Anxiety: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, June 2022

I’ve always been anxious. Fidgety, agitated, hyper; I was so talkative and disruptive during my early elementary school years my teachers isolated me to my own desk in the back of the class. I still rocked myself to sleep during my adolescence while listening to 50s pop music on AM radio, then early 60s rocknroll on the FM dial; a habit I had to break anticipating dorm life at  UCSC’s Merrill College. My politics turned left anarchist my senior year in high school, and stayed left of the Left ever since. I’ve always gravitated to the action faction of any organization or movement I belonged to, ultimately adopting the 2 June Movement’s mantra: “Words cannot save us! Words don’t break chains! The deed alone makes us free! Destroy what destroys you!”

“Action for action’s sake” became a political panacea, it’s own anodyne, a knee-jerk reflex that superseded critical thinking. It was an easy way for me not to challenge my ultra-gauche political analysis and avoid self-criticism. When in doubt, act. Somewhere in this political process I started self-medicating—first with marijuana, then alcohol—trying but never succeeding in slowing down, blunting that relentless “on edge” sense to my life. I was, and am still dealing with emotional pain, though I’m not quite sure the cause of it. Both my Polish parents survived forced labor camps during the second World War and my father was a falling down alcoholic. There’s a basis in family trauma for my interminable anxieties.

Politics in the streets ebbed and flowed, but mostly ebbed. By 2010 I was an aging stoner alcoholic with pancreatic damage in a world where the Left was in deep retreat. When I stopped drinking is when I discovered depression.

Anxiety can often be related to depression. It never was that for me. When I broke up with the partner I’d lived with for six years in 1979 I went on a wild drunken binge that saw me drop out of graduate school, crash and burn my life, and ultimately become homeless. But when I stopped dosing with several bottles of Belgian Ale a night I slipped into a clinical depression. Weed never kicked my ass. Alcohol did. And not drinking laid me low for nine months. I could barely get out of bed, let alone do the routine tasks to maintain my daily existence.

It took nine months of therapy, mostly CBT, to incrementally climb out of my constant black mood. When I finally returned to some semblance of what I was before I stopped drinking, I was still nervous, impatient and anxious, but I had a strong undercurrent of dark foreboding dealing with my life. Some of this is residual depression, but much of it comes from the state of the world today. Statistically, I have maybe 10 years left, give or take. I’ve never been more despondent about the future. I can say, fuck it, I’ll be dead soon enough from my own vices, what does it matter if the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But 10 years is a long time for a short apocalypse. This is the first time I’ve truly contemplated I might be around to see it all collapse. If that’s the case, it’s not going to be pleasant. I write science fiction; I don’t want to live science fiction.

Of course we all would love to die peacefully asleep in our beds. I’m actually prepared for the disease, pain and decay of the death I no doubt deserve. What I’m really not prepared for is trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic hell-scape due to human stupidity.

I inherited the anxieties over WWII and Nazis from my parents, growing up in a Pax Americana empire whose corporatist New Deal and anemic Great Society were pale reflections of the European social democracies it protected with mutually assured nuclear destruction. Yet for me this was a middle-class childhood idyl that I’ve witnessed move inexorably to the right during my adult life. American society was reactionary, segregated and conformist but it also had a modest public sector thanks to a militant labor movement that arose in the Great Depression and had embarked on a struggle for civil rights for marginalized peoples starting in the 1950s. The New Left and counterculture I’d joined in 1968 seemed vibrant, dynamic and on the rise. Less than a decade later it was all on the wane. With the election of Ronald Reagan, the Right was once again ascendent, a situation that continues to the present. The rightward, downward slide of American politics, with perhaps brief pauses for Democratic presidents, now portends a resurgent fascism, an American Fascism in all its brutality.

Thus my first and most immediate fear is that we are on the verge of a second Civil War. Going on three years of a Covid pandemic has made me jittery of the inevitable global epidemics to come. The nuclear brinksmanship of Russia and NATO over Ukraine raises the awful specter of the worst “duck and cover” days of the Cold War when I was a kid. And living now in the perpetual drought of California has made me dread the impending environmental disaster.

Only the terror of nuclear annihilation is something I’ve experienced. I grew up in the truly Golden State and was vaccinated against the last great pandemic scourge—polio—in 1956 before I understood much about any disease. The only Nazis I knew were on TV. Now I’ve come within yards of self-professed American Fascists at Bay Area political protests. It’s now one horror after another.

Clearly, my current catastrophic turn-of-mind is in large part due to my lifelong anxieties and subsequent depression. And saying that there’s always been fear and trembling over end times, real or imagined, is technically true but doesn’t contribute much to the discussion. I’d love to be wrong about the future I see coming, at least for the brief span of years I have left. Unfortunately, with these multiplying threats, the grounds for any optimism are fading.

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