Survival is so hardwired into the earliest synapses of life that it is very normal, even healthy, to find suicide disturbing. The problem with disturbing things is that, by their very nature, we prefer not to examine them. This gives disturbing things an extraordinary power to persist in the shadows, surviving through generations, affecting vast swathes of the population in silence.
Most of the people who knew me when I was depressed did not detect a major difference in external behavior. This was partially due to the massive amount of time and planning I took to minimize depressed behavior while in public, but it is also due to the uncomfortable truth that the psychological distance between a healthy and a depressed mind is much shorter than most realize or admit.
The most insidious aspect of depression is this:
depression feels more like a solution than a problem.
If you break your legs, you are unlikely to see broken-leg-you as your “true” self, and will likely do everything in your power to expedite your recovery.
When you break your mind, their is an overwhelming sense that you are “seeing the truth.” That it is reality, not you, that is fundamentally broken, and those who seem happy exist only in some pathetic delusion.
There is also a cultural tendency to mythologize the depressed, with no end of historical artists and geniuses to reinforce this idea.
If I had to hypothesis why this correlation exists between depression and artistry, it would be similar to the blind-improved hearing hypothesis. That is, a blind person will often have improved hearing, not because the lose of vision improves the ability to hear, but because the person will naturally focus and be more in tune with the sense they can rely on. So then, when the cognitive, social, and emotional management section of this mind is impaired, the artistic and instinctual sections are forced to take a front seat.
The problem with viewing depression as something artistic, or normal, or honest, is that many people will allow themselves to remain depressed, keeping it a part of them like some sort of character trait.
At least, that’s what I did.
(finale next Tuesday)
part 4 next Tuesday
I went to buy coffee today. The employee took my order and asked my name. When I give people my first name, I usually have to repeat it, so I gave him my last name, which is more common.
Sometime in High School, I became obsessed with the concept of authenticity.
At that point in life, identity feels essential, but your life experience is too limited to create something unique, so every choice is both deeply personal yet inescapably shallow.
Honestly, at that age, trying on different personalities is a natural and probably healthy development. Still, I developed a distinct mistrust for any person whom I felt was leaning too heavily into a prepackaged identity.
I thought college might offer some respite from socially-mandated roles. That was what the movies promised – a place where the social facades of high school faded away. A place where people were just people, not a collection of labels.
Perhaps I was naive.
I had always considered myself a liberal, but I simply could not relate to the identity politics which dominated the cultural narrative in liberal higher education at that time. It seemed every legitimate philosophical point had to be wrapped in a toxic, exclusionary tribalism. No idea could be trusted to stand on merit. Any challenge, no matter how minor, was treated as sacrilege to be burned and censored and excised from reality.
A clear social hierarchy began to emerge. I had genuinely believed that, within the realms of college, ideas would be valued over race, class, or gender. And to be fair, in the classrooms, they usually were. But outside the classroom, a clear social shift was occurring. The more oppressed you felt by society, the more legitimate your opinion was. You need not make the clearest argument, you only had to be offended. The more offended you were, the more seriously your opinion was taken. So of course you were now incentivized to be offended, to draw fourth and nurture as much vitriol and disgust for your ideological opponents as possible. People wanted to fight racists and bigots like in the history books, but such blatant villainy was hard to find in the modern era.
So the definitions loosened.
This may reinforce the theory of my nativity, but up until college I genuinely believed there was an intellectual consensus that skin color and gender were the least important characteristics in determining a person’s worth, and any contrary notions were historical remnants lodged in the minds of the misinformed and uneducated.
It played to me like a comic farce: large groups of people my own age, smart enough to receive a college education, demanding segregation, characterizing individuals solely based on race, and the rigid censorship of any conflicting information, regardless of factuality.
This is me.
If it helps you relate, it can also be you.
A few years ago, I was very depressed.
Have you ever been depressed?
When I left America two years ago, it was in pretty good condition. Sure, poverty was abundant and Justin Bieber was culturally relevant, but our riots were minimal and public servants could be expected not to casually joke about banging their own daughters.
For all the rock dwellers and foreigners, here’s a basic summation of the last eight years of American politics:
You may call this an oversimplification, but I call it a cartoon on the internet I made in five minutes.
The point is this – The Left got so used to calling themselves open-minded that a vocal section of them forgot to actually keep an open mind. Through this process “open-mindedness” became less about accepting others and more about villainizing and idealizing large groups of people based on race and gender – the exact thing they used to be against.
Here’s some simple truths:
if you’re judging someone based on their race, you’re being racist.
