Thursday, June 24, 2010

Snap! (You look like an idiot)

Abusive.. Derisive.. Bitter.. Just some of the words I would use to describe my behavior. How could I sink so low? I let myself become everything I hate; the repulsive side of the human condition. The ugly act of preying on the weak, making oneself feel strong. Wanting to make my target submit to my will, to beg for me to cease this tyranny, this destruction, this madness.. Yes, that was me. And yet I could not succeed. My victim did not speak, nor cry, nor beg. Instead, it lay on the ground broken, it's contents spread amongst the glassy debris. It took me a few seconds to realise that I wasn't dealing with a living thing. Instead, I had launched my furious tirade against a jar of mayonnaise; Helman's Mayonnaise. This particular jar had made the fatal mistake of jumping from it's position on an overcrowded fridge shelf after someone had tried to squeeze a carton of orange juice along side it. Shattered on the tiled floor, it's last moments witnessed a grown man pointing, swearing and stamping on the floor with widened eyes and and a reddening face. How attractive.

Anyone who knows me may be surprised to learn that this gentle soul is capable of such moments (although a few will not). From an early age, I've been prone to lashing out ferociously against something that challenges the plans i make, be it big or small. I can recall several occasions where my brother, five years my elder, would imitate me being in a frantic state. Even at the tender age of seven or eight I would wince at the thought of myself in these blind tantrums. This, perhaps, contributed to the fact that such outbursts remained confined to the homestead. In school, in the company of many a child with the same tendencies to lose control, I never even approached the same level of frustration. Probably because I was good at steering clear of trouble and confrontation. Indeed, the older I got, the less any people would witness these episodes. Instead, they became more common when people weren't around. As a result it was inanimate objects that would suffer the consequences of my inability to stay calm when the littlest things went wrong. It's only been in the last year or so that I've began to consider what is really going on during these moments of rage.

What is it that anger seeks? What is it yearning for? Control; order; security. Concepts that have eluded and continue to elude mankind since the advent of civilisation. As a longtime student of history, I've become well acquainted with the fact that human society have always struggled to produce genuine stability and security. It has also become apparent how common it is for human beings to overestimate our capabilities to control the world around us. Take for example, the fact that the world's only hyperpower, the United States, cannot plug a leak at the bottom of the ocean, resulting in the worst environmental catastrophe in living memory. Or closer to home, where the people of Ireland have painfully digested the fact that the Celtic Tiger died a whimpering death after being neglected by those entrusted to protect it. Consider that on one sunny day, in Wordsworth's sacred Lake District, an average, everyday Joe Soap decided that he would end the lives of whoever happened to be around. The erratic nature of unfortunate happenings isn't just felt on a collective level, on the contrary, it is reflected in the individual lives of every man, woman and child on the face of the earth. Phrases like 'Shit Happens' and 'Everybody's fucked up' wouldn't carry any weight if they didn't resonate with our perception of life and the lives around us.

Even with such universal truths abound, there remains a distinct inclination in many people to try and exact a stringent control over their lives. Such behaviour is probably a response to previous psychological trauma, usually in childhood. As children, we may have found ourselves in some sort of turbulent environment, helpless to arrive at a feeling of security. At the most impressionable time of our lives, a mental template of intense fear and fundamental absence of control is formed. Fearing that such suffering might replicate at sometime later on, the mind resolves to operate much more cautiously. Day to day existence becomes an unnecessary negotiation with a threat that is only very minimal. Rather than realising that our previous turmoil can be explained, understood and dealt with, we instead repress the experience and maintain our veneer of content. Our whole approach to life is one of self-defense. Our days become dominated by fear and the rewards of risk remain permanently out of reach. And yet our sense of being in control is fundamentally weak. It is a control full of doubt and underestimation of ourselves. It's raison d'etre is to prevent us from feeling vulnerable. Inevitably, we do eventually find ourselves in situations where we feel helpless. As our self-perception of being in control crumbles around us, the haunting vulnerability of before returns. Surrounded by the feelings we sought so hard to escape, our thoughts and actions lose all rationale. Snap!

