The death of intimacy:
A selfish, market-driven society is eroding our very humanity

It has become almost an article of faith in our society that change is synonymous with progress. The present government has preached this message more than most, while it is a philosophy that most people seem to live by. It is nonsense, of course. Change has never always been good. And recent surveys indicating that we are less happy than we used to be suggest a profound malaise at the heart of western society and modern notions of progress.

The findings are not surprising. The very idea of what it means to be human – and the necessary conditions for human qualities to thrive – are being eroded. The reason we no longer feel as happy as we once did is that the intimacy on which our sense of well-being rests – a product of our closest, most intimate relationships, above all in the family – is in decline. In this context, three trends are profoundly changing the nature of our society. First, the rise of individualism, initially evident in the 1960s, has made self the dominant interest, the universal reference point and one’s own needs as the ultimate justification of everything. We live in the age of selfishness.

There has been the relentless spread of the market into every part of society. The marketisation of everything has made society, and each of us, more competitive. The logic of the market has now become universal, the ideology not just of neoliberals, but of us all, the criterion we use not just about our job or when shopping, but about our innermost selves, and our most intimate relationships. The prophets who announced the market revolution saw it in contestation with the state: in fact, it proved far more insidious than that, eroding the very notion of what it means to be human. The credo of self, inextricably entwined with the gospel of the market, has hijacked the fabric of our lives. We live in an ego-market society.

The decline of settled community and the rise of the media-society has desensitised us as human beings. We have become less intimate with the most fundamental emotions, without which we cannot understand the meaning of life: there are no peaks without troughs. Life becomes shopping.

Martin Jacques
Saturday September 18, 2004, The Guardian

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