My interpretation of national and world events is filtered through my experiences growing up in a dysfunctional household. My parents were poorly matched for a life together. They fought all day, every day, over everything and nothing. Meanwhile the house physically devolved year after year.
The roof leaked and over time rotted out the walls. The spongy wood attracted carpenter ants that silently chewed up half the house. The water heater gave ominous signs of dying for months until it belched out forty gallons of hot rusty water and permanently warped the floor boards. There were long stretches when the phone didn’t work because the bill wasn’t paid. The washing machine failed and instead of fixing it or buying a new one they spent months fighting over whose fault it was. I washed my clothes in the sink while they yelled. What began as a well landscaped garden withered and went feral.
Looking back I realized there could have been peace – even happiness – in the house if my parents had compromised. My step father could have put down his beer and cigarettes, gotten up off the couch, put on some pants, and done a little work. But that wasn’t his nature. My mom could have radically lowered her standards, cracked open a cold one, and joined her husband on the sofa. But that wasn’t her style. Instead, they tormented each other for decades as everything around them fell apart.
This was the soundtrack to my childhood. I was no joy during this period. I was miserable and an enormous pain to be around. I resented the pointless antagonism and perpetual disarray. I left home as soon as I possibly could and never looked back. Some years after I moved out I heard the old house burned down. The authorities determined the fire was caused by electrical wires in an upstairs bedroom.
I see society indulging in the same dynamic these days. Do we work collectively to solve pressing problems? Or do we obsess about how the other side is evil while the problems fester? I know how this ends. Some problems don’t have a satisfactory solution. Sometimes things just fail even when pragmatic answers are at hand. Since I have no ability to change these large scale institutional and cultural conflicts I’m busy doing what I’ve always been good at. I’m searching for work-arounds, cooperating with people who actively help each other, looking for undervalued opportunities, and searching the landscape for an exit strategy.
The bright side of all this is that eventually failure fixes itself. The old fire damaged house was bought on the cheap and rebuilt to a bigger and better standard by new owners. Whoever lives at this address now appears to have their act together. This family is sufficiently organized and coordinated to build and maintain a home to a functional level. I fully expect society to eventually sort itself out and rebuild when a new generation of more capable, competent, and congenial young people take the helm. But that process is going to take a while. So for now I’m hunkering down as the flames begin to spread.