Oh Holiday Season, why do you leave me so gloomy? Is it a vestige of my childish disappointment that I didn’t get Christmas or Hanukah presents because my birthday was close to both and my parents thought one day of indulgence was enough (a sentiment I now agree with)? Is it a leftover from work life, when conventional wisdom had it that things slowed down between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for me they never did? Is it Seasonal Affective Disorder kicking in as we approach the solstice?
I try to think of happy or at least neutral topics to write about, but nothing comes to mind. December’s dark days become a metaphor for the existential threats we aren’t addressing: climate change, wealth inequality, the loss of privacy. Not to mention the authoritarianism we know, deep in our bones, is coming eventually, probably soon.
The Enlightenment values I grew up with and ratified as a critically-thinking adult are falling by the wayside. Perhaps the conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens best sums it up when he says our global rivals China, Russia, and Iran “see a West in which personal freedoms lead to moral decadence and a diminished capacity for collective sacrifice. They think illiberal authoritarianism . . . is the wave of the future, not an atavism from the past.”
More than China, Russia, and Iran, Mr. Stephens. India, Brazil, Poland, Hungary, the Philippines, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Myanmar, just about every country ending in the letters -stan — the list is long. And let’s not forget the Republican Party in this country, to which you once belonged!
I’ll be an old man when that wave of the future arrives — I’m kind of an old man already — and I’ll have to make a decision about my end game. Will I collaborate? Will I lay low and hope I’m left alone? Or will I resist? I like to think I’d make the last of those choices, but I know me: I’ll try the second option first, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll switch to option one or three depending on the circumstances.
I think of all the friends and family members who will have to make the same decision. I know some will resist, because they are better than me. I know some will lay low, like me. And I know others will collaborate, some unwittingly, many reluctantly, a few eagerly, because like everyone, I have friends and family members comfortable with authoritarianism, including a handful who crave it.
And I think of all my younger brothers and sisters in spirit who haven’t had the opportunity to live their lives and will have to face the lethal injustices of a toxifying ecosphere and mafia economy while Big Brother watches their every move. They can try to organize against the madness, but see how far they get before they’re tracked down and hauled into custody. They may never have a chance to flourish as I did.
And that’s the thing! Bad as I feel, I’m actually flourishing. I haven’t caught Covid, I got my booster shot a few days ago, and I’m otherwise feeling well. The Fabulous Wife and cats are fine. Our savings are holding out. And we’ve been fixing up our seventy year-old bathroom; it’s long past time we installed a low-flow toilet here in drought country, and that amateurish paint job I did twenty-five years ago desperately needed to be scraped off and redone.
The problem is my mind won’t stay focused on cultivating my own garden. I can’t stop thinking that this is the tribulation, those few years before we all pay the price for humanity’s worst impulses, no matter how distant from politics or the workaday world we hold ourselves. Which makes me think the good days are slipping away too fast — not just for me, but for those whose recent days haven’t been as good. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.