Parting Thoughts

I regret deceiving people as I have prepared to take my leave, even if mostly by omission. I apologize. In partial defense, how often do any of us give an entirely honest and complete answer to “how’s life,” these days? I believe that I have provided a thorough accounting, now, for whatever that’s worth.

Supportive People
I have in recent years been blessed with excellent people in my life, to whom I am very grateful. I want to emphasize this. If I (or anyone else) was minded to identify anyone as letting me down, I could make a long list but it would not include the good people around me. For many years the difficulties engulfing us have been mounting, and extensive corrosion has been normalized within groups and other institutions which are supposed to lead our defense. During several difficult years of recognizing and processing that, I have in contrast had some great people helping me nonetheless endure the journey this far. Thank you!

Physical Health
I seem to have no physical complaints beside aches and pains. Having over 20 years struggled with eventual success to get a handle on allergies, extended injury, tension, inflammatory bowel disease… the overall presence of physical ailments in my life seems neither elevated nor on an upward trend at present. It can be said that being dependent upon a prescription drug to treat Crohn’s disease is one more complicating factor, among those which have dampened whatever enthusiasm I might otherwise have felt for various “walk away from it all” adventures. Oh well. That’s alright.

Left Unfinished
I have a similar outlook on personally incomplete work, and curiosity about how various activities in the larger world play out. I feel some interest; it’s very limited set against the readiness to be done with all this. Yes I wonder about how the war in Ukraine turns out; I have imagined reviewing the notes I have taken, to look for patterns, turning points, good analysis and misconceptions, and writing something about it. But I have no expectation that a happy world will follow in which Russia replaces its oligarchy with progressive democratic governance. Likewise, as I spelled out in Nemesis, I perceive America as politically stuck even in the extremely unlikely event of “good” midterm elections for the feckless Democrats. (If the January 6 Committee hearings, or Department of Justice actions, turn 2022 politics completely upside down in a lasting way, let history record my skepticism as a stupendously wrong call.) I wonder how much Portuguese I would grasp if I finish the entire DuoLingo course. I would like to add a few items to my Sherlock Holmes collection and reach the 100th. I would like to see more of the world. But I have traveled, already; I have lived. A background of perma-crisis reduces my enthusiasm for lots more, of even life’s redeeming features.

Mental Health
I am discouraged by things which are very sincerely discouraging and which really strain any meaningful definition of “temporary problems.” I don’t regard my mental health as impaired. Much earlier in life I had a professional counseling session, a few times, and even then concluded that there is no magic to offer. At this stage in life I regard myself mature enough to come up with questions, objections, etc., on my own, and over quite a few years now I have given them their just due, I believe. In turn I object to the personalization/medicalization of so much, by our culture, and corresponding denial of any real limits upon the world’s capacity to supply wants, or of problems which require collective action to solve. Consider, I have spent years “reaching out” and asking people to help with problems, and while appreciating those who are willing and who try, there just aren’t near enough. A walk in nature or petting a puppy are not meaningful substitutes. Mental health support is a real need, but it is not society’s only one.

Saying Something
I have considered, a number of times, turning to someone with my despair. I know that various people in my life would listen. I just don’t know what they could say or do. I’m not afflicted by personal life problems. I have lost interest in living in a nightmare country while global problems pile up without end, too. A number of my friends already do more than anyone could ask, to fight the corrosion of our society. No one can wave a magic wand and e.g. substantially reduce the discouraging barriers to emigration for me.

On February 28, 2016, I wrote in my journal “I honestly wondered today whether I should just hang it up in another five years. I’ll be 42, is that enough? … Within about five years, I should be able to tell whether Democrats manage to get themselves out of gerrymandering Hell, or if their timing is as badly off for the 2020 census as it was for the 2010. If it is… FML.” The top to bottom travesty which has played out on redistricting—from an alleged Democratic national trifecta which did nothing whatsoever, to the egregious gerrymandering by Ohio Republicans going unchecked despite now being unequivocally illegal, to a big part of Democrats’ halfbaked attempt to fight fire with fire falling apart in New York despite total Democratic control of the state—did not play an outsized role in using up my hope and interest. In point of fact, I have come to agree with Ezra Klein that gerrymandering is in important ways more a symptom of toxic politics than a cause of it. But it is fair to say that the top to bottom travesty of the specific issue which I proposed as a bellweather, several years ago, has not in any way countered the ebbing away of my hope and interest.

