"One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug." Thus begins Kafka's famous novella. Far be it from me to aspire to such heights, but something happened to me during the time I was on vacation in California, something odd that I hope does not prove to be permanent.
As I have several times remarked, I am viewed with amusement by my friends as incurably, unrealistically, irremediably optimistic. Show me a glass half full, and I think it is an ocean. Spill a drop of water on me, and I think it is a flood. During my years in Western Massachusetts, I periodically had lunch with a circle of friends with whom I would discuss the events of the day. They could always count on me to see the silver lining in every storm cloud, the upside of every downturn. I acquired the reputation of being a Tigger, if I may allude to Winnie-the-Pooh.
Now, it would seem, I have metamorphosed into an Eeyore. The fiasco surrounding the raising of the debt ceiling was the proximate cause, as we say in the Philosophy game. I was deeply disappointed by Obama's decision not to stand up to the Tea Party and invoke the 14th Amendment. Although I think I understand all the reasons behind that decision, that does not lessen my dismay.
But the larger reason for my loss of ebullience is the overwhelming sense that the future for this country is bleak. Americans are permanently committed to endless imperial adventures. They have given up any collective commitment to the amelioration of poverty or the narrowing of the gap between rich and poor. The quality of the public discourse is now so vulgar, so flattened, so suffused with ignorance and religious fanaticism that nothing resembling a public conversation can take place. Perhaps this is how it felt to thoughtful, intelligent, reflective Romans in the 2nd century A.D. I do not know.
There are some people on the left who can relax into this bleak view almost gratefully, comfortable with a stance of endless condemnation and crying in the wilderness. But that is not my nature. I need desperately to believe that there is something I can do, something for which I can hope, something to which I can commit my energies.
Who knows? Perhaps the rccall elections will go well tomorrow in Wisconsin, and my good spirits will return. Perhaps the Republicans will choose a candidate so unmitigatedly awful that I will throw myself into one more fight against the barbarians. But for the moment, I cannot even bear to read the newspapers or surf the web.
What to do? Fortunately, I am embarked on an exposition of Kant's central ideas in the Critique of Pure Reason, and that effort retains its value even in the worst of times. So tomorrow I shall continue with my series, "Reading the Critique," while I wait for better times.