Problem in Living #1: The Fascist Insect that Preys Upon the Life of the People

Dear Book Therapist,

The last couple of months have turned me into a wreck. The election was a shock, and I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me. At the same time, I'm embarrassed that I was so complacent before the election that I felt like I was standing on a rug in the first place. And ALSO at the same time, I'm starting to feel crazy from being in a state of high alert all the time, and now I can't tell when I'm being reasonable and when I'm not. What should I read?


Dear Anonymous,

Once, there was a young woman who occupied much the same psychic space you're in now, except that instead of living in a mild state of complacency and comfort, she lived in an extreme state of complacency and comfort. She belonged to one of the richest families this country has ever produced, in one of the lower-achieving branches, which meant that her only real responsibility in this life was to not get kicked out of a series of the nicest girls' schools in Northern California, and to maybe make a reasonable effort at graduating from Berkeley. And then one day, she was kidnapped by a cell of leftist guerrillas. Right out of her crappy student apartment.

She was locked in a closet for a month or so while the guerrillas, who were a bunch of local misfits participating in your basic personality cult around a surly male leader with a drinking problem, read her radical literature in a Marxist / prison abolition / George Jackson vein. She also got to watch on TV while her parents explained that they didn't have enough money to meet the kidnappers' extremely creative demands. She thought they were lying, because the family appeared to have more money than God, but very little of it was liquid and none of it had ever been discussed with her, because her parents thought it was gauche to talk about money, so there's also a secondary lesson in here about the importance of financial literacy. But the combination of believing that her parents were abandoning her and suddenly hearing about structural racism and poverty for the first time pretty much broke her brain.

And that's the story of how Patty Hearst decided to join the Symbionese Liberation Army after they kidnapped her, and started saying "motherfucker" a lot and participating in communiques with the press that signed off DEATH TO THE FASCIST INSECT THAT PREYS UPON THE LIFE OF THE PEOPLE and getting into shootouts and robbing banks.

What I'm saying is that there are moments in life when it feels like a veil has been torn away. Those moments can be immensely productive, and ultimately they are what make us into the people we are. However: heed the warning of Patty Hearst. The moment the veil comes down is the moment when it's easiest to lose your head. Keep your feet on the ground. Stay connected to people you trust. Try not to be motivated by anger. Be motivated by love for people who are endangered by bad politics. And don't get distracted by image. You start worrying about image too much, and before you know it you're in a shootout with a security guard in the parking lot of a sporting goods store in Compton because you tried to shoplift a bandolier-style ammo belt.

For you I recommend Jeffrey Toobin's excellent 2016 book on the subject, AMERICAN HEIRESS.