I’m 58 years old. Around there. My age is one of the things I can’t remember. Being born in an even-numbered year means I’m an even number of years old during even-numbered years, but I’m not sure that’s correct, and the calculation is predicated on knowing what year it is presently. 1966 is my birth year, and it’s 2023 now—I checked on the internet. That means… Four years old in 1970. So: 14 in 1980. 24 in 1990. 34 when the Millennium fizzled out. 44 in 2010. 54 in 2020. Add three. Like I said, I’m 57 years old.
I’m one of those ADHD people you hear about. We weaponize self-recrimination. All we need is failure. It doesn’t even have to be real—we can manufacture industrial quantities of weapons-grade cortisol from an imagined failure. I’d like to see you normies do that. But I digress.
In 57 years, requiring no imaginary assists, I have failed abjectly and measurably at six schools, one Breathalyzer test, five careers, countless friendships, numerous sexual, social, and incidental encounters, and one marriage (so far). These failures used to crush me—not only when they occurred, but for decades afterwards. You have to understand I’m not talking about the inevitable cringe of being alive. I’m wired to experience humiliation and shame on a level you filthy neurotypicals cannot comprehend. Those recurring dreams you have of showing up to school naked, or audibly deucing trou onstage during a TED Talk? They don’t even register on my Scoville scale of shame. They’re the bell peppers of auto-humiliation.
Imagine waking up every day to discover your picture below the masthead of the New York Times (pretend it’s 1975 and there are newspapers) and the headline is ‘World’s Most Annoying Cunt Goes Too Far This Time’. Nowhere in the 30 columns below the headline is the particular transgression identified. It’s all about how everyone is disappointed, upset, even horrified by the mere existence of you, the supreme excrescent carbuncle on the red and swollen asshole of humanity. Serious consequences are hinted at but never spelled out. Every day, you ask the handful of people you still talk to if they know what it’s about. They have no idea, but they can see how it could have happened—and they’re busy right now. Talk later. Maybe.
This is how proper self-loathing works. It’s quality shame. From the Scoville-scale-of-discomfort perspective, it’s Carolina reaper squeezins and cobra venom applied directly to freshly 80-grit-sanded nipples. I should be paralyzed with agonies of shame, buried in a tomb of self-recrimination and suicidal gloom. Yet each day I scan those mental headlines, sigh, and go on.
Part of the reason I’m not so much bothered lately has to do with repetition. I’ve felt like this for around 18,000 days. One grows accustomed to it. Another day, another bridge-burning. Further, there’s the extinction of optimism. Misery arises from crushed expectations. With absolutely no hope, it gets easier to endure disappointment. Medication plays a role, too. In exchange for occasional blackout seizures and the inability to get an erection or experience joy, I can continue to live. The drugs work. But the biggest factor keeping me out of the Infinite Swamp of Ruminative Autocriticism is perspective. My failures are nothing compared to those of humanity in general. Mankind itself has failed, and it has failed in every important regard. It has precipitated the End of the World as We Know It.
I can’t beat a failure like that.
A report (look it up) just came out that states, with unequivocal surety, that we have blown through six of nine criteria by which a survivable planet is measured. If this were a movie, humanity would be panicking in the streets. There would be a montage in which we see a world assembly of national representatives in ethnic costume shouting and pointing fingers, stock footage of riots engulfing the cities, and scientists in lab coats building helpful apparatuses.
Alas, this is not a movie. Or if it is, it’s Andrei Tarkovsky’s silent remake of My Dinner With Andre, set in a failing lower Michigan Dunkin Donuts.
We have collectively agreed to precipitate, without significant demur, the most cataclysmic disaster in our species’ brief history—rather than give up petroleum-fueled eternal growth. Or to be precise, we have abrogated control of the future to a few inconceivably wealthy psychopaths who imagine their bunkers will protect them from the same future they are destroying. They choose petroleum-fueled eternal growth, and the rest of us go along with it. Fuck you, dialectical materialism. We want same-day delivery.
In the 21st century we still have resource wars, colonial ambitions, religion, xenophobia, authoritarianism, scented candles, and all the other ills that have followed us through time. Those of us in the ‘developed’ world still think we’re the good guys, the Chosen Few. We have embraced conformism and cruelty as useful tools to maintain order. And hooboy are those going to come in handy as billions of refugees from the Global South are forced to flee to milder climes—where the people that decide who matters currently reside.
In 1966 there were three billion people. Now we’re pushing eight billion. There are literally no wild places left: even the least-encroached-upon parts of the world are surrounded by human activity, and with the collapse of the climate, none of them are unchanged. Only 4% of the mammals on Earth are wild (look it up). A few millennia ago, that number was within the margin of error for 100%. The oceans teemed with life; forests spanned entire continents; the natural world ran things according to a fine-tuned perpetual motion program developed over billions of years.
Now humans are running things according to the next quarterly earnings statement. The future is four months long, not aeons. We are, to quote Schopenhauer, well and truly fucked.
This means my constant self-judgment and shame are patently ridiculous. I still feel them. They won’t go away until the sweet release of death. But if there’s any advantage to being wired like this, it’s an absence of self-importance. Do my failures mean anything whatsoever when weighed against a planetary cataclysm? Gotta admit they don’t.
We’re a quarter-century away from the idea of a global society being old-fashioned utopian nonsense. Ambitions? Plans? Dreams? Forget those picayune indulgences. We’re going to be figuring out how to intercept the truck to the Walmazon so we can steal baby formula. Not for the babies—they’ll be a tragic, rare, and brief misfortune—but so we have something to eat, if we can find potable water to mix it with.
There will be no real middle class; there will be unrelenting poverty for the masses and a handful of plutocrats amassing obscene wealth. We’ll have militarized police, imprisoning borders, and rulers who operate with complete disregard for human suffering as long as their paymasters are satisfied. Wait, I got off-track. That’s now. It will be worse in 25 years.
So: Lately, when I wake up and see that contumely headline of self-reproach in my mind, I’m not as much troubled by the affront to human decency which is my existence. Our collective existence is itself indecent at this late stage, and everybody who isn’t a subsistence-farming communard should feel the way I do. With all this self-loathing, I’m simply ahead of the curve. At last—something I don’t have to be ashamed of! Nobody will notice I’m burning bridges when the world is on fire. Maybe I’m an optimist after all.