(Shakespeare’s best example of fearful, alienated man–Othello)
“Follow your bliss.” “Live from your own centre.’”–Joseph Campbell
“Since in the world of time every man lives but one life, it is in himself that he must search for the secret of the Garden.”–Loren Eiseley
Alienation is a word which was very popular and in wide use in the 1960s. For example, “blacks in the United States are alienated from whites and should have the vote” or “Women are being alienated by male-dominated society by being underpaid”. Usually, then, the alienation called for and resulted in a variety of social changes–long-forgotten and taken for granted by subsequent generations in the decades that followed.
Alienation, then, often referred to the generation gap and the quite different experiences and behaviors of young and old.
The sense of the term alienation has long–going back to early modern thinkers–such as Fromm and Kierkegaard–referred to a significant separation between social, ethic, and gender groups as well as what might be referred to as ‘personal alienation’.
Personal alienation would refer to the sense and experience of being alienated from others–ironically, today in a wrap-around world of 24/7 smartphones, e-mail, and texting. In some ways these e-devices have made it possible for us to be and remain instantly connected, but do they give us a true closeness beyond a lot of ‘me-ness’ and otherwise, practical, convenient communication?
By and large, our experiences are best known by/to ourselves, no matter how many or how much others may ‘walk in our shoes’. Conversely, we may empathize and even sympathize with others, and have some sense, perception, understanding, or appreciation of their condition, but this will never be exactly, fully, the same as/identical to the actual felt and known experience of someone else. In other words, we are in a permanent state of isolation or alienation from one another–a fact that that usually becomes obvious when someone we know commits a serious crime, gets a divorce, or has a large agenda or crisis we were previously unaware of.
So the question quickly becomes, “Despite whatever apparent connectedness, how close are people really?” or “To what degree are people alienated from others in their lives?” (as in ‘how much alienation’)?
So the further question then becomes one of actual closeness and depth of connection or connectedness with someone else or others. How truly close are people beyond their roles in family, with spouses, friends, workmates, and other groups of people generally speaking?
There is, of course, much restlessness ‘out there’ today in the contemporary scene, that is, lots of ‘lost souls’, unhappy, chronically dissatisfied folks with many or large ‘missing pieces’?
Alienation, finally, comes down to alienation from self. Those who are restless and incomplete or unhappy are usually separated from their dreams or goals. They are leading false, fakey lives which are largely just roles and performances. In other words, they’re living on and for surfaces, for images, for various self-delusions that often keep them going in some kind of permanent state of alienation from who they really are. In my opinion, roles and performance are easily about 80% minimum of what passes for daily life and immediate purpose and necessity.
Can one be authentic and true to oneself constantly and perpetually playing roles (in public, so to speak)? I think not, especially if following one’s bliss is not reflected in those surfaces. I think that only when one drops the roles and to, some extent, drops out, to find out who one is, without societal or work distraction, can one really begin to understand better ‘who I am’.
Life is a lot easier when one knows, mostly, their own self and identity, when one is listening to and acting out of one’s soul and spirit more simply and directly. Ironically, this may mean or lead to more social isolation or alienation, but to a large extent, that does not matter if one is more fully true to oneself–without kowtowing, masking, or pretending to others–a large %age of what passes for typical social interaction, And without projecting onto others authority and responsibility for one’s own unique, time-limited, ephemeral, ever-changing life. Basically, assuming authorship for one’s self and one’s own life.
Only then will the alienation within cease or be no more. Only then, free of unnecessary, distracting, limited/limiting people, conflicts and contexts, will one ever be truly free and autonomous.
“I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.”–William Blake
“The goal of the hero’s journey is yourself, finding yourself.”–Joseph Campbell