If you judge someone based on their sex, you’re being sexist.
It doesn’t matter how many liberal arts degrees you slap around those definitions.
How can you claim moral high ground over a racist if you judge them for their race? How can you lay judgement on a sexist if you judge them for their sex?
The last time I touched on these ideas I made so many personal friends angry that I stopped writing for over a year. I did this not because I thought what I said was untruthful, but because I didn’t want to feel I was contributing to the growing political division in America. But Donald Trump’s election represents a dangerous precedent that can’t be ignored.
He’s not Right or Left.
He’s a toddler with nukes. A self-aggrandizing populist who sees leading the most powerful country in the world not as a civic duty, but just another notch in the belt his father purchased. In his extensively documented seventy years of life, he’s proven to serve no one but himself, and will take on any belief he thinks will win him the most applause in that moment.
If racism makes him popular he’ll talk about building walls.
If gay rights make him popular he’ll wear a rainbow lapel.
If war makes him popular he’ll incite global violence.
Leaders who appeal to popular desires and prejudices rather than rationality are called Demagogues, and they have a long history with very few good results. But you can’t fight ignorance with more ignorance. Pretending The Left’s modern bigotry is a solution to The Right’s classical bigotry is not a solution. We won’t survive the next four years if we pretend it is.
I mean, I might. But a lot of my friends won’t, and a lot of my friends are pretty nice people. I know Americans do dumb things like electing Trump, but we also do smart things, like inventing the internet. So if the rest of world promise to let us off the hook for the next four years, I promise we’ll invent something at least as revolutionary as the internet once the next president rolls around.
In case you couldn’t tell by my unkempt hair or proclivity for drawing Jesus as a non-white dude, I’m a pretty liberal guy. So when progressive ideas like feminism and gay-rights and whatever- the-opposite-of-racism-is began to take hold among popular culture I was pretty happy because, fundamentally, I think these ideas serve as a reminder to judge each person by their character, not the genetics they were born with.
Still want to call me racist, even after reading those funny pictures? Well, guess what, sucka? I’ve never mentioned my race or my gender on this blog. If you assume I’m a white man just because I draw myself with no skin color and a square body then YOU’RE THE HETERO-NORMATIVE RACIST BIGGOT. Mwahahaha.
If you’re not picking up on the irony then that probably means you haven’t been spending time on big, wealthy, liberal arts colleges in America. Congratulations on graduating/not being an American.
Listen: as of late, hordes of young, wealthy, supposedly progressive college students have been gathering together to complain that their large, prestigious, ivy-league institutes (whose admittance was definitely merit-based and had nothing to do with parental connection and wealth) are not doing enough to protect them from words and ideas they don’t like. I would find this phenomenon disconcerting if it were happening in my local middle school. The fact that it’s happening in million-dollar educational institutions is terrifying.
If all this seems outlandish to you, here’s a couple of articles from much more credible sources than my dumb, internet thingamablog:
The Atlantic – Coddling of the American Mind
US NEWS – Megaphones to Muzzles
New York Times – Hiding from Scary Ideas
The most personally frustrating part of this phenomenon is that I actually agree with a lot of the underlying messages of these protests. There are many socially marginalized groups in America that absolutely deserve to have their voice heard. But demanding the censorship of anyone who doesn’t welcome you with open arms is the kind of crazy radical idea that can only existing in a country that DOESN’T have such censorship.
The world can be a tough place, but living in a city as diverse as Vancouver, I’ve met and worked alongside people who literally had to flee their own countries to avoid persecution or death for their religion, race, or orientation. One of my coworkers is a refugee from the Nepalese earthquake. One is an orphaned Iranian refugee. One is a gay man from Sri Lanka, a country where homosexuality is illegal — not frowned upon by the religious right wing — an actual crime you can be sentenced to prison for. Just about everyone I work with has experienced more institutionalized tragedy and discrimination than anyone I ever met living in America, and I’m willing to bet, more than anyone engaged in these college protests.
Why am I so sure?
Because, overwhelmingly, the people I’ve met who’ve suffered horrifically don’t try to censor others. Overwhelmingly, they’re grateful. That doesn’t mean they’re always happy, or that they never complain, or that they aren’t willing to fight for their ideas. It means they understand how much freedom they have, and that there is a sharp, cutting difference between having someone disagree with you (or, as often the case in these protests, having someone only agree with you 95 percent) and real, legislated, institutional repression. When college students in some of the most prestigious, powerful, advantaged establishments on earth use their privilege to censor the free-exchange of ideas, they look spoiled. Worst of all, they make legitimate ideas and ideologies appear weak to those on the other side.
