s how communities can evolve over time. It’s how we verify reality.

It’s also the only way to develop a sense of humor. And to obtain frank advice. And to get consolation in times of need. We can’t receive any of these blessings if we aren’t free to pursue them without interference, censorship, or mobs and cults policing our speech, thoughts, and associations.

Hence, any threat to privacy, such as that posed by the prospect of a massive government program to fix our social relationships, is a red flag. Privacy is a non-negotiable ingredient of freedom.

The First Amendment Protects Private Life

The genius of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is that it does not merely protect individual rights. It protects the entire private sphere of life, allowing us to develop social connections with others. For example, if you can’t speak openly, you are cut off from others. If you can’t associate freely, you are socially disconnected by default.

If you can’t petition your grievances, you are brutally cut off from appealing to anyone. If you can’t record your ideas through various media, you are shut out even further from people. In such a state of imposed isolation, we are less able to think clearly, or to think at all.

So, if we are blocked from thinking our own thoughts by an oppressive government seeking to push its narratives, then we end up in a state of extreme isolation. There is absolutely no way to trust a government that attacks the First Amendment, especially when those attacks are aided by its allies in the media, the corporate world, and academia.

We need to start understanding attacks on free speech as direct attacks on our ability to develop relationships with others. Surgeon General Murthy’s staunchness in attacking free speech—under the guise of protecting us from misinformation—is just one of many reasons we should be skeptical of his plan to “fix” our relationships. If he and others in high places do not thoroughly reject political censorship, then there is good reason to view this advisory as a blueprint for an assault on the private sphere of life.

Controlling Private Life Has Always Been the Goal of Totalitarians

Many still argue that totalitarianism—i.e., total control over every aspect of life—can’t happen in America. But there’s a recurring pattern in history that takes a society from relative freedom to total oppression. Totalitarians have always sought to control all institutions of society, starting with education and the media. They then move on to legislatures, the courts, the corporate world, the arts, sports, the military, and beyond—just as we see today in America.

Those institutions are the gateways for tyrants to get their hands on their biggest prize of all: the mediating institutions of family, faith, and community, all of which must be developed in the private sphere of life. These are where we obtain our sense of healthy connection and responsibility to others and our sense of identity. They serve as the buffer zones between the isolated individual and the mass state.

These institutions are still decentralized to a great extent. We can still operate within that sphere of life, but it’s getting harder to defend it.

Let’s remember that the Bolsheviks viewed private spaces as dangerous breeding grounds for counterrevolutionaries and were determined to expose and destroy private life. The Nazis had a strategy called Gleichschaltung, which meant synchronizing all institutions to promote their ideology. Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book contains several quotations about his war against the private mind and how to correct the “mistaken ideas” of anyone not on board with Maoism.

Years of Warnings about Totalitarian Tendencies

Warnings like this are hardly new. Eminent sociologist Robert Nisbet wrote this in 1953: “The shrewd totalitarian mentality knows well the powers of intimate kinship and religious devotion for keeping alive in a population values and incentives which might well, in the future, serve as the basis of resistance.”

He further described how the “ideology of unified and total power” seeks to create a garrison mentality in society: “No relationship must exist that is not contemplated by central command and assimilated into formal hierarchy of external administration.”

Our lives as atomized individuals is not the issue for them. It’s our autonomous relationships that ruling elites are after. Nisbet drives this point home: “The state grows on what it gives to individuals as it does on what it takes from competing social relationships. . .” So, in light of Murthy’s advisory, we can see how the state will derive even more power by taking from our social associations with a proposal to control those associations for us. For the greater good, of course.

Maybe you don’t feel like we’re on the cusp of totalitarianism? Nisbet suggests that’s exactly how this process feels: “the transition from liberal democracy to totalitarianism will not seem too arduous or unpleasant. It will indeed be scarcely noticed, save by the ‘utopians,’ the ‘reactionaries,’ and similar eccentrics.” (Such as yours truly.)

All Your Relationships Belong to Government

Expecting the government to roll back its atomizing polices is a pipe dream. So, given the historical pattern of ruling elites’ unquenchable thirst for power, I can’t help seeing Murthy’s advisory as a blueprint for government absorption of the private sphere of life. If implemented, it would further erode and eventually dismantle freedom of speech, religion, and association, which are our only means of developing strong relationships.

We can point to many ways that our sense of social isolation has intensified in modern life, including the impact of communications technologies. But let’s not forget that government policies have fed social hostilities and atomization in a big way, especially given our government’s continuing commitment to policies that divide us through family breakdown, abortion, and that persistently attack traditional religion and free speech.

Consider also how the current administration is aggressively pushing for the abolition of parental rights with President Biden strongly asserting “there’s no such thing as someone else’s child.” Under the euphemism “gender-affirming care,” White House policy promotes castration and genital surgery on minors without parental consent.

It keeps sowing hostilities among people—especially children—through school curricula that push critical race theory and gender ideology. It pushes the erasure of women and will not even define the word “woman.” This administration constantly cultivates hostilities among Americans based on race, sex, vaccine status, religion, and more. It also encourages mobs who do the same.

So, clearly, the advisory’s proposed infrastructure and demands to enforce federal policies in all areas of life will atomize us further. Ruling elites who push these policies are actually super-spreaders of loneliness—in the name of togetherness. It’s a process I describe in my book, “The Weaponization of Loneliness.”

Coalesce Around Freedom, Not Safety

A recurring pattern of ruling elites is to first create a malady and then offer their cure. “What remains then,” Nisbet asks, “but to rescue the masses from their loneliness, their hopelessness, and despair, by leading them into the promised land of the absolute, redemptive State?”

When our government—which bears responsibility for policies that so greatly contribute to social isolation—assures us that they will get it right this time, the correct response is a hard “No!” The best thing the government can do to support social cohesion is to get out of the way and protect our fundamental freedoms to speak openly and freely associate.

In the end, we must coalesce around freedom, not safety. Some may believe they’ll get a sense of safety and peace by living under an authoritarian state that dictates what they may say and how they must relate to others. Yet giving up your freedom for the illusion of safety also means giving up the private sphere of life, the only place in which we can forge the relationships we crave. Let’s not trade that in for the pseudo-intimacy and pseudo-life of collectivism.

For many folks, freedom may seem risky, messy, and fraught with conflict. But it is also real, unlike the pseudo-safety offered by tyrants. Freedom offers excitement, discovery, imagination, glorious victory, joy, and the possibility of real trust and love. That’s far more fulfilling than the ponderous, relentless, perfectly “safe” march to the concentration camp of a hive mind.  

As Vaclav Havel explained in his 1978 treatise, “The Power of the Powerless,” the hidden sphere of life is really the only place we can learn to live within the truth. It is where we gather the strength to resist state oppression and revive civil society as that sphere ripples outward to society at large.

The following words by Havel could easily apply to today’s America: “The issue is the rehabilitation of values like trust, openness, responsibility, solidarity, love.” Government just doesn’t have the capacity for accomplishing that. And it never will.

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