A middle-class white guy navigates the decline of the American Empire and industrial civilization.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Li'l World

At least a year after my 2005 breakdown, the world began to appear small to me. The rooms of my apartment, the houses that I walked past, the skyscrapers that filed past the window of the buses and cars I rode in. They all suddenly looked small. For some reason, my visual perception of the size of the world had changed. It was as if the world had been warped and shrunken to fit inside my anxiety-addled brain.

It was a depressing development. Formerly, the world had intimidated and fascinated me with its size. I loved to gaze up at skyscrapers in Minneapolis, Chicago or New York and stare across the vast expanses of flat farmland while driving through the Midwest. I was usually nervous when in public, and being in the presence of a large feature, like Times Square, increased my nerves. At the same time, though, it excited me. 

But I could no longer lose myself in the world's labyrinth. I walked the city streets, but really I was only walking the streets of my own mind. There was no interaction to take me out of my head. The strangers passed wordlessly, reinforcing the sense that this world was just a figment of my imagination, an illusion meant to torment me with the unfulfilled promise of connection.

This shift in perception was later supplemented with increased confidence and a lack of interest in taking part in the world. Even though I had a new-found serenity, I had no desire to put it to use by making friends, dating or pursuing my artistic aspirations. I just wanted to keep watching TV in my apartment and hang out with my roommates. This seems to have been another symptom of depression, the sense that the outside world had nothing to offer me.

I recovered from the apathy, but that feeling of living in a diminished world still crops up on a regular basis. The key to fighting the depression seems to be engaging with people socially, especially strangers. It takes guts for me to venture outside my Minnesota comfort zone, but it's good for me and hopefully my sociability will "go viral," as the kids say.

I think it would be good for most Minnesotans to adopt this habit. Here are some ideas I came up with for a Minnesota PSA: "Friendliness: Pass It On!"  Or "You're an Adult. It's OK to Talk to Strangers Now." Or "Talking to Strangers: It's not just for at-risk youth anymore!" One of those should do the trick.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

That Deep-Down Body Thirst

I've been walking the streets of Uptown, Loring Park and Downtown all day, trying to perpetuate the illusion of constructive activity in lieu of employment. That kind of self-delusion can work up a powerful thirst in a man. And I don't mean no tap water thirst. This ain't no Brita water thirst neither. Nor is it the kind of thirst that can be quenched by your Vitamin Water or your Sobe or any of those high-classed, namby-pamby, pantywaist beverages. No, this is the kind of deep-down body thirst that can only be quenched by a man's sports drink, the kind of liquid ya need after you play pickup basketball for 106 straight hours in the blazing sun, or you run 12 marathons in a row, or you build the Hoover Dam.

How I do love Gatorade, with its electrolytes and complex carbohydrates and flavors not found in nature, like Orange, Grape, Lemon Lime, Fruit Punch, Strawberry Kiwi, Tropical Mango, Citrus Cooler, Cool Blue, Cool Glacier Blast, Frost Glacier Freeze, Frost Cascade Crash, Frost Riptide Rush and Cold Fusion Reactor.

It smacks of summer scorchers, walking down the sidewalk with the sweat drippin' off ya, stopping at the convenience store and reaching into the cooler for a cold, plastic bottle of watered-down, Kool-Aid-for-diabetics sweetness. I had a few more blocks til home, but it didn't matter with those electrolytes replenishing my dangerously-low supply of electrolytes.

It also makes me feel athletic. When you drink Gatorade, you're showing a firm commitment to hydration. You're telling the world, "I refuse to let the elements stand between me and my appointed task. Even if my appointed task is to pick up some cheddar and sour cream potato chips, French Onion dip and maybe a pint of Ben & Jerry's, I will dedicate myself to its successful completion as if I were picking up Brett Favre at the airport or repelling Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg or driving my wife to the hospital to give birth to our first child. My current errand may seem trivial, but I refuse to shirk my duty. I will be bringing the full, hydrating, electrolyte-replenishing force of Gatorade to bear on this endeavor. God help the thirst that dares stand in my way."

And if you even imply that Powerade is remotely similar to Gatorade, I will Greco-Roman wrestle you to within an inch of your life, pretty boy. This is not open to discussion. Either you pledge allegiance to Gatorade, or you get the hell outta my country. How do I know Gatorade has been chosen by Jesus as the All-American elixir of champions for the greatest nation on Earth? Because Michael Jordan drinks it, and Michael Jordan is our Greatest Living American.

End of story.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Imperial Legacy

The model of Germania, the planned capital of Hitler's Thousand-Year Reich, sits under a sheet in the basement of the Western imagination, waiting to be unveiled again. We think we've immunized ourselves against this evil. We watch hour after hour of TV shows about the Nazis. We might even read a book or two about them. How could we ever be as wicked as they? But even as we maintain this blithe naivete, our ignorance grows, as does our potential for evil.

Let's walk the streets of the unconscious and trace the outline of this city. Surely we'll find many blind alleys and dead ends haunted by monsters. How many virgins have been sacrificed to this Minotaur? The streets are paved with their bones. Their ghosts fill every silence with moaning, crying, wailing. They deliver warnings. Don't repeat their mistakes. Don't succumb to hubris. Remember: thou art mortal. You are just as capable of evil as anyone else. You are just as vulnerable to pride and arrogance, more so because of the power of your technology.

