In Defense of Apathy, or: How to be an un-American

By Britt-knee via Flickr.By Britt-knee via Flickr.
By Britt-knee via Flickr.

By Britt-knee via Flickr.

The American people have, rightfully, been identified as an intolerable bunch. We fucking hate each other. That’s not even an exaggeration. I’m surprised any of us even have friends. Even if you are ostensibly a highly likeable chum, an American will find reasons to hate you. There are probably hundreds of people who are thinking up ways to hate you right now. Yes, You, the person reading this article. Right now there’s an American somewhere who’s hating you because of the color of your skin, your choice of religion (or lack thereof), your sex or gender, your political ideology, your region of birth, the brand of truck you drive, your favorite football team, your choice of diet, or, hell, if they’re lucky, all of the above, and then some. There’s probably at least a couple of Americans out there right now who have absolutely no reason to like you… and they’re giddy as hell about it. And admit it—there are plenty of people you despise, and in which you reap great pleasure in despising.

It’s a glorious thing, this hate. Hating each other is only one of two things most Americans have in common with each other. This hate can even bring us together on occasion. I remember one time in a college class, a racist classmate of mine teamed up with a black classmate of mine through their mutual disdain of homosexuals. When the black student made it known that he thought homosexual couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry, a little twinkle formed in the eye of the white supremacist. Together they fought off wave after wave of counterattacks from the rest of the class who thought homosexuals should have the right to marry each other.

It was beautiful.

Afterwards, the two even stood outside in the hallway recounting their verbal assaults against the rest of the class. The white guy, mind you, was a middle-aged prick with a goatee and had done prison time. He had two Nazi SS Lightning Bolts tattooed on his neck and a tattoo on his left arm of White Jesus holding an AR-15 with some bible verse I couldn’t place.

Ebony and Ivory…

The other thing Americans typically have little difficulty agreeing on is that apathy is bad. For all of our faults, Americans do have one persistent virtue, a virtue so persistent that it can often veer into being a fault. But still a virtue nonetheless. That virtue is forgiveness. Americans can forgive a lot of things. Give us enough time and a reasonable plot line, and we’ll forgive recent transgressors of good taste and basic human decency: Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and even the members of the Islamic State (the lattermost might seem farfetched, but it’s not difficult to imagine a future Today Show segment on a reformed British or French conservative activist/provocateur who recounts his 16 months or so as a member of “Da State” and his subsequent conversion to Western Couture). But the one thing we lunkheaded, butter-hearted idiots cannot tolerate is people not giving a shit.

In the 1996 Tony Scott remake of the film The Fan, Robert De Niro plays Gil Renard, a salesman who cares a little too much about baseball. Renard cares so much that he kills a member of the San Francisco Giants so that his favorite player, Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), can wear his favorite number. See, in the movie, Rayburn is a free agent who signs with the Giants, but Juan Primo (Benicio Del Toro) is already on the team, wearing Rayburn’s favorite number. Rayburn immediately finds himself in an extended slump, and Renard blames the slump on Primo’s refusal to give up the number. After Renard kills Primo, the teammates wear a patch with Primo’s number in his honor. Rayburn suddenly snaps out of his slump, and Renard credits this to Rayburn’s wearing his lucky number on the Primo memorial patch. Renard also happens to be a stalker and through a convoluted, but not particularly diverting, set of circumstances ends up playing a game of catch with Rayburn at his beach house. While the two are playing, Renard asks Rayburn how he overcame his slump to which Rayburn replies that he “simply stopped caring.” Needless to say, that response doesn’t sit well with Renard, who spends the rest of the movie trying to get a thank you from Rayburn for killing Primo (don’t ask).

The point of that little cinematic detour is that for all the shortcomings of the movie, it understands precisely what makes your typical American “Gus” tick. Rayburn probably could’ve replied with any other reason and Renard wouldn’t have batted an eye, but he couldn’t cope with his hero caring less than he did.

When you’re growing up in this country, you’re reminded at every turn to “stand up for what you believe in.” In The Fan, De Niro’s character was simply standing up for what he believed in. And he destroys numerous human lives in the process, including his own. And so the catch is that – what if you refuse to back down from your beliefs especially when they’re fucking stupid? But how do I know whether my beliefs are fucking stupid or not in the first place? If you ask someone who agrees with you, they’ll typically answer with some variation of, “Well, you have to really think about the situation. Use reason and logic to come up with an answer that makes sense.” If you ask someone who disagrees with you, they’ll typically answer with some variation of, “Well, you have to really think about the situation. Use reason and logic to come up with an answer that makes sense.”

