The Politics of Depression

When the 2000 election went down -- "went down" as in a bad convenience store heist, blood spattering the aisles, people with their guts hangin' out crawling for the exit -- I was depressed. I wasn't depressed by the election. I was fearful far in advance. I'd seen the window of respectable debate tighten to the aperture of the sphincter of most Beltway assholes. On one televised debate I tried to nuance the divisions among progressives (Gore v. Nader v. nada) while the person next to me on screen screamed "Gore is evil!"

If I had verbally pimp-slapped her, maybe the election would have turned out differently.

Nah, that's just ego. But like most people who believe that everyone in America should eat, go to decent schools and work at jobs that don't kill their bodies or spirits, I played the nice girl. I've had years of training. I can recite the rosary and wear patent leather shoes with my legs crossed. But there's a downside.

Depression. You can't out-nice a flesh-eating virus. And that's pretty much the spiritual equivalent of where America is right now. God/Goddess/God-us, not to mention the flag and Uncle Sam, have pretty much been appropriated as corporate logos of the Bush Administration. Yet most Americans do not support policies that will gut their schools, turn their cities and towns into economic dust bowls, and send their friends and families to their deaths. What goes?

I have a theory. Niceness = death. I don't want to think that way, because it goes against one whole strain of my consciousness. To make a long story short, after 9/11 I turned from an agnostic into a believer. If god (lower "g" for the manifestation of the Spirit vs. a white-haired icon) didn't exist, I was plumb through with this plane of existence. It wasn't just the airplanes hitting the towers. It was years of being a reporter, going to prisons and schools and finding them eerily similar. Watching people self-destruct so they could fit in. America spinning its wheels and doing donuts in the world's parking lot.

Like many people around me, I have tried being extremely nice in the face of flying hunks of bullshit. Like the Administration's statements that fighting Iraq will bring peace to the Middle East. That drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will free us from oil problems. That giving rich people money will allow working moms to spend time with their kids. whap Wait a second, I read a policy report that... whap.

I curled up in my bed for a long while and eventually wiped the crap off my face. But I don't regret the time under the covers. Depression is the rumbling of the subconscious. The automatic shutdown valve of the soul. The cry of a baby held underwater, depression is helplessness manifest. Depression is the most common reaction among smart people to bad times.

Now it's time to wake up. As we experiment with information, which feeds our minds as food does our bodies, we find out what really nourishes us and what (like junk food) only makes us high for a second. It's easy to get high; a lot harder to get straight. I personally enjoy a mix of right- and left-wing, stodgies and fanatics, celebrity gigolos and serious news wonks. I lay the banquet out before me and have a taste. After a while you recognize what's rancid.

I've also recognized the value of being somewhere, every now and then, that humbles me. One of my favorite places is the California coast. There's no sidewalk to the path. Hedges and brambles line both sides. The sand lies below. When you finally reach the beach it's a revelation: houses high on the cliffs, a sharp steep mound of rock and trees before you. In the morning, men and women gather and snorkel for abalone. On the right of the mini-mountain, a spray-slickened path leads toward the top. And once you're there, you can lie on your stomach and look toward churning infinity.

Who wouldn't want to have faith in the future? And if so, why not build it?

Farai Chideya is the founder of

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