Remember those games where you put a marble in a maze and you tilt the surface back and forth, up and down, moving the marble around the board in a series of increasingly frantic corrections, using body English to try to keep it going while still avoiding the holes, and you were on the edge of calamity and ruin every second?
I am the only one who feels like that pretty much all the time?
Cruel game. (Life, I mean.) No matter where you go or how carefully you move, you’re constantly on the edge of failure. No resting. No safe spots. Every action a risk. Inaction a risk. The constant sensation of unavoidable peril.
The correctives to that sensation are all different varieties of grounding yourself, recognizing that you’re actually okay and in no real danger. Nothing beyond your ability to deal with.
Breath deeply. Repeat calming phrases. Practice mindfulness. Count and name and touch objects nearby.
Brain thinks you’re in trouble. It’s tricked, somehow. Un-trick it.
All good advice. But I would just like to get out of the marble maze, please. Can we do that?
(Cross-posted from http://inspeculation.blogspot.com.)
George Washington is one of our forebears, a Founding Father, an American ancestor. But he’s not my grandpa, or great-grandpa, or any number of greats. Probably not yours, either.
Neither is Ben Franklin, nor Thomas Jefferson, nor any of those guys. Even though we’re are not really related, we still consider Washington and the others as forebears, as our spiritual ancestors. They are our Founding Fathers. In some ineffable way, they belong to us, and we to them, even if we’re not related in any real way.
If you are American, by birth or choice, they belong to you, too.
That is why I believe the casting in Hamilton is so important, and so deeply affecting. Seeing Washington portrayed by an African American actor is striking, and stimulating to one’s imagination, as if we’ve opened a door we didn’t know was there. At one level, it is touching to see this potentially-divisive historical figure embraced by a black actor, as if his flaws and shortcomings with regard to race have been forgiven (whether or not that is the case). On another level, though, it opens up possibilities in one’s mind, of America as it could be, and as it could have been. Sure, Washington in real life was a white man, but he could have been a black man. (How?)
Like this: America is black. The United States is a black country. In every sense that America is white, it is black. So, of course, its founding fathers are, too. Or could have been.
America is also Asian and Hispanic. [Latinx, if you prefer.]
And Native American, of course, with even greater primacy.
When we hold up as our founders only the white men who signed the Declaration, or who led armies, it’s an unspoken but subconsciously-understood argument that the country was theirs, won by them and possessed by them, and that they passed it on to their white children. It’s a white man’s founding myth. So, for white Americans like me, it’s proof that we are the *real* Americans, the true inheritors of the nation. African Americans, then, are uncomfortably tacked on later as the step-children we never meant to have. Every other ethnicity is resentfully accepted into the family like unfortunates who are fed at the edge of a wedding feast–with self-congratulations for our charity and condescension, even as we wink and nod to one another in silent understanding: they’re not really part of it all, they aren’t the same, they aren’t really inheritors of America because they aren’t like the real Founding Fathers.
Well, I recall that I’m not actually related to them, either–so why am I privileged?
(Can I dispense with the race argument? If we go back enough generations, yes, we’ll have a common ancestor; but that’s true of all of us. Why should I feel more closely connected to a white man or woman with whom I share an ancestor some 30 generations ago than a black man or woman who shares with me an ancestor 100 generations ago? To me, that’s a meaningless distinction in degree. I’m sure racists will not find this argument persuasive, but I hope others will feel as I do…)
What matters more to me is that we share America. That is how we are alike, how we are connected. Fellow Americans–with the same forefathers.
One of my great-grandfathers, the only one I know about, was a soldier in the Civil War, in a New York state regiment. Not famous–just a soldier. I’m proud of who he was, though I never knew him. He was long gone when I was born.
What if he had fought for the South instead of the North? I’ve wondered that sometimes. Would that change me, or change who I am? Am I better or worse because of what my actual blood ancestors did?
I don’t think so. As far as I’m concerned, any man or woman who was part of America, for good or bad, was my ancestor, my forebear. My American family, I guess. All the white men and women of past centuries, even those who held slaves, are my American forebears, and I have to embrace them, but so are all those unnamed, unknown slaves. They were all part of the America we inherited, and they were all as much my ancestor as Washington or Lincoln or millions of other white people I’m not related to by blood. They also did their part; they built this country, too, literally and figuratively. Besides that, any Native American or Inuit of any tribe, whether they’ve left living descendants or not, is also my ancestor, one of my Founding Parents.
