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Life on the darkest timeline

5 min read

There's a lot going on.

I won't rehash it all here, but the President of the United States is possibly the worst there's ever been, voted in by an electorate filled with racial anxiety after eight years of an African American leader. I had my quibbles with Obama too (eg surveillance, drone strikes, deportations) but they pale compared to everything we've experienced over the last eighteen months. Amy Siskind's Weekly List is a good summary and also completely emotionally overwhelming in every way.

This description of a 10 year old Honduran child's experience in US captivity is haunting:

Meanwhile, in the country I grew up in, the xenophobic desire to depart from Europe has led to some really dark places. Britons are preparing to return to rations-era food choices, and the prevailing government has proven itself to be every bit as draconian and brutal as Trump's. This Twitter thread, about an asylum seeker in Glasgow whose support was stopped with 24 hours notice, culminates in the most disgusting statement by the UK Home Office possible:

When asylum officers are arguing that female genital mutilation isn't an issue, using a racist, made-up statistic, I think it's fair to say that the world has taken a hard right turn from normal. We should all be outraged - but in a world where there's something new that we should be outraged about every single day, it's easy to fall into resigned inaction. Outrage on a continuous, ongoing basis is exhausting, and the danger is that it will just give way.

Meanwhile, I have an appointment next week that is the precursor to a DNA test that will determine the probability of my dying young. Four members of my family have so far developed pulmonary fibrosis as a side effect of dyskeratosis congenita, a 1-in-a-million genetic disorder that affects, among other things, the length of your telomeres. Three out of four sadly passed away; the fourth, my mother, has beaten the odds after a double lung transplant. There's no cure, although it's possible that a gene therapy will emerge before the symptoms would start to show in me (potentially 6-8 years from now, based on other members of my family).

My sister, who is highly allergic to bee stings, has nearly died twice so far while working in the field at her ecological restoration and conservation job. (Edit: she tells me she “only” really nearly died once.)

And there is more going on in my personal and work life that I can't talk about, that is no less stressful, although definitely less existentially terrifying. Things I used to worry about - I'm almost 40, and am unmarried with no family of my own, and not because of a deliberate personal choice; is there something wrong with me? And why haven't I been more financially successful? - have fallen into insignificance.

There's a lot going on. There are not very many points of light in the darkness. And it can be dizzying.

Stress can lead to bad decision-making, which in turn can lead to more stress. My friend Tantek Çelik passed this piece onto me this morning, which contains some wisdom and context:

There is evidence suggesting that depression or anxiety can compromise intuition, and that depressed or anxious people struggle with intuitive decision-making.

[...] The good news is that we seem to be able to train our intuition to get better. This is what Dr. Pearson plans to research next.

It's certainly possible to deal with all of this - and, frankly, there are so many people out there who have to deal with far worse. A friend of mine had to go into hiding from a stalker recently. Another has had to deal with an attempt on a parent's life. My own mother's journey through her illness and lung transplant has been an inspiration.

You have to find beauty where you can. It's been a real privilege to be at Matter for the last eighteen months and meet people - hundreds and hundreds of people - who are all trying to make the world a better place in meaningful, empathetic ways. And I'm constantly awed by my own family, the friends I'm lucky to have, and the love I see between people. People are amazing. I'm convinced that humanist values will prevail in the world, and I know that love and support between family and friends will help weather the interpersonal issues we all face.

So while I'm overwhelmed and distracted, I also think there's so much to live for, and fight for. It's not hopeless. And while we might make small gains that aren't anything like what we really want the world to be like, or anything like what we want our own lives to be like, it's important to hold onto that vision, and the hope that lies behind it. And if enough of our visions coincide, and there's enough love and acceptance between us, maybe we can make the world a little bit better, and find more points of life in our lives, too.

Anyway, that's what I'm holding onto.