But why the jar of mayonnaise? Is one broken glass enough to unearth my feeling of self-control? Not quite. It would be more appropriate to say that such innocuous events only shake the foundations. Common sense would usually dawn on me only seconds after it had seemed the whole world was collapsing. After such episodes, I would usually struggle to understand why I had lost my temper so easily. And why lose my temper at all? It was only when a sibling related his particular thought pattern during his 'snap' moments that I realised what I was actually doing. Flowing through my mind in these few seconds was a mantra of negative thoughts and a slideshow of moments I would rather forget. Those few seconds of frenzy represented a boiling over of bubbling thoughts and memories. Even though the loss of control was minimal and basically irrelevant, the over proportionate reaction signaled to what extent I felt I needed to defend myself. Yet, the only abiding feeling I would end up with is one of sorrow and regret. Extreme anger is not a natural reaction; it is a regressive learned behavior that serves only to shroud, rather than solve, the problems that confront us. Happily, I can say that I have managed to gain a much better understanding of broken glasses, dodgy Internet connections or whatever else upsets the fluidity of my day. A quiet and simple 'Bollocks' seems to suffice.

Despite being an unstable, unreliable and unforgiving emotion, political leaders have often used anger to create an indignation that suits their pursuit of power. Would the Bush administration have been able to invade Iraq without stoking the anger of the American people with constant referrals to 9/11? Would the Nazi's have successfully carried out the partial extermination of the Jewish people without a systematic arousal of flawed antisemitism in the ordinary German? Ethnic 'cleansing' in the former Yugoslavia; the Rwandan Genocide; the cycle of violence in Northern Ireland, all examples of events perpetuated by the fanning of people's anger. To use anger as a political tool is one of the most grotesque and dangerous methods of exercising power. It gives precedence to passion in a world that desperately needs reason.

Thankfully, I never developed the habit of using my short fuse as an instrument of my will. Instead, I've developed a healthy sense of loathing for such behaviour. Now, it's hard not to look on people who get angry easily as somewhat pathetic. Even worse is the cultural glamourisation of anger as something quintessentially masculine and powerful. T-shirts carrying slogans like ' You Don't Want To Piss Me Off!' or 'Don't Fuck With Me!' capture this idiocy fairly well. And remember not to test the patience of those merry folks who 'just don't give a fuck'. We wouldn't want to draw them away from their important work. Or how about the Limp Bizkit song Break Stuff ? A song that warns those who test our patience that we have a chainsaw with which we will 'skin' their 'ass raw'. This macho rubbish becomes all the more laughable when one considers that all this anger is actually an inner child crying out for the love and compassion it never had.

How many times have you felt yourself on thin ice around people with the propensity to get angry? Whether it be parents; teachers; colleagues; friends or family, there is a familiar mode of appeasement we adopt when in the company of these individuals. Though they may not be bad people, their inclination to snap gives them an uncomfortable aura. We seem to grant them a certain privilege. We may be less willing to question or challenge them. Basically, we afford these people too much respect. Like spoiled children, people with anger issues can learn to use the threat of their anger to exercise their will over those who do not want to be on the recieveing end. In effect, they are rewarded for their over-zealous attempt to control because of the fear that they instill in others. In a political comparison, this is the same as submitting to the will of the mindless populism described earlier. If we allow our political and individual lives to be ruled by the fear, arousal and championing of anger, we are a miserable bunch indeed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Maybe I Want To Give A Fuck

''I don't give a fuck''. The mantra of apathy. So proudly proclaimed by so many. Yet, there is an air of desperation to the statement. Something's not right. Why tell me that you don't give a fuck? What am I supposed to take from that? Am I supposed to be impressed? Is it really necessary for you to tell me how much you don't care? Ok, maybe I'm over-reacting. They are only 5 words after all. And i'm sure I've uttered them at many times myself. Yet, there is something I have often noticed in the eyes and voices of the speaker when the famous words are spoken. The eyes seem to widen a bit. Sometimes the speaker uses hand movements, gesturing toward the self, as if to clarify that it is definitely them who does not 'give a fuck'. The slight tremor in the speaker's voice indicate that the words are being carried by a certain amount of emotion. And why keep repeating it? I heard you the first time. Are you even listening to me? Hello?... Of course, it is good advice to command a healthy amount of indifference in life. If we allowed ourselves to be worried about everyone and everything, we would decay all the quicker. However, to overestimate our ability to be unscathed by the trials and tribulations of modern life is probably just as regressive.

