I recently shared this C. S. Lewis quote in my |n|otabilia newsletter:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals. (C. S. Lewis)

A friend wrote back:

“It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.”  Thoughts from today’s conservatives, exactly.

Fair enough. But what interested me in the quote wasn’t that it represented a justification for supporting Trump and Co. The terrifying part is that we don’t even get this choice of two societal evils. What we have now is both: the robber baron’s innate cruelty in sympathetic vibration with the desires of the moral busybodies. And thanks to our current regime’s manipulation of the judiciary, the long-term consequences are dire.

I foresee America becoming (effectively) a theocracy. Perhaps the true theocrat then will sneer at its impurity, diluted by the diversity of Christian thought. But it’s a possibility I’m glad I won’t be around to see anywhere near the worst of. As I responded to my friend:

I’m surprised by your optimism, but happy and envious that you possess it.
 
I think there’s plenty-enough commonality in Christianity across a broad enough swathe of people that supporting what is effectively a theocracy is not only plausible, but likely. 
 
And younger people turn into conservatives as they age, which provides a broad base happy enough to live in collusion with more than enough of the common Christian positions as long as their fiscal priapism is constantly stroked.
 
Personally, I foresee a future of bloody coat hangers, closed borders, continued and exacerbated structural racism, the same deep fiscal inequity we already have, a social net slit from ear to ear, and deep intolerance…all supported by a corrupted judiciary.
 
The American experiment was a good one. It isn’t over. But the traditionally democratic part of it—and the attempt to rationalize some kind of permeous membrane between church and state—likely is.
 
And, honestly, this is my charitable assessment because I can’t live with the darker one. I understand (generally, at least) the arguments for optimism, but I don’t *believe* in their conclusion. I wish I did.

The simplest and most useful rule for productivity 1, where “something” can be an action of any kind:

1. Ask yourself what will happen if you ignore something. If nothing, or nothing important, or no one cares, then do so.

And the corollary:

1a. Ask yourself what will happen if you stop doing something. If nothing, or nothing important, or no one cares, then do so.

It’s astounding how many things fall into one of these categories.

  1. Note: I’m defining “productivity” here as “helping me get things done that make me happy(ish).”

Thanks to Gardner Campbell for leading me to this article: The destructiveness of perfectionism: Implications for the treatment of depression.

Through the lens of three suicides by “remarkably” talented individuals, Sidney Blatt differentiates productive treatment of depression for “anaclitic” patients, who are “preoccupied with the quality of their interpersonal relationships,” from effective treatment for patients with an “introjective form of psychopathology,” or the self-critics who are high-level perfectionists. The former respond relatively well to “brief treatments” while the latter (that’s me) do not…but they/we do respond to long-term, intensive treatment.

It’s a dense article and I’m still connecting all the dots, but the closing paragraph recaps the most important point:

“…perfectionistic, highly self-critical individuals who have intense investment in issues of self-definition, self-control, and self-worth, although relatively unresponsive to a number of different forms of short-term treatment including medication, appear to be quite responsive to long-term, intensive, psychodynamiocally oriented therapy in both inpatient and outpatient settings.”

The longer description of “introjective psychopathologies” is important too because, while the article is also concerned with how society can support those individuals so they can “continue their important contributions,” I’m not in that group  of “remarkable” people for whom society should feel some collective obligation…but I am absolutely in the same clinical class, to wit:

“…a second group or configuration of disorders can be identified as introjective psychopathologies that include disorders in which primary concerns with establishing and maintaining a viable sense of self range from establishing a basic sense of separateness, to a preoccupation with autonomy and control, to more complex internalized issues of self-worth. These patients primarily use counteractive defenses (e.g., projection, rationalization, intellectualization, doing and undoing, reaction formation, and overcompensation). Introjective patients are more ideational and concerned with establishing, protecting and maintaining a viable self-concept than they are about the quality of their interpersonal relations or about achieving feelings of trust, warmth, and affection. Issues of anger and aggression, directed toward the self and/or others, are usually central to their difficulties.”

This so exactly describes me that if I were only a little more paranoid I’d think they’d looked through my records.

The question for me is: what do I do? I suspect that, almost by definition and supported by my own experimental evidence using myself as subject, being my own therapist isn’t going to work. But there’s nowhere for me to get the intense treatment the article recommends, particularly when I consider Blatt’s findings regarding the difficulty this group has  establishing a positive therapeutic relationship.

You know those services that will cheerfully tell you every time someone unfollows or unfriends you on various social media services? Run away. Because here’s what will happen: you’ll routinely discover those blessedly-otherwise-hidden times that you’ve been nuked. Even without such evil services to notify you, it goes something like:

  1. Try to DM a colleague/friend on Twitter. Discover you’ve been unfollowed so you can’t.
  2. Go to their site and discover you’ve been removed from their blogroll.
  3. Look at a recent thread you commented on and discover that even some of your recent comments have disappeared.
  4. Despair.

Removing someone from a blogroll makes sense when they hardly blog anymore and only self-indulgently. But you know this runs deep when someone unfollows you on Twitter despite the fact that you barely post at all and when even your simple, non-antagonistic comments no longer get approved.

I am, apparently, a delicate flower.

Lyrics of the moment:

Some nights I thirst for real blood
For real knives
For real cries

[…]

Sometimes the blood from real cuts
Feels real nice
When it’s really mine

[…]

It’s just a drive into the dark stretch
Long stretch of night
Will really stretch this shaking mind
And this room, unlit, unheated
And the ceiling striped
And the dark black blinds

[…]

Cause there’s nothing quite like the blinding light
That curtains cast aside
And no attempt is made to explain away
The things that really, really, really, really, really are behind

You can’t hide

—from “For Real” by Okkervil River

I understand now, more than ever, why David Foster Wallace spent most of his last weeks eating his mother’s casseroles and watching television. I understand now, more than ever, why severely depressed people find themselves avidly seeking the entertainments of their youth.

Specifically, I find myself in search of the intensely but unclearly remembered. The things I have yet to revisit. Not the old favorites I’ve returned to again and again, the movies who dialogue I mouth as I watch and the books whose best lines I drop into my conversation and letters.

When I’m merely sad or in the midst of “routine” depression, I look to old favorites from my youth at various ages, Cummings and Keats, classic sci-fi, British mysteries, The Lord of the Rings in book and movie form. The comfort is in the consistent rewards each of these give in their own way, sometimes in the story, sometimes specific words or lines.

But when things get bad, when I’m somehow simultaneously empty and filled with darkness, I look for familiar strangers. I crave, suddenly, episodes of Magnum P.I. and that thriller novel where the protagonist suffers from an irregular heartbeat and is always waiting for the unending gap between one clench of his heartfist and the next.

I want these not for anything anyone else will find in their pages and scenes—it seems unlikely anyone else could benefit from watching Murder She Wrote or thumbing the pages of the thick 1977 paperback edition of the Guinness Book of World Records—but for myself. Literally. I’m trying to find the person I was then, untainted by the intervening years. And if I can’t find him, perhaps I can—for a few merciful minutes—experience something the same way. Or even just remember, at a remove, how I felt things then before I was filled with anhedonic shadows.

But it becomes harder and harder to find these entertainments. Harder to remember them. Harder to find a way into them. And what happens when I run out of them? What happens when I run out? What happens when there’s nothing left?