The Banality of Chaos began as a project to document the contrast between living in a world dominated by social and political chaos and the banality of my day-to-day life. To explain how immoral politics end up dominating our lives. No one’s life is fully separate from the chaotic milieu we live in, but for many of us our lives are separate enough that if things get too complicated we can pretend the world outside isn’t as bad as it is. I find that difficult to do. I expected my inability to step back would allow me to document both the chaos and the urge to ignore the world. I have failed. I have a litany of excuses for why I haven’t written, but mostly it’s a sense of powerlessness which has left me paralyzed. I thought apathy and the simplicity of going along to get along were the risk, but I’m not apathetic or just going along. I’m overwhelmed and I’m depressed. The problem is that it’s a rational response to the state of the world even if it’s not useful.
I’ve been depressed for nearly fourteen years. I’ve written about the intersection of political participation and depression before, but it’s worth explaining how it paralyzes me into watching as an immoral right-wing agenda is implemented. Depression manifests a little bit differently in everyone, but for me it’s a cycle of sleeplessness and exhaustion dominated by self-loathing and doubt. I wake up wishing I were dead. I don’t want to do anything, but I drink some coffee and trudge through work. When I’m done with that I practically collapse. I’m out of energy to do anything else. I sit and I think and think until I can finally sleep. I sleep five or six hours then the process starts again. The days blur and the lack of sleep catches up to me. My psychological exhaustion becomes physical. The sleepless hours give me time to mull over every thing I’ve done wrong and everything that’s wrong with the world. I don’t go out, so I have hours to scroll through Twitter reading about every outrage and every immoral policy. I’m frozen without the energy to do anything but read. Knowing doesn’t help when you don’t act. I desperately want to do something, to protest, to spend my time doing something helpful, but my cynicism tells me there’s nothing I can do.
I may be cynical, but I like to believe that my analysis of my power in the world while tragic is reasonable. There seem to be a few mechanisms that people use to wield power in our society. The most effective is the forty year project of right wing billionaires to build a wholesale alternative to our political ecosystem. The most visible piece of that project being right-wing media inculcating an ideology in an entire class of the population that has served to produce policies that benefit billionaires. I am not a billionaire, so the most effective route to power is already off limits for me. That leaves the usual protests and calls and small money donations and speaking out. The problem with small acts is that most of them seem pointless. The next few sentences are either reasonable explanations of my powerlessness or the ideological underpinning of a certain kind of apathy. Analyzing the most recommended ways to wield power I realize I am some combination of temperamentally unfit, too socially isolated, or they are insufficient to effect change. The top of my list is protest. I have a vision of protest that is much rosier than most, but even I see that protest while sometimes effective is often not. I am also not someone who goes to a protest and manages to do anything but stand there petrified by social anxiety. I live in a relatively rural area, so there aren’t a ton a protests for me easily attend even if I were better suited to them. I accept protest as a marginally effective way to influence politics, but also acknowledge my own uselessness when attending a protest which when combined with the difficulty of attending one justifies, in my mind, me not protesting much. Perhaps even more heralded than protests in terms of effectiveness are calls to legislators. I live in a state with two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor who while not perfect are at least not supporting the immoral Republican agenda. I also have a Democratic congressman who while even more moderate is still not supporting the immoral agenda. So me calling my own politicians isn’t helpful because while if they running things we might have disagreements we agree on opposing the Republican agenda. The value of calls for non-constituents to politicians seems likely to be low. You don’t have anything to hold over their head unless you’re a voter or a billionaire. I could donate to a campaign either with money or time. It seems to me that while money from someone like me who can only afford to donate a few dollars can build up, the avalanche of money we’re facing means that it will always be an unfair fight. That means figuring out how to win without having tons of money. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that I’m being ultimately helpful by not giving money, but it does seem like giving money isn’t effective enough to warrant me giving up my limited income. I could volunteer my time when election season comes around, but the problems of my location and my social ineptitude suggest that that wouldn’t be terribly helpful either. As I write this some of these are seeming more like excuses than others, but I do think there’s a kernel of truth to them. The final three on the list are speech, voting, and organizing. I do vote, but that has obviously not resulted in the world I want which suggests that it’s insufficient. I am socially isolated. I write things like this, I tweet, I post things on social media and just like in my daily life no one hears me speak. I don’t have a cadre of friends to persuade, so my speaking isn’t effective even though I do it. If you don’t have anyone to organize it seems completely reasonable to think you can’t organize. That leaves me at the bottom of the list without any effective options. I could call politicians who have no reason to listen to me. I can donate some of my meager income to offset a tiny fraction of the billions poured in by right-wing billionaires. I can speak into the void. Regardless of whether or any of those things are effective, what paralyzes me is my sense that none of them are.
For most people the resolution seems easy. Each us may be relatively powerless individually, but collectively we wield a great deal of power. The sense of individual powerlessness is overcome by the righteousness of the fight and together we will make the world better. I don’t have that source of energy. I see the righteousness of the fight, but in the face of my own inability to change things I relent to my depressed exhaustion and watch the world fly by. And like most things I let fly by I feel terrible about it, but still I watch. Which only makes me feel worse about myself. I shout into the void of the internet when I feel up to it, but mostly I just contemplate and absorb and do nothing. I’m not sure what I should do. I know I’m a problem. I know there are things that I can do that however pointless they feel to me are supposed to have an impact. A more resolute depressed person would just act without the usual reward mechanism in place, but I am not that resolute. I don’t feel that it’s fair to describe my position as apathy, but I’m aware that ultimately it’s effectively the same. I do care. I’m deeply bothered by the political chaos. I’m losing sleep and regularly on the verge of tears, but my caring isn’t helping anything.