I began thinking about this the other day whilst skimming over Facebook. During this all too regular act I took note of a new Facebook group calling itself ‘You cannot fathom the immensity of the fuck I do not give’. Upon further investigation, I was unsurprised to see that the group had received approval from over 500,000 users. Knowing that one should never seek to make too much sense out of Facebook and its’ environs, I just couldn’t leave it lie. Of all the places to profess the degree of one’s ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude, Facebook seems like a strange choice. Like one great big scrabble for attention, Facebook is founded on the premise that people can advertise themselves to others (where else would I publish this blog?). Not lending itself to traditional ‘you can count your true friends on one hand’ philosophy, Facebook perpetuates the growth of an ever elaborate global network where one has access to an ever present audience of ‘Friends’ waiting to respond to whatever it is one wants to say or do. In a nutshell, it is the attention seeker’s dream come through. I recently heard someone expressing the idea that Facebook, Twitter and other internet based networking might serve to eclipse ‘old world’ prejudices such as ultra nationalism and racism, the idea being that hyper communication would render these concepts obsolete and meaningless. Without wanting to discount the notion, the sheer volume of emptiness evident in cyberspace seems to suggest that such an occurrence would be painfully slow. It appears as though we have to first wait for people to express harmony with the universal philosophy of ‘not giving a fuck’ and other important issues.

The reason for so many people being attracted to this sentiment of indifference is probably because they are anything but care-free about how other people see them. As social animals, relation and connection to other people is a fundamental part of our make-up. Individually, our lives are coloured through a quest for companionship. In infancy, we develop intimate relationships with our parents. As children and young adults, one of our primary concerns is the acquisition of friends and acquaintances. We also begin a new search for intimacy with romantic partners. As adults, we often work for ourselves and our families to become members of the wider community. The ability to communicate and form relationships with others, generally speaking, is probably the single most important attribute in people. The most dreaded outcome of our pursuit of friendships and relationships with other people is to be turned down. Even those of us who enjoy time to ourselves cannot claim that we would be content with social exclusion; spending too much time with oneself can be an uncomfortable experience. The fear that people have of social rejection can be very real. It probably emanates from a complex within us that there is something about us that’s repellent and rejectable. These feelings, as discussed in previous entries, are some of the most deeply buried and non-communicated of human experience. Yet, their influence on our personalities is profound. Perhaps it’s the denial and eagerness to escape these thoughts and portray ourselves as anything but worried about our lives that makes the spectre of indifference so appealing. Further still, maybe it's insecurity of this false indifference that forces our darker sides to the surface in strange and destructive ways.

Whatever our own troubles may be, we are also surrounded by the world we find ourselves in, where hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis can quickly erase hundreds of thousands of people out of existence. Aids, cancer and heart disease spread through the human population indiscriminately. If disasters and disease aren’t enough, we also have to contend with man-made problems like war, famine and environmental catastrophe. Just knowing that the human race is capable of inflicting such devastation is a worrisome consideration. There are also the more common threats we face in everyday life, such as the relatively good chance of being killed every time we drive on roads (traffic accidents are the world’s ninth biggest killer). Not only concerned with our own flesh, we also have to worry for those of whom we love and care for in this dangerous existence. There is also the matter of trying to comprehend that our whole existence is akin to the smallest of needles in a gigantic haystack, as the magnitude and complexity of the universe reveals itself. Yes, the context of individual life is alot for us to consider. The words ‘You cannot fathom the immensity of’ as employed by the previously mentioned group on Facebook would probably be better suited to precede ‘things you have to give a fuck about’.

And yet, in the midst of this chaos, we try to eek out some kind of purpose for our existence. The natural way of doing this is to procreate and serve the biological craving for passing on the cells that we have inherited. Parenting a healthy offspring, watching them grow as one once did into the people that they become, is probably one of the greatest sources of fulfilment for the human being. In my experience, I have found those exhibiting the most genuine and palpable ease with the world to be ‘post parenting’ parents of a happy progeny with whom they maintain a warm and reciprocal relationship. Perhaps it is because parental love, the most deeply set and immovable of human affections, has been rewarded with the outcome it so desperately sought. If any objective meaning to life can be extracted, this process certainly springs to mind. The road to such a feeling has been travelled with a careful, thoughtful, diligent and exhausting approach through the obstacles of life, i.e., very much ‘giving a fuck’. This is not an attack or attempted falsification of those who are self assured. To be self assured is to be comfortable with your ability to overcome the problems that you have or will have. It is to quietly, yet evidently, have faith in yourself. It is not to feign invulnerability and deny weakness. It is to acknowledge yourself as a human being, nothing more or less. It is, perhaps, what we should all aspire to be. So why pretend to be anything else? Go ahead. Give a fuck.