Is Cynicism a Side-Effect of Aging? – The Mark Twain Syndrome

Samuel Clemens, known famously as Mark Twain, became extremely bitter and pessimistic about the human race as he got older.  I’m 60 and I’m starting to feel I’ve caught a touch of pessimism myself, so I’m wondering if I’m developing the Mark Twain Syndrome?  And will I get more negative as the years pile up?

Mark-Twain-by-Alvin-Langdon-Coburn

Is cynicism a side-effect of aging?

Now Twain had a lot of reasons to feel depressed and bitter.  His wife, and two of his three daughters, died before he did.  He made fortunes and lost them.  He ran up staggering debt.   In his old age he had to constantly tour the world giving talks so he could honorably pay off his creditors.  Plus he saw a lot of the world that he just didn’t like, and he felt he had good reasons to think humans were a nasty species.  Twain died in 1910, so he never knew the horrors of the 20th century, but the vicious satirical stories he wrote in his later years feel spot on to modern readers.

I would think anyone following the highly polarized politics of the 2012 presidential election would feel depressed about our political system.  I would think anyone studying how humans treat the environment and our fellow creatures would feel gloomy about the Earth.  I would think anyone comparing the growing greed of the rich versus the expanding misery of the poor would feel doomed over the fate of mankind.  It’s hard not to believe that homo sapiens aren’t going to use up every last resource on this planet and never feel guilty.

How can you have faith in Congress when the national debt grows and all they can talk about is tax cuts?  How can feel good about America when one party stonewalls the other for four years in hopes of winning the next election?  When did serving the party become more important than serving the country?

Our current economic calamity is due to a man-made economic catastrophe.  Billions were stolen but no one was ever put on trial.  And the rich are spending billions to get a President in office so they can go back to business as usual.

I can’t help but believe that a perfect storm of national collapse is brewing.  Is the U.S. in decline like the Roman and British empires were long ago?

Here some of the factors:

  • Growing economic chaos
  • World-wide shift to fundamental religious thinking
  • Global warming
  • Diseases becoming immune to our medicines
  • Population growth
  • Dwindling resources
  • Relentless pollution
  • Accelerating species extinctions
  • Uncontrolled debt
  • Political polarization
  • Aging population
  • Growing segment of population that’s not in labor force
  • Escalating crime and corruption around the world
  • Rising healthcare costs
  • Rising food costs

Now, do I dwell on all of that because I’m getting older?  If I was young would I feel that all of those issues were just problems to be easily solved?  I don’t know.  It’s not like I want to walk around with a sandwich sign proclaiming “The End is Near” but I feel like I’m on a fast train and the brakes just went out.  Is that feeling caused by getting older?

How do you know when things are bad or when you’re just feeling bad and think civilization is in decline?

Conversely, when I read about developments in science, technology, medicine, I feel positive and my thoughts about the future are uplifted.  Science is the one constant positive – but most people reject science.  What makes me feel good makes other people feel bad.

When I was young and read about Mark Twain I hoped I’d never become bitter and negative like he did.  Even now I try to stay positive.  But its not easy.  Oh, if I keep busy and ignore the problems I’m as happy as a two-year-old with a box of cookies.  And I tend to think that’s how most folks handles the problem–they eat more cookies.

When I was young, growing up with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, I assumed we’d have permanent bases on the Moon and Mars by now, and men and women would have explored the entire solar system.  In my teens, I felt before I died engineers would be drawing up plans interstellar spacecraft.  Maybe not manned ones, but at least for interstellar robotic explorers.  I think part of my disappointed about getting old is none of this has happened.

I’ve read enough history to know that the present has always been on the tipping point of chaos.  I should feel confident that we’ll continue to bumble though.  But I’ve also read enough history to know that nations rise and fall, and that all over the globe there are sites where people live who think about their country’s former glory.  We revel is the decline of communism, but who is to say capitalism will last?  Personally, I think free market capitalism will fail under overpopulation.  We have over 12 million people defined as unemployed, but we have over 87 million people not employed, or considered unemployable.  This population is over 16, not in jail or in military service that doesn’t work.  They are retired, mentally or physically can’t work, gave up trying to find work, or won’t work.  Less than half the U.S. population has jobs and they must fund the living expenses for the entire population.  Capitalism isn’t creating enough jobs.  It’s worse in other countries.

And the people who are working and paying taxes want to pay less.  This is at a time when our economy depends on socialism.  The reality is the U.S. has been a socialistic country since the 1930s.  To reject socialism now means condemning tens of millions of poverty.  The growing nostalgia for fundamental religious beliefs and conservative values is no solution at all.  It’s just a plea, “Stop the world I want to get off—why can’t things be the way they used to be?”

Now I’m dwelling on the bad again.  Are my worries just from getting old?  Or do we all have something to be depressed about?

JWH – 7/15/12