Our society is fragmented. It exists as isolated units by and large. A high percentage of households contain only one person. It is quite possible to go days without seeing another person, weeks without a conversation, years without touching another human in anything but the most cursory manner. Last week I went six days without hugging anyone. I am not disabled, retired or unloved, yet because I live by myself, I was starved of human contact. Actual bodily contact with a member of my own species. Dogs, cats, lions, monkeys, mice, birds and mammals in general, children do not consent to such a situation between themselves.
It is tempting to point to societal issues that have an obvious deleterious effect, and can be tackled using systems, properly funded and project managed. For instance poverty, homelessness or substance abuse go hand in hand with social isolation. However, properly funded and project managed programs, valuable though they can be, are impersonal and incorporeal. In a society that prohibits touch between its members, poverty, homelessness and substance abuse could be symptoms, not causes, of a fundamental malaise.
On a generational level, our species is adapting to some very freaky technology. Humankind domesticated cattle and developed the plough say 9,000 years ago – 450 generations. Anatomically modern humans have existed for some 200,000 years (10,000 generations) according to Wikipedia. Freeing an elite from the responsibility of finding food has over those 450 or so generations resulted, amongst other things, in the internet. The rate of change has done nothing but increase with time. Only two generations ago we developed nuclear annihilation, and communications technology now out-paces all but the young. We can fly, we can see at night, we can communicate our thoughts immediately to anyone with a mobile phone; and surely this technology has caused us to act in some very odd ways.
Societies that have a rigidity, like the class or caste systems, prohibit touch between classes, and developed I guess at least partly in order that technology be accommodated, whether it be plough, sword, water mill, milling machine or information technology. A patriarchal society, dependent on obedience is not conducive to loving touch, but is ideally suited to war. War, apart from killing people, separates nation from nation, combatants from non-combatants, ethnicity from ethnicity, parents from children.
I guess, given the amount of war and crime in the world, it’s not surprising we don’t touch one another. But this is at variance with our more primal instincts. Everyone is keen to touch a new baby, or a pregnant mother, or an elephant. In the womb, touch and hearing must be the main senses. There’s nothing much to see, smell or taste. We have hands that are great at touching with thousands of nerve endings. Touching one another is the literal way to re-establish contact.
I kinda see what Mao was about, wanting to dispense with the modern world and its useful technology, like dentists, bless them. But I like hot showers too much to want to believe Mao was right. The Buddha said that the body is our means to enlightenment. Hinduism and Buddhism contain a systematic approach to the body in ayervedic medicine and yoga that can form an integral part of the religion. I tend to think of Christianity by contrast as having a poor view of the corporeal. Western post-enlightenment medicine still has some way to go to escape the misconception that the mind is somehow separate from the body. There is plenty in the gospels that makes me wonder how the Western Christian mind-body dichotomy came about. Generations of celibate priests has no doubt got something to do with it.