- I’m sure that many (most?) Disinfonauts are familiar with this irrationally infamous Black and Blue dress. It was all over the interwebz for several days last week, to an extent that it was basically the only thing one could read about in certain corners of it. I’m sure many of you thought it was a waste of time. A trifling and trivial thing to devote so much energy on.
There are certainly a number of valid reasons for feeling as much. But I didn’t. I found the whole thing fascinating. Legitimately so. The situation roused a certain wonder within me that I don’t feel near enough these days. I found it incredible that people could look at the same exact picture and see two so wildly distinct and divergent things. Moreover, it was stupefying that most people saw the dress as white and gold when its real color was the less common sight of black and blue. In many ways, it was a truly amazing phenomenon that taught us all many things about ourselves.
It was also the perfect example of how easily human beings can be so confident about something that they are so obviously wrong about. This strict adherence to mistaken perceptions can create so much havoc, especially when those perceptions are regarding things that are actually meaningful.
For what it’s worth, I was team white and gold. And I was so certain of my perceptions that I even went so far as to declare my position on the only place such things matter: Facebook. It was a decision that led to a number of old relatives and friends who I hadn’t seen in literally years commenting on my status to weigh in on the subject. (One example of a particularly eloquent response: “Fuck it. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Let’s drink some beer.” ) So, if nothing else, a stupid debate about a stupid dress allowed me to—if even for a few brief moments and through the intermediary of computer technology— interact with some people I care about, but whom circumstance has not allowed me to maintain contact with. We joked, we cursed, we insulted each other and many “lol”s were typed. All in all, if nothing else, it was a mildly fun waste of life…for a few minutes.
Of course, at some point someone had to come and dump fecal matter all over my parade. The dreaded Party Pooper. We all know one. In this case, it was my godmother, who joined into the conversation and stated something along the lines of, “I can’t believe people waste so much time on this junk. Who cares about hunger and conflict and poverty when there’s a meaningless dress to be argued over?” Please note that this is a 60-year-old woman who spent the 80s attempting to bed various members of the Denver Nuggets, and when that didn’t pan out, set her scope on trying to snag a doctor. She did, and now she lives in a 6,000 sq. ft. mansion with heated flooring and heated driveway on the side of a mountain in Boulder, CO, and has lived there for at least 20 years now. I, on the other hand, live across the street from two of my heroin-addicted clients, but, you know, who’s keeping track? This is a woman who still follows the NBA religiously, and never once have I told her, “Hey, I can’t believe people waste so much time and money over this junk. Who cares about addiction and rape and poverty when there’s a basketball game to be watched?” And I’ve never said anything of the kind to her because it would be fucking stupid for so many reasons you couldn’t count them all.
I bring all of this up not to put my godmother on blast (which would be merely a desirable side-effect… if I didn’t write under a pseudonym), but to point out that, um, you know…if people can’t even agree on what color a stupid dress is, HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO AGREE ON HOW TO DEAL WITH THINGS LIKE HUNGER AND CONFLICT AND POVERTY?
Hold on a second. I will come back to this.
- A couple of weeks ago, during a boring Saturday night (most of my Saturday nights are fairly boring. I am not an exciting person, as should be evidenced by these essay-like substances I write), I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” In this particular episode, Mr. Bourdain was traipsing all over Mexico and Central America eating and drinking and smoking too much. None of which is exceptional for any of his shows. That’s sort of what he does. But what stood out to me this time was a little detour he took while in Nicaragua. He took some time and stopped by a local garbage dump where many of Nicaragua’s most impoverished scavenge for food and other materials to hock within Nicaragua’s own free-market matrix. If you watch the clip, you see how the whole thing is filmed with a sense of dreariness, grief, loss, despair. Mr. Bourdain says something like, “This is fucked up, man.” And for good reason. There are entire swaths of human beings hiking through mounds of literal trash for the hopes of finding something they could sell for a few cents.
Watching this episode made me reconsider my entire notion that freedom is best accessed through poverty. Had my romantic notions of the nobility of poverty been misguided? Was it possible to be truly happy if you were forced by circumstance to forage daily through literal pyramids of garbage just to feed your family? That doesn’t seem right. And then when you consider all the other terrible shit some people are going through in the world–Thai shrimp slavery, genocide, grotesquely violent environments, etc.– I have to wonder if my pro-Apathy stance was foolhardy.
At least for a few seconds.
After all, if I had been mistaken about a color of a dress so easily, how easy would it be to be mistaken about a philosophy on how to live life?
It all reminded me of the Wu-Tang song, “I Can’t go to Sleep.” (“Babies with flies on their cheeks, it’s hard to go to sleep.” etc.) What kind of a human being am I if I have little difficulty sleeping each night while knowing that other human beings are rummaging through heaps of filthy, odorous, slimy trash, fueled only by the grim desperation of hoping that they can somehow make enough money to prevent their children from starving? I’m an evil prick, if that’s the case. Right? I’m part of the problem.
And then it hit me. I am part of the problem. But I was making the same mistake all the misguided do-gooders make when they talk to me: I never said what was going on was “ok.” In fact what is going on is NOT OK. It’s fucking repugnant. It creates within me existential pangs of guilt and anger.
Therefore, my pro-apathy stance is a response to the understanding that all the major ills of the world are the necessary and unavoidable results of a crooked system. A rigged game. And my pro-apathy stance comes from the realization that, because I am part of the problem, the only way to truly deal with the evils of the world is stop playing the game.
Nicaragua is poor because, in the world economy as it is, somebody has to be poor. That’s the way it works. It’s unavoidable and inevitable. Just like all the other ills are unavoidable and inevitable. For example, there are sex slaves because there are people willing to pay for their services. And they get the money to pay for those services from people like me and you who pay our monthly cell phone bills or satellite bills or whatever. Young men in Africa are enslaved and dismembered because we confuse diamonds with love. Mexico’s civil war continues to occur precisely because we refuse to legalize drugs, because somebody with a lot of power is making a lot of money off it. The list goes on and on.
If we play the game (and I do), we’re the ones responsible for the ills (and I am).
Regardless, a quick google search actually confirms my initial hypothesis, however: The garbage collectors of Nicaragua, for all their poverty, are happier than Americans. They are happy precisely because they don’t have shit. And because they don’t have shit, they are forced to do things like, I don’t know… develop meaningful relationships with others and enjoy life itself, instead of trying to enjoy a bunch of shit you sell your life to own.
Anthony Bourdain thought it was fucked up. Probably because it made for good television. But the only thing fucked up in that scene was how unhappy Bourdain assumed people were just because they didn’t own anything.
But here’s the thing, though, right? Maybe the Nicaraguan garbage collectors aren’t unhappy, because they simply don’t know better. I’m miserable so much of the time because I make the mistake of watching too much TV or surfing too much of the internet, and I see people with nice cars and big houses and supermodel mistresses and so on and so forth. I’m constantly reminded of what I don’t have. The Nicaraguan trash pickers, because they have so little, are probably happy for what they do have, and they’re not constantly being bombarded with images of good looking people who look like they smell good and who have way more shit than they do.
And here’s the thing: it is so pathetic to feel so sorry for ourselves when we have so much. Yet, self-pity is basically America’s favorite past time. It’s what we do. We’re good at it. We even sort of enjoy it. Some say it’s the desire for More that is the battery that powers this nation.
This is the reality of the situation, so what do we do about it?
The nice thing about Apathy is that it’s highly applicable to any situation. I touched on this before in my original essay. At your worst, you can simply be apathetic about not being apathetic enough. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is understanding the source of our discontent, so that we can stop giving a shit about it.
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