Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Don't philosophize angry

Everybody probably has one or two life lessons they’ve gleaned from experience which they feel could make the world a better place if more people took them to heart. Inspired by some truly absurd trolling I read on a message board today, here are a few of mine:

You do not have the right to live a life free of annoyance. I’m a good American and a supporter of individual rights. I believe in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I take great civic pride in the Bill of Rights. But nowhere in any of that, as far as I can see, is an unannoyed state of mind expressly guaranteed. Life in general and other people in particular can be and in point of fact quite often are rather annoying. This is not something which demands redress. You should feel free to find one or more sympathetic ears and grouse about it until you feel better. You should also feel completely entitled to take steps which minimize your own exposure to potential sources of annoyance. What you should not do, under any circumstances, is attempt to hold up your own annoyance as self-sufficient evidence that somehow, somewhere, in some way, the system is broken. If you despise the shrieking sounds of children at play, don’t buy a house near an elementary school. OR, if you have no choice about where you live (and, in all seriousness, sometimes that is legitimately the case), then pursue activities which get you away from home during recess times. OR, if you can’t control where you live and are an invalid, then wallow in bucketloads of self-pity because you can’t escape something so annoying. But as soon as you start suggesting that all children should be isolated in remote education camps from the ages of 3 to 18, because you find kids annoying, you have grossly misapprehended the relative importance of your own inner calm. Which is to say, it is of no importance to anyone but yourself. Do everything in your power to look after it, but do not expect anyone else to do the same. That is not just The Way It Is, but pretty much The Way It Should Be.

Yes, even the Second Amendment.
There are certain things which exist in the world which should not exist. These are legitimately, universally terrible things. Genocide. Rape. Child Abuse. Religious Intolerance. These things do only harm, and cannot in any sane evaluation be said to have any real worth. Even if they do not affect you directly, if you steadfastly ignore them, their very existence anywhere on the planet makes the world a poorer place. There are other things you might be tempted to tack onto the end of that list as a good punchline, like “Katy Perry.” And I am not one to shy away from irreverent humor, including jokes which compare bloody, horrific ethnic cleansing to disposable pop music. Where I draw the line is the point at which people treat the conflation of those two spheres with utter seriousness. You are not entitled to live in a world where the things you personally do not care for do not exist. Every time I hear someone say “So-and-so just needs to go away forever” (or any of the far more explicit-wish-of-painful-death variants) I grind my teeth furiously. And yes, exaggeration is like humor in that it makes conversation more interesting and doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but for some people this really does constitute only a slight exaggeration of their actual beliefs. It’s not enough for these people that no one is forcing them to download and crank up certain cloying hit singles or buy and read certain stupid vampire romance novels or whatever. It’s not enough that they can turn off the radio if the wrong song comes on or change the tv channel if an ad for the movies based on the books appears. The sheer inconvenience of having to co-exist with anything they dislike is an imposition which they see as unabated suffering, and that in turn will only end when the artist in question is executed and every work of their hand immolated.

Lastly, your own personal expectations really aren’t worth that much, either. The construction “I was expecting A to be like X, but it turned out A was like Y, therefore A is atrocious and anyone who can’t see that is a moron” doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. I mean, where do I even begin unpacking this mental mess. Why did you have those expectations? Because someone else said so, or maybe specifically because of how something was marketed? Because of past experiences and a belief that history makes the future predictable? Because your expectation was the exact thing you wanted and you felt you were owed it? And even assuming an ironclad justification for holding expectations, and even empathizing to the utmost with the feeling of betrayal that accompanies said expectations shattering, how does that translate to the quality that other, separate human beings with their own expectations and value systems might find in the object? But really the reason this expectation-driven mindset grinds my gears is because it tends to insist that everything in the world can and should be classified by rigid distinctions, and everything can and should conform to the templates of its own classification and must not ever deviate from that. Which sounds like a painfully boring world to live in, to me, in addition to being completely untenable.

So, to sum up, get over yourself. You have not somehow been cheated out of a world in which everything pre-conforms to your individualized worldview, everybody agrees with you, and nothing exists except the things you want. The reason you don’t live in that world is because nobody does. And every time you pine loudly for that never-was world, you sound like an asshole. Assholes just happen to be my absolute least favorite kind of human being, which by virtue of my own philosophy means if you are one, it's a pretty safe bet I'm just going to ignore you.

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