Now let me get started by saying that I know that depression has varying degrees of intensity, and thank the heavens I have never had to deal with the full-blown, physically impairing type that can thankfully, nowadays, be tackled with the 21st century medications.
What I am going to talk about is the type of depression that a large chunk of humanity deals with every day, but is devalued as a non-topic. What is the absolute goal of society? Or rather, what is the goal we are told to pursue? Aside from wonderful things like life (it’s generally a good thing to be alive) and liberty (we can debate exactly how free any of us actually is), the pursuit of happiness is the forefront of, at least, western society. I say this because more often than not, even in western society, we don’t give a shit about happiness, we just want to survive and not end up in the streets destitute and abandoned by our increasingly inhuman representatives. So why bring it up? I think comedians are the philosophers of our times, and Carlos Valencia best put it when he said “If you’re not depressed, you’re not paying attention”. And ever since I heard that, I just felt so much better about this consistent and nagging “ugh” I feel every single day.
I never got that whole “ignorance is bliss” bullshit. It’s dumb, knowing is far better than not knowing. Yeah, more often than not, when you know something you didn’t your immediate reaction is “Aaah, I wish I didn’t know that”, but overall, knowing is what makes us grow, it’s one of the civilizing forces in society. Not knowing is far worse, and you can call ignorance to be bliss, it’s just a dumb and lazy way to excuse not wanting to find out more or to not care about anything outside of our own wee little bubble.
So I take time to know things, I care about what is going on in my country, I care about what is going on in my community, the country next door, countries around the world, humanity as a whole. I care about the old lady crossing the street, and whether or not I’m going to see her getting run over (something I don’t want to happen to the old lady, or to be scarred for life for witnessing) I generally care about a whole lot of things, especially in my personal circle. I care deeply and fundamentally about my partner, whether or not she’s OK, if she laughs, if she’s in pain, I care deeply about our making it to the end of the month with some money left over in the bank that we can save for our future, I care deeply about our life, so I care about knowing if I am doing well in my job, if my job has a future, if my country has a future, and I need to know when to pack our bags and bounce if things get bad in this country.
So how can you not be depressed when all sign show that work, people, communities, countries as a whole are not faring too well? How can you not be depressed when you see hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from the drudges of war or witnessing the horrors of hunger, conflict, poverty, persecution, apathy, inhumanity around the world? How the hell can I not be depressed when I have to pay taxes out of my ass to finance a state that is inefficient and does not guarantee my safety in case of a fire, how can I not be depressed when I have to work my ass off to make ends meet every month, and know that there are a whole lot of people who are waaaay worse off? Worse, knowing that there are a whole lot of people who are waaaay better off, not doing a 100th of what we have to do to survive?
So yeah, I am depressed, functionally so, but a depression nonetheless. But guess what, so are you, and so are millions of people around the world, cause at the end of the day, that cow ain’t gonna milk itself, that field ain’t gonna till itself, that spreadsheet ain’t gonna fill itself, and that bill ain’t gonna pay itself. We have to deal with life, and that’s hard. We have to witness what’s going on around us, and that’s harder. But we have choices every day that make us functioning human beings. We can laugh, we can experience momentary glimpses of joy, of happiness sitting on a couch after eating dinner with a loved one. We can experience the bliss of fleeting relaxation for a couple of hours before heading off to bed and repeating the grind all over again.
The world is depressing, but there is true beauty and joy to be had from it. It’s all momentary, and you need to know where to find it. It’s what makes most of us function. Keep your bliss all ye who choose ignorance. I am happy knowing.
It’s not easy not loosing your cool in this world. It’s so much work in fact they should consider it a full-time profession with overtime up the wazoo. We go through each day bearing witness to incredible, eye-popping, jaw-dropping acts of selfish, self-centered, inhumanity, that brings us close to reacting in kind to what we see. The lack of empathy, comprehension, compassion, understanding, or emotion of any kind, turns urban life into a particularly grotesque soiree of rampaging hypocrites, who one moment denounce the social injustices of the week on social media, to right afterwards flipping the finger in traffic or cutting a line and treating a Starbucks barista with disdain and self-appointed aggrandizement.
