A unique and poorly-evaluated product of our time is the anonymity we enjoy. Given the rapid expansion of our cities, and the increasing diversification of our lifestyles, we are able to move largely unidentified through the day. Coupled with the new technology available to us, which enables us to develop and construct distinct persona which are unrelated to our physical being, our sense of identity is no longer constrained by our physical state, whether that be in relation to our own bodies, or the particular piece of the planet on which we choose to plant our feet.
It is this anonymity which is rigorously defended by civil libertarians: it has given birth to privacy laws, and undergirds many of the rights in relation to the work of the police force.
But this anonymity has a much deeper impact. It is not too far back in history that almost everyone would enjoy a relationship with their doctor which extended beyond the surgery consultation; similarly one’s relationship with the local policeman was not founded on getting into trouble. A teacher would be known out of school hours, the banker knew our circumstances personally - not simply via information on a form, and most of the civic leaders were accessible by chance encounter at the local store. We were seen as whole people, with lives beyond our professions, hobbies and interests. Now it is rare to reveal more than a part of ourselves to any one person. It both empowers us and diminishes us at the same time – giving us control of our own lives, yet isolating us from others. We become increasingly fragmented people, never learning to see ourselves – and others – as an integrated whole. The roots of our loneliness and isolation are grounded in the anonymity of modern city life.
To love is to be fully known and to know fully. Our capacity to love and be loved is directly related to our vulnerability to each other, and our willingness to share of ourselves. The creation statement “It is not good for a person to be alone” (Gen 2:18) reminds us that our health and well-being is integrally bound up in relationships. Which cannot be furthered by anonymity.
This anonymity erodes our sense of christian community, not only impoverishing our spiritual journey, it contributes to our pathology by encouraging and enabling us to keep our struggles to ourselves.
And so we cannot love or be loved as we need.
We need courage to break this stranglehold.
October 31, 2004