Hillary Clinton’s recent article at The Atlantic curiously bears exactly the same title as my own recent book, “The Weaponization of Loneliness.” Her piece has generated much criticism from conservatives—and deservedly so. But what neither Clinton nor her critics explain is what it actually means to weaponize loneliness and how such a process operates within us as well as in society at large.
Those who critique Clinton’s article tend to focus almost entirely on her demonization of her political opponents. This is completely understandable. Indeed, she pulls out all her usual suspects, including everything “right-wing,” white men, “incels,” Rush Limbaugh, MAGA, QAnon, Steve Bannon, parents concerned about the indoctrination of their young children at school, and more.
In addition, Hillary resurrects her old theme of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to claim that those responsible for our crisis of loneliness have created and exploited a growing sense of alienation through “right-wing propaganda and misinformation, malign foreign interference in our elections, and the vociferous backlash against social progress.”
She uses smears like “alt-right” and “conspiracy theorist” dozens of times throughout the piece. Ironically, her language is precisely that of suppression and isolation. Such demonization is a staple of those who want to shut down conversation, isolate those who disagree, and enforce compliance with increasingly bizarre demands.
Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, Americans are definitely suffering from an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation. This is not news. Our related tragedies—including spikes in deaths of despair and the adverse effects of social isolation on both mental and physical health—have been in the headlines for decades. What could be a root cause of this dreadful fracturing?
A ‘Machinery of Loneliness’ Drives This Crisis
Clinton’s essay is plainly intended to promote Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s recent 81-page advisory titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Social Isolation.” She presents her 1996 treatise on soft collectivism, “It Takes a Village,” as a forerunner to the advisory.
Murthy’s advisory should alarm all Americans. It declares our loneliness epidemic to be a public health crisis that requires urgent government intervention. But it can just easily serve as a blueprint for an even more massive government invasion of the private sphere of life, as I explained in a three–part series here at The Federalist.
The initiative must be resisted at all costs. To understand why, we first ought to consider Hannah Arendt’s epic book, “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” She noted that people cannot be fully terrorized into compliance unless they are first isolated from one another. “Therefore,” Arendt wrote, “one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about.”
Bringing about that isolation involves what I call a “machinery of loneliness.” It’s not a new process. It goes back through modern history, at least since the French Revolution. We must become aware of the process if we hope to rein it in and revive civil society with institutions worthy of trust.
There are three main components of the machinery of loneliness: identity politics, political correctness, and mob agitation. Identity politics strips us of our individuality, and divides us into camps sorted by various identities of “oppressor” or “victim.” Political correctness controls our speech by inducing us to self-censor under threat of ostracism. Mobs take different forms, but they serve to enforce all of the above while cultivating conformity, compliance, and social distrust.
The machinery is further fueled in other ways to threaten people with isolation if they don’t conform. These include propaganda, censorship, the criminalization of comedy, and snitch culture. New technologies play a role too.
Harnessing the Terror of Social Rejection
The hard-wired human terror of social rejection is easily weaponized under such conditions. This fear is the spark that ignites the fuel of our conformity impulse and keeps the machine running. We get drawn into that matrix whenever we sense we must comply in order to gain social acceptance, which is a primal human need.
Those with a totalitarian impulse for social engineering are deeply invested in keeping this machinery in motion. Attacks on free speech are absolutely essential to this process. If we can’t speak openly to one another, we cannot organically develop bonds of trust. And if we can’t develop trusting relationships—whether as family, as children of God, or as friends and cheerful neighbors—then we’ve gone a long way towards a Stockholm Syndrome-like dependence upon our government captors.
Over the years, this machinery seems to have gone hand-in-hand with policies that promote alienation, despair, and loneliness. For example, we have a massive welfare state that grows urban blight, family breakdown, abject dependency, and community breakdown.
We see little done to address the opioid epidemic and the homelessness and crime that goes with it. We now see elites invested in infanticidal abortion, transing children, and abolishing the rights of parents to bring up their own children. All serve to isolate us, to destabilize healthy human relationships.
Recall also how Covid mandates literally enforced our isolation through face coverings, lockdowns, threats to take the untested injection or lose your job, and brutal separation from our dying loved ones.
Perhaps most menacing today are the calls for censorship under the pretext of protecting us from misinformation. Any government that monitors and punishes the open conversations of its citizens is absolutely isolating them against one another.
Government Disruption of Healthy Relationships
The weaponization of loneliness is baked into Murthy’s advisory because it enforces much of the above with programs that disrupt the development of healthy human relationships. They include identity politics, surveillance, propaganda, and the censorship required by the DEI regime of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
So perhaps it’s not surprising that promoters of government bureaucracy like Clinton and Murthy have suddenly developed a ravenous interest in “curing” us of the loneliness that many of their pet policies cultivated in the first place.
Be further warned that the scope of this project is vast, and now there’s legislation introduced to enact it all. As with all collectivist schemes, we should be able to see that it amounts to a social credit system under the usual guise of compassion. Worse, it will lead us all into far more atomization, not less.
Likewise, Hillary’s utopian village relies on the authority and force of the federal bureaucracy and the vilification of competing views. Sadly, “The Weaponization of Loneliness” as a headline over Clinton’s Atlantic article appears more like a statement of her intent, not the warning I express in my book’s subtitle, “How Tyrants Stoke Our Fear of Isolation to Silence, Divide, and Conquer.”
Ultimately, the best thing government actors can do—but won’t—is get out of the way. If they really wanted to help, they would encourage families and institutions of faith and friendship to develop organically, without constant threats of demonization, and the loneliness that goes with them.