But what to most of us do? I think there are a resisting bunch (I have no way of quantifying just how many we are) that gently shake our heads at these sad people, who after all are so involved in their little universe, they don’t even take the opportunity in sharing in the awe-inspiring experience that is being human. Noticing the myriad kindnesses that happen at every moment is far greater than suffering with the petty evils, and it becomes an addiction trying to look for the good in people while contrasting it with the dirt that’s out there. It’s not a matter of being optimistic or pessimistic, just like with any faith or ideology, that’s just adhering to a dogma that constrains our beliefs and experiences. It’s not about the glass being half empty or half full, it’s about realizing that there is a glass, and that there is water in it, that in life we experience thirst and we have ways to quench it. In any case, what I am trying to say is that not suffering with how apparently ugly the world can be is an active choice, it takes work and training, and some people do it really well. It’s about recognizing that we’re all subjected to the same grind, that life is not easy for most, and we do not have to complicate another’s already complex existence. Letting others be is not a matter of not caring. I choose to not mess with other people’s lives in respect with their common humanity, my acknowledgement of being and letting be.
It’s not apathy or disconnectedness, it’s about realizing that maybe, just maybe, the person that is next to me has been dealt a hand far worse than mine, so the last thing they need is my disapproval of how loud they’re talking on the phone while riding the metro. Yes, it’s obnoxious as hell, but it’s also their sad attempt at having their existence recognized by someone, anyone. Just put on your headphones, and blast some classical music. I dare you to sit in the metro while listening to some Mozart or Vivaldi, and just observe the people around, coming and going, each an infinite universe of possibilities and probabilities, each with a story as complex as our own. I dare you to play this little game and not have a smile on your face by the time you get to work. See? Isn’t that much better? Let them rampage along with their silly hypocrisy. You and I know what we are, if anything, we won’t get ulcers from all that bile and hate! I don’t know how many we are, but I am sure it’s what keeps the horsemen of the apocalypse at bay.
We spend so much of our time blending in that we forget what makes us individuals. I spend a lot of time ranting and raving about the problems of the world, which for me is a much needed mental valve given that most of the people that surround me don’t want to discuss or try to find solutions to these issues. Each person has their own path to work for happiness, but through my own narrow window, the path to happiness still needs to be paved. There is work to be done. We can only begin to become a part of a community when we begin to actively defend it from what is coming right at us, we only become human beings when we begin to fight for our collective future. We need each and every single independent voice to strike out against conformity and lift their eyes above the rim, my dear friends it is time to rise above.
If you have ever nodded in agreement with anything said here, you know that you’ve got a responsibility, as much as everyone else out there, to speak out. Let your voice strike like thunder against oppression and injustice, let your actions shake apathy out of its roots and convince those around you to wake up from their slumber. You know as well as I do that we have a lot of work to do because these problems are not going to just go away every time we turn on our TVs. If it’s one small act, every single day, I know that we can turn away from the precipice, little by little we can.
Or maybe not. Be right back, Game of Thrones is on.
Whenever I see a little image like this, with very relevant and insane statistics that we should all be worried about and do something about it, I do shudder when I get to the great conclusion at the end of the flyer, with great big bold lettering claiming that “CAPITALISM DOESN’T WORK”. Ok, so one of the first rules I learned in academia is: define your terms. Just because I call someone an asshole every time I see them, does not make them an asshole, which is why just because everyone calls our system capitalism, does not make it capitalism.
Our current system is not capitalism as it was conceptualized. In an actual capitalist system there are consequences for actions. If you gamble and risk and it turns out you were misbehaving, you fail, and if you go bankrupt your assets are liquidated. On the other hand, if you are responsible and foster growth and don’t engage in destructively risky behaviour, you get to grow and assimilate chunks of other firms that have gone bankrupt. This way we ensure that those that do things well and by the book are rewarded and those habits and that culture persists. The risky, overly leveraged, irresponsible firms, go away, and so do their practices.
What we have seen in the last decades is a complete socialization of the market by guaranteeing lenders of last resort keep firms afloat, even if they should be allowed to sink. By keeping these institutions up and running, it prevents some unwanted economic rattling for a little while, as opposed to the long-term damage these firms and their behaviour do to the health of a country. This moral hazard of bailing out failing financial firms took away all accountability from their actions. Not a single CEO has seen his day in court for destroying depositors assets and forcing an entire nation to kowtow and write out a blank check to them.
When you have the ever greater consolidation of the largest companies, aka the merger between Time Warner and Comcast, you no longer have a free market, you have a monopoly, set up by crony deals and pure insidious corruption, which will do nothing to better the service brought to its customers. Why? Because there is 0 competition. Therefore it is not a free telecom market. You have a couple of incumbents which control their share of the market and they don’t interfere into each others businesses because it is more profitable this way and the pile of cash is growing disgustingly well. Might as well have the 4 or 5 just merge and get it over and done with, that’s how the trend follows.
