Decline is all well and good for an empire or a civilization, but on a personal level it sucks. If you have the good fortune to live in an ivory tower that protects you from the consequences of social collapse, it can be fascinating to contemplate in the abstract as an academic pursuit. But for those of us who breathe less rarefied air, it's a bitch to live through.
Since learning about Peak Oil (specifically, the apocalyptic version that
was presented to me by a friend), I’ve been waiting eagerly for the System to fall
apart. Partly, this was detached intellectual curiosity. But a bigger part of
my motivation was the desire to be rid of all the injustices, indignities and nuisances
I associate with the Status Quo: environmental degradation, mindless jobs at
evil companies, the Full House
Clearly, though, there was also a selfish motive for believing in Peak Oil.
I was stuck in a corporate rut of mindless data entry jobs. I was a 27-year-old
virgin whose lovelife barely had a pulse. My relationship with my parents was
still mired in adolescent sulking. The idea that all of this would be swept
away in a few years was very appealing.
But instead of the System collapsing, I collapsed: emotionally, socially and
economically. Ironically, the revelation of Peak Oil is what triggered my
breakdown. The stress that it added to my already-staggering emotional baggage
made the load too much to bear. I could no longer maintain the facade of mental
It's hard to say how much of my collapse can be attributed to my pre-existing
psychology and how much can be attributed to the economic turmoil of our times,
i.e. The Great Recession. Of course, it would be a mistake to isolate these
factors from each other and ignore their interrelation. I think my psychology
had much to do with my failure to find a good job. Conversely, my job prospects
led me to believe that I was a failure.
In 2004 I experienced a political awakening that led me to adopt radical
Leftist views. The world became a much crueler place in my eyes. Everything
around me seemed to be built on a foundation of oppression and injustice. I believed
my parents, schoolteachers, professors and pretty much all my elders had sold
me a bill of goods. The Glory of America turned out to be a fairy tale masking
a rapacious empire that had sunk its vampiric fangs into most of the world.
I’d never been enamored of my data entry job at a transnational financial
company, but now it felt like a betrayal of my humanity. After recovering from
my initial nervous breakdown in ‘05, the job slowly became more demanding. This
strained my relationship with my boss, whom I considered a surrogate mother, leading
me to quit in ’08. It would be my last cushy job. The comfortable vocational niche
I had occupied was replaced by temp jobs with absurdly demanding production
quotas and micro-managing supervisors.
The loss of that cozy corner of the American Dream was depressing and
angering. Each new temp job knocked me further down the socioeconomic ladder. As
Corporate America cranked up the pressure, my friends became harder to reach. To
stave off loneliness, I moved in with my parents, which kept me from getting
too forlorn but also turned our house into an emotional minefield. My attitude
toward them was still that of a spoiled teenager.
Over time, the stereotype of the middle-aged loser who lives with his
parents began to haunt me. I repressed the thought that I now embodied that cliché,
but it was always in the back of my mind, feeding my depression and anxiety. This
emotional endurance test forced me to come up with my own definition of “success”
that didn’t rely on mainstream validation. I focused on my personal development
and gave up the corporate ladder, which I’d only been clinging to in a
misguided attempt to maintain my parents’ approval. With a lot of help from
them, I was able to burst through my shell of misery and fully appreciate their
love and support.
Although our mainstream society has not yet shown the courtesy to mimic my
personal collapse, that doesn’t mean my journey has been in vain. This has been
a voyage of self-discovery, and self-knowledge is the most important kind of
knowledge. When we understand ourselves, we understand the prism through which
we see the world, and only then can we see things as they are.
As the American Dream becomes more elusive, we would be wise to abandon that
hollow ambition and aspire to a higher calling. The two cars and a house in the
suburbs may be out of reach, but the things that make life worth living, love, friendship
and community, are still well within our grasp. These have always been humanity’s
noblest pursuits, and these are the only things that will weather the storm.