This despair topic was something I touched upon at the start with my first of the year post on Anguish and Anger.
Bruce Levine, in his book Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic writes:
Depression is highly associated with the experience of hopelessness and helplessness, and politics is all about power. In genuine democracy, people don’t merely get to vote but instead they have a real sense that they actually have an impact on their society. When you are voting, year after year, for the lesser-of-two-evils, neither of whom you support and both of whom are in the pocket of corporations and wealthy individuals, you don’t experience any real political power. Politics is all about power, and depression is largely about powerlessness.
I believe this is the first recalibration required, our expectation that we have a voice in politics. The more wonkish amongst us have watched this train wreck of an administration and hapless congress for eight years. It is now clear to most of us, even slow learners like myself, the people are not in charge. We are owned and so are the politicians. This particular Myth America is depressing.
Now I want to lay out a different Myth America, the one about entitlement. This indictment of our cultural behavior is said with a kind of snarl by Jason Miller at Thomas Paine Corner.
Collectively, we act without conscience or concern for the consequences of our actions. The American Way of Life is “all about me and to hell with everyone else.” We revere narcissism, hyper-individualism, greed, wealth, and status as virtues. Becoming a rich, acquisitive careerist by clawing one’s way to the top of the hierarchy through deceit, betrayal, sycophancy, and whoring oneself out in any way imaginable is enshrined as the penultimate achievement in our sewer of a society.
Last month I gleaned some insight from Beth at Fake Plastic Fish.
Not my most articulate moment, but sincere. My feeling at the time was that if I allowed myself to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, I'd just curl up under the covers and do nothing but drink and eat bon bons. Shortly afterwards I received an email from No Impact Man reader, Brian Morton, who begged to differ with me. He actually sent me a very long essay explaining why despair is valuable and why we should all allow ourselves to feel our despair fully and completely. Here's the last paragraph of his essay. I'd love to know what you think.
A time of black despair is coming, and if you feel like you are drowning in despair be comforted. Despair is a GOOD thing, when it functions properly. Swim in your despair, master it, use it for what it is good for. Use your despair to let go, and set new humbler goals. You are less rich, and less powerful than you think you are, than you are used to being. But you are not without any wealth; you are not without any power. Each breath is riches; each moment is wealth; each choice is power. All work is using our power. Do what work you can, plan, set new goals, and do what good you can. Despair, but do not drown in it, despair to clear a place for humbler goals. Your despair is in reality a valuable friend, helping you to re-prioritize your life, even when doing so is painful and difficult. Despair hurts, but it is a virtue in disguise. The pain of despair is the pain of healing, and adapting to humbler circumstances. All Americans will soon become acquainted with despair. Be assured, despair is a gloomy ally, but it is not in the end your enemy.
Right off the bat I have two strong statements. First, I am leery of this approach because it smacks of the xtian versions of sit down and STFU. Secondly, there are people who need to be monitored by a physician and take medication for depression or a bipolar condition, to name two. I have no quarrel with someone securing this kind of assistance. Everyone must know themselves as first order of business.
Yet, I will not argue at all with the premise that a shitstorm in coming in my lifetime. It is better to know it and use it – to master it. It is more like living with realities rather than pixie dust and angels.
My point is that in the cultural sense we citizens of the world need not fear feeling despair or depression or anger. Feelings are what they are. And we are foolish to believe that life is not fraught with pain and anguish and loss as much as it is filled with heart pounding joy and exaltation. It is the boundaries of these, the cultural defaults or our expectations of and for these emotions that require readjustment. Speaking for myself, I welcome the idea of recognizing realities even if it means lowering the damn bar.
That being said, the whole notion of putting our energies towards the things that matter over perpetual outrage or fear seems less crippling, less depressing. I am talking to myself here. I don’t think I am saying run away from the imploding political system altogether, as I feel there should be accountability, repercussions and someone to lock the treasury door. Some of what we do in building a sustainable life needs to grapple with the fetid mess and atrocities created by empire. Right?
Maybe it is best to consider this post as one to be continued . . .
Images - Natasha Mayers describes on her Flickr website
target with military ribbons (the 300th image by me that has appeared on Common Dreams!) acrylic painting from "signs of the times" series.
For me the military aspect of the target image reinforces the America as Empire default needing recalibration. The second image is titled, “we are all in the same hole."