Then we have the Citizens United case in the Supreme Court and the news this week that there would no longer be a cap on single campaign donation limits. One of the Justices argued that this would go far to limit corruption and bring more transparency to the electoral process. Sure, if you want to justify two corrupt decisions in a completely myopic reading of the Constitution, yeah, you could call the unlimited financing by any one individual or corporation (which is also an individual), a measure to curb corruption. Are you kidding me? Well, since it’s open season for corporations and the mega-rich to pick and choose their boys and girls in congress, then I think two things are in order:
1st: Redefine the United States for what it is. Yes it does have a democratic spirit, but functions in effect as a Plutocracy (Rule of the Rich). If you prefer Oligarchy you can also call it that.
2nd: Redefine the economic system as two-tiered. Socialism for the Rich, free-market for the rest. If you have a multi-billion dollar financial firm which behaves like a crack-head in a glass store, which breaks all the glass and then the government comes in and pays for you to not go bankrupt, that’s socialism. No ifs buts or maybes. If you’re a regular Joe and you can’t make your mortgage payments because your crops have been poisoned by nearby fracking operations, you lose your home, your business and your property is repossessed. You’re not getting any help from Uncle Sam, you’re just the right size to fail.
So what did we get from all of this? There isn’t Capitalism, there is Cronyism. There isn’t Democracy, there is Plutocracy. It is not a free-market because the rich get bailed out with everyone else’s money, and the rest get shafted.
And I’m talking about the United States because it’s the most extreme example, but I’m looking at you too “rest of the world”. So yeah, get your terms right.
It’s been 70 years since we had a war cover our world from corner to corner, but it seems that as time goes by, we grow immunity to the mistakes of the past. We carry on merrily and cover up our history (hoping that our blunders will be forgotten), and stare down at our feet as people remind us every so often of our collective legacy of murder and death. Even more egregious is how we keep turning a blind eye when to new atrocities are perpetrated in the name of ‘progress’ claiming that there is no precedent for them given that the past is past.Nothing infuriates me more than the absolute denial of cyclic trends and the consequences that this widespread case of mental illness brings upon millions of people. There is a lot I would like to say about this issue, so I ask for your patience.
Europe is the most dangerous continent in the world. The United States stands unrivalled in military might, but at the end of the day their bottom line is simple and easy to understand: money. They are pragmatists and brutal in their sincerity: business is business, no room for feelings or emotions. Europe however, well that’s a barrel of gunpowder just waiting to go off. The continent that proudly brought you the crusades, the inquisitions, the reformation, colonization, the slave trade, the persecution of practically every people at one point or another, millennia of war, culminating in the grand slam of horrors, World War II. Crazy is undoubtedly in our blood. The Old World did have its moments as the source of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and most recently the European Union, but where before I thought that a pervasive economicrecession might break this union apart, well, now I am sure of it.
Whenever times are tough, we look for easy scapegoats as a source for all ills, no matter how absurd that source. A popular excuse is that it is the immigrants’ fault, an excuse that nationalist groups absolutely love to use: it is so efficient in getting people riled up that it has been the “source” for financial crises for centuries. There is a reason why blaming the other feels so right, and it comes mainly from our egocentric, us versus them mentality, that was first formalized as doctrine by Europeans travelling across the seas to justify their murdering and pillaging of native populations. Since they weren’t us (white christians), there was nothing keeping us from what we did to them. Same logic has been used to justify almost every single war; the same logic which escalated into genocide at the hands of the Nazi regime, also in the Balkan wars. When things are tough and the economy is reeling, god forbid we should be to blame. No. It is always theirfault.
Europe after the Great War was not a happy continent; in fact, struggling economies began to develop radicalised wings of left and right-wing political ideologies in reaction to how bad things were getting. Germany was heavily penalized after the end of the war with the Treaty of Versailles, a treaty which I have no doubt led up to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime. One clear and efficient way to stomp out the flames of nationalism and radicalism has always been through the calming effects of economic progress; unemployed, hungry, and frustrated people roaming the streets are not conducive for social development and a sense of cohesion. So when a country reaches a certain tipping point, it will look for an alternative, and who better than the party and leader who have been exalting the strength and might of your own people? Who promises the supremacy of your country for the next thousand years? When you are hungry and angry and desperate, these words will feel like honey to your ears, you will make moves to seeing that reality come life, no matter how absurd or evil it may be (it will never seem evil or absurd to you, denial is a very strong force when you’re desperate). Hitler was a master of seizing opportunities and he exploited an emotion which is easy to cultivate and nurture within an atmosphere of desperation: hate. And the rest, well, the rest is history.
