Saturday 28 August 2021

The World Is Broken, And It Breaks Us

Call me cynical, call me jaded, even call me broken. And you’d no doubt be right. I’m tired of the world, I admit. Sixty-some years of a not-particularly-easy life have worn me out. Yet more and more I can’t escape the conclusion that it’s not just me, that this world is a extremely messed-up place. It’s broken, and it breaks people. You only have to look around you to see this. The world is seriously imbalanced, and seriously unwell, so much so that I’m not sure I even have the words to describe this deep malaise.

The list of things that have been wrong with the world ‘forever’ is long - war, genocide, grinding oppressions, colonialism, corruption, power trips, the structural and person-to-person ‘isms’, abuse of so many kinds, mistreatment and neglect of children, rape and sexual exploitation, all kinds of interpersonal violence, systemic failures which result in trauma to individuals, violence towards animals or treating them as commodities only worthy of existence if they bring some benefit to humans, the destruction of the environment because the natural world is seen as ‘good’ only if it can be exploited… This list is not a comprehensive one by any means.

All of these things wreak havoc. People die, or their lives are ruined. Animals die, species become extinct, and landscapes disappear or are changed forever, usually for the worse. And this environmental damage, despite some seeming to believe that it’s all the fault of us baby boomers, is actually (at least) two hundred years’ worth of pigeons coming home to roost. We’ve ruined our planet, and now we’re living with the consequences.

Much of this is (surprise surprise) due to people’s egos running rampant, especially those of many so-called ‘leaders’ (pretty much all of them male, but then until recently women couldn’t be ‘leaders’). They gather around them cohorts of similar-minded or at least sycophantic followers who aid them in damaging everything and everyone they can, in service of that ego. We need look no further than a recent American president to see that, but he’s only the most recent, and loudest, example.

Amazingly, these ‘leaders’ will have many faithful followers. Even when they blatantly break their wild promises and prove themselves to be liars, bullies, blowhards, narcissists, and megalomaniacs of the worst kind, some people, incredibly, will still worship them. It defies rational belief, but it’s true. You have to wonder what’s wrong with the followers, that they remain so deluded, or why they would follow such a person in the first place.

There are also so many day-to-day ugly things that people do to each other - workplace politics, insults, name-calling and put-downs, vicious online fights, dysfunctional family dynamics, public rudeness, snobbery, manipulative mind-games, and on and on, all the ‘minor’ nastinesses. These take their toll too.

Even if people don’t actually die from any of these things, they can be left with emotional and physical scars, and all sorts of ongoing problems. All too often, people don’t receive the care or support they need - because, sadly, many of those in power don’t seem to view them as a priority (if you’re Not A Productive Citizen, you’re nobody in their eyes). The rates of mental health problems alone are an indicator of the state of the world. Depression, reported loneliness and isolation, anxiety disorders, PTSD, suicidal ideation, personality disorders, and other serious mental health issues seem to be increasingly common. Maybe they’re growing, maybe they have always been high, when so many have ‘flown under the radar’, and it used to be social death to have a mental health problem, and often still is, who can tell? But either way, it’s not an indication of a healthy world. (Though it sometimes seems to me that being so-called ‘insane’ is actually the only sane response to such a screwed-up world.)

And then of course there’s capitalism, which is much to blame for the state of the world. Its late-stage version encourages rampant greed, materialism, arrogance, cruelty, selfishness and the cult of individualism, with an elite increasingly hoarding obscene proportions of the world’s wealth, while the rest of us struggle and get poorer. Ironically, capitalism had its roots in breaking out of the oppressions of feudalism, and now it’s become an oppressive system itself. I sometimes wonder what those first ‘capitalists’ would think of the world today. Any student of history knows, however, that all political/economic systems have their drawbacks. And as much as I would love to see an end to capitalism, if we don’t address the core problem – that it’s a HUMAN-CREATED system, with all of its failings being due to the failings of human nature, then we’re doomed to create something that will turn out just as badly somewhere in the future.

And then of course we come to our present situation. You’d think a pandemic would be a time for people to pull together, and truly some have. But then there are the rest. The ‘all rights, no responsibility’ types who insist on their ‘free-dumb’, at any cost. The lockdown protestors who think their right to a haircut is more important than people’s lives. The anti-vaxxers who can’t see further than the end of their own ignorant noses. Science deniers and conspiracy theorists in general, who are irrationally convinced the ‘gubmint is out ta get them’. Flaunting their views on the toxic parts of social media, their ‘movements’ often strangely married to groups like fascists or flat-earthers. What is wrong with all these people? Did they leave their brains behind somewhere? The selfishness and foolishness of all of them blows my mind.

If everyone had knuckled down last year when Covid first appeared, it would almost certainly be all over by now. There would have been no Delta variant, and we really would have our lives back. New Zealand licked it, and we’ll hopefully do so again, even Delta. We’re not better than anyone else, just simply lucky enough to have good leadership. Some other countries’ leaders, however…. Well. There go those egos again, and rampant selfishness and greed (‘We must preserve the economy’ ie Big Business profits, including theirs), refusal to listen to scientific experts, blah blah blah. And too many following their lead.

All this is bad enough. There are glaring predicaments everywhere, damaged people and damaged systems and damaged countries, wherever you look. So much damage, so many walking wounded. The world is so chaotic, if it was a person I’d say it needed a personality transplant. As it is, I can’t help a sneaking sympathy for those who want to tear it all down and start again.

But there are so many ways in which autistics become extra-damaged by all of this. People take their anger, or pain, or egotism, or their craving for power, or simply their demand for something – anything - to fill up the emptiness within, and put it Out There. They will dump it onto whoever is nearest that looks like a possible target, and sometimes that’s us. Because we’re too obviously ‘different’, too ‘weird’, too ‘not like them’, we ‘behave too badly’, and are, all too often, too unprotected from anyone seeking to harm us.  

The world fails us. We find the world confusing and often overwhelming as it is. We’re often more sensitive to ‘bad vibes’, and don’t understand others’ bad behaviour. But add in all the crap we get from NTs as well, simply for the ‘crime’ of being autistic, and it’s no wonder we are especially traumatised by it all. I’ve said it before, and it’s been said by others too, that I don’t think there is an untraumatized autistic in the world, unless they are very young and/or very protected. The very shape of how autism is perceived by the world is shaped by our trauma. Yet there’s something deeply ironic about a world that demonises us when it can’t even properly face its own demons.

The only two things that give me any hope are, firstly, the number of good people in the world, trying to make it at least a little better, including so many of my friends. If more of them were in power, maybe the world wouldn’t be in such a mess. The second thing is young people. Their passion and energy, their concern for the environment, their determination, the way they have Big Goals but are also clear-headed about the shape of the world, lifts my spirits. I feel a little less gloomy about the future when I see them in action.

But otherwise, all I can see is that the world is broken, and it breaks us, even more than others. The world needs healing, and so do we.

Tell me I’m wrong. But I think I’m not.