Friday, August 21, 2009

The Malaise

What a marvel it is to be alive today. The sun has never risen over a world more beautiful and just. One hesitates to describe or even to enumerate the extravagant glories experienced by every man, woman and child on earth, for they are myriad. I shall try, for an examination of our blessed condition is a noble endeavor; it will guard us against complacency, remind us why we strove so hard to achieve our elevated state. And, at the risk of immodesty, I would like to propose that there is the possibility that it might at least in some small measure decrease the Malaise.

Where to start? Consider, for example, the complete absence of hunger, that most elemental concern. Benevolent multinational corporations in the agricultural and food processing industries long ago banded together, with the assistance of their respective countries, to eradicate starvation. Once that relatively modest goal was achieved, and even the poorest of the poor in neglected, war-torn places could rely on daily rations of nutritious, soy-based pulp, these enterprises set out to teach the poor farming techniques that were appropriate to their environments and cultures. These initiatives were combined with others in the areas of justice, literacy and infrastructure to build resilient, thriving, modern communities in which a baby that once had a twenty percent chance of living to the age of one was now virtually guaranteed a bright future of not only physical well-being but of intellectual, spiritual and material fulfillment. Their only real concern, of course, was the Malaise.

The elimination of poverty occurred naturally as a result of the elimination of hunger. Beautiful towns arose where dusty decay had reigned; vibrant economies where there had only been corruption and want. This transformation produced far-reaching and sometimes surprising benefits: as every living soul passed into affluence, there was no longer anywhere a dichotomy of haves and have-nots. Everybody was a have. Centuries-old conflicts were resolved as though each side had suddenly forgotten its grievances: Israel and Palestine declared a truce and economic alliance; Pakistan abandoned its claim to Kashmir and Muslims and Hindus intermingled happily in either country; Basque separatists abandoned their struggle in exchange for fuller participation in Spanish government and culture. Terrorism waned along with political and economic disenfranchisement. Soon the very idea that anyone would murder innocent people seemed like an absurd joke, and no one could quite believe that it had ever happened. Unfortunately, jokes don't seem so funny anymore. Since the Malaise.

As people became not only wealthier but better educated, human rights abuses (whether in the name of the state, of God, of superstition or merely of tradition) began to vanish. As the lot of people of every color and ethnic group improved, racism evaporated as if by magic. Women everywhere became full members of society, incontestably equipped with equal rights, unveiled to the world. They entered every professional class, and even the clergy of every major religion. Likewise, discrimination and crimes against homosexuals became an artifact of the past. Individual freedom – of thought, of expression, of dress, of religion, of sexuality – was not only tolerated but celebrated. It did not even need to be enforced; everyone accepted it as a given. The entire world was gravitating toward freedom, reason and compassion; toward love. Little did we know, we were also drifting toward the Malaise.

The complete disarmament of the entire planet, initiated when the most powerful nations decided, independently, to unilaterally eliminate their stockpiles of nuclear weapons, has produced a world free from the threat not only of catastrophic nuclear or biological apocalypse but of any kind of war at all. Borders of nations grew blurry as a spirit of openness, cooperation and welcome took hold where even the most entrenched disdain had once held sway. Today, people move freely between what were once known as "countries." Everyone is free to benefit from the natural and cultural bounties of every place on earth. How could it ever have been any other way? This evolution has occurred on a personal level just as it's occurred on a national one: no one would ever think to harm their neighbor, for the boundaries between ourselves and others have dissolved, too. We are effectively a single organism now: humanity. And this organism is afflicted with a single ailment: the Malaise.

Today, the Malaise has us in its clutches and shows no signs of letting go. It was first reported in the media as a vague sense of ennui, of disenchantment, that seemed to be taking hold of the collective spirit as worldly concerns abated. This was to be expected, specialists said. It was a temporary symptom of the trauma caused by the rapid shift in our mental and emotional priorities, they speculated. They reassured us: Relax. Enjoy your perfect world. You created it. You deserve it. But it only grew worse. Those who suffered most severely were hard put to describe the problem. Something just doesn't feel right, they said. And that's really all they needed to say. Everyone knew what they meant. People began to weep openly in the streets, falling to their knees, trembling with despair, clawing at their guts as though to breach through to the emptiness inside.

And then there were the suicides. People decided they could no longer tolerate this paradise. It exerted such a powerfully oppressive force on their psyches that they were left with no choice but to escape. People killed themselves singly and in groups. Suicide clubs were formed. Institutions arose to facilitate the suicide process. Many made elaborate rituals of the experience, inviting friends and family, videotaping the event, and leaving behind lengthy, poignant notes. They considered it their life's work. People began to plan their suicides years in advance, reserving spots in the most sought-after automortuariums. Parents even created trust accounts for the eventual suicide of their children. Suicide came to be seen as the one grand objective of every soul unlucky enough to be born, the only act with a hope to make one's life complete. Accordingly, it should be beautiful, moving, and – depending on one's circumstances and taste – lavish, ostentatious.

This is a last, gasping plea to whoever or whatever might be out there. Or in here.

Save us
. My God, what have we done? What have we done? Like errant borrowers, have we consolidated all of our sins into a single, massive, usurious delinquency? Is it vanity, the sin of vanity? What is it? What is it, goddammit!? Tell us what it is, we'll fix it. God (if there is a God): what do we do now? Look at us. We were good. We were so good. We tried. We tried so hard. Didn't we? Didn't we!? God? You bastard? Why do you hate us so much? Why are we still not reconciled? Why, goddammit? We thought there was a way back home. Now we're more lost than ever.

Now we have it all. We have nothing.