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:
While the world winds down to a final prayer
Nothing soothes quicker than complete despair
I predict by dinner I won’t even care
Since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
Lose hope now! Ask me how!
Or maybe…. we can ditch the whole “It is what it is” thing. How about replacing it with, I dunno, “It is bullshit, and I will fight it tooth and nail.”
*How ironic? As a Christian artist, he got in trouble for his song “I blew up the clinic real good.” Irony about 6 inches off the ground flew over the heads of many seriously religious people.