So people wonder how we got to where we’re at in this country, at least politically, but it’s not really all that difficult to understand. Of course you’ve got the puppet-masters at the top and behind the scenes manipulating politics and legislation in a highly successful effort to rig the system overwhelmingly in the favor of a select few. But you also have them producing a rather twisted message to the populace that is presented in a way that it appeals to a significant portion of the population. And because no matter what your stances are, you’ve been taught to “stand up” for what you believe in, even when those stances are fucking stupid, destructive, and morally indefensible.

Therefore, we’ve all been brainwashed to believe all sins are forgivable, except for the sin of not giving a fuck. This is part of the message from “up top.” Each side wants us to stand up and valiantly fight for whatever it is we’re supposed to be fighting for.

I argue otherwise. I argue that the only virtue we have left, the only moral choice (if freedom of choice does indeed exist) is to not play the game. To me, it would seem the most rational thing to practice is Apathy.

Perhaps it would be helpful to clarify terms. When I speak of “Apathy” I’m not speaking of “Antipathy.” There is a pretty distinct and important difference between the two. Some people think Apathy is when I’m walking in the wilderness, and I come across a person dangling by their fingertips from the edge of a cliff, yelling for help. But instead of helping that person I continue on with my hike because I’m a dick. But that wouldn’t be “Apathy” in the way I’m using. To me, that would be an act of “Antipathy.” Any willful infliction of harm or neglect to someone in need of help is Antipathetic. To me a more Apathetic act is that when you come across something that fucks up the rhythm of your day, you don’t piss and moan about it. You say, “fuck it” and do what needs to be done.

By thierry ehrmann via Flickr.

By thierry ehrmann via Flickr.

Nassim Taleb is sometimes a Hayekian, libertarian, elitist dipshit who likes to write silly imaginary stories about douchebag Wall St. traders. For example, the smug, self-satisfied, thinly-veiled author surrogate Nero Tulip (yes, that’s the name he gave that character) and the “street smart” totally-not-fruity-at-all-like-those-academic-trader-dweebs, Fat Tony who is superior to his more traditionally trained peers because Taleb has a fetish for eastern seaboard blue collar types that manifests itself in these kinds of baffling ways. But Taleb is also a great essayist who sometimes has a good point and a good idea.

One of his good ideas is the idea of “antifragility.” Antifragility isn’t just what it sounds to be. It’s the opposite of fragile, sure–but it’s more than that. Something that is “antifragile” doesn’t just break uneasily, it actually grows and develops in response to external stressors. More specifically, Taleb is concerned with the unpredictability of the world and believes that for something to be “antifragile” it must be cultivated by unpredictable events. For something to be “antifragile,” it cannot simply survive unpredictable events and stressors. No, those unpredictable events should actually make that thing stronger.

How this idea relates to my proposal is that when I speak of practicing an apathetic philosophy, I’m speaking of a way of looking at the world that is antifragile.

Fragile minds are all too common in our society. People lose their shit over the dumbest of things. Nervous breakdowns occur even at events that are totally predictable. Growing up primarily in poor Hispanic communities, I saw a number of people totally lose all emotional, mental and psychological equilibrium over the death of, like, their 90 year old great-grandfather. HE WAS 90 YEARS OLD. They had plenty of time to see this thing coming. These people have to know that we don’t live forever. And yet, when a death of such a kind occurred, they didn’t just get sad and grieve for a few weeks or something. No, they totally lost their shit. “WHY GAWD?!!!” and all that, even though Gawd made it quite clear that people who make it to 90 and their loved ones should feel totally stoked by such good luck. Ungrateful little pricks.

People who worry about Stupid Shit™ are also the kind of people who are responsible for most of the manmade ills on this planet. You know who was totally pathetic–in the most literal meaning of the term? Hitler, of course! Your typical Wall St. Bankster is also pathetic. Dick Cheney is pathetic. Your local neighborhood do-gooder who fights unyieldingly for “Core Standards” in your local school district is pathetic. Your idiot dipshit boss who cares more about “productivity” than in creating an actual functioning workforce is pathetic. Israel is pathetic. Radical Muslim extremists are pathetic. U.S. southerners are pathetic. Parents who want their kids to be “competitive” are pathetic. All the people that make life miserable on this planet are pathetic. They all care too much about Stupid Shit™ .

