I just ran across an 2006 interview with novelist Philip Roth, mentioned in today's (Sept. 24) New York Times Paper Cuts blog. Check it out for a video of the interview. Roth, in discussing the state of America today says "I've never heard people so despairing." Then goes on to compare this despair to the anger of the Vietnam era.
My take on Roth's statement is that while the anger of the Vietnam era fed a powerful opposition that generated huge political pressure -- enough pressure to bring down a president (LBJ)-- today's despair seems to have frozen us into political impotence. Think of it -- the great majority of Americas wish the war in Iraq to end and the troops to come home, and yet the Democrats with a majority in both houses seem unable to take any action.
Roth's contrast of 1960's/1970's anger with contemporary despair, certainly accurately captures my own contrasting feelings. I think about how I felt during an anti-war march in Cleveland in March 1970, versus how I felt during an anti-war demonstration in Abingdon, Virginia in March 2005 (the second anniversary of the Iraq war) -- not to mention how I feel today more than two years later. The terms anger versus despair definitely fit my emotions for those moments.
As Roth's interview continue, it is clear that his sense of despair comes not only from the war, but from an overall view that the current administration is a "disaster" (Roth's word but one with which I agree).
I think it is this despair of which Roth speaks that overwhelms me these days. There are some roads that we have gone down, as a nation (Iraq), as humanity (global warming), roads that were terrible mistakes; roads from which we must veer away. Yet our leadership seems unable to take even one small step off these doomed paths. Yes, I know that there will be negative consequences and prices to pay for turning aside from our current path. But, the current path ultimately leads off the edge of a bottomless pit, and the price of that plunge will be vastly greater.
Of course, there are those days when I think perhaps we've already gone over the edge of the abyss -- hence the despair.