The End of Intimacy, Trust, and Love 


“When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships.” – Andy Warhol


I’ve been thinking about how the world has been coming apart lately.

Homo sapiens, as is often pointed out, are social creatures. We live in concentric social circles that extend outwards from the individual in degrees of love, trust, and intimacy.

At the center is the individual – i.e., YOU. Around you is a small circle of people you greatly love and deeply trust. This may include your spouse and immediate family and closest friends. But it may not. You know they are in your innermost circle because losing any one of them would be devastating to you. It would change your life forever. It would feel like losing a part of your heart.  This is your Circle of Love.

Beyond them is a larger circle of people with whom you have good and comfortable relationships. You like them and they like you. You know how to enjoy each other’s company, and when you are together, you shift immediately into that familiar social mode. You may even say (and believe) that you love them. But you know – if you are honest with yourself – that you would not be devastated if they disappeared from your life. Still, you believe that you can trust them to help you if you need help. That matters to you. This group, too, can include family or friends. This is your Circle of Trust.

The third circle that surrounds you is your Circle of Acquaintanceship. It is comprised of people you interact with regularly but don’t know – or care – very much about. These are people from whom you might ask a favor and for whom you might do a favor, but only if it is not a terribly big one. And then it would depend on your mood.

Beyond that, there is a fourth circle: the billions of people you don’t know and that you care about only in the most abstract way. This is the Circle of the Others.

Those four circles have comprised man’s social universe for millennia. However, in the middle of the twentieth century, as we began to get most of our daily information from radio and television, a new circle appeared. This fifth circle was comprised of all the people we had never met personally but about whom we had strong feelings and opinions.

This fifth circle quickly pushed the fourth to the perimeter and then moved into third position. We began to trust the pundits we admired on radio and TV more than we trusted our neighbors. And we began to love our favorite TV personalities more than we loved our neighbors, too, even though we knew nothing about them but the characters they played.

Welcome to the Circle of Delusion… otherwise known as the Circle of Social Entropy…otherwise known as How We Put an End to Civilization.

Since the proliferation of social media, the Circle of Social Entropy has been nudging its way inwards towards the center of our social universe. It bypassed the Circle of the Others almost immediately and then the Circle of Acquaintanceship soon thereafter. Today, for millions, it has bypassed the Circle of Trust and is threatening to bypass even the Circle of Love. (An easy way to measure this is by seeing what’s been happening on Facebook the last few years. People are deleting “friends” over social and political issues.) In real life, friendships and families are disintegrating over social media posts.

In his 1964 book Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan argued that, by its nature, media has an effect on the ideas and sentiments that people form. He was right about that.

What social media has done in a very short time is astonishing. It has essentially allowed virtual relationships to move closer in our universe of intimacy than real ones. Increasingly, we have greater trust in the pundits, politicians, celebrities, and influencers we encounter daily through social media than we do in our neighbors, extended family, and friends.

I believe we are at the end of the way we have, for more than 100,000 years, developed relationships with other people. We are quickly moving into a world where love, and trust, and intimacy will be a largely digital experience.

What’s happening today is the end of real relationships. To me, that means an end to freedom and individuality.

And it gets worse. We are also on the threshold of The End of Real Knowledge. I’ll talk about that on Wednesday.


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On Friday, I wrote an essay trying to make sense of the senseless killing of George Floyd. As part of that essay, I told three stories about my personal experience with racism and police brutality. One of those stories, in particular, generated a lot of feedback from readers, many of them wondering if there was more to it than what I was able to convey in that brief amount of space.

There is more to it. There’s actually a lot more that I remember about that incident…

I was sitting in a police station in Washington, DC, handcuffed to a chair… 

I had been arrested because I had interfered with what I thought was a rape. The woman in the car was screaming “Rape!” It turned out the man she was accusing was a cop. So I got arrested for interfering with his arrest.

As I was sitting there waiting to be booked, three patrolmen brought in a middle-aged black man in handcuffs. The black man was well dressed and wore what looked like expensive glasses.

