June 28th, 2006

ozarque figure

Emotional weather; part four...

I've been compiling a database of your comments in this discussion, watching the way they've developed, looking for patterns, and there are six things that I believe I see in there....

1. I'm not just imagining it; there really is a sort of stormcloud of negative emotion gathering, and some of you have described in detail your feeling that you're part of that cloud, and have listed the very good reasons why you feel that way.

2. "Hopelessness" isn't the right word for that negative emotion; "despair" isn't the right word; "pessimism" isn't the right word; "helplessness" is closer, and perhaps "learned helplessness" -- learned from the mass media, and the mass memes -- is closest. You've described it vividly as a state of constant vigilance -- a conviction that no matter what else is going on, even if something good is going on, something bad is just about to happen and you need to keep that constantly in mind. It looks/sounds/feels, to me, like a distorted mindfulness; like living your life in an air raid where the "all clear" never arrives, and the sirens just go on wailing endlessly.

3. Just barely emerging in the comments, there seems to me to be a second characteristic of this state. First, there is a conviction that something bad is going to happen, for sure. Second, there is a conviction that when it happens, nobody is going to come help -- certainly not for a long time, and perhaps never.

I am inclined to think that the days of nonstop television and Internet coverage of Hurricane Katrina -- of what happened in New Orleans and along the nearby Gulf Coast, and is still happening, all these months later and in the face of the new hurricane season -- may have been the nail that hammered these two characteristics in so deeply. People drowning in their own attics, and nobody came to help. People drowning in their beds in hospitals and nursing homes, and nobody came to help. Whole crowds of people drowning in filth and deprivation, and nobody came to help. And all of the rest of it -- especially the bottomless sea of corruption. That's a long sharp nail.

4. There's a steady repetition in your comments of one principle: Knowing that others are suffering, perhaps suffering more -- by various measures -- than you yourself are suffering, doesn't help, nor does it make your own suffering any less valid. People are sick to death of having their troubles trivialized and minimized and compared with others' troubles, as if there were some kind of established scale for ranking the severity and validity of troubles.

5. There's a growing hunger for family, for household, for extended family. If not kin of the blood, then kin of the heart. With a recognition that that extended family is now usually spread out over vast distances, and that we haven't yet found a way to get around that problem, since fifty loving cyberfriends ready and willing to help in the bad times are going to be little use over those distances, and no use at all if the bad times include a cutoff of all access to the Net.

6. And -- very tentatively -- there's an emerging claim that the only way out of this is to model a way out -- to demonstrate that it can be done, and to demonstrate how it can be done.