A Great Loneliness Has Befallen…


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

A Great Loneliness . . .

10 Dec 2021 – A great loneliness has befallen the world’s people. Amid the perilous Covid-19 Pandemic, a desperate sense of loneliness, detachment, alienation, and distance, has emerged with unanticipated consequences for morbidity and mortality.  Each person, each society, each nation, has become a risk for others, for fears of contagion. “Loneliness,” a felt sense of personal vulnerability and despair, has proliferated across ages, genders, income, location, and is approaching pandemic levels.

Loneliness: Yet another Pandemic?

“Loneliness,” is a physical, psychological, and spiritual condition, often bringing suffering amid the isolation and solitude. The experience of “loneliness” is increasing amid terrifying fears it will become a pandemic. Loneliness” is often accompanied with an intense sense of personal victimization, immobilizing alternative for escaping its presence.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic and global challenges of climate change, toxic pollutions, and risks of extinction, humanity is faced with harsh choices between compliance with authority-imposed restraints on individual rights and human rights. There is considerable conflict regarding choice. Protests have arisen across the world, especially among the young, perhaps the most vulnerable to the perils of “loneliness.” Pressures to acquiescence represent a struggle and resistance against massive institutional forces.

Government and authorities, argue against resistance, demanding absolute conformity and adherence: “Vaccinate or risk infection or death.” Unprepared government, medical, public health, and economic systems yielded to pressing challenges. Medical care systems (i.e., doctors, nurses, hospitals), already burdened by the treatment of familiar acute and chronic disorders, found itself crushed before demands and expectations, pleading we are bursting with cases and can no longer offer adequate care.

Local and national government have responded with “hyped media news” vacillating between assuaging announcements claiming “progress,” and statements of rising numbers of infections, disabilities, and deaths.

Major pharmaceutical companies (i.e., Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson), have made extraordinary efforts to develop immunology treatments and preventives, using innovative genetic interventions. Certainly, they deserve accolades and praise.  However, amid their rising stock prices, high salaried executives, and general sense of distance from suffering, many people are ambivalent about policies and regulations.

Scholars, professionals (e.g., Murthy, 2020) Congress, and corporate leaders have acknowledged the problem, calling for more mental health interventions. As a former surgeon general under the Obama Administration, Murthy’s (2020) volume entitled, “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World,” crystalizes concerns, calling for greater community renewal and support. Connection is the key!

Covid-19 Impacts

There is much uncertainty regarding the cause(s) and source(s) of Covid19 and its variants. Accepted “scientific” views of virus culpability, coupled with widespread distrust in proposed and enforced treatments and prevention, (i.e., multiple vaccinations, masks, lock-downs, business shutdown, and entertainment closures) have resulted in a felt sense of severe “loneliness,” no longer limited to temperament-disposed people. Everyone is susceptible.

A vacuum for rumors, intrigues, and conspiracies, is flourishing. Some people have acquiesced, others have resigned, and some have withdrawn into the privacy of their torment. Tragically, a tide of defenselessness has spread across the land. Doubt, suspicion, isolation, detachment, the seeds of “loneliness,” thrive.

Even as social-activists make efforts to build ties and connections at local and national levels with organized protests and internet communication sources (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tic Tok, Google), challenges to community roots of “loneliness” have become endemic, discouraging optimism. “Loneliness” is embedded in a larger context of social, political, economic, and moral problems. It is a product of these problems, and contributes to them.

Cell phones have become essential for widespread communication, increasing information about our perilous reality. Government announcements, designed to advise, console, and compel behaviors are losing credibility, considered as propaganda amid repeated calls for unity, citizen responsibility, and trust in government.

Doubt and denial have risen to disproportion levels. Across the world, and especially in the USA, national character and popular cultures are changing, bringing increases in authoritarian control and population fractionation, across regions, political, and demographic boundaries.

Tragically, humanity and its leaders forgot about the omnipresence of change, ignoring “change” in popular culture. If one forgets “change,” a toll must be paid. Change is always occurring, at all levels, and requires constant adaptation and adjustment. Life is change! Change is life!

The Lonely Crowd . . .

I am reminded of the classic volume, The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (Reisman, Glazer, & Denney, 1962; 1949), which analyzed post-war changes in socialization agents and institutions, finding widespread anomie and alienation in American Character. The authors described social “estrangement,” a sense of isolation even amidst “crowds.” They proposed emerging inner-directed and other-directed character orientations, challenging long-held traditions and expected cultural conventions.

In the post-war Eisenhower Era, discontent with convention became widely apparent. Within years, the USA was involved in Vietnam War, misguided by the policies of “Domino Theory” and “American Exceptionalism.” Protests and social activism among the youth and intellectual sectors of society were suppressed, and strongly condemned by government and corporate oligarchs and plutocrats who demanded conformity to a society which was, in fact, corrupt, immoral, and abusive, serving the privileged wealthy, powerful, and positioned.

