I once knew someone who suffered from what I like to call connectionitis. It is this hyped longing to make connections, which finds expression in boastful acts of affection. But what if he’d been right all along? His focused attention often seems solipsistic. Once immersed in a project the world shuts down; the outpour of his being demands it. Perhaps that’s misleading. It’s not so much that the world shuts down. In fact, it would seem that as it fades to the periphery so that only the outline of its finitude is visible, it is filled with a complexity of meaning so dense that the world bulges at its seams. Locked in, however, connections to the concrete world made up of you and me, the stars and the moon, the heroic and the modest, the delightful and the wretched, food and drink, everyday trifles disappear. He is seemingly disconnected. Separate, distinct, alone, a Cartesian subject that knows the workings of his own mind and his own mind alone. Like a vampire awakened by nightfall, his thirst for the ecstatic overwhelms. Anything will do. Any excuse to viscerally experience inclusion will do. Hugs so tight they suffocate, fanciful words of love and devotion so intensely expressed, they nauseate. Stranger, friend, foe, lover, newbie, it’s all the same – we are all connected. Outward appearances suggest we are all separate, distinct material objects that are connected only incidentally by the laws of cause and effect. We “belong”, in fact, to a mechanistic impersonal world comprised of separate objects ordered according to fixed operational laws. The narrative we tell ourselves, we tell our children, is fashioned upon an exclusionist perspective, one that finds competition at the heart of human flourishing and survival – a skewed interpretation of Darwin at best! “It’s a dog eats dog world”, “only the fittest survive”, “we are an island”, “look out for number one”, “eat or be eaten” – popularized sayings abound! This narrative values independence, autonomy, competition, individualism, strength, fortitude, stoicism and the like. We abhor all the contrarieties. Even those who have been crushed by poverty cling to images of Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Tyra Banks, and even, yes dare I say it, the Karadasians! Psychologists, biologists, evolutionists, environmentalists, and philosophers are all lining up with proof that we are hardwired to be empathic, caring, loving, communal…connected. Have we been lied to this whole time? Did you know that the Darwinian phrase “survival of the fittest” that put us on the fast track to this “brave new world” is mentioned only twice in his Ascent of Man? Yet, the word love is mentioned 95 times! In an earlier work about human nature he also noted that what must account for our evolution given our comparative physical disadvantage to other species is cooperativeness. Sympathy is actually the strongest instinct in human nature. The vulgarized form of Darwinianism seems to suffer from Alzheimer’s! Mirror neurons and the vagus nerve neuroscientists speculate indicate that we are hardwired to engage with others in a congenial, interdependent, cooperative manner. Did you know that humans and plants are family? We share a quarter of our genetic make-up with plant-life and over 90% with primates! Though we obviously are distinct in important ways, we are also connected. Medical practitioners rally in support of the positive physiological effects of communal life, acts of giving, and empathic displays of emotion, whereas isolated acts of individual goals and aims invite adversarial relations and animosity which elevate stressors and contribute to poor health. Environmentalists, biocentrism most particularly, argue vehemently against the dominant techno-industrial worldview that regards “humans as isolated and fundamentally separate from the rest of Nature” owing this narrow perspective to a skewed conceptualized notion of self. This socially programmed idea of self dislocates us, quite literally extracts or removes us from our contextual concretized being in the world to this solipsistic self-gratifying, self-perpetuated self only and always understood as standing out against all else. We have delved into acts of self-consciousness and decided this abstraction is real! Spiritual growth and self-realization begin when we no longer see ourselves as isolated and narrow competing egos and begin to identify with other humans -family, friends and finally all of humanity – and nonhumans alike. What deep ecologists refer to as the full unfolding of self can be summarized by the phrase, “no one is saved until we are all saved”. But you might argue, if we are so connected why make it an issue at all? Firstly, I do not wish to obscure the obvious – we, namely all living organism, are also competitive. Lions hunt and devour deer, whales swallow fish whole, alpha males fight for their prominence, and humans wage wars. All true. But none of this takes place in a Hobbesian state of nature where each man is primordially at odds with his brother. Unlike unreflective autonomous species we have to work hard to connect the dots for we do not run on instinct alone. Our self-conscious awareness as self-legislating beings is unrelenting in its objectification of self and the drive to comport ourselves to the world authentically. How we think our way through the debris will, in fact, determine how things are! Connectionitis, you may recall, is a condition preceded by that seemingly contrary state of detachment or oblivion. Not so. Not really, anyway. This cerebral thoughtfulness motions to re-assembling, to re-negotiating, to re-affirming ourselves in a meaningful, fully present manner. I would submit: the only cure for connectionitis is a plague! Infect everyone! And yet what of that acquaintance who lifts his head from inside his navel when assaulted by his own sense of alienation and in a desperate act to fill the void latches onto any starry eyed girl (or boy), prostitutes himself amidst the fortunes of ecstatic revival, all only to remind him that he is alive? Connectionitis I would submit is a pathology of the self-indulgent. The cure, naval gazing inhibitors! 🙂 Of course, all this speaks not to anyone in particular but rather a caricatured figure aspects of which we may recognize in ourselves and others. But seriously, this acquaintance is not alone (hahahah)! Were that the case connectionitis would not be an issue worth writing about, and scholars across disciplinary borders would not be united in their affront to modernism. Connectionitis, inasmuch as it is a pathology, warns against spurts of unreflective yearning for compensation which often finds a foothold wherever opportunity affords indulgence – this is made all the more accessible with endless social platforms. These platforms are not the problem – though they may be constitutive of the symptom of a problem that is exacerbated and proliferated thereby. We need a new paradigm with a richer concept of selfhood. A paradigm that does not hype the rational, that does not fortify moral constructs that subsume the concrete individual self as with variously contrived notions of autonomy, which paradoxically also seem to legitimize any expression of self as authentic on the grounds that it is a self-directionally determined construct. The slippery slope to “anything goes” and “all diversity is equally worthy of acceptance” is not far of, but so too is the obliteration of judgment of whatever kind. For what is it to say, with pride of meaning, I might add, “that I am my own person”, if it is of no matter, of no consequence, what you are, what you stand for, and how you got there? I would submit that it is counter-intuitive, counter-autonomy, and counter-authenticity, in fact. But beyond the counter-anything arguments, this “fetishism of self” feeds that self-indulgent EGO which leads to our inevitable starvation, and …connectionitis.