Friday, January 22, 2021

Combat Fatigue


Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.
—Charles Spurgeon

Well, that's didn't take long, did it? 

Joe Biden has been president for a little over 48 hours and already the Left has started to turn on itself. 

Despite being entirely predictable, it's damn depressing to watch. 

Especially when you're part of the collateral damage.

Many years ago, writer Larry Niven penned a cautionary tale that has stayed with me, vividly, most of my life. 

The story centers around Doug Hooker, who suffered from severe mental illness -- paranoia to be specific. His illness was held in check by an automated medical system, which allowed him to function more or less normally. Along with his business partner, Greg Loeffler, Hooker founded Skyhook Enterprises and began building fusion-powered interstellar ramscoop starships. The business was successful and both men became fabulously wealthy. But, while Loeffler happily married and started a family, Hooker was always afraid of what any potential partner might think of his illness. So he keep it a secret and it was always a wall between himself and others. Despite his success, Hooker was an unhappy and lonely man, Loeffler being his only friend, and Loeffler's family being a surrogate for one of his own.

Loeffler eventually tired of the business, bought one of Skyhook's ships for himself, and decided to emigrate to a colony world, Plateau in the Tau Ceti system, nine years away by ramscoop.

Hooker was left friendless and alone. 

Unfortunately, the computerized doctor in his desk malfunctioned a short time later and stopped delivering the drugs needed to regulate Hooker's mental illness. The safety system that should have alerted him to this situation likewise failed.

And so, Doug Hooker became, over time, murderously insane. 

Hooker came to blame Loeffler for his empty life, believing that his former partner had only befriended him and invited Hooker into his own family so that one day it could all be taken away and Hooker made to suffer. 

Hooker grew to hate Loeffler with an abiding intensity.

So, one day, Doug Hooker stole one his own ships and set out to get revenge. 

Nine years later Hooker arrived in the Tau Ceti system and using intercepted radio broadcasts and welcoming messages from his erstwhile partner, located Loeffler's house on Plateau. Hooker dropped his ship into the world's atmosphere and hovered on his fusion rocket drive over the house, destroying everything in nuclear fire. 

Loeffler himself escaped, but his wife and son were killed in the attack. 

Plateau authorities eventually disabled Hooker's ship and forced him to land. Because of his illness, he wasn't held responsible for the murders. Instead, he was remanded into mental healthcare and eventually years later cured of his illness altogether by the colony's advanced medical technology and mental therapy. Sane at last, Hooker could not face what he had done, could not face Loeffler. And so, he once again took his ship and set out for a new colony world, Wunderland, hoping to start over. 

Loeffler, however, had been waiting for this moment and pursued in his own ship. 

You see, Loeffler had himself been driven insane by the murder of his family and had become consumed with hate for Hooker and the idea of revenge. 

The ships were at first separated by tens of thousands of miles, but the men were able to speak to each other over the radio. Hooker apologized and begged for Loeffler's forgiveness. But Greg Loeffler's rage had driven him to insanity and there would be no absolution for Hooker. The men dueled with powerful lasers across the vast distances. Eventually the terrible light of Loeffler's weapon went out and he stopped responding to Hooker's radio call, but his ship continued to pursue, closing ever so slowly on Hooker's vessel, intending to ram and kill them both. Hooker could not slow down or even turn, without allowing Loeffler to gain on him. 

They passed Wunderland and continued on into the void. 

The ships scooped up hydrogen from the interstellar medium, that's what a Bussard ramscoop is, and used it as fuel for their fusion rockets -- meaning they could travel theoretically forever. With the advanced medical care of their ships, both Hooker and Loeffler might live forever too. Over years, then decades, then centuries, Hooker daily went about his routine, the patterns of his life ingrained deeply into his mind. He could not stop fleeing and Loeffler would never stop pursuing. 

Neither man could ever change. 

The chase went on for thousands of years, driven by hate, madness, and revenge. 

I've been online daily for thirteen months now. 

I used to take a break every few days and spend it with my wife. 

I needed it. 

The insanity of these last few years, you can only stare into that abyss for so long before you start thinking about vaporizing people with your own fusion drive. 

But then the pandemic happened, COVID-19, and the shops and restaurants and all the places my wife and I used to go, closed up. 

