Philosopher and sociologist Karl Marx has been open about his critique of various things. But one of his most insightful observations has been about alienation. The definition of alienation is a simple one: when anything that is familiar and connected becomes foreign and disconnected from the source, we call it alienating. But the implications on our society and the individual are much more complicated than a simple definition.
When Karl Marx wrote about the Entfremdung theory, that is the estrangement from the self, he spoke of alienation as a result of a hierarchical social class. But alienation goes at a much deeper level in our modern society than just capitalism. When we say alienation now, it means a sense of exclusion and separation in a broader sense rather than just about a social class.
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Our society has seen alienation in four different stages. The first one has seen humanity become alienated from nature. You don’t even have to be told now about what an impact humans have had on nature. Not only are we completely disconnected from nature, but we are the only species on the planet that are alienated from nature. We are destroying the only thing we know as home. It may be too late before we realise how disconnected we are from nature.
The second form of alienation we see in our culture is the alienation from other people. In the digital age, you are well connected but have less intimacy and trust. The sense of relationship humans have with one another is becoming lesser and lesser as we evolve technologically. You might sit in a room full of people, but you are not really present there as you’re immersed in your phone. Gadgets have turned us into zombies. To make it worse, there is an increased propensity to physical and mental illness because of social media. Things will only get worse when the Metaverse and virtual reality have you hooked on to a fake life that doesn’t even exist.
The third form of alienation we see in our culture is the alienation from work. A lot of people no longer indulge in work that has any meaning to them. Money has replaced creativity. A salary is a bribe you accept to forget your dreams and kill your creativity. Work at its best is what makes you human. It fulfills your soul. It allows you to flourish and thrive by channeling creativity. But the work in our modern society demands productivity over creativity, thus destroying the workers. The system turns workers into a number, rather than people. You end up not becoming employees in this system, but a stomach waiting to be filled, competing with other stomachs.
God created you in their image. What you can do best is to create. And so when you do not do work that is creative, speaks to our soul, then it brings about a feeling of meaninglessness and stress. When you experience such a sense of meaninglessness, you try to replace it with the meaning that you have lost. You then become anxious about how you look, what others think about you, what new stuff you can buy to look cool, and so on. To help you cope with the meaninglessness, you turn to everything that has been assigned a false value by our culture. But these can never compensate for the lack of genuine meaning, you fall into a vicious cycle. What society does is that it sells us a lot of products that try to substitute that loss of meaning; and by being addicted to consuming these products, we are chasing an illusory white rabbit of meaning. The economy of our modern society is based on that loss of meaning in our culture.
But the most important alienation is not your disconnection to nature, others, or to your work. The most important one is your alienation from yourselves. Everybody has a gut feeling, even children do. In fact, they have much stronger gut feelings. Children express these gut feelings without apprehensions.
But there are many people in our society who get separated from their true selves somewhere in childhood because when they expressed their gut feelings, society didn’t have the ears to listen to it. This can happen from close family or friends. They then shut down their gut feelings and become alienated from their true selves. Your gut feelings tell you what is right and what is wrong. It tells you what is safe and dangerous. It is an inner guiding voice that is always right. So, when you are alienated from your true self, you no longer have a sense of reality. This is one of the main reasons why people struggle in our culture today and face mental health issues. We have lost connection to ourselves.
But just as we can regain a sense of connection to nature by taking care of nature and all the species of the Earth, human beings can regain back that connection to themselves. Empathy is present in all of you. You are inherently wired for empathy. Even animals are wired for empathy. Elephants are known to mourn their dead and even hold a kind of ritual for the dead. Dolphins are known to recognise differently-abled people when they meet them. Rats in a lab are shown to be stressed when they see other rats being experimented upon. This is your true nature as a human being. We have lived in a culture that conditions you to believe that we are separate individuals, all competing with one another, but we’re designed as empaths. We’re wired for connection and compassion.
To heal the planet and to heal humanity in specific, all we have to do is to connect back with our true selves. Through various spiritual practices, we will not only reverse the alienation and form a connection to our higher self, but we will then awaken the intuition and the guiding inner voice that we have lost. By putting empathy and creativity above profits and productivity, we can heal nature and our connection to the world.