Opinion: The careless capital
Is London Europe’s capital of loneliness? As a new survey focuses on how many Britons around the country live in isolation, Sarah Remsky argues it’s time for our city in particular to change its ways
If you’ve ever observed strangers on the tube, have you recognised the exhausted expressions on their faces, their yawns and their sighs? Or, once in a while, have you looked into red eyes, about to break out in tears? Have you ever wondered what’s the story behind them and why everyone just looks away? Well, if you haven’t, then why not?
In my past two and a half years in London, I have often recognised this habit people have – of just not caring much about others. And it’s exactly this carelessness that empowers the growing isolation of our time. It’s ever so evident in this age of technology, where everyone stares self-absorbedly at their phone whenever they can.
Today, 1.8 million Brits over 50 live in severe isolation, according to a new study by Independent Age England. But loneliness is not just a problem of older people. Last year, the Office For National Statistics found that Britain, and its main focal point London, is the loneliest capital in Europe – according to this study, its inhabitants rarely know their neighbours, nor do they have many strong friendships. Isolation has crept up on us for many years and no-one knows if we have yet reached the peak.
But London life does not only make us careless and lonely, it also exhausts us. Without doubt, I wouldn’t have moved here in 2012 believing I would go to hell. I loved, and still do, London’s diversity, its creative vibe and defined look. In countless articles in the Evening Standard, Nick Curtis argues that people should be glad to live in London – after all it is a city full of opportunities – and he certainly has a point. But I’ve come to feel that, more often than not, London doesn’t come in the appearance of an adventure to success, but in that of a monster: with a nasty grimace on its face, it absorbs your energy, your time and your hopes like a bloodsucker.
More than one in four Brits have at least once sought the help of a counsellor or psychotherapist, according to the British Association for Counselling and Therapy. This number does not surprise me. Especially in the hustle and bustle of London and among its eight million careless people, one can get quite depressed sometimes.
After all, London might be a city of opportunities, but it only rewards the successful. That is to say the 6% of the population that belong to the elite. This new upper class has a yearly income of about £90,000 and more than £140,000 in their savings account, the Great British Class Survey Experiment by the BBC found last year. These people might be as qualified as you, but will not need to worry about whether they’ll ever be able to afford the rent for a flat in London on their own, as nearly everyone living in London, including me, does nowadays. According to the latest LSL Property Services ‘Buy To Let’ Index, the average price to rent a property in London is now £1,166. With that in mind, there’s a high likelihood some of us will live with their university mates forever.
Samuel Johnson, the great British author, once famously said: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” This is one example of the endless romanticisation of London, since for most people, the truth is that there is everything one could want to do or have in London, but nothing one can afford. It’s not surprising then that, according to the Office For National Statistics, people living in inner London are among the Brits least satisfied with their lives.
Indeed, the state of London’s population uncomfortably reminds me of Charles Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest theory. Just that hereby, it isn’t nature who chooses the fit from the unfit, but London. Everyone has the chance to survive in this beautiful city, but only the stronger (or luckier) ones make it through. The others, the ones that don’t fit into the system of moneymaking and consumption – the poor, the free thinkers, the anti-capitalists – are disarmed and, if possible, eradicated.
What’s more, though, is that London’s ‘natural selection’ seems to have been widely accepted. We have evolved into a city of non-carers, where everyone is a solo-fighter responsible for his or her own fate. After all, why should we help others if we’re struggling to keep our own living standards up at the same time? But this careless mentality only fuels Londoners’ isolation, and therefore our loneliness.
So, instead of continually re-enforcing this treadmill of lonely London life – out of fear, out of egoism or carelessness – why don’t we start loving? And, with that, I mean not just showing love to our significant other, but also to our friends, our neighbour and the crying woman on the tube. Why should I want to know the reason for her tears, you might say. Well, because we have a small chance to change London life for the better.
Featured image by Kristina Kashtanova