Social Distance. 

Stay home. 

Wear a mask. 

But it was more than that. 

You see, we were also full-time caregivers for a family member who suffered from a debilitating mental illness, dementia, and physical degradation. When we took a day off, another family member would take over our duties for a few hours. But with the coming of COVID that was no longer possible because every physical contact increased the risk.

And so, for the last thirteen months, we've been on duty every minute of every day and I've been online every day, because there just wasn't much of anything else we could do. 

It takes a toll. 

This country is so deeply invested in hate and rage and paranoia that it approaches mass mental illness. You stare into that for twelve, sixteen, eighteen hours a day, everyday, and then have to deal with the demands of taking care of somebody suffering from actual mental illness every minute of every day, and it wears on you. 

Now, understand, I'm not looking for sympathy. 

I do what I do because I want to. My wife and I moved here and assumed responsibility because that's what we felt our duty was. And still do. 

But it's tough. 

We've been doing this, my wife and I, for four years now. 

Four years. 

That's the same period America has been going through its own trials. Four years of unending madness and rage and yet more madness. Four years of trying to keep things on track, minimize the damage, while irrational people lost in delusion and paranoia try to burn it all down. 

It grinds at you, it changes you, especially when there's no break. No way out. No relief. 

That's what happens to soldiers, when there's only unending stress. PTSD. Combat Fatigue. Shell shock. That's what happens when you can't get away from it. 

That's America, four years of insanity and relentless grinding pressure. 

We're all damaged from it, some more than others, some less. It has affected -- still affects -- us all in various ways. 

But that's thing, isn't it? 

Stress, rage, the fight or flight reflex, if it goes on long enough it becomes habit. 

More than habit, it becomes an addiction

When I came home from war the last time, I had been away a long time. 

Every day, even the good ones, were thirty-five hours of stress and effort and high-strung paranoia. 

And then suddenly -- suddenly just like that -- it was over. 

We came home. My wife picked me up from the base. I changed into civilian clothes. And it was over. 

It was over. 

And it just felt so damn good. 

Then -- then -- the next day, I was standing in the middle of a grocery store in Southern California with my family and it was suddenly just so ... surreal. Clean. Bright. Cheerful. Boring. People going about their business, just mundane everyday things.  

And I wanted to scream at them! GODDAMN, YOU SONS OF BITCHES, DON'T YOU KNOW THERE'S A WAR?! THERE ARE PEOPLE DYING AND WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN DOING?! For a while, it felt like I was screaming that inside my head all the time. I wanted to punch those people, beat them bloody. I hated those oblivious bastards, every one of them, I did. 

The thing is: those people had a right to their happiness. They have a right to live their lives, to be oblivious to my rage and pain and screaming madness. They did, they do. As furious as it made me, those people were not required to be miserable on my behalf. 

It took a while to get over that. 

But, I did get over it. Mostly, I guess. Eventually. 

Not everyone does. 

And not all of America is going to get over the last four years any time soon either. 

For me, yesterday, at least in the morning, well, it just felt so damn good. 

Four years of this asshole, right? 

Four damn years. For me, the last thirteen months, every damn day, I woke up and trudged out to my office and sat down behind my desk and opened social media, and there he was. That orange asshole. That pompous, self-aggrandizing, ignorant, stupid, bag of dicks, actively making the world a worse place, playing to the worst traits of humanity, like a demented child with a loaded pistol. Twelve, sixteen, eighteen hours a day sometimes, I'd be at it. Every damn day it was something else, something worse, something even more insane. 

He never hit bottom. 

He never got better, only more terrible. 

Every damn day. 

It wears on you. 

This last month, America on the verge of civil war, sedition, insurrection, armed goons storming the Capitol Building and threatening to do worse.

I don't know what it's like where you're at, but here in the Deep South, the seat of sedition and treason and those goddamned Confederate flags, the militias were out in the streets. I got death threats nearly every day. Hate. Rage. And endless seething maddess. 

My own personal situation deteriorated. 

I had to have heart surgery. I'm still recovering. 

The person my wife and I care for had to go into managed care. 

And to top it all off, I recently spent most of the evening sitting in a clinic waiting on a COVID test, because in the process of caring for our family member and moving her into care, my wife and I were both directly exposed to the disease. 