THE argument against apathy usually goes something like, “Well, imagine if Martin Luther King was apathetic. Where would the civil rights movement have been then?” or “It’s because people are so apathetic that evil reigns supreme over this world.” But that’s all bullshit. First of all, MLK didn’t concern himself with Stupid Shit™ . He cared about stuff that needed to be cared about–and, yeah, this creates some blurred lines between Stupid Shit™ and Worthwhile Shit™ , but more often than not we can tell the difference with a simple question: Am I doing this to feel better about myself (feeding the ego) or am I doing this because it’s the right thing to do? It’s a tricky question because most people are utterly incapable of being honest with themselves, but an honest answer to that question goes a long way in helping one to discern between Stupid Shit™ and Worthwhile Shit™ . Another question we can ask ourselves is, “Am I going out of my way–like way out of my way–to get something done?” If it’s almost as much effort just getting to a point where you can do a specific thing as it is actually doing that specific thing, we’re probably not being apathetic enough. Still, regardless of how those questions are answered, it’s better to remain conservative and err on the side of being too apathetic. If nothing else, once we drift into simply being pathetic, our Facebook posts become nigh-incomprehensible or tolerable.

Furthermore, heroes like MLK only had to care so much about Worthwhile Shit™ because other dumbfucks cared too much about Stupid Shit™ first. There are few ideas as Stupid as racism, and yet half the damned country, if not more, cared a WHOLE LOT about defending their “right” to practice it. Racism is Stupid Shit™. Any kind of bigotry is Stupid Shit™. And the rest of us only have to care so much about counteracting it, because dumbfuck idiots care too much about it in the first place. People only had to fight the Nazis because the Nazis cared too much about Stupid Shit™ to begin with. All the Great Shit™ that has happened throughout the whole of history is done in response to a whole group of people caring too much about Stupid Shit™ .

Again, we can protect ourselves against such a condition by just not giving a shit in general.

Part of what makes an Apathetic worldview so “antifragile” is that it’s so flexible. It works in just about any situation. Let’s say you hate your job. An apathetic worldview can take you in several different directions. One, you can say, “fuck it” and quit your shitty job. But maybe you have a family to support and this isn’t really an option, at least for today. So you can say, “fuck it” and go to work, and say “fuck it” several (dozen?) more times throughout the day as you have to complete some braindead task. Trust me this works. It doesn’t make your job suddenly enjoyable as hell, but it makes it significantly more bearable. Try it right now. Take a break from reading (good god! Is someone still reading this?) and just say “fuck it” a few times. You feel better already, don’t you? Another thing you can do is say, “fuck it” and call in sick. Or say, “fuck it” and put in several applications in over your lunch hour. Or you can say “fuck it” and take a job that pays you less money, but which you will enjoy more. The possibilities are endless. I masturbate too much for a grown man. So an experiment I do is sometimes when I’m feeling “The Itch” I just say “fuck it” and go do something else. It’s amazing how well this works. I’m halfway convinced this is the foundation to beating just about any addiction.

If this philosophy were to have a mantra of some kind, or a statement of purpose, it would be “fuck it.”

As we begin our apathetic path, we may catch ourselves worrying about Stupid Shit™ , because not caring about Stupid Shit™ takes practice. It’s basically a form of meditation and as such, to reap its full benefits, it takes time. I’ve been practicing apathy for several years now, and have gotten fairly, sort of decent at it. However, there are times when I still find myself caring about Stupid Shit™. In the beginning I found that it’s ok to say, “fuck it” and not worry about my worrying about Stupid Shit. That’s one of the beauties about the flexibility of this philosophy. Even when I’m being hypocritical, technically there’s no need to scold myself about it. I can be apathetic about not being apathetic. Nevertheless, as time goes on, I find that as long as I put even the most modicum amount of effort into this idea, I become less and less hypocritical. I have also found that eventually the apathy has begun to spread to all aspects of my life–but it looks different for all parts. A useful, helpful apathy looks different at work than it does at home than it does during your leisure time. It looks different with different family members. It looks different with different friends. Again, part of its utility lies in its flexibility. There is no real dogma. It’s a principle, not a rule. It’s not even an expectation. You make like Bruce Lee and take what is useful, but make it your own. We all have different needs for apathy in our lives. Your apathy will look different from mine. And it changes depending on the nature of each circumstance.

