The Subversive Hugger

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Be a rebel. Go hug someone.

I am recording this on June 8, 2020. Most of the world has been on Wuhan virus lockdown for 10 or 12 weeks or more. The Ruth Institute has no special expertise on infectious diseases. We do, however, have some knowledge about families, societies, and the human need to be social.

I’m seeing plenty of harmful consequences of prolonged social isolation. I’m seeing within my own community, suicides, substance abuse relapses, and people getting just plain edgy. I just read a story about suicide hotlines in California having a year’s worth of suicide attempts in a single month.

Let’s cut straight to the chase. Humans are social creatures. We need other people. Human interaction is not an optional extra, pasted on top of our material needs or our disembodied minds. We need to be touched. We need to look at other people to see how they are reacting to us. Are we behaving in a socially appropriate manner? Or are we going off the rails? That is pretty hard to gauge when you are all by yourself.

It is a proven fact that people need hugs for good mental and physical health. It is a proven fact that bringing doggies to a nursing home or children’s ward of a hospital helps the mental and physical health of the patients. Why is that? Petting the dogs stabilizes the emotions, lowers blood pressure, and reduces anxiety. From one mammal to another, we need our hugs.

Think about it. Solitary confinement is one of the worst forms of punishment. People lose their minds after a while.

My first book, Love and Economics, was all about motherhood. Babies literally need their mothers to hold them in order for their little brains to develop. They need their mommies to look at them in order to connect to other people. A left-alone baby might be fed and clothed, but they will not develop psychologically, and may become seriously mentally ill.

Psychologist Harry Harlow did some of the most controversial scientific studies of the twentieth century. Some of them are described in this textbook. He kept infant monkeys isolated from their mothers. The baby monkeys became mentally unstable.

Here is what I’m getting at. You are not a monkey. You are not an infant. But you are a mammal. And we mammals are social creatures. Full stop. We need the presence of other people. Without other people, we come unglued.

I don’t care what the infectious disease people say. I really don’t. (Of course, they’ve changed their tune about all this. But I’ll talk about that another time.) I don’t care about your politics. I don’t know your politics. I do know your species: everyone watching this is a mammal. Am I right? You need the physical presence of other people.  Go hug and be hugged.

Don’t just barge into people’s space. Ask them, “Would you like a hug?” Or, say, “I really need a hug. Would you be willing to give me a hug?”

You’ll be alright. Honest. If that makes me a rebel, fine. If that makes you feel like a rebel, I’m ok with that. The prolonged isolation we’ve been asked to endure is not sustainable. It is inhuman. So go hug someone.

I’m Dr Jennifer Roback Morse for the Ruth Institute. I’ll see you next time.

This is the text of the video recorded on June 8, 2020.


One of Harry Harlow’s Monkeys:

Harlows scared monkey

Figure 3-15 from Harry Harlow’s 1971 textbook Psychology

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