Professor Michael Mascolo, from the department of Psychology at Merrimack College, North Andover, in Massachusetts, USA, tackles this issue. Here are a few highlights from this programme:
“The societies that we live in, in the UK and the US, are highly individualist, based on the idea of me… it doesn’t take a lot to realise how it is that we become socially isolated….That’s the big problem. It manifests itself in many many ways,” said Professor Mascolo.
Does advertising offer a temporary fix?
“Sure, Maddison Avenue does that very well, it preys on our insecurities. To make us want to buy the products. But even larger than that, let’s go right to the competitive nature of corporate America and corporate UK, the main issue that corporations are interested in, is profit….The market is worshipped as the main moral code that they live by. This is not always the way it was. Even Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, wrote a book called ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiment,’ where he talked about the need for not only prudence in our world, but also for virtue and benevolence, in 1776. Corporations have only taken one of those virtues — prudence… they do not have as part of their central mission a sense of justice, a sense of community, a sense of beneficence…”
Do we underestimate the problem of isolationism?
“We tend to think of ourselves as first individual people, and then second as members of society. We’re individuals born as individuals and then we have to break into social relationships. That’s not true. We are born fundamentally connected to each other. Two decades ago, neurologists discovered something called mirror neurons in the brain, these are neurons that fire not only when I do something, but when I see somebody else do the same thing… we need each other, and it is empathy and sympathy that we need to receive love and to give, at the same time. You take that away, you take away the meaning of life, you take away what makes life important, our purpose…”
Where do we go from here?
“Two answers. One, the problem is so big, it’s bigger than any of us as individuals. To begin to solve the problem you have to change systems. You have to change economic systems, you have to change the way we build our buildings for goodness sakes, so that people aren't separated into cubicles….but the real source of change, and I say this to you as an atheist, has to be spiritual, we have to change our mindset, our real basic beliefs. We need leaders to come up and say that we really need to change the way that we think about ourselves… We need to start to think about smaller rather than bigger, not this endless growth, that is unsustainable in our economies…”
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