Being Queer
I don’t date or hook up, which makes a lot largely academic. I grew up within an entire culture where the universe of possibilities was: “man” or “woman,” “straight” or “gay,” with the last one being practically unthinkable until the past decade or so. It took me a long time to question this; it is my belief that many of those around me formed suspicions or assumptions long before I did so, and that therefore “coming out” as bisexual or nonbinary or whatever is kind of superfluous for me. I think it’s very positive that so many others have rejected the entire structure of rigid gender binaries, lately, although the backlash is one of many horrible things in the world. As I live in a very queer-friendly social circle, I can e.g. wear nail polish when I feel like it and receive no reactions other than an occasional compliment. Aside from that I am not ashamed of further gender nonconformity, and have kept it private due to vanity (and realism about the aesthetic limitations absent much more effort on my part) rather than to shame.

An adult should be able to adjust to disappointments, setbacks, etc. I believe myself capable of this. We seem already to be living through a period of general and prolonged deterioration, however, and this is something different. I cannot regard it as credible that recent years are merely “brief turbulence” and that a return of better times is on the way or is even a likely possibility. A saint, I imagine, would know exactly what to do, faced with this: try to alleviate suffering where possible, even with full expectation that total suffering will increase. I am not a saint, and do not aspire to be one. For me the future before us is demoralizing. I believe that I can accept limitations. But an entire era of conditions growing worse, and limitations becoming more restrictive, seems too much. If there is some way other than complete and perfect selflessness to reconcile not only to loss, but to continued loss no matter what one does—and to find purpose and contentment amid that—it eludes me.

And Taxes
Why do we continue paying taxes to government which has ceased to be legitimately representative? State government in Ohio is not only gerrymandered, it’s illegally gerrymandered, and basically just a crime syndicate. As for national government, good fucking grief; it’s representative of only the corporate oligarchy which (with neat symmetry) does not pay taxes. Meanwhile, the IRS is pathetically underresourced, and clearly staying that way. For most people, the sole reason why they continue to accept taxation without representation is simply automatic withholding. But I wonder if, at some point, the objection which launched the United States is due for a popular revival.

My advice for anyone hoping to take this path: start working on your plan well ahead of time, and be prepared for false trails. It’s easy to find encouraging information online about available options. For example I believed for months that I could qualify for residency in Canada as a self-employed person. But some of the details in online articles were always slightly vague, and immigration consultants (even with a professional incentive to encourage my ambitions) advised me that real world odds of success would be very low. I read recommendations of Portugal as an expatriate destination even before that, and began dilatory studies of the language in 2020, but the deeper I delved into the application process the more discouraging it seemed. Developed nations guard access jealously. The reality that Portugal really is one of the developed world’s more accommodating destinations for residency, yet demands in most cases that no matter where you’re coming from you have a full year of accommodation in Portugal nailed down before you even start the application process, offers some idea of the roadblocks one should expect.

Fighting the Future
The advice to “channel anger, anxiety, etc. into action” ignores the question of whether or not the action is even credibly productive. A lot no longer is. I have used the metaphor “pushing on a rope,” for a number of years, but I’m not sure it can be bettered as a summary of my perspective on most efforts to “fight back.” Nothing ever works perfectly of course, and up through 2020 the combination of desperate effort with very inadequate tools at hand was easier to accept. “Don’t evaluate the drill in the middle of an emergency, just move,” i.e. But the approach has not really changed since then. To cite just one example, it’s nonsensical by itself to try moving the needle of public opinion, in an electorate of millions, with volunteer peer to peer contact; this is even more nonsensical for a political coalition which is supposed to be the incumbent government now, not a grassroots upstart. But people are awful at scale, and patterns, and ultimately at doing much besides reusing the same concepts and language and rituals. Kids wave cardboard swords from a treehouse and many believe, sincerely, that they are having a meaningful impact. I have absolutely tried to advocate more reexamination, including while a known and valued participant in multiple (seemingly relatively fresh and adaptable) large political organizations; I may as well have been addressing them in Etruscan, and I’m not really surprised by that now. Severe crisis can overcome cultural inertia, but American culture’s capacity for carrying on without reaching that threshold is obviously enormous.