Nat Turner is one of my Founding Fathers. I can claim him as my American ancestor with the same pride, and with the same justification, as I could with any other historical American. I’m as related to him as I am related to John Adams or Ulysses Grant.
And millions of unknown and unnamed others who helped build America, men and women of every color and ethnicity. They are my forebears, and every other American’s. I claim them, and celebrate them, and feel pride in their accomplishments, with the same justification as I have for feeling any of that toward FDR, or JFK, or Mark Twain, or Ernest Hemingway. Not in a similar way, but in exactly, precisely the same way.
America is white and protestant. It’s also black and Baptist, and brown and Muslim, and English-speaking, and Spanish-speaking, and Hopi-speaking, and Urdu-speaking. It isn’t that America is becoming those things–it always has been all of that.
So Hamilton performed with POC is not a gimmick; it is the story of America with American actors. Those sad people who feel that “their” America is going away have it wrong–it never belonged to them; at least, not any more than it belonged to anyone else. No color defines the country. No language. No religion or lack of religion. If anything, it is our laws and ideals–especially as we slowly improve them–which tells us who we are. We were created equal. We have (should have) the same rights, and the same freedoms, and the same expectation of a happy life.
Humans are tribal, unfortunately. We usually cooperate with our tribe (however we define that) and too often deny the humanity of every other tribe. Humanity should be our tribe, I think (and I’m not the first to say that, I know), but maybe that’s too ambitious for America in 2018. But can we make America our tribe? Can we embrace our Native American Founding Parents? Can we recognize our African American Founding Parents? Can we hear our neighbor’s music as one more sound of America? Can we accept all of our varieties of American as precisely equal in “American-ness”?
Maybe it’s hard. Maybe it’s impossible for some. Maybe none of us can get all the way there. But I think the payoffs are worth the attempt. Besides doing the right thing, besides increasing justice and brotherhood and sisterhood, besides reducing and eliminating the lingering effects of privilege, and besides growing in compassion, who doesn’t love a big family?
Thank you, Lin Manuel Miranda, and Hamilton, for a beautiful tribute to America as it might be, for a vision of who we can be. Well done. May it open many hearts and minds.
Wait wait wait. I gotta get ready. (Deep breath.) Alright, go ahead. Hit me with it. What you got?
“There’s a whole world out there! You can be or do anything you want! Everything serves a purpose! You just gotta cheer up! Take a vacation/smoke a joint/learn to see the bright side/lighten up/buy Amway!”
I suspect that last was a trick.
I dunno, maybe I’m alone in this, but–I HATE being told what to do, anyway. By ANYBODY. At ANY time. Or told HOW to do something, for that matter. Hate. Hatehatehatehatehate.
Even at work, where you kinda have to endure it. Grrrrrr. Some folks take getting bossed around a lot better than me. I do not understand these people.
Okay, fine, you’ve gotta take it from your bosses, because they’re the ones holding the money, but at the same time you can at least flip them off in your head.
But you feel like you shouldn’t have to take bossy advice from friends or family. Still, this is tricky–what they wanna tell you is probably crap, but you don’t want to be offensive toward them. Theoretically. So you gotta listen, at least at first.
But too often, the advice you’re getting comes rolled in additional shittiness–being both insulting and controlling. (Degree of difficulty–douchebag/Mean girl.)
Play along at home! Which bits of condescending helpfulness have you encountered?
On weight loss: Hey–it’s easy! Just move more, and eat less!
(Oh!! It must be super easy, because there are almost no fat people in the whole world!!!)
On alcoholism: Wanna solve this once and for all? Just don’t drink so much alcohol.
(You may want to write some of this down.)
You’re not getting enough sleep? Go to sleep sooner!
And my favorite: Suffering from anxiety? Don’t worry so much!
Now, these bits of advice, as useless as they are, have the virtue at least of being technically correct. If you could do these things, it would be better for you. Sure, they beg the question regarding the actual problem, but they’re focused like a laser on the proximate cause.
