The phrase is a cliche: “We’re born alone, and we die alone”.

Some minority of people may, by mishap, despite our best efforts as a society, die alone. But mostly they are nursed in their deathbeds.

But actually, literally, absolutely no one is ever born alone. Even in the extreme case, the most isolated birth possible, the baby is still not born alone. The mother is, by definition, always there. My sister recently gave birth to twins. So there were three people involved intimately in the event, at the level of direct participation, then a circle around them of professional carers, mixed with family members, who would have willingly ripped their own hearts out to prevent harm to the newborns or their mother, and around them a broader community all emotionally invested in the well being of the family unit. This is all fairly typical.

If we apply the principle of charity and attempt to find the kernel of truth in this statement, we might say that what they are referring to is the uniqueness of our experience. Your mother might be there physically with you, but she remains a separate consciousness, a whole other person, trapped in her own body, from which you have now been expelled, exiled into your own bag of skin. The bitterness in the phrase, then, speaks of an unsatiated desire for an impossible union, a dissolution of multiple selves into one. But would not that simply create a super consciousness, now occupying two bodies, but as alone as ever?

It is the impossible desire to transcend the self and its finitude, without losing it’s unique identity — to assimilate and absorb the ones we love, which would obliterate them.

This phrase is an expression not of reality, but of an ideology of obsessive individualism, in which vulnerability, the need for kindness and love, are taboo, in which we remain infantilised, unable to navigate the boundaries between ourselves and the world, between ourselves and other people — to see them as a seams, rather than as barriers.

The error is similar to that made by those who declare that we cannot have free will, since decisions are merely the results of charge levels and random outcomes in subatomic particles in atoms in the molecules in the cells in our organs in our bodies. But if we believe we are our bodies, then we are those atoms, those charge levels, those random outcomes, and the decisions are ours. Implicit in the position that physicality negates free will is the yearning for some kind of self that is both separate from yet identical to the embodied (and deeply connected) self we experience being each day.

You are not alone. You have choices. Don’t let the booming voice of ideology tell you otherwise.

Recovering journo. Still at war with bullshit. Cofounder of the Stone research transparency system.

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