Before I end this stupid thing, I want to clarify that the apathy I write of is not an absence of feelings. Quite the contrary. This apathy allows me to feel my feelings without being reigned over by them. Most of us are slaves to our emotions. They control us because they are controlled by the ego monster. Apathy allows us to be “who we are” without being lorded over by the pitiful ego monster. This is where the Stoics are so greatly misunderstood. How can you read Seneca or Marcus Aurelius and not see that these kinds of people were highly sensitive, highly sentimental characters? They totally were. They just weren’t controlled by their sensitivity. The same goes for the old Ch’an Buddhist and Taoists of ancient China. Sure they preached a detachment from their feelings, but they didn’t preach an atrophy of those feelings. Quite the opposite, in the stories told by and about these people, we see a joyous, sentimental lot. Think about Chuang Tzu’s mourning of Hui Tzu and of his own wife. Think of Huang Po smiling at Lin Chi’s Realization. Think of the poems of Stone House and Li Po.

Therefore, in the end, I think what I’m suggesting is something that is un-American at it’s core: Sure, don’t take much of anything too seriously. But, most importantly, you should take YOURSELF seriously, least of all. You might find that you hate yourself and others a little bit less, but maybe that’s the price we all must pay for something bordering on contentment.

Mr. Furious

Mr. Furious

Mr. Furious lives in rural southern Colorado and tries to live as boring, apathetic and lazy a life as possible. He is hoping one day to be invited to do a "Life Class" for "Super Soul Sundays" on the Oprah Winfrey Network. You can read his short fiction, poetry and short essays at www.puerileandpointless.blogspot.com. He wrote a really stupid novel called " Puerile and Pointless with no Hope for Enlightenment" that you can purchase at Amazon and waste your time with. He can be contacted and/or harassed at misterfurious1@yahoo.com.
Mr. Furious
  • Liam_McGonagle

    This judgment is a bit too harsh. there is something to like about everybody, even if it is only the fact that they will eventually die.

    • Simon Valentine

      maybe that was one of its anti-fragile points

      jokes about trading retroactive claimancy bullshit sold separately
      but we shouldn’t worry
      the moon won’t fall on us
      no matter how much of it we eat

  • Mr B

    Sickening Yank apathy and forgiveness:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSsLHn-pYCw

    • BuzzCoastin

      aMerkin apathy
      is their best defense against
      being held responsible
      for their democratic leaders &
      their war crimes
      best fain apathy & naivete
      in case the empire falls

    • Number1Framer

      The most disgusting moment of his presidency? LOL Good that the one truism Kanye West ever uttered is saved on the web for posterity.

  • Simon Valentine

    Fragile is a Nails album

    just switch it out for Broken

    • Jonas Planck

      Thus begins the downward spiral.

      • Number1Framer

        But then you just end up as either a hate machine or a ghost.

  • http://anoniverse.com/ thenumbersix

    Plato had something to say about this: “The price good men pay for indifference is to be ruled by evil men.”

    • Mr B

      I find that evil men rule irrespective of my disposition.

      • HCE

        Ta-da!

  • Andrew

    Don’t assume that those who hate me don’t have valid reasons.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      It may be because you’re too beautiful. I know that’s why everyone hates me.

      • Number1Framer

        Thank you! All this time I thought I was alone in my prison of vanity!

  • BuzzCoastin

    by apathy I think you mean equanimity
    dispassionate observation & action
    it is the foundation of anti-fragility

    ps, I concure with your take on Taleb
    he’s annoyingly spot on

  • Juan

    I don’t hate anyone. It is a waste of time and a drain on my well-bieng carrying that energy around. Have been working diligently to not get so pissed off over all the stupid shit we see and deal with everyday. Finding many opportunities to practice not getting pissed off at work.
    Have also gotten really good at avoiding stupid shit that I know pisses me off; so, no tv, no radio. Not even the Pacifica stations.

    Also, excellent piece:)

  • http://adamgoodwin.info/ Rhoid Rager

    Great essay on liberational apathy…..no, actually, it was just OK.

  • drokhole

    Pretty good essay of a similar nature:

    The elegant art of not giving a shit
    http://www.raptitude.com/2014/07/not-giving-a-shit/

  • thisbliss

    Yes! This piece is one of those gems that come along every now and then on disinfo and is well worth assimilating this – if you can be arsed! Seriously tho hit the nail on the head with the whole stand up for what you believe – pure elitist bullshit consciousness – divide and conquer my friends, divide and conquer.

  • Michael416

    Apathy is a tricky thing. I think it is only good in small doses. Too much of it and you lose interest in current events and become ignorant of the world. It can also lead to a mental laziness where you just go along with the accepted doctrine of reality. I’ve had friends who were apathetic. After a while I no longer wanted to hang out with them because all they wanted to do was get high. But that being said I can certainly see the value in picking one’s battles.