I don’t know exactly how long it’s been, but I sense that it’s been a while. In a way, it hardly matters; very few people read here any longer. It’s not the late ’90s or early ’00s now. People have moved on in the ways that they connect with one another.
Just as well, as this entry is not going to be pleasant. It’s not that I have a dastardly plan, just that there have been so very many posts written in my head over the course of a day over the last weeks and months, and I can’t think of one of them that wasn’t ultimately sour in taste—so much so that over and over I’ve decided not to bother to even type them in.
— § —
I said this to someone in passing recently, but as I was walking the dog today it occupied me for some time: the social contract has been largely swept away.
Now I’m not naive enough to imagine that any social contract is ever stable. Social systems as such, even the most repressive ones, have a kind of dynamism and an intrinsic process of emergent social norming that together ensure that from generation to generation, indeed from year to year, the social contract evolves.
Nonetheless, there are degrees; there is evolution, and then there is violation or complete disregard.
There is a way to tell the story of my life in which the single thread that binds it all together—across neighbors, community leaders, family members, teachers, friends, significant others, forgetting for a moment about policymakers and administrators—is the free-falling experience of over and over again finding that the mutual obligations upon which I based my choices were not to be adhered to by others when the time came.
Yes, I know. Whine, whine.
But the thing is, I want you to step back a step. Don’t read it as being “about me,” but rather as “about anyone.” I said “tell the story of my life” above but what I see as relevant is not that I am the protagonist in this particular story, but that I increasingly think it is a story that has been playing out for one or several generations across the board. That is to say that it isn’t just the story of my life, but the story of a society—a society in which the social contract is collapsing.
A society of proliferating mass shootings, riots, corruption, relativism, “wellness-seeking,” and all the wrong kinds of “forgiveness.” That is to say—forgiveness not as a transcendental thing but as reluctant denial maintenance in the face of helpless disappointment and betrayal. We must all forgive because what else is there to do in such a society? The only alternative is to admit that we have been wronged and that we will continue to be wronged and that this is in fact equitable repayment for our own lazy wrongs in the same key, and that this train will not be stopped.
The alternative to this kind of “forgiveness” is, in many practical ways, the flame and the bullet. And avoiding those seems at least expedient and sensible at a superficial level.
Of course, the universe does not operate at a superficial level—
— § —
Still, at a personal level, you can’t live your life by legal contract; you have to do your best to uncover others’ values through interaction and frank discussion and then trust them and your understanding of them or, alternatively, decide not to do so.
I was born a trusting kid.
But as anyone (say, my closest friends or my ex-wife) can tell you, as an adult I’m something of a misanthrope. I’m sure this is largely why.
Call it my own naiveté or bad decision making, or say it’s because my brain is broken and I’m frankly autistic and unfit to comprehend human feelings as my wife once frequently did in public at my expense before she became my ex-wife (Am I wrong, for example, to read that as a violation of some implicit contract between man and wife?), the fact remains that I just don’t like people all that much because it looks to me as though—even when I’m not involved in an interaction and just observing their relations with others—people are generally amoral creatures out to glorify themselves at the expense of others.
More to the point, and this is new over the last decade or so, I have the feeling that contra this evaluation of my own, they’d say that in fact all of the things that they did were tremendously ethical, moral, and right, and that it’s my antiquated understanding of human obligation, which somehow gave us the Crusades and colonialism and the Holocaust, and whatever else, that is not just immoral but in fact frightening.
— § —
I find most people to be, in short, rather inhuman today, and I find this state of things to be accelerating.
Most people today would argue precisely the opposite—that people of the contemporary west and indeed all of modern, enlightened society, not to mention the society itself, are more human than they’ve ever been.
My response to that is:
You cannot become more human when you do not even know what human is.
It is my position that they do not know what human is.
And that someday soon, they will—the vast majority of them—be shocked and aggrieved to find that the story really does end with their death, which they’d always read rather like the claims on laundry detergent boxes: a lot of sound and fury untied to any actual real-world phenomena.
— § —
I have graduated to the treadmill.
When I was young every single teen boy, down to a one, swore earnestly that he’d never get on the corporate treadmill, never be part of the rat race, never fade away somewhere in suburbia working his nine-to-five job, unappreciated by community, unappreciated by wife (or worse, divorced and alone), subject of a largely forgotten existence as a tiny cog in a spectacularly vast and impersonal economic machine.
I can’t deny that that’s now me. I’ve finally arrived.
Like the rest, I set out to do something more, to be something intentional, to find a story or a hero’s journey that made life worth the price of entry.
I made it farther than many. I lived in all of the most interesting of our major North American cities. I both authored and edited books. I dated interesting and diverse people. I had drinks inside circles of power. I got advanced degrees and more advanced degrees. I started companies and social media platforms. I attended conferences overseas and married exotic foreigners. I was paid by universities, dot-coms, think tanks, and governments. I actually turned down a job at the United Nations.
But time has caught up to me, as it catches up to everyone.