Less than two months from now we will hold elections for the European Parliament. Even though the youth are not historically the most civic of groups, but there are certain trends a-changing, and I see a rise in more radical parties within the parliament. Even though many deeply distrust or have lost faith in the system, there are also many who know that outside of revolution or radically changing our elected representatives, there is not much hope for change, so entrenched is our system and the powers that be.
Which leads me to one of the most serious issues facing the continent: 25% of youth unemployment throughout the continent is serious, 50% in countries like Greece and Spain is egregious. It has literally come down for some youth to flip a coin and maybe, just maybe, fortune will favour them and they could get a job. Now think of the impact this is having on this generation’s mindset. Thinks of the clash this is having in their mindset, especially after years of being spoon-fed the great story of our times. This generation, my generation, was told a tale, a story which all of you know and no longer accept, because as it turns out, it is not compatible with the 21st century. We heard a story that told us that we had to work ourselves to the bone throughout school, high school and university, work hard, focus and get good grades, that we must go through this ritual of accumulating hours of community service, volunteering, internships, sports and clubs, all to show our eventual employers what well rounded academic and social superstars we were. Then we would get our job which would launch our career allowing us to eventually get that apartment and the car, and marry and have kids and eventually retire and so on and so forth. We all know this story. It’s a nice story, too bad it won’t apply to our generation. The consequences of having been spoon-fed an illusion? Oh my dear readers, those consequences are going to be dire indeed.
We have already seen small sparks which could envelop Europe in flames if they aren’t quickly extinguished. Frustrated and angry youth have taken to the streets of Madrid, Athens, London, Paris, heck, throughout every major city, to protest everything; our governors, our banks, it does not matter, they are pissed. Not everyone understands why it is that we are in the situation that we are in, mostly because no one can offer an explanation without layers of bullshit covering it. But ask yourselves this, imagine a young graduate, sitting at home with his debt clock ticking, unable to find any work in the city where he resides, close to his family and friends, that one of the few options he has is to move to another country, far from everything he or she has ever known, that all the time they put into playing by the rules has not paid off, and how all of those higher ups in the social pyramid who consistently break the rules, get bailed out by governments and keep on with their bonuses and lives of debauchery, well, where frustration first resides, it quickly becomes a seed of anger, one which if watered just right, will turn into pure rage.
There is a precedent in history to revolts happening at the hands of the youth. It makes sense: a generation unable to reconcile the contradictions of the prior’s status quo, seeks to reshape the system in their own image, with later generations going on to fight this new one, and so on and so forth. So it is of no surprise that the majority of participants of the Occupy movement are a part of my generation, it doesn’t surprise me that movements are popping up left and right to challenge the legitimacy of the status quo, and that those movements are being led by very, very pissed off people. And you know, in many ways, even though I have been very lucky with the hand I’ve been dealt, I completely agree with them.
For too long we have allowed politicians to play their game. They are what they have always been and the only thing that keeps them at bay is the constant reminder that we are ever vigilant, that they serve at our behest, and that they are not better or above us. Government exists because of the people, not in spite of them. The reason why democracy is failing is because we the people have failed in our complacency. We have endured and suffered and have put up with grievances that go above and beyond the scope of reason, to which I say enough is enough. We are not cogs or pawns to be thrown about with disdain, we are not playthings, puppets to amuse or feed the machine as it completes its daily cycle. We want what every generation before us has wanted, we want a place in history and participate in the shaping of our world; we refuse to become a generation lost to your games of power. I won’t play into your games and as such I won’t fall for your easy scapegoats, those excuses which distract us from the true villains in this story. And neither should you.
So, rather than pushing for greater economic integration and realizing that an ever closer Union of European states is one of the few solutions out of this mess, no, we have people asking for more autonomy and independence. The world as it is now makes it impossible for any one of our countries to compete alone within the global market. The rise of China and India alone are cause for worry as far as future competitiveness is concerned, which is why an actually united Europe would go far in keeping the Old World relevant for a couple more centuries. Rather than crawl along as everyone else races past, we could show what a people united in purpose could achieve. State nationalism and sovereignty and patriotism gave us plenty, it crafted the rich cultures and histories of dozens of nation-states, all with their own history and struggle. However, over the centuries they also gave us millions upon millions of deaths, all in the name of this or that motherland or fatherland.