If you bend the universe to your will, you’ll get what you want!
Usually, it’s not even that close. (How, you ask? Read on, dear friend!)
Clearly, folks often just want to help. They want you to be happier. They mean well. So even though the advice is simplistic and condescending and has no chance of working, you try not to be a dick about it.
You listen, if you can bear it.
Here’s a sampling of helpful “don’t be depressed” advice for beginners that I have heard:
Idea #1: All you need is… music!
You see this one a lot. Apparently, music is magic.
I like music. I listen to music a lot. Many kinds. And of course it *helps*. Sure. Everybody feels better listening to music.
But if music is a ladder, depression is a g*dd*mn canyon. (<Redacted.)
No–that’s a bad example.
Better: music is a fly-swatter. And depression is one of these guys.
Idea #2: All you need is a good night out.
Now, here’s some real magical thinking. (This is actual advice from actual people, remember.)
You are in a bone-deep sadness; it feels like it will not end; the future is bleak; you are struggling moment to moment; how about happy hour?!
Dinner and drinks will fix everything.
File this idea under “I brainstormed for about 3 seconds, and this is what I got.”
Idea #3: Count your blessings!
Bite me. Seriously.
You think people are depressed because they haven’t taken inventory? They’re not noticing the positives?
I could go on a red-faced rant here, but you either already get it or you aren’t going to.
Idea #4: You just need a change of pace.
Why are you still talking to me?
(Okay, that was unkind. Those were supposed to just be inside words, and they got away from me.)
But when you’ve gotten all of this advice from well-meaning people, you start to realize that they aren’t really telling you how to feel better. They’re telling you that you don’t really feel that bad. They are saying that you are mistaken, that you are seeing things the wrong way, and you’re making a big deal out of nothing.
Sometimes that’s true. And sometimes people you know are not mistaken. It is a real thing, like a broken bone or ebola or a fricking gunshot. They are in reality painfully, deeply depressed. Whatever advice you’ve got will probably not be helpful.
Tell the guy with the bullet wound to count his blessings. Tell the guy with a fever of 105 that he should listen to music or go on a date.
Your support, however, is crucial. That’s a million times better than advice.
Snap out of it, people want to say. It’s all in your head, they’d like you to know.
Everything has a purpose. Supposedly. According to some philosophies. But I don’t quite buy it.
What good are mosquitos? Whose idea were they? Why do they even exist?
Why do we have nightmares?
And deadly viruses?
And AMC Pacers? (Yeah, I went there. I’m not afraid to go to 1975 for my references.)
And giant headphones?
Some of the worst shit in the world still exists today because it has sometimes been a good thing. Like knives–so injurious and stabby in some instances, but useful, even indispensable, in others.
Despite the downside of a sharp edge and pointy bits, we’re not doing without our knives. We’ve long since voted on the issue. You can’t cut a steak with a spoon, can you?
So there you go. You’re safe for now, knives.
How about autism? That’s a crappy deal. Why does it exist?
Some research suggests that autism is evolutionarily adaptive, leading to some advantages. Instead of memorizing train schedules or putting together impossible puzzles, autistic hunter-gatherers in an earlier age might have mastered the meticulous details of flint knapping or the calls and signs of every animal and bird in the environment. Or the like.
All right, I’ll give you that one. I get it. But how do you explain genetic diseases, like sickle-cell anemia? Any positive explanation behind that one?
As it turns out, carrying one copy of the sickle-cell anemia gene can stave off certain kinds of malaria. Malaria! Yay! That’s why the gene persists in certain populations, like those in Sub-Saharan Africa: to afford protection from a deadly disease. Some in the community may get malaria, but not everyone–not those with one copy of the gene.
But if you get two copies of the gene–one from each parent–you get sickle-cell anemia. Not yay. Antiyay. Painful and deadly and tragic.
But that’s how genetics works. It hedges its bets. It sacrifices some of us so that others survive. It’s a merciless bouncer at the bar of life, or a real-life version of Lifeboat, the Values Clarification Game®!
And according to some researchers, depression may confer benefits on sufferers those lucky enough to enjoy its rewards.
Seriously? A benefit to depression?
