“It was natural to think of your own end as everyone else was contemplating the demise of the species, or the planet, or the massed celestial ascent of the Elect.”
–Carl Sagan, Contact
Gloomy weather for the last two days has prevented me from exploring the state and searching for proof of disassembly. The deconstruction of the American anti-state will not be less violent for its sluggish pace, and it will not take place within my own home . . . that is, not until the last ineffectual safeguard has been removed and discarded. I must document the gradual devastation out there, but for now—and very possibly for a while yet, if Governor Sununu credits the rumors and strips the people of New Hampshire of our right to travel—my world is this apartment, one in which no one but I have walked in days, maybe even weeks. The glass door to the rain-splattered outside world appears to be thickening with each passing day, but the wooden door to the hallway, behind which unknown people may be listening or steeling themselves to force an entrance, seems to be thinning and weakening with every report of aggressively advancing militarization.
Those footsteps on the other side of that wall . . . are they my neighbors, slipping out for a moment to fetch the morning paper, or are they the creeping boots of myrmidons, wooden tops with heavy weaponry coming to fetch the wayward writer of seditious literature? Only the incurably insouciant fail to notice the nascent fascism, and while I am probably too trifling and insignificant to be hauled off by the first wave of arrests, my number will be called, sooner or later. Little attention, if any at all, will be called to my case: my family scarcely knows who I am, and my pool of friendships has all but completely evaporated. Hardly any effort is needed to make Dack Rouleau disappear, and when the cataclysmic meltdown commences in earnest, who will have the time or psychic fuel to spare on protecting anyone but their own? Nevertheless, I can almost hear the clock ticking down for me, and I wonder just how long it will be before I am part of the autocracy’s collection.
All propensity to hope seems inherently misguided, but to be hopeless is to decompose. Needless to say, to decompose is to die, especially in this funereal epoch of collective decomposition—or is it least of all in these times, when everybody stands on the brink of devastation? Ugh, this is not a question to be tackled on an empty stomach—or, for that matter, with an unclouded mind. Might as well prepare myself a cocktail and allow the creative juices to flow. What’s the harm in drinking a little rum, or even a lot of rum, at four in the afternoon? If the elemental structure of our society isn’t shattering on the impact of the stock market crash, or if the federal agents aren’t printing my name on a list of political criminals, then certainly some other lethal brew is boiling in the cauldron of this crisis? Life will be a cascade of ugliness and cruelty, undeniably intolerable to all but, again, the incurably insouciant, long before we turn the calendar to May. Such, at least, is my expectation, and I like to think I’m pretty well restrained . . . or maybe I’m just docile, pacified by the glass of Boston rum punch to my right.
Yes, friends: I have allowed myself to drink all too heavily in the last couple of weeks. Self-control is an antiquated practice, superfluous in the year of der untergang. What, might I ask, is the point of holding back when we are swiftly losing our grip? Obviously, we discipline ourselves and ready ourselves for the brutal transition, a process of such relentless intensity that it will eradicate all but the most focused and the most foolish. This, the enduring possibility of life and reinvention, ought to stay our hand as we reach for the glass—the cup or the pipe. It has kept us in check, irrationally or not, through each of our past national disasters, so what makes this episode so preternatural? Is it because we were swept up in the popular hysteria, or at least benighted by corporate propaganda, in each of the previous instances? I was nine years old on September 11th, I was in high school as Obama bailed out the banks, and I was baffled when Trump won the election. This time, however, I am just barely researched enough to understand that this is the unmistakable, irreversible decline of the American Empire, and I know the consequences will be gruesome, even horrific. I say this without melodramatic flourish . . . I say it soberly, if you will . . . and it is this banal intensity that gives me such pause and inspires me to soften myself with liquor.
My associate describes it as the rag doll effect. According to legend, a drunken driver or passenger is likelier to survive a car crash than a sober traveler because, in a state of besotted relaxation, we accept the circumstances and move with the traumatic force instead of rigidly resisting. A similar explanation was offered by the baker onboard the RMS Titanic, who survived the plunge into the algid Atlantic after having a couple of shots of brandy. However, the same baker didn’t get wasted; he didn’t become so dangerously befuddled that he couldn’t even recall his own name, or, perhaps a bit more to the point, he didn’t leave his body vulnerable to hypothermia. He was floating in the gelid waters for a time before the lifeboats circled back around to scoop him up, and a whole hell of a lot could have happened in the interim. We’re in for a bit of an extended splash, ourselves, and we don’t want to get so wasted that we drown.
Are we sure about that, though? Do we really want our perceptual faculties intact as we transcend the point of no return? We will encounter spectacular horrors as the American standards of living plummet, and the transfiguration of broken persons may be too much for the squeamish to stomach. As we speak, corporate dairy producers are pouring their excess milk into the ground, rather than dispensing it to people for free. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos, the ruthless overseer of a global modern-day plantation, is refusing to pay his destitute employees their starvation wages out of his savings of $100 billion-plus. These puzzling and distasteful behaviors may be standard capitalist practice, but they are also testimony to the irredeemable iniquity of powerful people. They call to mind “the altar”, Jeffrey Dahmer’s unfinished magnum opus, which would have featured a chain of severed heads flanked by two torsos. If one wishes to dive joylessly into the depths of human grotesquerie, is Dahmer’s approach any more graceless or undignified than Bezos’s?
America has much further to sink before she hits the base of her bloody pool, and it has to be this terrible sinking feeling that compels us to drink, lest we start to think, and think ourselves into an infernal awareness. In this instance, then, to drink or to drug is to suspend contemplation of all of the ghastly eventualities marching toward us. Could it be this desperate, despairing inebriation is an attempt to suspend time, as well? Do we believe we can postpone our impending demolition by flooding our surroundings with spirits, by concealing ourselves under heavy smoke? Perhaps it is not a fear of a particular time so much as a universal fear of pain, and our only defense, for lack of better word, is the most convenient analgesic? Or might it achieve precisely the opposite and hurry us toward that inevitable agony? Are we wiser to surrender and accept our fey fate, lest we swim feebly and hopelessly against the noxious coming tide?
When we are under the influence, we strengthen our tolerance of, and possibly even acquire a new taste for, the base and the crude. We would do well to learn this affinity, and fast: as our social and economic structure decays, the previous standards will be swiftly replaced by a decidedly humbler mode. We will evolve retrograde, our children being sicker than we, and accustomed to watching their mothers and fathers drown their sorrows in the substance of their choice. Are we drinking in preliminary, though perhaps not premature, mourning for the loss of the life we once lived? There is an instinct to condemn this behavior as boorish and petty, but that is overcome by the evidence of the physical and mental malnourishment that will become the norm within a generation. Shortly before the New Hampshire primary, we witnessed the anguish of the white trash; might we witness next the cruel vengeance of that wounded collective?
At the very least, it will be easier to accept my unpleasant fate if I’m wasted. Alas, this is true only if one already possessed the capacity for acceptance. I believed in my ability long before I realized I needed to buy another handle of rum, but evidently, I never reconciled that moiety of my psyche with the rest. My addle-brained solution to this problem is to keep drinking, even though it stopped being a joyous ritual some time ago. I’m melancholy now, flooded with liquor as if to stop myself from wading into even deeper waters, waters wherein I would contemplate more comprehensively the apocalyptic shift awaiting us all, or all of us who can’t afford to buy a raft composed of dead peasants bound together. It’s a long, miserable journey to that impossible horizon, and we will be drowned long before we reach it, so the only natural thing to do is to drink, or smoke, or however you prefer to medicate yourself. Perhaps there is a sublimation for this, but it will have to wait until I’ve freshened my glass.