The arguments for a federalized Europe are many but I have only one for its immediate implementation: the new rise of nationalism. We have seen before just what happens when we get uppity and start claiming why our people are better than everyone else. Even worse, when you have energetic youth who are educated, frustrated, angry and out for blood, being recruited by these political entities, well, that’s when we should scramble to action. Europe should be forbidden nationalist political ideologies, just as Japan is no longer allowed to have a standing army. There are consequences to history, and this should have been one of them. We cannot permit our youth to be seduced by these parties, kicking us half a century into the past rather than forwards and into a new dawn for the West. Sadly I think that this is exactly what will happen, given that few have the balls to stand up and meet this head on. Mark my words, if we don’t deal with this new rise in nationalism, if we don’t placate Generation-Y by dealing with the youth unemployment issue, then I am afraid the cornerstone of the European Union’s tomb has already been set.
Our species has an innate hunger for finding meaning in this uncertain reality we live in. From the harrowing days of the state of nature, to today’s seemingly chaotic world order, there are very few of us that don’t ask that most fateful of questions: what’s it all about? Searching for meaning is one of our most deep philosophical needs, one which drives so much a lot of our behaviour. After all, what’s the use of understanding yesterday and living today, if we don’t know where we’re going tomorrow?
The relaunch of Cosmos, with Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s masterful homage to Carl Sagan’s view of the universe, has led me to think a lot about things. It’s made me realize that the dream I had as a nerdy little kid, sitting in a trance devouring book after books, is still alive and well. As a matter of fact, with almost two decades since I formulated that dream, I think I now understand what it takes to make it come to fruition. I recall vividly the warning Sagan made about our species, warning that any species that did not leave its cradle was doomed to extinction. And that is my dream, to one day see a species united in one common cause: the exploration and colonization of space. And I don’t just mean our home around our Sun in the suburbs of our galaxy, I mean venturing out and spreading our tendrils across this universe. This is not a fictional dream, I believe this to my core, that we are meant to survive through the aeons and explore the full potential of the human species.
Which is why it frustrates me infinitely that we spend so much of our time embroiled in solvable drama. We have issues plaguing us that could be solved if only there was a concerted effort to do so. We can solve hunger, we can solve our climate crisis, we can solve misery, war, pestilence and death if we set our minds to it. I have no doubt of this, and if you set aside yourself for just a moment, you know it too.
We have searched for significance and have looked up at the heavens waiting for an answer, not realizing that our answer lies right there, in the great beyond. We were meant to flourish and take part in the magnum opus of the universe. At the rate we’re going however, we’ll be nothing more than a whimper in the overall scheme of things, a species which learned much but knew little and squandered an opportunity to participate in writing the annals of this cosmic tale. So, I ask all of you, as I ask myself each morning. Get your shit together and get with the plan; we have work to do.
Every day I wake up and I try to do a little something to change the world for the better. Since I am not in a position, yet, to exact change on a macro scale, I try to do as much as I can. I start by catching myself in moments of “automated” responses and I stop, think twice about them, and do the opposite. Living in a city environment can oftentimes modify our behavior for the worst. We become apathetic, complacent and self-centered assholes, even though we are living in close proximity. So rather than fostering communities, we live in the state of nature, constantly annoyed at everyone around us, for being nothing more than simple human beings trying to get from point A to point B. Doesn’t this seem ridiculous?
So, I try to change my programming up a little bit. Rather than walking home staring at the ground and snarling at everyone (which is what I feel like doing when I’m surrounded by passers-by and traffic and smog), I look straight ahead, and I smile. I purposefully listen to happy music in my right ear whilst appreciating the city’s own symphony with my left. When people make eye contact with me, I don’t just avert my gaze, I allow myself a brief moment of contact, of acknowledgement of another soul, each of us trying to survive in this crazy little world of ours. I smile because I realize that I am not acting as I “should”, because I am not bowing to my programming. I know that, if even for a second, I can brighten a person’s day with a little kindness. Stepping out of the curb when two ladies walk by, picking up some random piece of litter and dropping it into the nearest trash can, saying “Good afternoon” to the local merchant we walk by every day, reaching down to give a quick pat on the head of a dog that curiously trudges over and away from their owners, just realizing and giving credit to all the life that exists within this concrete jungle.
So it may not be much, even if half a dozen people read these words, I know in one way or another, you’ll think twice about your commute home from work, and even if just once this week you smile at a stranger, then the world was changed for the better.
When all the naysayers out there say that “you can’t change the world by yourself”, I usually just smile and respond “I already have.”