Quiet desperation

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields.

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854.

Various versions of the first paragraph here were a favorite of coworkers and acquaintances in the San Francisco Bay Area. “The mass of people lead lives of quiet desperation, but not I: I go to Burning Man each year, and along with a select tens of thousands of others differentiate myself from the mass.…I am different from the others because I realize we are all doomed, and rather than feel desperate I devote myself to The X-Files/ Walking Dead/ Game of Thrones/ medical marijuana/ scotch bars/ micro breweries.”

This approach to life/retreat from life is quite evident in high tech in Europe as well. There is a curious refusal to openly discuss global heating, potentially followed by a wise claim of informed resignation: “we are all doomed anyway (by the conditions which moments ago I denied), therefore only the naïve, the gullible, the conspiracy theorists discuss the issue.”

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