ne place brings news that 2014 was the hottest year in human history, calamity in a cameo locket. Another, Paris, introduces nerve-fraying laws punishing public hatefulness if spoken by putative terrorists. Then comes Switzerland with its decision to cut ties to the already-plunging euro.
Continental gloominess is everywhere, fortified by rising unemployment and reinforced by a massive wave of immigration from Islamic flashpoints all know will expand already teeming and disenfranchised urban shanties — a world unto themselves — on the fringes of many European cities.
Economic jumpiness kicks up its own storm because money is at the root of wants, needs, shortfalls and greed. The rise of on resignation and the restlessness it engenders among the young is history’s way of reminding those who pay attention that centuries-old social and political upheaval in France, the English colonies and Russia all arose from economic dejection that transcended ideology or religion while adhering to both. Causes can seem to patch up desolation just as interconnectedness can make human alarm seem rodent-like.
But humans are unlike rats in that they’re impatient, if not eager for, the next mishap. They revel in the drama of their potential undoing, whether victims or victimizers.
Fires, floods, plagues and wars once affected only those near them. Now, hordes absorb troubling tidbits served on hourly platters served like so many poisoned canapés to the billions milling in the global banquet hall.
But dwelling on unsettling events has its consequences.
Worriers, an excited and excitably lot, quietly extrapolate the worst. Breaking news conveys not only unfolding events but also the sights and sounds of breakage itself that to many can feel like a kind of compelling and personalized Hollywood Armageddon to which they somehow need to be close.
People more and more face the confusion of many things happening at once, or seeming to, pushing once-cool heads toward a constant state of impressionableness. Bad news fosters gut level vulnerability whose modern escape hatch is sharing. But when the circuitry of sharing is overloaded with “too much-ness” and its foreboding, despair is a more intimate fallback. It confers ironic sanity on a maddening world by incorporating outer chaos into inner anxiety and making the impersonal merge with the personal in a seemingly manageable way. It’s a key aspect of 21st-century depression.
This psychological double-parking — the battening down of external calamity (Freud called it sublimation) — is as intimately treacherous as the impersonally troubling information that provokes the unraveling. Call it human warming or a loss of perspective at a cellular level. It’s in fact little different from global warming in that a planet and its people are ultimately the same, intersecting the animal, vegetable and mineral.
The infinite eagerness to inform, update, remind and repeat can also unhinge and unbalance. Individual circuitry finds comfort in an insidious, as yet undiagnosed psychosomatic malady whose viral-ness (forget social networking or Ebola) attaches trepidation to anxiety. The intellectual antibodies that normally build barriers between the rational and the irrational are crippled. The irrational takes constant precedence, symptomatic of an illness first contracted by New Yorkers in late 2001 and spread elsewhere as a kind of low-boil inner panic. Portrayed at first as an appendage of solidarity and a way of sharing trauma the nature and extent of the scar emerged only later. For a while at least, Americans went wild with fear, as a result contaminating a planet sensitive to their preferences and ailments.
War-wise Europe resisted, skeptical it could empathize without losing its collective head. But years of recession now coupled with violence have enlarged the legions of European anxiety-addicts. Like their American offshoots they seek ironic reassurance in bad news. They borrow from what has yet to happen but they believe will, extrapolating the worst and welcoming dismay as if they knew all along that so many fender-benders presaged a nastier collision they’re about to witness. In doing this, they make a case for sadness and madness combined, at this juncture uncertain only which one to choose.