I’ve recently been reading David Vincent’s A History of Solitude, which is a must read for any budding young hermits out there, you need to know who paved the way for you to be able to do what you do. Now, you might be thinking ‘Wait, isn’t solitude a personal decision which isn’t really tied to what others think?’ This is partly true, but there are some complexities here with respect to how we understand solitude and the way in which we perceive it.
One of the things Vincent makes clear is that historically solitude has been generally frowned upon, it was seen not so much as a noble pursuit of quiet and contemplation, but an activity of self-ostracization and unsociability. There are a few reasons for this, but the Enlightenment really put the final nail in the coffin with regard to our relationship with solitude. One of the covert components of Enlightenment thought is sociability and the idea that reason, logic and democracy happen through conversation, which they do, but when you don’t want to enter into those things altogether, the dominant system shivers you out like a bad fever, something that shouldn’t be. Modern society simply does not understand why you wouldn’t want to be a part of it.
This isn’t actually an overtly anti-modernity essay (but it is me writing it, so take that with a pinch of salt). One of the things that thinkers such Yarvin, Junger and Greer make clear is that just because you’re no longer red, doesn’t mean you have to become blue, or are blue simply because of your existence as someone not-red. In the very same way, just because I’m anti-modernity doesn’t mean I’m pro some random form of anarchism or primitivism, the point is – I believe – with solitude, that one doesn’t enter into that whole spectrum of existence. Where one’s very life and vitality is measured against various external machines and metrics. The crossover between modernity and solitude however is one of scorn. The modus operandi of modernity is control, and the idea that someone would be fine solely with their own thoughts is abhorrent to it. It’s very difficult to control someone who entirely content with their own company because you have nothing to offer them, and the substance of control is found within desired object. The thing, idea or habit which is taken on because one believes it good and then altered in relation to profit, constraint or production.
So one is in control of whether or not they go find solitude, but from the beginning one isn’t completely in control of how they understand solitude. There is a guilt created from taking time out and being consciously alone, one is often made to feel as if they owe society something, as if they should be pleasing X or Y, or the classic excuse, they feel like they’re being unproductive. Production is the enemy of solitude, at least production in the sense of partaking in some action of modernity’s construction. Modernity has subsumed the very idea of productivity into its own feedback loop of control; entertainment, binge-eating, social outings and various other consumerist exercises are given to us under the name of productivity and thus legitimized in their enaction, we no longer feel bad for doing them as we would say, laying around doing nothing, or reading quietly by a river.
I’m not saying these things are bad in-themselves, only that the way in which we understand them as either bad or good is given to us by a third-party, and so once again we hand over our responsibility and personal interest to an abstract ideal. We no longer admit or accept what actually interests us, because that may be too weird, strange or asocial for the atmosphere we’re within. No, we rely on an external apparatus of social justification to prove that our most internal interests are in fact ok to have.
Solitude is not an act of rebellion of unsociability, nor is it unproductive. And you most definitely should not feel guilty for wanting to find solitude or be alone. Solitude (in-part) is the complete denial of the idea that one needs social proof or vindication for the actions they undertake. That one is entirely ok with themselves, to the extent that they are actually rather happy to spend time with their own company.
Perhaps this is another piece about how modernity controls you, but once again there’s a minor difference. This form of control is about one’s understanding of what is accepted of them and the conditions of that acceptance. There is an inherited guilt within all of us with regard to not being social. Not being anti-social, but simply not engaging in the generally accepted notion that solitude is somehow alien, strange or bad. Just because one removes themselves from society it doesn’t mean they’re anti-social, and that they’d rather not engage in that whole structure of presumed accepted ideas.