From Scientific American:
“Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerousstudieshave also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.”
It goes on to list the benefits of depression–you’ve got social isolation to free up your time and your thoughts; you have no distraction in the form of “doing fun things;” and you enjoy unrelenting focus on whatever you’re thinking about. These are all positives, remember. They suggest that such thinking leads to useful solutions and positive results for the community.
So, good news! I guess I was looking at this thing all wrong. You’ve really turned me around here.
I guess it’s not a curse.
Yeah, I’ve spent some quality time thinking intensely about things; ruminating, analyzing, dwelling on complex problems, just like they said. Like other depression-blessed individuals, I have contributed to society by carefully considering important questions, like these:
Why do I suck, precisely? In what ways, and in what dimensions? (Please, be specific. And detailed. Repetition is a plus. Reeeaaally get in there.)
Why am I destined to fail in everything I attempt? And how badly? And why do I deserve it so very very much?
Why is everyone else so much better at everything? Why is everything so much easier for them? Is this a “children of a lesser god” sort of situation?
If nothing is pleasurable in any way, why do any of it? Corollary: is eating all that important?
And finally: How much can pain hurt? And how long is “always”?
I don’t remember finding any helpful answers at the end of those turdwalks. But I did spend a lot of time on them once. Lots and lots. Years, in fact, to some degree or another, made up of hard months made up of ugly weeks made up of days made up of long, long hours… most of which are behind me, thankfully, but not quite all. (Apparently.)
The point: evolution designed humans so that some of us can fall into depression; this is a feature of human evolution, and not a bug. It has its purpose. Some of us are converted into spiritual zombies for a portion of our lives, and it’s a total crap deal, but it is for the greater good.
Depression is good. It works.
Well, evolution can go fuck itself.
Or the human genome can. Or… whoever or whatever it is that is pulling the strings. (It’d be a lot easier to get my revenge if I knew who to blame.)
I’m not here to grease the skids for society, solving some thorny emotional problems alone in my emo garret, spinning my misery into someone else’s gold. I’m here to have my own happy life.
I’m not your monkey, evolution. It’s my life.
To be honest, I did learn one thing from all that stinkin’ thinkin’. I arrived at a Wargames kind of lesson about deep rumination and where it leads.
I learned that the only way to win is not to play.
This is partly a confession. You see, I’ve actually had that thought. That precise thought. Recently, in fact.
Next life, I’ll ski more.
That is a direct quote from a part of my brain that is, apparently, not entirely sure about reality or the direction time moves. It surprised me, too. In my defense, I might have been sleepy. (In fact, I wasn’t. But if I hadn’t told you, how would you know?)
Next life, I’ll ski more.
Reality intrudes and reminds me that it is now too late to plan my youth. I won’t see my 20s again. None times. Zero more times.
Yeah, we could still ski, but those days are mostly behind us. Life is filled with stuff we coulda done, but didn’t do. (“Coulda did” if you want to go full redneck.)
Coulda shoulda woulda.
I know why my brain went there. It fits a natural pattern. After all, days repeat: “Tomorrow I’ll finish that job.” (Judges? Possible.) Weeks repeat: “Next weekend, we’ll do something fun.” Also possible. Months and years repeat–we get another bite at those apples: “Next summer, let’s travel.” Totally possible.
But lives, as far as we know, just come in packages of 1. Single serving.
No do-overs. No correcting mistakes. No studying harder for college once you’re out. No training harder for the sports you played as a kid. No eliminating some of the stupid shit you said, out loud, in front of other humans.
Your youth was wasted on the young, and you just now noticed. (You know who you are.)
And no do-over on your career.
In our youth, we let our brains trick us into thinking our careers will be crazy awesome. Frankly, we expect too much. We think our possibilities, our aptitudes, are the same as our future.
Thinking we might could be a pilot or a cowboy or an archaeologist or an inventor or a milkman, we feel, in a way, that we are all of those things. It’s Schrödinger’s career: until we get there, all possible futures are true.
Then, when they don’t all come true, or none of them do, it’s disappointing. Maybe even depressing, depending on how you’re put together. It’s an existential let-down, and the quintessential crisis of midlife. We didn’t arrive where we thought we would, and realize we ain’t a’gonna.