And after thirteen fucking months, this asshole of a country still doesn't have any sort of coherent organized response. 

I sat there, waiting on the results of the test, knowing that if I had it, I'd most likely die -- the Cardiologist made that abundantly clear. It wasn't the idea of my own possible death that made my hands shake and made me sick to my stomach, it was the idea of leaving my wife alone in this horrible fucking place and all the things I would need to do in whatever time I had left to made sure she would be okay. 

And then suddenly -- suddenly just like that -- it was over. 

The test came back negative. 

Joe Biden was sworn in as president.

Donald Trump and his miserable goons went down in ignominious pusillanimous defeat. 

And it just felt so damn good. 

Man, it did. 

For the first time in a long time, it just felt so damn good. 

I made some comments, on Twitter, on Facebook. Mocking the insanity of the last few years. It doesn't really matter what I said. My remarks were innocuous, light-hearted jokes. Because that's how I deal with close calls. Because that's how I stay sane. Because that's how I don't end up punching random people in the face and screaming in the middle of a grocery store. 

Because, goddamn, man, we made it.

We made it. 

Yeah, not all of us, that's certainly true, but we made it.  

It was over and for just one day I wanted to have some fun, laugh a little, feel good for a change. 

I should have known better. 

I don't mean that sarcastically. Given my own experience, I really should have known better. 

Those who celebrated in the streets of New York at the end of World War II, those iconic pictures of joy in our history books, those men and women they hadn't forgotten the terrible things that had happened, all those who died, the price they had paid.  

Not everyone made it, but they did. And they had a right to feel good in that moment when it was finally over. 

The work wasn't done, there was still decades of effort ahead, but in that one moment, they had every right to feel good, to laugh, to breathe.

Today, in this moment, so much of America is so utterly traumatized, that they can't -- literally cannot -- even enjoy just one day. 

For them, it's not over. 

It may never be over. 

The patterns of this madness are ingrained so deeply into their minds that it can never be over and the very thought of someone else enjoying the new day, however briefly, sends them into a rage, screaming, GODDAMN, YOU SONS OF BITCHES, DON'T YOU KNOW THERE'S A WAR?! THERE ARE PEOPLE DYING AND WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN DOING?!

That was my Twitter feed yesterday, where I got called a racist and worse (if there is a worse thing to be called for someone like me, I don't know). 

Now, don't get me wrong, I can see it. 

I can. 

I can see how my moment of frivolity, of joy, of happiness at having made it, lived through it, might enrage those who haven't yet. I can see how the happiness of straight white men might feel like abandonment to those who were marginalized. 

I can indeed see this. 

But, I'm not going to apologize for feeling good, even if for only a brief moment. I can understand why others might not feel the same. 

Nor am I going to apologize for blocking those who came after me, who in their own rage and pain needed a target of opportunity. I maybe understand how they feel and I would be the last one to say their feelings are not valid. But, I'm also responsible for my own precarious mental health and being a punching bag for others isn't healthy for me. And so, for good or ill, right or wrong, I have to block out their rage, because I have my own trauma to deal with. 

That said, I haven't forgotten the oppressed, I haven't dismissed them with a few jokes, I don't think I'm suggesting a "return to the status quo" as my liberal audience accused me of yesterday. Far from it. I know that we have decades of work yet to do. And I'll be there, as best I'm able. An ally if you'll have me. On my own if that's how it has to be. 

But once in while, Folks, you have to breathe

You have to let others have a moment of joy, of relief

You have to remember how to laugh. 

If you don't, the madness will consume you.

After thousands of years, when the ships were finally close enough, Hooker pointed his telescope at Loeffler's vessel and discovered that the life support system was gone. Burned away by Hooker's own laser canon millenia ago. 

Greg Loeffler had been dead for more than a thousand years.

But, before he died, he programmed his ship to continue the pursuit, to carry out his revenge, to carry on his rage and madness, relentlessly, no matter how long it took. 

Hooker turned off his scope screen and went down to the steam room. His schedule was shot to hell. He was still trying to readjust when, years later, Loeffler's ramscoop field swept across his ship like an invisible wing.

Two empty ships drove furiously toward the edge of the universe, all alone.
-- The Ethics of Madness, Larry Niven, 1967