A person who promotes acceptance through unacceptance has nothing but hollow words. Hating homophobes won’t make homosexuals safer. Hating whites won’t make blacks any more accepted. Hating the rich won’t feed the poor and hating yourself doesn’t give you a right to hurt people.
Hating those who hate only increases the net amount of hate in the world.
Censorship is a temporary solution that does nothing to solve the underlying problem. Let’s improve the world through solutions, not suppression.
Note: This blog post deals with very serious social issues and any attempts to find humor or inject levity into the pain of human existence will be met with stern glares from all my liberal, college-educated, white friends.
This is a post I’ve rewritten maybe three times over the last year, trying to refine exactly what I want to say. It’s tricky. Things have really changed since the brisk, carefree liberalism of my youth.
When I was first developing my political views, America was a far more conservative space than it is today. All a bright-faced, rebellious, optimistic teen had to do to be liberal was NOT support the war-mongering, anti-intellectual, technically unelected president.
Times have changed though. America’s current president is both democratically elected AND half-black. No matter how cynical you are about racial politics, the fact that black people can go from literal property to Leader of The Free World proves that a fuckton of progress has been made.
Disregarding any political feelings one might have about Barack “Probably-a-Secret-Terrorist-and-Antichrist-Hussein” Obama, his election was a massive, historical event in American history. Following this election, a tidal wave of mainstream liberalism drowned popular culture, splashed unpopular culture, and dried completely before it hit anyone rich or powerful.
The liberal flood, combined with the almighty connecting power of the internet, has created such an ocean of social issues that even a friendly, open-minded fella’ like myself has some trouble keeping up.
The thing that constantly divides me from my generation and all their new ideas is not the ideas themselves, but the fact that no one is willing to admit this stuff is fucking nuanced. These ideas are cutting-edge, digital-age, precision technology, and yet I’m constantly at odds with people I agree with due to their insistence on wielding progressivism like a blunt-force object.
In my mind, the point of all this rigmarole, the apex of creating a progressive society, is to build a place where people are kind to each other. You know, that thing all your heroes wanted.
Call me sequential, but I cannot envision a society that achieves greater kindness and understanding by refusing to acknowledge perceptions and beliefs beyond their own, no matter how irrational the opposing side’s viewpoint may feel.
Let’s try to be kind.
My early childhood memory is a blurred-out Freudian fog of diluted spirituality, but, within the fog, several memories stand out like wayward stone statues. Among these one stands out in particular: the day I met God.
I was born first in my family, and enjoyed the attention for a solid eighteen months.
When my mother became pregnant with Sister-One, she endured countless horror stories about second children – mainly that the first child would become jealous about sharing the spotlight, and would inflict all manner of terrible punishment onto his new cohost.
Despite the warnings (and despite the fact that I already fulfilled every possible need a child could fulfill, MOM) they still decided to go through the creation of an unnecessary additional life.
Sister-One came into the world in the usual way, and we met.
Years of books, relatives, and PBS programs had prepared my mother for the plague of envy a toddler will inflict upon a new baby, as they felt the extra affection, college tuition, and birthday gifts vanishing into the alternate reality of only-childhood.
What my mother did not prepare for was that, rather than viewing Sister-One as a competitor for parental love, I viewed her as a valuable commodity in my own selfish ventures. Keen to make her my subordinate, I teased her with genuine but distant affection. By the time she could walk, Sister-One was not only awed by my intellect and fine-motor skills, but eager to win my favor as the alpha-child.
Our duo was well-established when, out of the pale maroon of our carpet, a new character was added to the roster. Her name was Sister-Two.
She was born into a world where she was the smallest being, a terribly desperate position. The two beings closest to her in size seemed to be having an excellent time though, so becoming a part of their group seemed a worthy and obtainable goal.
Hazing is a strange, dark, and prevalent ritual in human culture. Through the application of physical pain and psychological anguish, a being is stripped of their identity in such a way where it becomes possible from them to enter a collective. It is used in violent gangs, douchey fraternities, and small children.
In retrospect, I’m quite ashamed of how I treated Sister-Two during her formative years, and most have been forgiven and forgotten, but there are two things I did to Sister-Two that I’ll always remember.
It was piss, in case you’re a good person.
I can’t imagine what it feels like to discover your children are the kind of people who make other people drink pee, but I know my parents didn’t take it very well.
It was shortly after this the family began to attend church.