"And then, something happened. I let go. Lost in oblivion. Dark and silent and complete. I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom."
-- Fight Club
Let's make an effort not to make this nihilistic for a moment.
There's an easy experiment anyone can do to demonstrate that as a person relaxes, he or she is able to absorb more information. It goes like this: Get in bed and turn on some music on the nightstand next to you, from your clock radio or iPod or whatever. Set the music at a volume you feel is comfortable and unobtrusive so that you can go to sleep, then lay down. As you begin to drift off, you'll notice that the music seems to get louder, even to the point where you might have to roll over to lower the volume. This is because your body is relaxing and you're brain is taking in more stimuli. You notice more when you're calm. Some people may think quicker when they're under stress, but when it comes to actually absorbing what's around you, the human mind and physiology are all about relaxation. Remove the pressures that are typically being exerted on us and we think more clearly and are generally more effective as individuals. But when those pressures are encoded in the DNA of the workaday world, how can you free yourself from them? You can meditate, sure. Or -- you can just say the hell with it and give up. You can stop giving a fuck.
Now here's where we get nihilistic.
The feeling of having nothing left to lose, while daunting, is also liberating. Think about the times in your life when you've put in your two weeks at a job and life has handed you one of those rare occasions as an adult when you can truly stop giving a fuck because your actions don't really matter anymore anyway. Maybe you didn't go completely off the deep end and start telling everyone you ever disliked at your workplace to go eat a bag of dicks, or set the break room on fire because you'd spent years dealing with a snack machine that ate your change. But being a lame duck brings with it certain privileges, like the privilege of no longer having to prove yourself and absolutely no longer having to eat an inordinate amount of shit. And that's the kind of feeling people pay good money for. Not only that, that relaxed feeling is often when you're at your best.
In just the past couple of months we've been able to sit back and bear witness to two perfect examples of both the joy and benefits of simply not giving a fuck anymore.
Just before this year's State of the Union address, the official Twitter account of the White House -- essentially, the Obama administration -- tweeted out a picture of a tan suit hanging on a locker, the implication being that President Obama was going to be wearing the infamous suit he'd worn during a previous press conference for the big speech that night. If you'll remember, Obama in the tan suit made social media lose its mind, with so many people tweeting about it that you'd have thought people couldn't figure out what color it was. Hardly anyone can immediately recall what Obama was talking about when he wore the suit -- it was ISIS, which of course led clowns like Pete King to call Obama's wardrobe choice for that day inexcusable -- but we damn sure remember the suit.
Then during the State of the Union address itself, Obama all but came right out and copped to no longer worrying about what his relentlessly hostile political adversaries thought of him. He still preached bipartisanship and hope, but the sermon was tinged with the indifference of a man who had finally accepted that it would all fall on deaf ears. "I have no more campaigns to run," he said, which drew a predictable smattering of applause and cheers from the petty peanut gallery on the right. Without even thinking about it, Obama smacked them down. "I know because I won both of them," he shot back with a smile. That right there? A complete lack of fucks left to give. No more politics left to play or pandering left to do to anyone. Just the guy America had elected twice being exactly who he is. "My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol — to do what I believe is best for America," Obama continued. But now, unlike over the past several years, he was freed of having to please anybody but himself and serve anyone but his country.
Those who'd strongly supported him wondered where this guy had been throughout his presidency. The answer was that he had always been there, only buried under the need to play politics and try to keep people happy who where never actually going to be happy.
Then we have Jon Stewart, a cultural icon who announced just last month that after 16 years at the helm of The Daily Show, he would soon be stepping down. At the time of the surprise announcement, I surmised that at least part of the reason behind his decision was burnout -- burnout from having to continue to try to make the hypocrisy and rank sociopathic stupidity of modern American politics and political media funny when in truth they aren't funny but suffocating. Stewart has simply given it all for too long and realized that not only could he not fix the problem, he couldn't even really make fun of it anymore. Somebody else needed to come in with fresh eyes and a soul that hadn't been burned to a crisp.
While, like Obama, there's little doubt that Stewart wanted to believe in a government and nation that functioned on compromise and bipartisanship -- that at least trafficked in reason and good faith debates -- like Obama, Stewart finally seemed to realize it just wouldn't happen. Even when Stewart organized a rally aimed at encouraging people of different political beliefs to treat each other with respect, he was eviscerated by both the left and right -- the very people he was trying to get through to. And so now, with the responsibility off his shoulders of continuing to do The Daily Show indefinitely, he seems to be really letting loose. A few nights ago he all but admitted, albeit jokingly, that the reason for his departure was that conservative insanity was eating him alive. He unloaded on Fox News and its cultural impact in a way he almost never had before in his 16 years behind the Daily desk, saying, "Take it from someone who’s been watching what they do for a blessedly almost over 16 years or so. Their chronically angry war for ideological purity, where every aspect of live becomes a two-dimensional battle for America’s soul — it ages you. Even watching it is killing me."
Stewart then challenged the network to a "lie off." "Your distortions and lack of fact foothold against mine," he said. To prove his point, he ran a Vine clip that listed 50 Fox News lies in a mere six seconds. 50 lies. In six seconds. It was one of Stewart's most remarkable and punishing segments and I have to believe it only could've come from someone who'd finally given up and relinquished whatever last fuck he was holding onto.
Lifestyle writer Mark Manson published a heavily circulated piece on his website back in January called "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck." In it he dissects the ways that being overly concerned about everything does us more harm than good, and how reaching a point of finally letting go altogether or at least being discriminating in what we allow to get under our skin is beneficial to us in the end. "Developing the ability to control and manage the fucks you give is the essence of strength and integrity," Manson writes. "We must craft and hone our lack of fuckery over the course of years and decades. Like a fine wine, our fucks must age into a fine vintage, only uncorked and given on the most special fucking occasions." It's a pretty brilliant piece (certainly more insightful than this one, with the amusing irony being that I don't really give a fuck).
It's the glorious calm, that ability to, as the film I quoted above says, "Let all that does not matter truly slide," that makes us better people. We think more clearly, absorb more and process it better. And the best part is, even if the volume of the noise all around us gets louder and louder, we simply don't care. Because in the end it just does not fucking matter.