Why does Germania feel so familiar to me? This is the capital of my dreams, the wellspring whence my imagination sprang. The smooth walls of the edifices. The rigid geometry of the streets. It calls to me. But this is only a dream, a figment of madmen's fancy, the gleaming facade of our murderous heritage, the handsome face of evil, the impossibly perfect skin stretched over the bottomless pit of savagery.

Living in this city, you'd never know the horrors of its construction, the brutal enslavement of its builders, the cruel fate of its citizens. But this is our home. Our empire is also built on death, destruction and oppression. We are shielded from these truths by our sanitized environment. The pollution and exploitation necessary to maintain our lifestyle have been mostly outsourced to factories and sweatshops beyond our borders. The media politely refrain from troubling us with the true causes and costs of the conflicts fought by our military and our proxies. But all empires fall. Let's hope we leave more than a model of evil when we go.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Endless Punishment

How do you punish a mass murderer, a Master of War, an architect of genocide? How could we have brought balance to our moral universe for the millions executed on the orders of Hitler, Stalin or Mao? Shall we rain down on Kissinger the sum total of all U.S. aerial bombardment in the Pacific theater during World War II, as was done to Cambodia at his command? How much pain should we inflict on George W. Bush for the million-plus deaths caused by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?

The leaders of the guilty have few lives to sacrifice on the Scales of Justice, but there are millions of lives on the other end. The nooses of Nuremberg seem too humane for these crimes. They are too quick, too clean for the monsters who managed to keep the blood off of their hands. Shall we resurrect them to exact an execution for each life taken? Shall we pursue them through reincarnations, ensuring that each of their next million lives ends in misery?
This is why vengeance never ends. No punishment that fits the crime can be anything short of a new crime that reverses the roles of the victim and the criminal. I feel like a monster just for proposing these sentences and committing them to (digital) paper. But who of moral clarity and passionate temperament hasn’t entertained such thoughts?
When does justice become revenge? That could be measured by the level of emotion invested in the prosecution. But even justice requires emotion. Science has shown that emotion is needed in order to make the most basic decisions. Therefore, we must temper our passion with empathy and mercy. Each murder, be it state-sanctioned or not, is a wound that must be treated, not an offensive maneuver in a zero-sum game.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A Lonely Boat

I think what may appeal to me most about Peak Oil is the idea that it will throw everyone into the same boat. No matter your current station, it's supposed to reduce everyone to a state of discombobulated poverty.

That may be wishful thinking, but it's certainly attractive to an alienated, isolated member of this atomized society. Chaotic, communal destitution sounds better to me than pointless, lonely comfort.

Granted, I had a chance to embrace a better version of the communal life 4 years ago when I visited an ecovillage, and I rejected it. The reality of that lifestyle caught me off-guard. Ironically, I wasn't ready for the constant social contact. I came to crave the same privacy and solitude I'd been trying to escape.

Surely there's a happy medium that provides both community and privacy, but it may require a long, arduous journey to find. I don't know if I have the strength to take that path. At this point, though, the shame of being too afraid to follow my bliss has become unbearable. Being true to myself may now be the only way for me to keep my sanity.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Grounded

I'm about to quit another corporate job. I've been through this cycle before, the one that climbs toward stability and then gets tilted over by the weight of stress, anxiety and guilt over my complicity in the corporate ruination of the world. Maybe my moral objections are just excuses for my inability to meet the jobs' demands. Whatever the reason, I'm back at the bottom, trying to find a way off this ride.

The worst part is that each time I get back on the corporate carousel (or Ferris wheel), I drift further from reality. The world becomes less real. People become harder to reach. I know they're there, but my heart won't let them in. I'm afraid to open myself to joy, because it lets the pain in too and, when I'm part of the corporate machine, the pain is too much to bear. I feel like a cog in the Machinery of Death.

On that corporate carousel/Ferris wheel/machine, the world was slipping away. Now the fear that I'll never find a healthy niche in the world is threatening to hurl me out of the earth's orbit into the black void of space. But I've been reaching out to people to keep from losing touch with the world. Only human contact will keep me grounded. Here's hoping I can establish a permanent base on this planet.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Winter's Turning

Still arching toward Christmas, the winter glows with warmth and radiant whiteness (as seen from my heated vantage point). The snow remains pure and the decorations fresh and clean. We're still weeks away from the post-Xmas-and-New-Year's hangover. After the expectation of the holidays has been fulfilled, we start down the far side of winter, the descent into mind-numbing cold, dirty snow and the stubborn death-grip of King Boreas that refuses to yield to Spring. He is a receding glacier whose fingers grudgingly give way to life, slowly shrinking until they end in skeletal points.

But winter won't make that turn for four weeks. It hasn't yet worn out its welcome. After New Year's though, winter loses its raison d'etre. Once the gifts have been exchanged and the New Year toasted, the season suffers a severe loss of focus and meaning. It devolves into a cruel cosmic endurance test, punishment handed down by the gods in their haughty caprice. Although, to be honest, my love of winter barely registers the change. I enjoy the frozen wastes of the early year, free of social obligations and fellow pedestrians. Solitude is abundant even in the heart of the city. The outdoors become the exclusive domain of the hearty and determined.