"The true solitary does not renounce anything that is basic and human about his relationship to other men. He is deeply united to them -- all the more deeply because he is no longer entranced by marginal concerns. What he renounces is the superficial imagery and the trite symbolism that pretend to make the relationship more genuine and more fruitful. He gives up his lax self-abandonment to general diversion. He renounces vain pretenses of solidarity that tend to substitute themselves for real solidarity, while masking an inner spirit of irresponsibility and selfishness. He renounces illusory claims of collective achievement and fulfillment, by which society seeks to gratify and assuage the individual's need to feel that he amounts to something.
Photo by Thomas Merton
"The man who is dominated by what I have called the "social image" is one who allows himself to see and to approve in himself only that which his society prescribes as beneficial and praiseworthy in its members. As a corollary he sees and disapproves (usually in others) mostly what his society disapproves. And yet he congratulates himself on "thinking for himself". In reality, this is only a game that he plays in his own mind - the game of substituting the words, slogans and concepts he has received from society, for genuine experience of his own. Or rather - the slogans of society are felt to rise up within him as if they were his own, "spontaneous experience". How can such a man be really "social"? He is imprisoned in an illusion and cut off from real, living contact with his fellow man. Yet he does not feel himself to be in any way "alone"!"
- Thomas Merton, Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude, in the book Disputed Questions (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960) pp. 186-187