We need others and they need us. And that’s a wonderful thing.
Since America’s quarantine began several weeks ago, mental health professionals have warned that isolation — notwithstanding its potential “curve-flattening” positives — can have serious psychological negatives. Though that position is supported by mountains of recent evidence, it’s hardly a new viewpoint: in the opening pages of his Politics Aristotle teaches that “the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing.” In fact, Aristotle argues that he “who has no need” for society “because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.” The mental health experts and Aristotle make a very simple observation: We need each other. We need society. Recently, however, these notions have been largely forgotten or rejected — and the evidence is all around us.
The first society, of course, is the family. As the Catechism states, ”The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life.”
Sadly, the macro-society has rejected this essential micro-society, part and parcel.
The union of husband and wife has been rejected. In the second chapter of Genesis, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” But much of the world has responded to God in cacophonous unison, “No! It is!” We’ve reached a stage in which sex inside marriage is considered oddball. In fact, marriage itself is increasingly viewed as a dangerous anachronism that should be stopped. In the body politic, the virus of no-fault divorce feverishly rages, while in the Mystical Body of Christ, some marriage tribunals desperately invent phantoms of invalidity, thereby desecrating the Sacrament of Matrimony and devastating families.
Conception is now commonly viewed as irresponsible, while sterilized sex outside of marriage is considered a basic human right. Do I exaggerate? Look no further than the fact that it is contraception — rather than conception — that is synonymous with “responsible parenthood.” Governments throw billions of dollars at abortion and birth control, lest society gain one more member.
When you consider Pope Saint John Paul II’s observation that “the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family,” it’s little wonder that French and Russian revolutionaries sought to attack the family first in their effort to uproot society.
But if you reject the notion of family as the basic unit of society, what then, is said to be the basic unit? The new answer is the individual.
(Clearly, each person is his or her own. But recognizing someone’s human personhood or individuality does not negate his or her natural association with others in society. Quite the contrary, individuality implies that you are one among others who have a common human nature just like yours.)
With the abolition of family, this form of radical individualism celebrates the disconnected individual — unfettered by the rights and duties and bond of family. As Pope John Paul writes, “Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.”
Once family is rejected — once human nature is denied and no bond is seen among persons — what remains that we might term “society”? It is terribly tragic that coronavirus has imposed even greater social distancing on humanity, but we should recognize that — prior to all this — some of us had imposed it upon ourselves and each other. With the prevalence of abortion, pornography, and random sexual encounters, human persons are increasingly reduced to the level of utility — and there’s no more profound social distancing than that.
In the midst of all this, I keep thinking back to an episode of The Twilight Zone titled “Where is Everybody?” It’s the story of an astronaut who finds himself in a nightmarish world in which he is alone — painfully alone. In the closing moments of the story, an observation is made about why his loneliness was so desolate and scary:
You see, we can feed the stomach with concentrates. We can supply microfilm for reading, recreation, even movies of a sort. We can pump oxygen in and waste material out. But there's one thing we can't simulate. That’s a very basic need: man’s hunger for companionship.
In this moment of pandemic pandemonium, we are beginning to reawaken to the idea of society — to look beyond our individualistic selves. The truth is, we need others and they need us. And that’s a wonderful thing. We need marriage. We need family. We need friendship. We need society. It’s a pity we had to be reminded. When this viral plague ends — and we humbly pray to our merciful Lord that it will end soon — we need to remember and apply what we have learned.