"It makes no sense at all for me to try to get anywhere or accomplish anything. I'm working every single minute that I'm awake, seven days a week, and it doesn't make any difference -- I still can't make enough to pay my bills. And it's never going to get better, it's just going to go on this way until I drop dead."
"I'm working three jobs plus spending every free minute selling stuff on eBay and I still can't even make enough money to get by. I can be a street person or I can move in with my parents and make their lives as miserable as mine is, and that's all the choices there are. And there isn't any way out of this. I'm stuck this way, for the rest of my life."
"I did everything I was supposed to do, I got my damn college degree, and now it takes every cent I make just to buy my food and make the payments on my college loans and everybody I know is in the same mess I'm in. And now you can't even take bankruptcy any more because the damn government has canceled that option, and you can't get sick because only rich people are allowed to get sick, and there's no way out of this mess."
And why isn't there any way out? Why isn't it ever going to get better in the U.S.? There's a unanimous answer when I ask that question: "Because lunatics are running the country, and there's no way to get rid of them because all the elections are crooked now. It doesn't make any difference how you vote, it's all fixed ahead of time." Followed by, "Only stupid people are going to play that game -- only stupid people are going to vote any more."
These people aren't complaining about specific Big Issues -- immigration, taxes, global warming, the war in Iraq, the Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security crises, the national debt, vamp till ready. And they aren't people dying of AIDS, suffering from bird flu, labeled "enemy combatants," stripped of everything they own by hurricanes.... they're just ordinary getting-through-the-day-and-the-night-ov
And -- to my considerable amazement -- they're pointing out to me that Stephen Hawking says it's time we Terrans got off this planet and settled space. They may be unaware of a lot of what's being said on the news -- not surprising, since people who spend every waking moment working don't have a lot of time left for keeping up with the news media -- but the story about Hawking's "Stop the world! We have to get off!" pronouncement has spread far and wide. That one, they're aware of.
I've thought long and hard, and I can't remember it ever being this bad. Not during any of the previous wars -- and I remember World War II very well. Not during the civil rights struggle. Not during the struggle against the Vietnam War. Not during any of the recessions. Not during the times when gasoline was rationed or when we had to sit in long lines to get any gas at all. Not ever. There was a lot of moaning and lamenting and despairing during the previous hard times that I'm old enough (at seventy) to remember, but there was one major difference: Most people ended their lamentations with some variation on "And we've got to buckle down and fix it!"
I'm not hearing that this time. I'm just hearing that there's no way to fix it, and no way out, and no point in even trying, because it's hopeless. Because only stupid people don't know that there's no point in trying, because it's hopeless. In my experience, this is new.
Hopelessness. It's contagious.