BLOG Linda Rhinehart

NWR Issue 113

Breaking the Spell of Loneliness

On Saturday 11 February at 8pm I attended the event ‘Breaking the Spell of Loneliness’ by George Monbiot and Ewan McLennan at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. The collaboration between the two performers, with Monbiot speaking and McLennan providing the music, made for an interesting combination, although I would have preferred slightly less speaking and slightly more music, as the rich, compelling voice of McLennan and his use of both the guitar and the banjo made the performance especially memorable.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I related to what was said, and how it left me feeling uplifted rather than in despair, as might have been be expected from such potentially dark subject matter. Monbiot began by stating that the so-called Hobbesian view of humanity as inherently selfish and competitive is in fact false, and that human beings are the only animals who are regularly altruistic. The first song, ‘Such a Thing as Society’, emphasised that it is living together that makes us human and urged us not to forget this. The second, ‘These Four Walls’, was one of the most touching and memorable of the songs, having been inspired by Monbiot’s experience of hearing an old woman in a shop speak about her life to the cashier, being at first irritated that she was spending so much time talking, but then realising that this might have been the only human interaction she had had all day. Following this, the direction of the event became more overtly political, as the performers dealt with issues such as the lack of funding for mental health (as explored in the song ‘The Night Desk’, in which people with psychological problems spend the night in police cells due to a lack of other available options) and the urgent need for greater connection with the natural environment. This was covered in the songs ‘The Child Inside’, which asked us to reclaim the ‘lost wonder’ that we once had as children in the face of nature, ‘Reclaim the Streets’, which proposed that people start spending more time connecting to each other outside again, and ‘Unknown Lament’, which grieved the time spent by young people on social media rather than outside or with each other. The seventh song, ‘My Time and Yours’, was sung a cappella by McLennan and was an ode to growing up in an earlier, less lonely time, while the eighth song, ‘I’m Coming Home’, described the lives of hotel workers in London and was, in the words of Monbiot, dedicated to making those who are usually invisible visible. For the final song, the audience was asked to sing along to the Civil Rights anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’. This was one of the highlights of the evening, with the large, nearly full room echoing with hopeful strains.

Some of Monbiot’s claims appeared dubious, such as his insistence that loneliness has the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, while some of his proposed solutions to the loneliness crisis, such as the sharing of all material possessions and the prospect of starting an entirely new political process, appeared to be too far-fetched to be of any real, immediate use. The decision to begin the performance with a positive message was a good one, although in my view the performance could have been slightly shorter. There was also a tendency to Romanticise the past, as in ‘My Time and Yours’, without much discussion of the ways in which society has has improved in recent years.

After the performance, the audience was encouraged to speak, if only briefly, to someone sitting nearby, allowing them to participate in the project of erasing loneliness. I must admit that I found this somewhat uncomfortable, which probably proves that overcoming our tendency towards isolation is indeed very difficult for many of us. I would definitely recommend Monbiot and McLennan’s collaboration to anyone, seeing as it deals with an issue that is extremely relevant to our society today and could even lead to widespread despair and destruction. In spite of this knowledge weighing on me, I left feeling hopeful about the future.

Linda:Rhinehart: is a PhD student at Aberystwyth University’s Department of English & Creative Writing


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