If you were logged in, you could vote for this story!
|There is exactly one problem with the human race, and that problem is that we take ourselves way too seriously. This deceptively simple platitude can be traced back as the root of all misery, confusion, scorn and conflict for the entirety of human history.|
Think for a moment about someone you know who takes themselves seriously. Do they seem like kind of a jackass? They do, don't they? And the reason they do is precisely because they are the kind of person that takes themselves way too seriously.
Human beings got to the top of the food chain by inventing the food chain; the entire concept is an arbitrary human categorization. We lie to ourselves and other species all the time. We're the dominant species on planet Earth specifically because we're the best liars. Human beings are not a particularly impressive animal. We don't have wings or run very fast. We don't have protective plates or spikes or fangs or quills or venom. We're not very big. We don't work particularly well in groups, compared to herds or hives of other species. We like to pride ourselves on our opposable thumbs and large brains, but pandas and possums have the former and cetaceans and cephalopods have the latter. In summation we are a rather pathetic type of animal as animals go.
How did we then assert dominance over all the other animals? Easy: by convincing ourselves that we were not animals, that we were something better, something removed from nature, and then acting accordingly. We did it, in short, by taking ourselves too serious.
And it worked! In fact it worked so magnificently that we not only convinced ourselves, but all of the other species as well. Most people in the modern world couldn't imagine it being another way. The very fact that we have a delineation that requires the words "people" and "person" is glaring exposition of this mindset.
Thus began the twenty-thousand year path of taking ourselves too seriously.
- - -
Sounds like we made out pretty well! But there's always a catch, because there is balance in nature even for those who have deluded themselves that they are separate from it. In this case that balance is the destruction of spontaneous, visceral joy. Seriousness is a system, a rule of order imposed like the Catholic principles of Catechism or the minutiae of genres in a record store, and individuality is its bane. Silliness is an anathema to be exterminated like measles or termites.
Without happiness one is doomed to misery. Our disconnection from our animal nature and the endless systems of self-categorization that have followed, from biology to philosophy, is the direct cause of all suffering in the human condition. See, even I do it; what even is a "human" condition, if not the defiance against all the other types of existence, the presumption that we must be somehow better, beyond the banality of organic processes? We must be angels and geniuses, or rather, more importantly, other animals must not be. When we see even glimmers of intelligence or self-awareness in other parts of nature, be it ants crawling across our kitchen counters, beloved cats and dogs we keep as pets, or even computer programs we utilize for work and pleasure (for machines are also a part of nature, being constructed of minerals and running on electromagnetism), we feel the hairs stand up on the back of our necks, threatened and concerned that some other type of existence is infringing on our birthright: the right to know, to emerge, and to direct, set down in providence by almighty God, and actuated in the laws of Anglicanism, of Dewey's decimal system, of Plato's Republic, of the curriculum of universities, of Miss Manners, Dear Abby and American Idol, and of every other methodology that dictates seriousness as the highest virtue.
- - -
Let's take a look at some examples, shall we?
Religious fundamentalists: INHERENTLY SILLY. Here we have a huge swath of the human population who will commit acts of utmost seriousness, including rampant oppression of races, sexes, and even other religions with identical rules as their own; murder, genocide, and torture; extortion and embezzlement; and utmost hypocrisy by flagrantly ignoring even their own self-ascribed rules of conduct. They do all of this based on the imagined whispers of an angry sky Jew characterized in an ancient tome of Mother Goose rhymes.
Government officials of all sorts fall into this same categorization, often with the same pretensions of divine allowance, whether that be the ancient rites of kings or the more modern practice of reinterpreting the Founding Fathers as Christian prophets. The more respectable ones, though, don't even bother with such excuses; they've so fully integrated systematic seriousness that they genuinely believe themselves to be better than even their own species. When Mitt Romney started talking about the 47%, his clear undertone was "those dismissible animals who are nothing like me and mine." Silliness is an entirely foreign concept to Mitt Romney. He is completely invested in being serious and being seen as serious, and for all his millions and assets he is demonstrably, starkly miserable.
Any subculture, whether it be based in ones nationality or genetic heritage (the proud isolationism of native Americans is a good example, as is any "little" component of a major city, be it Italy or China or Colombia), propensity for certain sexual identities (gay pride parades come to mind; would it kill you people to try a gay decorum parade just once?), or any other modifier that specifically separates oneself from other human beings (here I will note the astoundingly ironic example of furries, who have somehow managed to paradoxically embrace the idea of becoming animal to produce a psychology of being better than humans), is a microcosm of too much seriousness. Just as our example of Mitt Romney above sees himself as superior to the lesser, more animal humans, never considering that he might be just like them, so too is the self-segregation of subculture, in which one places oneself above the tendencies and beliefs and even biologies of other human beings based on patently arbitrary measures.
Of course this reaches down even to the personal level. A businessman who prides himself on his punctuality is no different from a prostitute who prides herself on her fellatio or a cafeteria worker who prides himself on his macaroni and cheese. This method works for measurements of failure or success equally: the lonesome boy who has put all of his self worth into marrying a girl perceived as being far above his station has adopted a downright tragic flavor of too much seriousness. All of these metrics are arbitrarily chosen by the individuals who would be coincidentally validated from said choices, all of them represent a fetishization of seriousness and a detachment from individuality (and thus detachment from individual responsibility), and all of them lead, time and again, to empty lives of misery and despair.
