The Misery Index

Back in the days when “Harvest Gold” and avocado green were the It Colors, a thing called the “Economic Discomfort Index” was created – a kind of summation of inflation + unemployment and their effects on the populace.

It would later be re-named “The Misery Index,” because that is what it was meant to be in practice.

I heard the term for the first time this morning, an offhand mention in the New York Times, and thought: Well, it’s pithy, even if it doesn’t really fully express all of it.

I mean…

The prices of food are skyrocketing (I learned this week of the existence of r/dumpsterdiving, and of course that is a thing, but…)

Insane people appear to be uncomfortably present in (if not dominating) most spheres of public life, if not all of them. They are in the media telling us we should be freaking out even when it is completely ridiculous to do so, they are in politics repeatedly failing to perform the most basic functions of governance, they are even now lining up to make everyone’s life markedly worse by privatizing public health care, etc.

They are in faraway lands, invading their peaceful neighbors and killing thousands on thousands for no good reason.

My phone is constantly receiving spam texts and calls, and the only thing corporations seem really passionate about is “monetizing” every little corner of everything I enjoy. Video games are crammed with microtransactions. Tabletop RPGs face the incursion of a new “open” gaming license with absolutely bonkers conditions that are, justifiably, raising objections.

I am not suffering from any of this to the degree that many are, true. So far, at least, I can eat and I am housed, and I am relatively healthy (as far as I know.)

But even I feel…a pressure. It’s not the Big Bad Wolf at the door out there; the Wolf would be here because he was hungry. In a weird, very bad-for-me way, he would care. This, though…this is a greed without hunger, a want without need: give us more. Not just your money. Your data. Your loyalty. Give us the workings of your mind, the boundaries of your creativity. Give us everything that you are. Not because we want you – there is nothing about you that matters. You will become numbers, and we will offer them to our gods.

Our gods do not need the numbers that you will become. But they want them. And their want comes above all things.

…It’s a mood, I guess, is what I am saying. And every time I feel it out there, lurking at the edges of the places where I get by, I feel a strange urge to go and smash a window (if I am otherwise feeling sturdy) or to fortify the last little inch of myself even more, to place it beyond their grasp (if I am not).

There is something almost insulting about this kind of devouring, I suppose. To be sure, you’d end up dead either way; but the Big Bad Wolf would, at least, presumably relish the meal.

The Misery Index should really encompass all of those things, I think. I imagine one of those forest-fire boards one sees in national parks. Misery Index today: Moderate.

Though I do not really know how one goes about taking a daily measurement of existential despair.

It’s not all bad, of course. I have a plan to make a birthday treat coming up, which I will not link here just in case. And someone out there is making this Delightful Thing: Lego mukbangs. (Even if one cannot get onside with the whole mukbang idea, the Lego artistry on display is charming.)

And I think I want to try and cultivate an art habit, however small, for the new year. That’s a good resolution, right? I feel rather disconnected from my creative self of late, and reconnecting with it would, I feel, do me some good.

Let’s see how I do.

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