I don’t remember what he was charged with. I wasn’t paying that much attention. I was looking at the three other handcuffed men in the room, who, like me, were seated and waiting. Two were black. One seemed to be Latino. One of the black men was young, like 16 or 17. The other one was about five years older than me, in his early 40s. The Latino-looking guy looked to be in his 20s. They all looked scraggly, tough, and poor.

To me, they all looked GUILTY. But since I had been, in my mind, wrongly arrested, I wondered if they might have been wrongly arrested too. I felt a warming kinship to them. But I could see when they looked at me, a clean-cut white man in a suit and tie, that feeling of brotherhood was not reciprocated.

This little anagnorisis was interrupted by the stentorian voice of the desk sergeant. “I don’t like your tone of voice,” he admonished the middle-aged black man in front of him.

The black man stood there, silently but with his head up and the slightest trace of a smile on his lips. It was a posture of careful defiance.

The room was quiet now. The policemen that had been milling around in the background stopped talking.

The desk officer took the bait, beginning with a foray of small insults. I remember one –  repeatedly calling the black man “four eyes” – because even back then it seemed so puerile to me. And thus a verbal fencing match began.

I don’t remember how long it lasted. It felt like half an hour. It was probably less than three minutes. But the battle wasn’t the least bit fair. From the start, the black man had the advantage.

In a crescendo of anger and frustration, the desk officer hurled increasingly juvenile insults at the black man, who remained calm, but was now responding, basically lecturing the cop as you might lecture your adolescent son about the advantages of keeping his temper.

I was, and still am, impressed by how stoically this handcuffed black man was standing up for himself at a moment when he was so clearly in danger. As a young man that disliked authority, I had many times found myself in situations similar to the one he was in now, and had learned from experience how well meekness works when confronted with an adversary with a handgun.

So I was at once astonished and awed by the courage of this man who, I realized, was much closer to me in terms of affluence and education than our three fellow detainees. But I was also afraid for him. I remember thinking: “Is this the first time he’s ever been arrested?”

Sure enough, moments later, the desk sergeant got up from his seat, came around from his desk, grabbed hold of this man that had just made a fool of him, and dragged him past me and down a corridor to the holding cells.

The only sound in the room was the shuffling of shoes as the three arresting officers followed their sergeant down the corridor and out of view – or so they must have thought. I had a clear view of the corridor and even a bit of the inside of the cell into which they pushed the black man.

The sergeant went into the cell. The three cops stood at the door watching as the enraged and humiliated loser of the debate beat the shit out of the victor.

The sergeant emerged from the cell and locked it. The other cops followed him back up the corridor. I noticed, for the first time, that one of them was black. I studied his face. It seemed troubled. But so did the other two faces. Maybe it was my imagination.

As the sergeant neared me, he realized that I had probably seen the entire obscene (literally, obscene… look it up) performance. He grinned at me,  dust-clapping his hands as if to say, “Well, I guess I showed him.”

Since this show was directed at me, the drama had shifted and I was now an actor in it. This was act two and the audience was watching.

So I said – because I couldn’t stop myself from saying it – “You must be proud. You’re a real tough guy.”

He glared at me and I imagined the headline: Journalist Hangs Himself in Jail Cell. Then he lowered his eyes a bit… and walked past me.

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anagnorisis (noun)

Anagnorisis (a-nag-NOR-ih-sis) is the point in a play, novel, etc. in which a principal character recognizes or discovers another character’s true identity or the true nature of their own circumstances. As I used it today: “This  little anagnorisis was interrupted by the stentorian voice of the desk sergeant. ‘I don’t like your tone of voice,’ he admonished the middle-aged black man in front of him.”

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The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that in the universe (or any isolated system), there is a natural tendency to degenerate from order to chaos.

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If you don’t approve of the looting, but are horrified by the murder and want to do something actionable that is consistent with your moral and political views, you might want to contribute to this guy. (There are hundreds more like him. You can locate them if you look.)

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