- - -
Doubtlessly you've recognized parts of your own existence while reading this article. Too-seriousness is a ubiquitous condition that effects all human society; you'd be a remarkable individual to have never encountered it. And likely many of you reading are thus filled with feelings of insult, anger, and pride, which rather illustrates it's working as intended; you're supposed to feel offended at the implication that you take yourself too seriously. Indeed, that's its main mechanism of operation: self-righteousness.
Others will see the value in recognizing these self-imposed filters as flaws, however, and wonder: how can I escape? Where is the path that leads away from seriousness and misery, towards a more fulfilling life in which I recognize my animal nature, and indeed recognize myself as not separate from nature at all, but a piece of a larger whole? How can I stop feeding the conspiracy of seriousness and be happy?
As a public servant I will tell you now without condition or expectation of payment.
STOP GIVING A SHIT.
The desperate clinging to seriousness is the measurable cause of misery. It runs rampant through our media; every reported school shooting or marathon bombing or hurricane season is a frenzy of advertising for it, goading the viewer into spending their empathy on local issues thousands of miles from their homes for strangers they will never meet. The world is constantly marketed as being a serious realm, with continuous attention to people who take themselves far more seriously than they ought to, whether the subject of the day is Islamic terrorists, obsolete Popes flailing through modern issues, provisionally talented athletes held up as bastions of morality, drug dealers, new-age psychics, polemics thinly veiled as newscasters, conspiracy theorists, the TSA, Scientologists, Anonymous, Donald Trump, Gwyneth Paltrow, Taylor Swift or Kanye West. The narrative is the same regardless, and every report is constructed to present this unified front.
The obvious antidote, then, is to reject seriousness as a guiding principle. This doesn't mean rejecting it entirely; seriousness when appropriate - during the sickness of a loved one, or while consoling neighbors following a local tragedy, or while focusing on a project in its construction phase - is indeed a useful and necessary condition. What I am promoting the rejection of is seriousness as the default state. In fact, I promote the rejection of all default states. I promote not giving a shit.
- - -
Let's think back for a moment about that boy who wants to marry a pretty girl. He pines every day for someone to notice him, constructing an increasingly elaborate set of rules for himself based on his observations. He changes his clothing, his exercise regime, his hobbies, his hangouts. Even diet and sleep patterns are not immune, nor his actual physical body; if hair plugs or a tattoo are perceived as ways to increase his statistical chances, he will commit to them without hesitation.
He becomes a slave to seriousness. Every facet of his existence is measurements and allocations; in the end he is merely a collection of video game buffs, a real-life min-maxed role-playing character. The most tragic facet of this scenario is that even if he finally gets the girl -- and he might! -- he is incapable of enjoying the spoils of his acquisition. He has reduced the entire world and his own body to a set of statistics; how can the girl be anything more than that herself?
Now let's imagine the scenario after applying a healthy dose of not giving a shit. He is who he is and he likes what he likes. Some of that might not fit cleanly with society, but he's unconcerned. Seeing his own desires and goals as arbitrary allows him to empathize with the arbitrariness of others. It also shows him that accepting the statistical chance of meeting a girl who just plain likes him for who he is a far better strategy than obsessively trying to exploit those same statistics' loopholes. His attitude might not work out -- it probably won't! -- but even if it doesn't, he doesn't give a shit about that either. He is a fully realized human being, the best parts of animal and genius, where his opposite has neither.
Serious people can only ever handle other serious people. People who don't give a shit can handle anything, because that's exactly what not giving a shit is: the ability to field whatever comes along with style and aplomb.
- - -
I grew up around very serious people. My mother and grandmother, whom I lived with, would constantly get into heated arguments (and occasional fistfights) with my aunts and uncles over impressively trivial matters. There was an orthodoxy to the state of conflict in our house, an uninterrupted narrative of entitlement, and I hated it so.
I vividly remember the first inkling I got that seriousness itself might be the problem. I was eight years old; "Thriller" had just come out, and Michael Jackson was continuously in the news. One article in particular that struck a chord was a report that he owned a collection of mannequins. I had fantasized about having a collection of such figures myself since first growing a penchant for the aesthetic at age three, but every avenue I'd thus encountered sternly dismissed my fancy as a weird, silly affectation, and me as being broken for expressing it. Yet here was a successful millionaire beloved by all, singing "Beat It" from my beige and cream colored Fisher Price turntable, whose very existence categorically dismissed those enforced platitudes. Clearly someone was not telling me the whole story.
As I grew and acquired other habits and hobbies, the same narrative repeated itself. I first became enamored of computers at age seven, programming a TRS-80 at school; it wasn't long after that I started hearing the first slurs of "geek" and "nerd" and "dork." I fell in love with hip-hop at age ten, listening to Whodini and UTFO on Philly's Power 99 on my old transistor radio; now the slurs changed to "wannabe" and "nigger-lover".
And now I'm typing this essay on a supercomputer the size of a portable VCR, which sits in my bedroom along with three Rootstein mannequins, as I listen to Boom Bip, Aesop Rock and Ronald Jenkees. It's not very serious at all, and it certainly doesn't make me better than anyone else. But it does make me happy.