Myths of the USA as an open democracy, free from the stereotypic corruption of emerging and developing nations, were broken, creating a widespread distrust which has gravitated to present times.  A documentary affirmed what was believed, but tragically ignored and denied: “How Organized Crime Infiltrated American Business after WW II and Corrupted National Politics from Truman to Trump” (Kuzmarov, 2021)

Life’s Fragility and Vulnerability: Risks of Extinction

Beliefs in life’s fragility, including risks of extinction, are today widespread in the USA and across the world. An unfamiliar threat from a life form, ignored, except by laboratory and medical scientists, revealed shocking possibilities. Humanity was not all powerful! Submicroscopic life forms threatened survival, even as climate change and other global events, poverty, starvation, civil wars, added to contemporary times. It was a case of the microscopic and the macroscopic simultaneously challenging survival.

A new vocabulary became commonplace, as humanity experienced survival risks: quarantine, masks, lockdowns, border closing, layoffs, DNA immunology, vaccination-verification-authorization, booster shots, age categories, and virus variations (e.g., Delta, Omicron), each variation bringing new risks, threats, and suffering to all.

“Immunity” is today a “popular” term, especially as disabilities and deaths surge from Covid-19. “Keep distant!” “Try not to touch!” “Hugging and kissing may have deadly consequences!” “Isolate!” “Avoid crowds, entertainment, and recreational settings!”  “Work from home if you can!”  “If you must work, take individual and workplace precautions.”

In slaughter houses, devoid of protections, worker death rates are spiraling out of control, bringing disproportionate infections and deaths among Hispanic/Latino, immigrant, and the poor, willing to risk lives for paltry salaries for family survival.

Loneliness . . . Being Alone

There are differences between “loneliness” and “being alone.”  Many people prefer to “be alone,” they revel in the solitude and isolation, welcoming the opportunities for activities devoid of human contact.  The term “introvert,” as a temperament, does not capture fully the preference for “being alone.”

Loneliness is different. Loneliness involves an unrequited sadness, often of such intensity and frequency, it becomes a disorder. Mental health professionals make distinctions among different types of “loneliness” including emotional, social, situational, and chronic.  I find these distinctions to be inadequate because they

  • address time and duration (i.e., acute, chronic),
  • context (i.e., situation in which loneliness arise),
  • emotional (i.e., feelings, thoughts, behavior), and
  • social (being alone or alone-in-presence of others). While these distinctions may be useful for diagnosis and treatment options, they are each a nuance of the others.

Ultimately, amidst Covid-19 and its associated implications for the present condition, data suggests that a growing number of people, especially youth, are unprepared for such a hostile, threatening, menacing world (Murthy, 2020). For Murthy, “loneliness” is a dangerous condition, often leading to severe levels of depression, despair, anxiety, abandonment, anger, and suicide. Loneliness is proliferating. Pandemic levels of “loneliness” are possible as Earth experiences overwhelming challenges.

Growing Risks of Earth’s Extinction

James Lovelock (2007), a heralded environmentalist, theorized Earth is a “living organism,” with complex connections among all life. Amid the many assaults on life, one wonders if the COVID-19 virus may be one response to humanity’s abuses — a revenge for destructive abuses.

Lovelock believes the Earth is a self-regulating living organism. His Gaia Theory, named after the Greek deity of the same name who represents the personification of the Earth, contends our planet’s environment adjusts itself in response abuse, much as what humanity is currently doing to destroy life and life support systems.

While that kind of argument may sound a bit like the plot of “Avatar,” it is an elegant encapsulation of the idea that our actions are destroying long-existing processes.

Even as humanity is faced with the risk of the extinction of all life-forms, the response from humanity has proven to be inadequate and tepid. There can no longer be any doubt we are at the cusp of extinction of all life-forms. This calls for major governmental, societal, and individual changes in existing patterns of destruction. There are human protests, and as Gaia Theory suggests, Earth protests, but what is missing is a comprehensive global effort to stem or stop the rushing tide of destruction.

In 2014, Elizabeth Kolbert, a science writer for the New Yorker Magazine, published a conscious and conscience shattering volume, entitled the Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Kolbert concluded by the end of the 21rst Century, there would be a major loss of life among “living things on Earth.” Unlike prior dire warnings and prophecies of life’s evitable demise, Kolbert’s work awakened the concerns of government officials, corporate leaders, media, and citizens.

The World Economic Forum, an organization of government, business, and military leaders, have taken up the slack and vacuum to propose new collaborations between private and public sectors with emphasis on technocracy and corporatocracy cooperation. Risks of dystopian authoritarian control are obvious, but this seems to be of little concern to the Plutocratic and Oligarchic promoters. Their political, financial, and professional interests would be protected, while the interests of the world’s population would be compelled to yield massive human rights abuses for the sake of survival.

I imagine “loneliness” will increase, and with its increases, humanity will face destruction, and disappearance.  Earth, if it survives the onslaught, would be “Lonely.”


Elizabeth Kolbert (2014). The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History NY: Henry Holt & Company

Lovelock, James (2007). The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis & The Fate of Humanity. NY: Basic Books

Reisman, D., Glazer, N., & Denney, R. (1962). The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. New Haven, CO: Yale University Press (Veritas)


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Emeritus Professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus in Honolulu, Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu.  He is known internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 21 books and more than 300 articles, tech reports, and popular commentaries. His TMS articles may be accessed HERE and he can be reached at marsella@hawaii.edu.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Dec 2021.

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