During the debate over gay marriage, I predicted that, once the government became involved in marriage, there was no telling where the power-hungry tentacles of the state would stop.
By making marriage a “right” regardless of who or what was getting married, the government would someday have to ensure equal rights to marriage by naming a “marriage czar” and a Secretary of the Bureau of Love, Sex, and Marriage.
I did a double-take on Friday when I saw that New York’s Governor Kathy Hochul named sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer as “Loneliness Ambassador.” The government of the state of New York was going to address the problem of “social isolation” by naming the elfin Dr. Ruth as a kind of peppy cheerleader for friendship and love.
“Hallelujah!” Westheimer said in a news release. “I am deeply honored and promised the Governor that I will work day and night to help New Yorkers feel less lonely.”
“Loneliness,” we’re told by the Centers for Disease Control and the Surgeon General, is a huge problem. Social isolation leads to mental health problems like depression, and physical problems like cardiovascular disease.
“As New York works to fight the loneliness epidemic, some help from honorary Ambassador Ruth Westheimer may be just what the doctor ordered,” Governor Hochul said.
At age 95, Dr. Ruth may have slowed down a bit. But as a former Haganah fighter who was wounded during Israel’s war for independence, she’s one tough cookie. I wouldn’t put any task she sets out to accomplish beyond her reach.
Obviously, even a driving personality like Dr. Ruth can’t “cure” loneliness. Social isolation is a by-product of modern society and not an affliction of the heart.
Besides, why is the government involved at all in an effort to “unisolate” citizens?
Hochul’s office cited a 2020 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which found more than one-third of adults age 45 or older experience loneliness, with nearly one-fourth of adults age 65 or older considered socially isolated. A sense of being alone defines loneliness, while social isolation is an objective lack of social connections.
More recent studies have also emphasized the importance of social connection, finding that a lack of certain types — such as never being visited by friends or family or feeling like you have someone to confide in — is associated with a higher risk of dying early from any cause. Social isolation has also been linked to cognitive decline, anxiety and weakened immunity.
Jonah Goldberg recently wrote, “As families shrink or break down, as the sinew of local communities breaks down, the government is seen as a necessary substitute.” Since loneliness and social isolation are problems, someone has to address those problems. And look! Here’s the government riding to the rescue with the former Haganah fighter leading the crusade.
The appointment of Westheimer delivers upon a charge issued by multiple academics who, in their studies on social connection, argued that loneliness and social isolation isn’t just a personal issue for individuals to solve on their own, but a problem in need of policy-based support, as well.
Olsen echoed Hochul’s remarks, praising the decision Thursday.
“For decades, the public has turned to Dr. Ruth Westheimer as an authority with wide-reaching influence who spoke to us eloquently and candidly about issues that are fundamental to who we are and how we interact with one another in a complex world,” Olsen said. “I can think of no one better than Dr. Ruth Westheimer to connect with New Yorkers of all ages and help elevate the issue of social isolation, which is among our top public health challenges, albeit a hidden one.”
Dr. Ruth made sex education fun and interesting, largely because she was so candid and earthy when talking about sex. But I doubt very much she can work her magic to put a dent in loneliness because, at bottom, this is not a problem the government can solve.