We become aware of the narrowing of our possibilities as time screams by.
Duh. It’s the zipper principle.
Like the teeth of an unzipped zipper, stretching wide in either direction, our future encompasses all our possible futures, everything we might be, from horizon to horizon. But every day, every year, we complete another portion of our lives, and zip up our potentialities into actualities, a tiny bit more every moment. Inexorably. Inevitably. Permanently.
The closed-up past stretches out behind us while the gap ahead of us narrows. Our history is written, and our choices are reduced and half-chosen for us as we close in on what future remains to us.
Sometimes we all wonder (just go along with me) about the road not taken… the career not pursued… the risk not accepted. Who knows how different our lives would have turned out if we had done some of those things? How many different lives might we have lived?
No point thinking about it. Done and dusted.
Whew. Deep breath.
Okay. Here we go.
So, looking ahead, I’m gonna do some stuff. I’m gonna live as much as I can. Maybe not in space, or on a baseball diamond, or even on a ski hill, but I’m gonna do some good stuff. Nahko’s got the right idea:
I need a change, it’s evident A transformation imminent…
If I make it out alive, I will make a change
I’m not dead yet. I’ve got some life left in me. So I will make a change. And no mad scientist necessary.
It’s 2:30 in the morning. You roll over and wake yourself up. Should you A) go back to sleep? or B) grab hold of that teeth-rattling worry-train that was dragging you around the day before and go for another ride?
I’m asking for a friend.
Everybody’s got worries. Even JC had worries. I recall that Mary Magdalene told him:
Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to Problems that upset you, oh. Don’t you know Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine. And we want you to sleep well tonight. Let the world turn without you tonight. If we try, we’ll get by, so forget all about us tonight…
She’s sweet. Unfortunately, “don’t worry” is crap advice.
Anxiety is a clever opponent. It uses brain-jitsu against you. Here’s how:
You know that certain topics get your brain in turmoil, destroying your serenity, and naturally you want to avoid that. So, if you’re like me (I always assume everyone is like me, just for convenience) you have a helpful voice in your head reminding you what not to think about.
So you make a list of thoughts to avoid. For safety’s sake, you will keep the list handy, on the tip of your brain. And you refer to it often. Especially in the middle of the night. That’s the best time for running through the list of things to avoid.
Shit, shit, shit, shit.
But there is hope, in the form of actual good advice. Practical advice. And it comes from the world of mountain biking, just like you would expect.
Too often, beginner mountain bikers see an obstacle on the trail, like a big buried rock, and they hit it. (Pro tip: you want to NOT hit it. [We’re not to the advice yet. That’s good stuff, though.])
No, here’s the real point: if you look at the thing that you don’t want to hit, you willhit it. That’s just where you bike will go, and you will make a whomp-crunch sound when you superman over the bars and then come to rest in a tidy heap along the side of the trail.
What to do, then? (This is the advice. Get ready.) Look at the bit of the trail where you want to go instead, and your bike will naturally follow that path around the obstacle.
In other words, look to the solution; don’t watch the problem.
That’s such beautiful advice, I want you to re-read it in the voice of Dr. Phil:
Thank you, Dr. Phil. You make everything better.
So, to sum up: if you wake up in the middle of the night, remember to think about nice things. Go straight there. Like bright flowers. And maybe fluffy sheep. Think on it like you mean it. Give your fluffy sheep something fun to do.
That’s it. That’s all.
Be well. Aim for the pretty stuff. Keep your eyes on the happy things. Look to the solution; don’t watch the problem. And, most of all…
I’ll save you the trouble of finishing that thought. The answer is A. Everybody knows the answer is A.
If anybody wanted to know the real truth about your current level of happy-joyousness– –exactly how little sleep you got last night, or how hard this new diet is, or how hung over you are, or how those stilettos are killing you, or how that rash you were telling him about yesterday is starting to freak you out– –they wouldn’t have waited until a random three-second passing in the hallway or at Target to ask.
They would have called. Or texted. Or visited.
Did they call? Or text? Or visit? Hmm?
Anything more than “Good–and you?” is uncalled for detail. Give a guy a break. Kevin has got 500 other people to greet this morning before he can get his coffee. Keep the line moving. Let’s go. Let’s go.
