The modern culture of identity can suggest quite strongly that we have an ‘inner self’, something which emits authentic behaviour. ‘Be yourself’, we say, and we speculate that if we listen hard enough, a truth emerges.
The other side of the coin, however, is that nothing can be ‘inside’ without an ‘outside’. A planet is only a planet if there is space around it, and, arguably, knowledge of space adds as much to the understanding of planets, as does knowledge of planets themselves.
In the same way, we can analyse our individual interiors all we like – our brains, our bodies, our dreams – but that will be only half the truth. To express itself, our ‘inside’ needs an ‘outside’, an ecosystem of objects, people and ideas, as a foil to give meaning. Without that, we find ourself in a black hole, with no way in or out.
We can discover the truth of this by withdrawing for a while from our surroundings. Several scientific studies have looked at just such scenarios, and it seems clear that extreme isolation causes psychological decline and damage. (See for example https://www.the-scientist.com/features/how-social-isolation-affects-the-brain-67701.)
Faced with the danger of a global virus, societies around the world have considered it necessary to impose varying degrees of social isolation on individuals. The reason given is the preservation of life and health. But we are rapidly rediscovering aspects of social contact which are necessary to life, health and psychological welfare. These include:
- freedom of movement among extended families and friendship networks
- freedom to attend populated social events (sports, music, political)
- freedom to view others’ faces, and to show our faces to others
- freedom to engage in physical contact (greeting, sexual, self-assertive)
The prohibitions have acted as a kind of enforced social withdrawal. They are an opportunity to experience what life is like when our ‘outer life’ is deprived of social stimulation.
Our ‘inner selves’ are, without doubt, important. But, equally, without our ‘outer worlds’, our wellbeing can be severely hampered. I suspect that, once the virus is under control, we will return to our extended social networks, to public events, to public self-expression, and to wider physical contact, with gusto.
‘Planet you’ is an impoverished place without your social space.