“On Relationships and Alienation,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
We see the personal ads in the daily newspapers and in magazines such as The New Yorker—for example, “boy wishes to meet girl.” Whether he is seeking long walks in the woods or just sex, he is, in short, seeking some human companionship.
The sexual revolution spelled the end of lifetime marriage, in which, to be sure, many possibly suffered from and from which many wanted to escape. Some were trapped in an unhappy and sterile relationship where divorce, not then easily available, had to be obtained in such far away countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, or Mexico.
The sexual revolution in the 1960’s brought an end to long formal engagements and courtships and elaborate weddings, bringing in its wake a facile total equality and equity, bringing with it, the single parent family. The world of “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best” sitcoms, presenting the myths of the American Family, have been left behind for bisexual couples, lesbian parents, and Woody Allen and his lover Mia Farrow, and of course transgender couples.
Let me say I make no criticism or value judgment on these behavior patterns which have lately emerged in our society, but simply make note of this development. It was thought that this freedom, unleashed in the 1960’s, would bring ultimate happiness. Yet it seems that it has brought in its wake a kind of loneliness and a spiritual vacuum, despite the depictions in the popular magazines and television images.
In truth, human beings seek nothing more than simple friendship and a little companionship to assuage their alienation and isolation. Why has this freedom that we thought would bring in the millennium ushered in only isolation, loneliness, and alienation. Why, when we are no longer locked into the traditional marriage and family (our former one choice of life structure), do we exchange it for lack of connection, alienation, and isolation? Why are there images in newspapers and popular magazines lauding the goals and benefits of total freedom, when people advertised for simple friendship? Why has the freedom, so vaunted and desirable, brought only a vacuum rather than personal fulfillment? Why, in this era of multiple choices and options, do human beings need to place ads to get a little companionship and friendship?
Possibly the answer is in the present narcissism or devotion to self which emphasizes getting as much for yourself and doing as much for yourself as you can, which has brought nothing more than spiritual emptiness and inner desolation and destruction. Fulfilling material desires does not lead to real human connections. In fact, we need institutions, whether they church, synagogue, family, or state.
As human beings, we need institutional directions. As persons, we need standards and uplifting behavior patterns. Unlimited personal freedom and self-love bring nothing but vacuity.
We are all ultimately entwined and connected with one another. From the dinners on our tables, the food products, and the farmers and grocers, each of us needs one another. Denying our interconnection in the name of personal freedom and doing what you want brings only loneliness. It is significant that the 20th century, with all its emphasis on fulfillment and freedom, has produced no great romantic love poet. Total freedom is total sterility. Institutional behavior patterns, or, as it were, a mixture of the personal and institutional, curb our desire and self-love and self-adulation and direct us to proper love-founded relationships. True freedom lies in living out lives in connection and in relationships with others as we move through the course of our lives. Unlimited freedom brings nothing but spiritual death. It is only in connection and relationship with one another, founded in the course and stream of our lives, that bring any happiness. It is only in devotion and service to others that we can know the way to happiness. Hell, if it exists, must be founded in egotistical self-love and only brings spiritual and emotional death.
We only find ourselves when we lose ourselves. It is sad but true that many seek through newspaper and magazine pictures and advertisements and images the route to a kind of personal fulfillment that can only be obtained and conquered by losing ourselves in others. Ultimate freedom can be only found in interconnection rather than in the highly individualistic capitalist society in which we are all forced to function.
The answer is not in ourselves but in those that surround us. In sum, the single-minded devotion to self brings in its wake deeply felt unhappiness. It is only in institutions and others that bind us and do not pull us apart that we can become fully human.