People are losing the familiarity and ‘sense of belonging’ that the traditional systems of religion, family, national and cultural identity and a secure job once provided. At the same time, they are being forced to adapt to the exponentially accelerating social and cultural changes brought by the dawn of digitalisation and countless other new technologies.
The stress and inner dislocation caused by such rapid change was foreseen and described by Alvin Toffler many years ago. He warned that human beings were increasingly suffering from shattering experiences and disorientation. They were becoming ‘future shocked’.
According to a 1992 New York Times article (by Daniel Goleman), in some countries the likelihood that people born after 1955 will suffer a major depression – not just sadness – but a paralyzing dejection and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness at some point in life, is more than three times greater than for their grandparents’ generation.
We can observe the suffering this lack of cohesion can cause in children who live in ‘patchwork families’ and in communities and societies where the traditional balance of values and roles (father, mother, grandmother, teacher etc.) has been distorted. In a 2009 video by the London Business School, professor Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones discuss the findings that the overwhelming need and wish of people is to belong to some kind of community.
But what if this community is not based upon the right kind of values? What if it achieves its cohesion at the price of the freedom of the individual- for example?
According to Aristotle (and many others) the human being is a a social being (zoon politikon) and as such needs to bond to others in order to experience his humanity and to cultivate a cohesive social world around him. But bonding must be positive. It must facilitate growth and freedom, it should not rob us of it.