A Last Spree
The idea just doesn’t feel compelling. The lingering pandemic doesn’t help. More than that, though, I can’t take it with me, including memories. I have such riches of experience already. Blowing through twenty or thirty thousand dollars in a big spree doesn’t seem like a handsome capstone, it just seems vulgar. Finally getting a selfie with the Kuhns Building in Dayton, and adding one last item to my Sherlock Holmes collection, are about the extent of my “bucket list” indulgences.

Earth’s Future
Experts have advised us in recent years that while “business as usual” is ruinous for Earth’s climate, that reflects modification of “business as usual” from decades ago when it was apocalyptic. In that sense, effort has mattered. Humanity and human civilization in some form can very possibly survive the climate crisis now underway and, perhaps, ultimately one day create an even better world. But that’s a distant if, and in the medium term, a deteriorating world is essentially locked in. The past few years—even with a pandemic and extreme weather and biodiversity loss and fires and food scarcity—are likely the best conditions on Earth for a long time to come. The next several years are likely to bring worse conditions still—and to be a bountiful Eden compared with the 2040s. It is unclear where “shelter” could be sought except in a relative sense. A global phenomenon has global consequences. All my intuition, as well as observation of things like the pandemic, tells me that effective and equitable management of those consequences is a long way off. I don’t have any strong sense of what 2122 may be like. I do expect the remaining decades of my “natural lifespan” to involve much wrenching downward adjustment to expectations from life. Most and the best of the bountiful years on Earth for me seem to be past, now.

I can believe that I have made a difference in various modest ways which matter, if anything does. If I have touched even a small number of lives in a positive way, that’s good, and any fond remembrance of me may be more than deserved. But in terms of a work which endures, realistically this is a difficult accomplishment which I cannot count for myself. In case it is not obvious, I desire that things to be otherwise. They won’t be. My effort to leave something behind is an indulgence. Scant traces will remain, but those have already been made. A few books will probably sit on library shelves for years to come—even in the Bibliothèque nationale de France—and that’s a small satisfaction. But mostly my words and other creative work are droplets within a roaring waterfall.

The Breaking Point
Until a couple of years ago, I could still believe that the toxic dysfunction in American culture might be somewhere near a point of “going too far” and provoking demand for reform too great for corrupted authority to disregard. Probably that was foolish, but even if I am a fool, the past two years have gotten through to me with recognition of how much can happen without getting through to a whole lot of other people. I wrote about the mechanics of this in my final book, which I began piecing together after the 2021 election. Lately I also think that it needs to be recognized that America just has a tremendous capacity for normalization. Nowhere else in the world has recurring mass shootings, like America’s, without anything changing to reduce the problem. In a sense, sure, structural obstacles are in the way. In another also meaningful sense, the culture as a whole is simply characterized by hypernormalization. The band plays on. I do not expect anything will last forever. Eventually, one day, things will be different and historians will write narratives about what led to that. But at this point I have to expect that a positive difference for America, from my point of view, is some considerable ways off.

I have given several years to the caution of uncertainty, at this point. But I reject obscurantism: “It’s always possible for things to take a completely unexpected turn! Therefore, you can’t know what might happen! So you can’t ever know that there is no hope!” By that logic you can’t ever know anything. After all, no matter how overwhelming the history of empirical evidence, there’s always a first time; no matter how convincing the reasoning, it could be wrong.

I don’t believe that I overestimate how good the past was. If anything, my perspective on the past few decades seems more negative than lots of people’s. The second Bush presidency, for example, was a horror, even though many who ought to know better now recall it more than a little wistfully. I have concluded that problems much deeper than most people even consider have been our reality for many years, and are our reality now. The clear trend is deterioration. I don’t romanticize the past or discount the areas of improvement; I do see those improvements already collapsing in-between a brutal assault and a rotted foundation. I don’t perceive a night-and-day contrast; I have simply seen enough.

A peaceful exit is really challenging, with the restriction of so many drugs like barbiturates. “Overdosing on pills” is very iffy. I don’t want to cut open an artery, walk off a roof, or hang myself. Ohio makes every effort to enable gun purchases, but I really don’t want one. My backup plan is probably also hypoxia, using charcoal inside of my car; shutting one’s self in a small enclosed space with burning charcoal seems reckless, and even if there’s no fire I doubt that hickory smoked car interior will be a huge selling point. I really hope that my primary plan works. (The tertiary plan may be a bridge, or else swallowing my distaste and buying a gun.) I certainly wish that society permitted access to some peaceful, reasonably regulated process for ending one’s life, not least because that might permit the donation of organs and tissues. (As I have an autoimmune condition, I’m not certain that I’m specifically much of a loss in this regard; I know that I am ineligible as a bone marrow donor, e.g.)

