On Fundamental Despair

I moved to a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn two weeks ago, having spent my first year in New York in the fuzzy realtor-borderlands between Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant. My first week in Bed Stuy — after my first month or two in New York at a girlfriend’s apartment in Greenpoint  — I hit a neighbor’s car pretty badly while trying to parallel park. The police were called and there were small children on the scene screaming and shouting, and I was really worried that I was going to get shanked by this sketchy dude who kept pacing back and forth. The neighbor whose car I hit accused me of being drunk, which I very luckily was not late on a Thursday night last year. Nothing ever came of it. The police took their report, and I spent the rest of my year in Bed Stuy feeling both bad and vindicated that nothing had ever come of it.

In Crown Heights next to a Rabbinical Seminary, I am surrounded by Othodox Jewish people — men and women dressed as though they were in Amish country (here, of course, I am displaying immense amounts of cultural insensitivity to both groups). North of Eastern Parkway, it is almost entirely black. I have found, in fact, the best diner in the world just a touch north of Eastern Pkwy on Kingston. Which is neither here nor there. In Bed Stuy, it was likewise black. In both of these places I am an intruder.

I have moved to both neighborhoods because they’ve contained apartments I have been able to afford. To me, it is completely natural that I act in my immediate economic interest to not live 1) hella far away from work or 2) prohibitively expensinsively close to work. I live in the rapidly gentrifying areas of New York because I am part of the problem — at least to the extent that I am a symptom.

Unlike, I think, the preceding generations, my own, consisting of those born between 1980 and 2000 or so, quaintly dubbed the Millenials by our parents (how degrading that we aren’t able to name ourselves, btw), is fundamentally fucked. One of my parents has already died, which might have been smart of him. My mother is so far healthy, but she is in her sixties and is by no means getting younger. For most of us, we at least hope that our parents will die before the truly horrible shit that’s going to happen in the next century actually happens, even if we’ll miss them terribly. We are the generation that is doomed, and that has known about its doom since its inception. Our parents lived with the threat of nuclear of annihilation. We live with that PLUS the guarantee of climate catastrophe. 

There is a lot more for us to be afraid of.

I work in sales for a publishing company. I go around and talk to academic librarians and we buy and sell resources for a student body that is rapidly going bankrupt on selling. My livelihood, and our general well-being as an economy, is about to go pop with the education bubble. All of the researchers and faculty and staff and layers upon layers of administrators are going to, in the not too distant future, be kinda up shit creek. When that happens, assuming I haven’t gotten the hell out before then, I’ll be out of a job. So will plenty. That’s not at issue.

What is at issue is that despite knowing this, I do nothing, There is nothing I can do to prevent the disaster that is unfolding over our economy. More importantly, there is nothing I can do to prevent the disaster that is unfolding over our species. I barely have the motivation to fight for a raise, never mind protest a pipeline. Importantly, a phrase like impending disaster is not an exaggeration to anyone who has been paying attention to climate science for the past ten years; this is incontrovertible fact. Our species is due for some pretty wacky weather and geography in the coming century, and we haven’t yet shown the political will to deal with any of it. That we are doomed, that the center didn’t hold, that it never could have, is a given. Even if we reversed course and became Noam Chomsky-land tomorrow, we’d still be doomed. We have spun out of control. 

But what do I want, as an individual? What do I, as a human being with an ego and an id and a superego and a fucking libido, really and truly want? In the face of certain annihilation and likely global calamity of a sort never experienced in human history, what do I think would make life good? I used to think that I wanted to change everything, and I think I used to be naive enough to think there was time, that I was capable of changing anything. Maybe I too have given up. Maybe I too have at last acknowledged that we are tiny, tiny people.

Here’s the truth: I used to dance in the living room with a girlfriend in high school. It was her parents’ house and it was big. We danced to “Friday Night in San Francisco,” a flamenco guitar album with John McClaughlin, Al DiMeola, and Paco DeLucia, which I really recommend if you want to dance in the living room with a high school girlfriend or boyfriend. The first song, anyway — the rest are harder to dance to. At the time I was probably seventeen, a “Marxist,” and was certain that there was a chance, if we all just put our minds to it. 

Two months shy of thirty, I have my doubts.

We probably won’t ever be able to really deal with the fact that there’s a time limit.

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2 responses to “On Fundamental Despair

  1. Welp, we almost experienced it last month. The equivalent of having a bullet take off an eyelash without disturbing your eye: http://voices.yahoo.com/experts-earth-dodged-emp-bullet-sun-july-12262473.html?cat=9

  2. Ack! I feel this despair every day, Tom. Every goddamned day. Like you, I’m part of the problem, and too busy and depressed and confused to be a part of the solution. If I didn’t have to rush off to work right now, I’d lay my head on folded arms and sob for both our generations, and for my son, and for all the little kids strapped into giant SUVs en route to Walmart.

    Congrats on the new job, my friend. Ditto the new apartment. See you soon.

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