But what if you feel really bad, and you want somebody to know? And you’ve got their ear, and feel like, come on, you’re both human, and maybe they should know you better so you can be a little more human with each other.
Well, I’ll tell you what– –even if you do tell them what’s up with you, there is nothing they can do with that information. Not really.
Do you want commiseration? Is that it? Sympathy. Support, maybe.
Sure, right? Sometimes. Everybody wants that sometimes. Except maybe the silent hero type.
When you’re with a friend and blurt, “Oh, I’ve got such a headache,” what do you think is going to happen? Nothing, right? Nothing was ever going to happen. They say, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” That’s it. You just want someone to know, and maybe, magically, take an ounce of your pain– –but it doesn’t really work that way. Your head still hurts.
But there we are, saying it anyway, thinking something might be different this time.
If you were walking around outside, and the sky looked bright red to you, and the grass was purple, and cats were talking and gerbils were driving cars and and pandas were playing chess in the park, and you knew that nobody else was seeing it, you’d want to mention it to somebody. Otherwise, it’s like you’re alone in that world with the red sky and purple grass and mammals savant.
But they’re not going to get it. If you are feeling depressed, or anxious, and try to explain it to someone, it just sounds foolish. Unless you’re weeping. Then it’s foolish and awkward.
Here’s why: it sounds like bitching, no matter how you play it. And it’s lame. You might as well be saying, “I have a real bad problem with gas. I know it doesn’t look like it. I try to hide it. But every day, all the time, every time you see me, the truth is that I really, really want to fart. It’s everything I can do to hold it in.”
Oh. Charming. Thanks for stopping by.
They might try to understand. Some people do. They make an effort. But they’ll have questions.
“You’re saying you’re on fire. But I don’t see any flames. How could it hurt if I don’t see any flames?
OK, they’ll probably say something more like, “But I don’t get it. You don’t look like you’re depressed. You do normal stuff and sound like everybody else. I heard you laughing a little bit ago.”
Or, “What are you worried about? Everything is fine. And you seem okay. Just learn to let it go! You’re making too big a deal about stuff.”
Well, you can’t walk around sobbing just to demonstrate your emotional situation, right? Or jump at every sound to try to mime “anxious.” You can, but then the whole “bring-them-into-your-world” motivation has been discarded in favor of drama and deception, in favor of self-serving pity. I think there was probably a very special episode of Facts of Life where Tootie discovered this bit of wisdom. It certainly feels like the sort of thing Cindy Brady would learn after a series of hijinks on a Friday night circa 1970.
So, you do you best to act normal. Put on your normal face and normal skin and wear them around, and train your voice to sound normal, and practice including your eyes when you smile so you don’t spook people. And if anybody asks how you’re doing, for the love of all that’s holy, just say,
“Good. And you?”
Keep clicking your heels, Dorothy. Maybe you’ll get there.
I am wishing for more time. There’s too little of the right kind. And way, way too much of the wrong kind.
I gotta get where I’m going, do what I’ve gotta do, and then I’ve gotta get back to home base. To the person on the freeway in rush hour in front of me–I’m already on the fence about you, just on principle. It’s nothing against you personally; I’m sure you’re lovely. But if we are to coexist, you need to keep it moving.
And if you’re protecting extra space in front of you, please be aware that I’m arming photon torpedoes in my head.
And back to the loving place…
Days are already long for most of us. Between work and commute, picking up a few groceries, trying to exercise, dinner, dishes, and homework, you can maybe watch a TV show before you go to bed, get up, and do it again.
It’s killing me. I swear it’s killing me. Isn’t it killing you?
I see people totally chill with this type of schedule, or having even less free time than that, and I don’t understand them. It’s like their brains are made of different stuff.
And that could be literally true.
You see, we are creating our own evolution. Not only are we learning how to live in cities (and not kill each other) we are learning how to work all day. Humans didn’t always have a go go go go idle-hands-are-the-devil’s-worshop Puritan work ethic.
Depending on whose version you accept, hunter-gatherers either work less than the rest of us—-or they work a LOT less than the rest of us. And that’s who we all were, not too many generations ago. Imagine that now… working a few hours a day gathering and hunting, hunting and gathering, then hanging out together for the every-single-day community barbecue. Sitting around the fire, telling stories. Chilling.