Reader if you seek his political analyses, look around you.

I like to think of myself as observant, insightful, creative, etc., to a significant degree above and beyond the prevailing standard. Fumbling alone to end my life, in despair at the possibilities I can discern, suggests a very different reality. The suggestion may be entirely valid. It is nonetheless also true that people now renowned for actual genius ended life in very pathetic circumstances. I don’t regard myself as a genius—the appealing thought that one day my work will be recognized and revered is fantasy—which argues that choosing to end my own life cannot be any more a failing of my own potential than is the case for actual geniuses who departed the same way. I do not know. I do think that the proposition “one should LIVE!” is a good one, but I also think that I have done so. (I should also emphasize, once more, that I don’t believe any of my friends or family have failed me. It would be a stretch even to say that society at large has failed me, personally; I reproach society and its purported leaders for failing others, more than for failing to offer me confidence in a fifth decade as good as my first three or four.)

Memoir Postscript
I completed a memoir in September 2020, and it seems like a finished text, so aside from some minor revisions I have not updated it. I have written much since then in posts, notes, journal entries and for that matter a book. The most concise summary of life since then is the obvious, i.e. that it has not inspired a desire to experience more but rather reinforced the opposite. The personal details are basically footnotes to that. My practice has stayed afloat. I was able to travel again, including to Toronto in November 2021 and Portugal in early spring 2022. In both cases I was exploring potential destinations, though I never entirely resolved doubts about whether or not my heart was really in it. Given the barriers to emigration of “normal times,” as well as e.g. a lingering pandemic and sideways global economy, I have concluded that emigration is no more than barely practical for me at best. I bought a new car in mid-2021 and, though I didn’t really prefer that as a time to do so, the decision has aged relatively well yet at the same time it is ultimately very small consolation. (How much use is my own plug-in vehicle e.g. when most of the economy is dependent upon petroleum which is now very expensive while still ecologically ruinous?) I wrote another book, although the reactions (and mostly nonreactions) from test readers discouraged doing anything more than quietly posting it to my web site as an ebook. I started an email newsletter. I found myself more socially isolated than in years, in some ways even more so than during 2020, partly as a consequence of disillusionment with what passes for political activism. This is not new or, by itself, terribly upsetting. Ultimately it feels that I have mostly been toying with distractions for the past year or so, or casting about for some way “out” wherein I continue. Eventually I determined that such is not really meant to be.

Doing Things Differently
I’m sure that I could have done things differently and, presumably, better. I’m not entirely sure what I should have done. I have concluded that American politics, and really so much of the entire culture, has for decades been launched on a bad trajectory, with the slow but powerful momentum of very large objects. In theory I might at least have chosen to prioritize life choices which led to emigration, and purpose which would sustain me longer in an era of even serial global setbacks. Perhaps I should have studied engineering and/or Swedish, so that I could go work on the Northvolt project. But I can’t really identify anything like errors which led away from such possibilities and were avoidable with information available at the time.

Ghosting (Figuratively)
To be honest I think this is just how I have always been. Certainly since I got old enough that my own exits were no longer dependent on others being ready to leave.

Material Possessions
If one thing suggests an error more than anything else, it’s my material wealth, modest as that is. Recent months’ effort of putting even a dent into the volume of possessions in my apartment, a result of little more than years of accretion, raise questions about what good all of it really was. I did at least enjoy a substantial portion of these things, which is more than can be said for e.g. the balance saved up in “retirement accounts.” Parting with things over recent months has brought mixed feelings, of grief as well as liberation and empowerment. Having these familiar things around me is comforting to some degree, one reason why I have been negligent in getting rid of more. Obviously, however, in confronting most serious problems, none of this has proved to be very helpful.

I don’t believe in the supernatural. I do believe that reality is strange and probably includes much beyond our current, certainly limited, understanding of physics. That the universe is home to countless galaxies, and is not merely synonymous with what we call “The Milky Way,” was still only a controversial suggestion 100 years ago. I do not think we will meet again, if I realize my plans. I don’t know everything.

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