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February 24, 2017

On Political Panic

Bumped. Some people specifically asked to post this so that the "day-walkers" could see it.

When I first read about panic -- I had panic, in a bad way, but had misdiagnosed myself with the related-but-distinct condition of anxiety -- I read that people who suffer from panic become calm when they're in airports, waiting to board a flight.

People who have panic don't have panic due to air flights? Huh? Why?

I realized at that point I must have panic, and not anxiety, because I actually experienced this same feeling of calm in the airport, awaiting a flight. I'd be panicky getting ready to call a cab, driving to the airport, etc., but the minute I got into the airport -- no panic.

I read the reason for this. Panic tends to strike younger people shortly after college, especially if those people get jobs with low levels of certitude about the day's schedule. Actors, for example -- they live a kind of unstructured life. Med students in their residency get panic a lot -- their tours of duty at the hospital are often irregular and even when they're regular, they're weird. Like they might have to work two back to back shifts, then get four hours to sleep in a closet, then work another shift.

Even if you're scheduled for that every week, it's hard to get used to that.

The cause of panic, it is speculated, is going from an environment in which one's hours are generally accounted for each day, and the days tend to unfold with predictability and stability, maybe even a dash of boredom. And then moving from a regime in which one's hours are regularly scheduled, and one knows more or less what is expected of one (that is, one knows there's going to be some ugly cramming at the end of a semester), and then moving to a circumstance in which one's hours are erratic, unpredictable, and full of uncertainty, and even the standards of what constitutes "good work" are unknowable.

In college or high school, an aspiring actor knows what will get him a decent grade in acting class (or any other class): attend class, memorize the lines, work on some technique. Even if you're not that great, just doing the work should get you a B.

But what about the real world? You can do all the work you like, but that audition is completely unpredictable. You have very little control over your own fate. You might have prepped for days and even done that thing where you "live" as your character to get "into his skin," but the fact is, the casting director might have taken one look at your face before you even sat down and decided "He's just not right."

So that's what causes panic: Moving out of a stable circumstance in which one knows what is expected of one and feels a certain level of positive control over one's success or failure, and moving into an erratic, chaotic, unstable circumstance in which one has very little idea of what the hell one is even supposed to be doing and having very little idea if any of one's efforts are even a factor in whether one rises or falls.

By the way, getting back to the airport: The reason the airport not only doesn't produce panic but rather produces calm is that the airport is a highly bureaucratized and regularized process full of queues and roped-off lines and expected events like checkpoints. Yes, it's unpleasant, yes, it's annoying, but -- here's the thing -- it's all calmingly predictable and boring. And you kinda know the minute you walk into an airport what's expected of you, and what's going to happen.

It's also reassuring that you're not in control anymore, not really. This is different than not being in control in a competitive and erratic field -- in those, you can kind of do things to influence things in your favor or not, but that influence is weak. You can fail, and it's largely out of your hands, but your failure will still feel like your failure. You'll still own it.

But in an airport, with The System shepherding you through, you can't really screw things up, unless you do something really dumb like just to to the wrong departure gate (which, btw, I've done). There is A Plan in place, and A Regimen, and A Machine just kind of sweeping you along passively from one area to the next.

If there's some problem with an airplane, that's someone else's fault, not yours, and you can't be blamed for it. It'll suck, absolutely -- but it's not your fault. You may have to take a seat and wait another six hours, but you don't have to take the blame.

Anyway, given all the agita and hysteria and the quite-frankly insane kind of behavior I see in a lot of people at this moment, I wonder if they've come down with a sort of existential panic, a case of formerly knowing where one fit in and who one's allies were and what "The Rules" of advancement were -- a clear view of the lay of the land -- to feeling to be on unstable and shifting ground and surrounded by fog and wondering where the hell one even is.

The solidity and predictability of the world has been stolen out from beneath their feet, and now they're lurching about a bit madly and frenetically trying to grope on to something that might give them some balance and bearing.

Just an idea. I'm not married to it or anything. But I do kind of notice this same shift from the predictable and routine to the unpredictable and unexpected, and I know that sense of dislocation produces at least one psychic malady. I wonder if there are other versions of it.


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posted by Ace at 05:39 PM

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