Monday, December 22, 2014

Peak Me

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 reboot.

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 health.

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.

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