Skip to content

Laws Can’t Cure Loneliness

Auguste Meyrat at Law & Liberty

Photo by Tijs van Leur / Unsplash
Central Government Causes Loneliness . . . It Sure as Heck Can’t Cure It
Loneliness is a major problem, but governments, especially central governments, can’t fix it. In fact, they cause it: By taking over functions that have traditionally been performed locally, central governments have killed millions of the institutions and associations (families, communities, churche…

This past week, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut introduced the National Strategy for Social Connection Act to combat the growing “loneliness epidemic.” According to Murphy, the bill would create an executive office dedicated to loneliness along with an advisory committee that would develop a “national strategy on social connection,” issue out “researched-based best practices” for reducing loneliness, and fund research on “loneliness, social connection, [and] social infrastructure.”

If Murphy’s bill sounds familiar, that’s because the British government did the same thing five years ago when it created a “Ministry of Loneliness.” This office would also develop awareness campaigns, conduct more research, and even went one step further by organizing events for people to mingle. Although most outlets were supportive at the time, it was difficult not to note how ridiculous and profoundly sad it was.

For anyone wondering what became of the Ministry of Loneliness, it still exists and puts out annual reports on the growing rates of loneliness despite the ministry’s efforts. One can only expect more of this with Murphy’s bill. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes in Reason, “The most tangible thing Murphy’s plan would do is give more money to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study loneliness—another effort that seems destined to increase government budgets but have little real-world impact on isolation or social connection.”

For anyone who doesn’t work in government, the fundamental problem with curing loneliness with legislation is fairly obvious: loneliness just doesn’t work this way. More funding, more research, and more government offices won’t help average Americans make more friends or have healthier relationships. At best, it can show just how bad things have become. But as the saying goes, “weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter.”

Furthermore, framing loneliness as an “epidemic” completely thwarts constructive remedies. Although there are physical symptoms to being lonely, which is presumably why US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks of it as a sickness, the problem itself has everything to do with a person’s psychology, not their biology. A man who suffers from heart disease can fix his diet, start an exercise regimen, and take medication. What exactly does he do if he suffers from loneliness? Inform the Department of Loneliness, attend government-sponsored adult playdates, and fill out periodic surveys explaining why people don’t want to be his friend?

It’s also worth mentioning that the very people who support a government solution to loneliness are the same ones who exacerbated the problem during Covid, an actual epidemic. Men like Murphy, Murthy, and the great majority of lawmakers and bureaucrats supported policies that fostered loneliness through social distancing, quarantines, face masks, and awareness campaigns urging people to stay home. The result of these directives drove young people to record levels of suicide and depression by shutting down schools and college campuses for months on end. Worst of all, none of them have apologized for it or learned anything from it.

Ineffectiveness and hypocrisy aside, the reality of rampant loneliness nevertheless requires more attention than it currently receives. For too long, myriad cultural forces in the developed world have encouraged people to self-isolate and define success in purely solitary terms. Popular entertainment and modern education has conditioned generations of Americans to ditch their communities, renounce their heritage, and find happiness from within themselves. Digital technology, social media, and high-speed internet have supplanted real community with virtual community and fostered screen addictions that cripple a person’s ability to seek meaningful relationships in the physical world.

As a high school educator charged with socializing young people as well as teaching them how to read and write, I’ve seen this problem worsen over the years. When I started teaching fifteen years ago, my biggest challenge was asking students to stop talking and wasting time with their friends. Today, my biggest challenge is asking them to talk with one another and actually make some friends. All too many of them are glued to their smartphones, live out their lives in cyberspace, and shun any and all connection with their peers and teachers.

It’s hardly different for adults.

Read the rest