It sounds like camp. But, you know, with lions and hyenas visiting every so often.
Some anthropologists call this time in our history–the first 99% of our history–the “original affluent society.” Our ancestors had what they needed, which includes the same things we need: enough to meet their physical needs, a society to belong to, and time to enjoy life.
Freaking farmers went and messed it up for us. Their new way had some advantages, but they had to work all day to make their system work. They had to organize into communities, communities into cities, and civilize us. No more hunting and gathering in the morning, hanging out the rest of the day.
Now we gotta work all day. Thanks, Obama!
This is when humans were told that life stinks, and then you die. These are not my words. According to Moses, that’s [almost exactly] what YHWH said: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.”
Seriously–the farmers got us kicked out of paradise.
My current theory is that some people have evolved to be okay with the new regime. They evolved more completely into modern “Work all day” humans, while some of us are still largely “Work a bit and then chill” humans. I know I’m definitely in this camp.
I mean, it’s not that I’m lazy.
Wait. No. It’s exactly that. That’s exactly what it is.
There’s a lot going on in the world that can make us want to hide, or run, or fight, or freeze, or faint. Every day there’s a new story on your Facebook newsfeed in the actual news that you just don’t want to hear. What to do? How to deal?
What we need is a philosophy of life that steers us through the bad times.
Instead of such a philosophy, it seems that the disappointments of life drive us to find comfort and absolution in meaningless cliches. When, you ask?
When it is what it is.
What does that even mean? Shut up? Give up? Don’t talk about it anymore? Or is it just the sound we make when our brains are shifting into neutral?
We have actual problems that are looking for solutions. The world keeps spinning, and bunches of us keep flying off into space. Earthquakes strike in Oklahoma; tornadoes hit Bangladesh; water levels rise in Florida; the middle class declines; homelessness rises; rain stops falling in California; pesticides show up in mothers’ milk; little kids cry when their school goes on lockdown.
Our joint response to events beyond, or apparently beyond, our control, is to turn to this philosophy of futility.
Helpfully, we have a hundred other ways to express the same blithe impotence. Here are some of my favorites, placed in elucidating context:
Shit happens! [Shrug shoulders.]
Oh, well! [Shrug shoulders.]
Your job description is now whatever the hell they say it is, and includes a demeaning pile of crap?
Suck it up, buttercup! [Shrug shoulders.]
Can’t make the house payment?
Don’t sweat the small stuff! [Shrug shoulders.]
Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are threatening the nation and our way of life?
Whatevs! [Shrug shoulders.]
Your water supply is now polluted?
Whaddaya gonna do? [Shrug shoulders.]
Insane clown muppet won the election?
Cowboy up! [Shrug shoulders.]
A thermonuclear device is descending on your location?
It is what it is! [Shrug brain.]
Is resignation in the face of life’s trials really the pinnacle of personal ethical development? Is that the best we can do?
Albert Schweitzer once said that shit happens, but oh, well, whatever, whaddaya gonna do? Except he said it this way:
True resignation is this: that man, feeling his subordination to the course of world events, makes his way toward inward freedom from the fate that shapes his external existence. Inward freedom gives him the strength to triumph over the difficulties of everyday life and to become a deeper and more inward person, calm and peaceful. Resignation, therefore, is the spiritual and ethical affirmation of one’s own existence. Only he who has gone through the trial of resignation is capable of accepting the world.
I can’t argue with that mustache. You win, Albert. I’ll totally affirm my own existence by accepting my subordination to the matrix world that shapes my external existence. That sounds liberating…
Of course, this is more progressive than some philosophies. Doris Day used to sing to us, “Que sera sera”: whatever will be, will be. Grammarians are quick to recognize the future tense. This is an unusually proactive form of submission and capitulation in which our doughty heroine is surrendering to stuff that hasn’t even attacked her yet. Not for beginners. Degree of difficulty: religion.
I’m gonna stick to the present, and I know just how to go about it. Famed ironist* and deep-voiced skinny guy Steve Taylor gave his take on this almost 30 years ago: