Isolation, particularly if it also involves an inability to move around freely, is a form of torture. Solitary confinement has finally been identified by the UN and various human rights organizations as torture. Take away a person’s freedom, their ability to interact with other humans, and the outlet of vigorous exercise, and you’ve got yourself a nice, self-sustaining torture room. Economical, too.
Humans, like many animals, are highly social creatures who take comfort in being together. Being isolated with only your own thoughts, fears and moods as company will eventually drive a person mad. The beauty of isolation as torture, from the sadist’s point of view, is that, as long as you are also immobilized, you cannot make it stop. All isolation requires is silence from everybody else, which is easy enough to accomplish in our competitive, hectically busy world. You just have to whisper a few specific, ugly things about the person you’ve isolated to anyone who might have been sympathetic, sit back, and watch your handiwork.
People undergoing torture will do anything to make it stop. To picture how destructive long term isolation is, think of its chilling political implications. Here in the Home of the Brave (TM) we have tens of millions of isolated, grumpy old Americans riveted to on-line “communities” where their millions of new virtual friends all believe that adrenochrome, the mythical element in a terrified child’s blood that fuels the lust of “woke” cannibal pedophiles while infusing them with ungodly strength, is the demonic currency of the global plan, by you know who, to enslave all white nonpedophiles. If they are that powerful, and capable of that kind of satanic atrocity against innocent children, what do they have in store for the rest of us?
On a personal level, I woke up with a slightly larger sense of isolation today. The scared feral cat I had patiently gained the trust of, and who I fed every day as he rubbed his head against me to be petted, is lying dead outside the window, apparently clipped by a speeding car the other night as he waited to cross the street he’d crossed countless times.
I had been giving two more old friends of fifty plus years the benefit of the doubt for the last few months. Even as I suspected, during their long silence, that a good outcome from this benefit of the doubt was doubtful. Today I woke up to more silence, a goodbye kiss from Sekhnet (off to the city for a couple of days) and then, ruminations. I thought of another unanswered WhatsApp I finally sent out yesterday, after no comment on my upcoming knee replacement surgery text, “understood, you believe I am unforgiving and dishonest” sent to a close friend I’ve known since we were fourteen.
Do the math, a fifty year friendship with friends since we were teenagers, and you will see another example of the obvious: childishness is not limited to young kids. We are sociable, we are also clannish and our choices are subject to whim, peer pressure and narrow self-interest. Some are immature from cradle to grave.
I had two unsettling conversations with my lifelong friend, months back. In the first, she lambasted me for being unforgiving, unloving, and torturing two dear old mutual friends who loved me dearly. When I protested that she’d been told an unfair, untrue story, gave my account of the senseless conflict that was being pinned entirely on me, my “defensiveness” proved my guilt to my old friend. I had the creepy feeling I was the defendant in a witch trial.
“You’ve worn me out,” she said as she got off the phone to have dinner.
A few weeks later the theme was my dishonesty. She told me that if I really can’t forgive these cherished lifelong friends, who clearly love me, I have to be honest enough to tell them. Neatly, the entire mountain of bat shit had been piled on me. Not only an unforgiving, loveless, torturing prick, but a lying one too. My character had been assassinated, this old friend was talking to a despised, stinking corpse. I seemed to be the only one who didn’t realize I was already dead.
I understand now that what sent the old friend who set this all afoot into a rage was that I was probably the only person in her life who, in fifty years, had never contradicted her about anything. I was always easy to get along with, even when she was being mercurial, controlling, judgmental, I always understood and never took anybody’s side against her. Suddenly, during a tense “vacation” with her and her husband, worn out by days of mounting stress, I seemed to be defying her — for the first time ever! This “et tu, Brute” moment made her fly into a rage and have a full blown shit fit. And thinking about it, what safer target for her rage, that had been building for a long time, amid the endless Covid crisis at work and awful, mounting tension with her husband, than the one person in her life who had never made her feel bad about herself?
From her point of view, as she angrily explained whenever I brutally tried to resolve the conflict, she never got angry, never did anything wrong, she only apologized to me the morning after I claimed she was mad because I was clearly so weak that I’d been hurt by nothing after I’d been so threatening and aggressive and completely to blame for any “tension” I perceived. I was also stubbornly unwilling to take responsibility for causing all the bad feelings between everyone there. From her husband’s point of view, whatever she said, that was his position. If she said something different, that was his new position.
While I spent a year of torment trying to fix a broken friendship, and preserving their privacy (since I truly didn’t understand how things had come to this ugly pass), these determined winners were working overtime to control the news cycle and destroy my good name among everyone we knew in common. Of the two stories about our falling out, their ever-evolving one and the one we’d all lived, one makes much more sense than the other. This could be a big problem to these two respectable, sociable people, make them look shamefully imperfect and less than 100% admirable. Intolerable! They went to work, passionately confiding in everyone we knew in common the story that left them the complete victims of me, an unaccountably vicious asshole.
From their friends’ point of view, if they were both that hurt, and told the identical story, and Eliot wasn’t talking about it, then Eliot must be a sadistic, diabolical, lying, unloving fuck, no matter how he might use his silver plated lawyer’s logic to try to twist the facts, and love itself, to obscure that ugly truth. No matter how well he’d hid this from us during those decades of carefree, seemingly loving friendship.
Most people, you may have noticed, prefer simplicity to complication. It is a worldwide disease at the moment — there are only two choices in any situation. It is either Red or Blue, Unregulated Capitalism or Totalitarian Communism, Systemic Racism or Senseless Rage, absolute forgiveness no matter what or an inability to love. This is by design. It is much easier for tyrants to rule unopposed if everything is phrased as a war — black vs. white, good vs. evil, God vs. Satan, love vs. hate and everyone is constantly provoked to fight to prove they are on the right side of these ephemeral absolutes. The irresistible power of this divisive strategy is that a statement like “good people on both sides” when one side are Nazis and Klansmen and the other side is their intended victims, cannot be seen as a statement of moral neutrality. Claiming there are good violent racists means that you agree with their plan.
Political tyranny is a vast human nightmare, and a necessary part of its hellscape is the terrifying personal isolation of all citizens, particularly if they don’t take part in the lynchings and pogroms. Everyone is vulnerable, at any time, to being denounced to the authorities and subjected to the harshest punishment. The same goes for the reign of personal tyranny, maintained by what is often called Narcissistic Abuse. The person who can never be wrong has the same bag of tricks as any despot and the same reflex to deploy them to deadly effect if unquestioning loyalty to them is ever violated. If you live within the social circle of someone who can never be wrong, who must always be seen as perfect, and obeyed, know that they have always practiced bringing others to their side against all enemies and get used to the taste of being vilified and cast out if you ever make them feel bad about anything.
Doesn’t make the bitterness of it that much easier to get used to, mind you, but it’s a good reminder that the world is simply the world, homo sapiens are not necessarily “wise apes” and that the only things we can really influence, on a good day, are our reactions to the ongoing shit show. Cold comfort on a cold day, I know, but better than resorting to desperate acts, no?