Now I have to admit that for months at least, I travel forward in time with no intelligible story at all to tell. I wake up. I work a nine-to-five corporate job of no particular consequence outside the company itself. I finish late. I eat one of the same four or five things I always eat. I go to bed. I do it all again.
Being a parent carried me for some time—there is an intrinsic heroism and unpredictability in parenting that can mask the stasis in life that lies beneath.
But at length your children grow old enough that most of the time they neither want nor need any particular input from you. Mine are there. And that is, of course, right and proper. They increasingly find their own friends, their own hobbies, their own paths into life.
As my children accelerate into this new stage, even though it’s relatively early days yet, what’s left behind is just me and whatever it is that I have, in the meantime, become.
And what I have become is the guy who looks back at the things I say I’ve done in life and can’t quite believe that any of that is or was ever real, because the current state of my life is very simply that: I wake up. I work a nine-to-five corporate job of no particular consequence outside the company itself. I finish late. I eat one of the same four or five things I always eat. I go to bed. I do it all again.
There is something else there, beneath the surface. It waxes and wanes. At times I can access it, though I don’t know what to do with it. In recent weeks and months I can’t once again. I have the vexing feeling of waiting and a vexing uncertainty about whether I am waiting on myself or waiting on God, and about whether this waiting is the right thing.
— § —
Lack of companionship has been a constant problem since two years into my eight-year marriage. I’ve been alone and largely ignored for a very, very long time.
It’s not existential for me. Things frankly might be somewhat better if it were. I can go about my daily business and be fine. In fact, it’s eminently compatible with the misanthropic outlook that I struggle with. I’m sure a therapist would have all kinds of things to say here about defense mechanisms and so on, but of course the problem with therapists is that they’re not interested in moral principles and objective meaning, they’re interested in yoga, wellness, and subjective meaning. They’re false prophets, in other words, and I’ve had enough of those.
But it’s true that, as a few kind women have noted but not wanted to directly say over the last couple of decades, I seem lonely. I sure do.
Problem is that I struggle to meet anyone that it’s both appropriate to incorporate into my life and that I at the same time want to incorporate into my life. No, I’m not talking about dating eighteen-year-olds or anything like that. I’m talking about the apparent tensions between propriety, availability, and reasoned desirability.
I’m rather determined to meet what I see to be my obligations even if virtually everyone in the world tells me that they’re not my obligations. This severely limits the dating pool from the start on a simply demographic basis at my age. Pair this with the fact that most of the population of women at any age are now living their Instagram Best Life and are thus, frankly, rather off-putting if not outright disgusting, and there’s just not anyone left to talk to.
— § —
All of this is not to say that I don’t know any great people. I do know some truly great people. Most of them are younger than me, and I get to play something between mentor and elder community member for them. A few others are married.
But it is true that most of the people out there today are not people I want much to do with. Granted, a certain amount of this is a matter of the rotten values that they hold that are themselves transient, the result of a deeply evil zeitgeist more than of the individuals themselves.
Yet there’s also an unattractive story in that fact, since it implies that the individuals themselves are not made of particularly strong stuff—do not, as a general rule, have much in the way of structural fibre or integrity.
No, as my ex-wife points out, people aren’t perfect and it’s unfair to expect them to be, but what I generally can’t cope with is the degree to which everyone is so blasé or even gleeful about their imperfections and narcissisms now, the latter two now often consciously argued to be virtues, despite what I read as subconscious doubt about this position.
If there’s one thing I can’t stomach, is the self-righteous individual proclaiming to be their virtues all of the things that are so very clearly their vices.
If there’s one thing I can’t stomach, in other words, it’s an entire society of pervasive lies.
Close behind is “self-forgiveness,” which I find to be an abhorrent concept. It is for others to forgive us. It is for God to forgive us. It is not for us to forgive ourselves. That’s more of the bullshit being sold by therapists, who have done at least as much to destroy western civilization as the last several U.S. presidents.
Not sure how we got from relationships to lies, but whatever.
Point being: There are times when I distinctly believe that I can see through people. I couldn’t always, but in the last few years, I am often sure that I can. I don’t like it. I’d rather not. I know some great ones. But not many. The rest I will avoid.
— § —
I could sit here and do this for hours and hours and for many hundreds of pages. As I mentioned, it’s a large assortment, that assortment of blog posts that have passed through me without being keyed in over the last several months.
But as I also mentioned, most of them were variations on a theme, and the theme was not a particularly edifying or positive one, so I let them pass into the oblivion of the mental past.
This one is here because it’s been a while, and at some point to think of so many posts over so many days and type none of them in also feels like lying.
In short, it was time to put something here that was new.
So here it is.
— § —
Have I become something of the trad, cloistered monk, ranting and raving from within the walls about everything revolting happening without? Yes, yes I have.
Does that make me a hypocrite? I can’t tell but I leave open the possibility. It is for others and for God, not for me, to judge.
Do I have anything else to say today?
I don’t think I ought. Do you?
Let’s call that a “no,” then.