I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. Iam very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between heaven and earth? We are arrant knaves all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery. -- Hamlet III iHamlet is a great play for grumbling. It has the best condemnations of life one could hope to find. Hamlet, the character, is a peevish young man, but Shakespeare was a middle aged man who had license to write a peevish young man. It's the perfect combination.
"You know, I just can't stand myself/ And it takes a whole lot of medicine/ For me to pretend that I'm somebody else," Randy Newman wrote, in "Guilty," and the song (on "Good Old Boys") hit a common vein for muddled up men. From guys in foam trucker hats to bicultural intellectuals with delivery marijuana in Manhattan to stifled men hurling insults and encomiums at ESPN, the sense of self-loathing may be the most common sense, the only commonsense, in the American man.
I suppose there are men who like themselves. I think I've met some who, standing in a flood light and a room of mirrors, puff their chests out and say, "That's what I'm talking about!" However, I'm not talking about the water bugs who can live on a soap bubble. If those men don't make up for their lack of self-loathing in outright hatred from everyone they know, then I, at least, will hold them odious.
We begin in fantasy. We start as princes to be, quarterbacks and inventors of indispensable goods that will benefit humanity. We dally in plans that give us joy because of their fundamental justice: every plan is an affirmation of our potential, our uniqueness, our power. We even put plans into action and make achievements. However, we are not the jet pilots, the commandos, the secret agents, the wizards and rock stars we knew we could be, if reality honored -- if reality only allowed us to enact our plans.
Sartre said that Hell is other people, and the adolescent's fantasies fail to take into account other people, except as objects. Young men's plans fail to take into account unfairness as a founding principle of society. Each individual relationship is as fair as the two persons make it, and there is goodness beyond description to be found, but lurking behind the immediate, always present beyond the personal, is a force like entropy -- a force of profit, of grasping, of protecting power and subjugating the masses, and this force asserts itself like a flood against the leaky boat of the personal and the social.
Anger turned inward is depression. Yeah, well, depression is also realism.
Some of the most capable, beautiful people I have known have been crippled by depression. It never mattered what they could do. It only mattered how far they failed themselves, and they had failed themselves pretty deeply.
It occurs to me at this date, far too late a date, that we are a strange, crazed people. We are trying to "treat" depression. We are not trying to treat the fact that inflation is occurring (all food products are shrinking and staying the same price -- as if there were only a few manufacturers and they colluded to raise prices by shrinking portions. . . but such a thing could never really happen, could it?) but not showing up in an inflation rate, that surplus labor has meant increasing profits and no increase in employment, that tax rates for the top go down, while the taxes on the bottom go up. . . but I'm only speaking of money, because money is bothering me, personally. We have no frontiers, no new societies for humans to forge their identities anew, so our old accumulations of cultural power have begun to rot and invite violence. We have turned our nation into the value system of the MBA, and the MBA's value system is anti-humanistic and anti-human (as well as irrational).
There is no cure for depression. There is no point in asking for this or that thing, this or that process of chemistry, to intervene. Depression is not, after all, abnormal. It is legitimate, and it comes from never becoming persons. It is despair, in the Kierkegaardian sense, but it carries with it its own ever-shifting demands. Unlike Kierkegaard's notion of despair, where one must live in the eternal present and engage the self in full awareness of the religious obligation, this is a compass with fixed legs: as the self gets more engaged, its expectation of what it requires to be fully alive moves farther along, and the gap is an acute sadness.
That, I suspect, is a prospect of living.