Solitary confinement is probably the cruelest form of incarceration, as has been noted in many contexts and by various schools of experts.
Youthful offenders subjected to periods of solitary confinement may suffer irreversible damage, to pull a dramatic sounding, likely indisputable, fact from a nether cavity. Routinely, for disciplinary reasons and others, teen prisoners in America are shut into cells by themselves and allowed to stew for days or weeks. It is very cruel, but apparently quite usual, just the way we do business here in the U.S.A. these days.
“Ah, another soapbox!” says my old friend.
“Just so,” says I. And I’ll tell you something else, isolation is not an isolated problem restricted to forced detention. Look at the wild popularity of social media, which is neither, strictly speaking, social nor media. It is a constant contest for attention in a distracted world that has only so much attention to pay to any of its hundred million media creators. How often do we note that people with 10,000 friends on Facebook don’t have one to call when they are feeling down? 140 characters, gaily and bravely tweeted out to the world, somebody…. follow me. Into the breach, follow me!! Hello? Can I get a tweet back? Retweet? Ping? Hello?
“Turn that burner down, partner, your pot’s about to berl over, and you’re sounding a bit… crazy…” my friend says.
“’My friend’…” I think, recalling Napoleon’s great remark, to his diary, about friendship. After noting that he regards man as base coin existing merely to gratify his passions he records that he fully realizes he has no true friends, only people who suck up to him because he’s powerful, charismatic, etc., he sniffs to his diary “as for me, you don’t suppose I care?”
“To his diary, you say?” says my friend, getting the ironic point I will belabor briefly now. Napoleon denied that he needed friends, intimacy or anyone to confide in. He denied it to his best friend, the journal he confided his most intimate thoughts to.
I know very well I have no friends, I say to this apparition, this flimsy literary device, “my friend”. To the extent that I can make people laugh, or think, or feel something, I am a wonderful guy and liked just fine. Like Napoleon in power, I know I will have all the friends I need as long as I remain as I am. I recall walking with a group of friends on a long hike a few autumns ago, first with one, then another. We caught up, exchanged a few anecdotes, touched base. Before I left each friend they were laughing. I left ‘em laughing, each one, and each in a unique way. That’s neat, I remember thinking.
“But you say these people are not your friends?” he asks.
“You need to shut up too,” I say, very, very tough.
Here’s the thing. I was in mid e-conversation just now with somebody about a business mentor, and setting up a meeting with a business solutions specialist when I realized I was no longer online. “Hello?” I had a response ready to send to one, was phrasing one for the other when… “hello?” The line was dead. Silent. The dreaded silence descended like a gigantic, hideous, world masking testicle.
“There goes a gigantic, hideous darling you should murder toot sweet, that gratuitous and disgusting testicle image,” says a friend with a keen editorial bent.
Isolation does things to a person who lives alone. I can tell you for sure. The internet suddenly winking out looms like a major catastrophe to people who communicate largely on line. Silence.
Oh, you have plenty of people you interact with every day. I understand. You make sales calls, have meetings, colleagues, discuss business, consult, talk to clients, josh with customers, prospects, make dinner plans, plan trips, talk to waiters, drivers, talk to strangers while waiting on line at the movies. You chat up everybody, and I don’t begrudge you that small, important pleasure. I don’t even ask you to consider what I’m writing here—there is no reason to ask or to consider.
The entire exercise — gratuitous. Maybe that subway poster advertising The School of Visual Arts back in the 1970s hit the mark and will always hit the mark: having a talent is not worth much unless you know what to do with it. Talent is worthless, they intimated artfully, unless you monetize it. All art is commercial in a commercial society, you dig?
“Art…” Hermann Goring grunts in disgust, although he plundered more than his share of valuable Degenerate Art during the Nazi gravy years, “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun.”
Hard to blame the Nazi bastard on that score, you know? I don’t own a gun, except for the metaphorical one I fire off here from time to time.
“You are a chattering rictus,” an observer observes.
“Yes,” I say, “but I’m sure you don’t want your guts blasted with this metaphorical Glock 9.” End of that particular story. I stop, turn full face and flash my adorable rictus, gentle reader.