Recently Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, proposed The National Strategy for Social Connection Act. The bill has three parts. Part one would create a White House Office of Social Connection Policy to advise the president on the epidemic of loneliness and develop strategies to improve social connection. Part two would mandate the federal government to develop an official, national Anti-Loneliness strategy across all federal agencies. Part three would send more funding to the CDC for the study of the mental and physical effects of loneliness.
The bill itself exemplifies the clunkiness and inefficiency that characterizes the work of the government: a new office will be formed, then an office will be placed inside that office, and that office will advise and send money to yet another office.
To be fair to Senator Murphy, America is facing a very dangerous loneliness epidemic that is quickly becoming a public health crisis. Rates of suicide, homicide, depression, self-harm, crime, and social isolation are at all-time highs. These trends are correlated with loneliness, which researchers have found can be twice as detrimental to our physical health as obesity.
Even if well-intentioned, there are two fundamental problems with Senator Murphy’s legislation. First, no program, government or otherwise, that does not first understand what it means to be human can hope to combat the growing pandemic of loneliness. Second, there are some problems that the government with its clunkiness simply cannot address.
It is a very modern belief, as Jacques Ellul so clearly described in his writing on the rise of “technocratism,” that all problems can be solved through the proper application of technique and the effective use of technology. This illusion only contributes to the expansion of state power. After all, who else can be trusted to properly apply the technologies that promise to solve our problems?
Under this illusion, there is less and less room to look to God for help. Consequently, there is less and less concern for how He created the universe, including human beings, to function in the first place. If there’s no real motivation to seek out our intended design, there’s even less reason to seek out the Designer, and on and on it goes.
This same faulty assumption is at the root of Senator Murphy’s proposal. Like a lot of political solutions, creating a government office to combat loneliness assumes human beings are less like God and more like problems to be solved. If we can just get the technique right, by setting up the right system at scale, we can “reboot” all these lonely humans back to their factory settings so they’ll stop making so much trouble.
Of course, because that’s not what humans are, no government program will ever be able to regenerate the fallen human heart.
Though the state cannot solve all problems, it can incentivize and disincentivize certain behaviors. For example, many social welfare programs disincentivize marriage. No-fault divorce policies disincentivize long-lasting marriages. Legalized abortion incentivizes (or at least de-stigmatizes) risky sexual behavior. Calling same-sex relationships legal “marriage” reduces marriage from being the basic unit of social society and the source of healthy population growth into little more than “two people who like each other … at least for now.”
The reality is that healthy, intact families are the single most effective tool to combat loneliness. Yet with every one of these policies, the government has weakened family stability. Any proposed legislation to “fight loneliness” that doesn’t mention the cancer of fatherlessness in this country just isn’t serious.
Senator Murphy has written elsewhere about the connection between loneliness and the breakdown of institutions like the family, churches, sports clubs, and civic clubs. But the physical act of walking through the doors of a church or civic center or YMCA will not magically relieve loneliness. Institutions foster deep relationships because they call people to devote themselves to things outside themselves. People form deep bonds with others when they are devoted to something bigger together, and that devotion also gives them a reason to put up with each other. This is an important but overlooked factor in a cultural moment in which we’re often encouraged to “get rid of toxic people” in our lives, as if human relationships should never experience conflict or tension.
Loneliness is a public crisis because people are lonely. People are lonely because their hearts were made for relationships with others and with God. If the government really wants to “solve loneliness,” its money would be better spent hiring whomever it planned to lead the Department of Social Whatever and telling them to instead pick up the phone, start dialing, and tell the person who answers to get married, have kids, go to church, and call their mom.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Maria Baer. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.
Have a Follow-up Question?
ListenAll Audio Breakpoint: Podcast Breakpoint This Week: John Stonestreet The Point: 60 Seconds Find BP on the Radio
© Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.