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Ruminations on Exhaustion

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

.".. in the centre of our lives, this time, this day... this spring among the politicians playing cards. In a village of the indigenes, one would have still to discover. Among the dogs and dung, one would continue to contend with one’s ideas." Wallace Stevens, The Glass of Water.


Just when I think it can't get worse, it does. 'It' is the current state of world politics, particularly the western world with which I'm familiar. More specifically, the US and the UK. A crushing sense of weariness threatens to drown out my belief that futility is not an option. At the moment, it feels like everything I assumed is no longer correct. In short, all bets are off.

How could I have been so stupid as to believe in the idea of progress, things getting and staying better? How could I have thought if I struggled hard enough, I'd be happy instead of tormented by an endless hunger to comprehend? How did I naively assume I'd cease struggling to reconcile endless contradictions? From what can I draw sustenance as I confront my own personal mortality along with the knowledge of the infinitesimally small part I play in the unfolding human drama?

Okay, this is a wail of anguish from a person whose own life is in pretty good shape. I'm a member of the intellectually elite middle class. I live in a city-state I love (London) with another house in northern California from which I emigrated. I have more than enough money. I have a loving life partner who emotionally supports me despite his difficulties with my restless searchings. I have surrogate sons and daughters and grandchildren who fill the gap left by own (unregretted) childlessness. I have much for which to be grateful. I try to practice this difficult emotion.

But along with gratitude and weariness, I'm enraged. I cannot take in how two such despicable human beings as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are leaders of so-called first world countries. I cannot forgive Jeremy Corbyn's stand on Brexit, (rigid spinelessness [sic] ), his refusal to make clear what a disaster Brexit will be for this small island. I'm baffled that an old white guy like Joe Biden, who plays to destructive nostalgia for the good old days, looks like the Democratic frontrunner. I'm overwhelmed by finally understanding how corporations really do run the world, how Big Tech and Big Pharma are nearly untouchable behemoths.

I'm sickened by fake news, false advertising, relentless distortion of truth, shilling on all sides by those with more money than they'll ever need extracting even more from those who can least afford it. And I'm stunned as I realize it's not inconceivable climate catastrophe will wipe out multiple species, including humans.

I react out of my own temperament which is quick to judge, to form opinions. to insist on my rightness. I recognize this to be a limitation as well as a strength, so I struggle to take in views of others who are not in agreement. I try to take a longer, larger view, and sometimes succeed. I strive to nurture others and to be generous. I find my smallness comforting. The realization I'm insignificant in Deep Time is less a matter of distress than of comfort.

I believe if history doesn't repeat itself, it rhymes (as Mark Twain reputedly said). Human beings are continually messing up but then finding ways forward. And I think there are wondrous things happening in discoveries around space, time, connectedness--enlargements of the human imagination that will lead to new openings.

That is if--if we don't destroy ourselves and our earthly home before the next period of stability arrives--whenever it does and however it looks. It will take some time for this tumultuous upending of the old order to balance into new solidities. I'm sad and furious I won't get to witness what arises from the ashes of today's crumbling certainties.

Rose Levinson, July 2019

4 comentarios

Miriam Swann
Miriam Swann
07 sept 2019

Hi Cousin! I also hear everything you are saying. It is maddening and depressing. The one glimmer of hope right now is Elizabeth Warren. She is surging in the polls and truly knows what it means to be a human being. Love to you both xx

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Joan Eisenstodt
Joan Eisenstodt
06 sept 2019

Thank you, Rose. I feel turned inside-out. In the 41 years I've lived in DC, I've never gone to as many demonstrations total as I have in the past two. I'm not sure that my presence does much but being with like-minded people helps. More, each Jan., the MLK/Heschel service held at the Sixth & I Synagogue in DC is renewing .. and the dinner w/ activist friends after helps us recommit .. each year and between other demonstrations. But it's small compared to the massive horror around the world. It must be worse because we so instantly know and are bombarded with news of hate and horror. I vow to stay away from info and can't. To you ..…

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Rose, dear friend, I feel your pain. To quote Karl Marx (shudder), "History repeats itself, at first as tragedy, then as farce." The thought crosses one's mind that, perhaps, this is how Homa sapiens fizzles--not with a bang, just a boring spasm. Then, to buck up my spirits, I await the next Technology Quarterly from The Economist to renew my faith in mankind. Usually this works. I also resign myself to (1) being a good citizen and voicing my opinion in public fora, and voting for the least obnoxious choices in the ballot booth (whereby we now have a decent governor in Maine plus a blue state legislature) and (2) maximizing our quality of life here on our little plot…

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Gadi Garfinkel
Gadi Garfinkel
16 jul 2019

Hey Rose, I resonate with all of this. Thanks for putting words to how I often feel. What resonates most is this quality of endless oscillation, often between the extremes of rage and despair, with occasional short respites in a centered place of gratitude, clarity, and a big picture view. So happy we're together in the same (sinking?) boat.

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