Thesis Project / Book Design
Apathetic Activism is my undergraduate senior thesis project. It is inspired by the notion that people often care about things for the wrong reasons and explores why people care about the things they do in an effort to encourage people to rethink these things in order to spend more time and effort to things that are actually important to them and worth caring about.
The project includes zines, stickers, a 120 page book, which contains more than 7,000 words of original writing and over 30 original illustrations. the project also culminated in an exhibition show. The full text and illustrations of the book is below for your reading pleasure.
making an indifference.
1) Lack of feeling or emotion, impassiveness
2) Lack of interest or concern, indifference
From Greek: Apatheia
From Latin: "a" and "pathos" - literally translating to "without suffering"
Apathy really has a bad rap. For starters, it’s, like, a lot easier not to care about something than it is to care about it. Despite this, a recent trend seems to be that people actively seek out things to care about. As if these people don’t have enough going on in their day-to-day lives, they need some outside cause to also weigh on their minds. Life is hard enough. We have enough going on and enough to care about as well as to be stressed about. Why seek even more out?
To see where I’m coming from, let’s start where most things do: the beginning. Or at least as far back as I’m willing to research to call the beginning. We’re going to Ancient Greece– somewhere between 336 and 265 BCE to be exact. Here, we will find a fella named Zeno of Citium. Zeno founded the Stoic School of thought in Athens, which taught that Logos, or Universal Truth, was the best thing in life. Zeno believed that because people long for what they do not have, and fear losing what they do have, they suffer. The easiest way to not suffer, according to Zeno, was to not concern oneself with the frivolity of desires. In other words: to be apathetic. We do not just long for things. Yes, we long for stuff we don’t have and fear losing what we do, but we also long to be liked and fear that we will not be. We long for things to go our way and fear that they will not. We long for this book to be compelling and interesting and look good and not have any spelling errors and not make me look like a dumbass and maybe, hopefully, be
a little bit funny... and fear that it will not. Uh, anyway...
The two minds behind this book, basically.
Zeno of Citium
Matt of St. Petersburg
Similarly, a central belief of Buddhism is that all human suffering is a product of clinging on and that the release from this suffering comes from letting go. Clinging and letting go can mean many different things. For example, clinging can be refusing to change your mind or be open to different beliefs, it can be trying to force people to do what you want them to, it can be practicing that jaw dropping comeback while you’re in the shower to that insult someone said months ago, or it can be forcing yourself to care about something you saw online that you really couldn’t care less about. Letting go is the opposite to all of these: being open to what other people think, letting people do their own thing, ignoring that insult, and not paying attention to (or caring about) what is not truly important to you.
To be clear, this book is not about telling you not to care about anything. If The Big Lebowski taught me anything it’s the importance of a good rug and that Nihilism sucks. Having things that are important to you is essential. Everyone cares about something. Anyone who says they don’t is either lying or they’re lazy. Whether it’s something as simple as having food on the table, something matters to everyone. This book is, however, about helping you set aside what news outlets and the Internet and celebrities
and people outside the grocery store want to tell you that you need to care about by refocusing and reevaluating your personal values to determine what is truly worth caring about in your life. This is why I believe a healthy dose apathy is not only positive but also surprisingly beneficial.
When you hear the word “apathy” you probably think about not doing anything. Even the Merriam Webster definition I cited earlier suggests as much. But as it became increasingly obvious to me as the word count of this book grew, and will likely become obvious to you as you read it, I reallycare about not caring and I think our Greek friend, Zeno, was on to something. Now, I don’t consider myself a philosopher, nor am I trying to
be, but I came up with four central ideas to keep in mind when you are refocusing and reevaluating what is important to you.
1. Knowing about something does not mean you care about it.
2. People only care as much as they think they have to.
3. Not everything matters to every person.
4. And finally, caring doesn't make you a good person.
I think Zeno would be proud. Or perhaps he wouldn't care.
knowing about something does not mean you care about it.
Because of news outlets and social media it is easy to assume that people are upset about, like, everything, like, all the time. Stories are shared in real time and people react just as quickly. This creates the need for more news, which results in reporters latching on to any reaction they can and making a story out of it. This is simply because this practice is more interesting than the opposite. “And No One Cared” isn’t a headline. Suddenly there’s a whole article about one person’s opinion on something that everyone else ignored. Kinda like this book, I guess.
A clear example of why knowing doesn’t equal caring is the situation in Flint, Michigan. The city still doesn’t have clean water years after it was all over the news. The problem didn’t go away so why did the headlines? Basically, because people got bored. As a
whole, humanity doesn’t have that long of an attention span. There are certainly people who still care, namely the people who live in Flint, but not enough people care to make
it a glamorous issue to make national news stories about. What the news creates is reactions, and reactions are not the same as caring. Once the reactions go away, so do the headlines.
Social media is possibly even worse than the news. Social media simultaneously makes it easier to pressure people into thinking they need to care and easier for people to pretend to care. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from 2014 (or whenever) comes to mind. How many of the dumb teenagers who dumped cold water on their heads donated to ALS research? How many of them even knew what ALS is? How many were inspired to look it up? My guess is not enough. To be fair, this campaign was massively successful and ended up raising over 100 million dollars. Still, most of the campaign was reduced down to a hashtag as people just wanted to cash in on the latest internet craze. Gotta get all the likes you can after all.
I don’t think there can be a discussion about caring and social media without talking about Thoughts and Prayers™. Commenting “thoughts and prayers” or “one like equals one prayer” has to be the absolute easiest way to make it look like you’re caring without actually doing anything, mainly because there is no accountability. No one can quantify how much you thought about something. No one is even going to try. You may feel bad
or be shocked by something in the news but posting “my thoughts and prayers are
with ” does not help. If you really care about the news story you’re responding to, what steps have you taken to actually help? If you really care, why are you posting on social media? Why are so many people pretending? The same is true when a celebrity dies. Everyone posts “I will miss them so much.” You didn’t know them. Yeah, you liked their movies or their music or their books but you don’t actually miss them. The comedian Anthony Jeselnik put it perfectly, “All people are doing when they post things like this is saying ‘Don’t forget about me today. Lot’s of crazy distractions in the news right now but don’t forget how sad I am.’”
Pictured: Activism, apparently.
"I wish bad things would stop happening. No
one pays attention to me anymore."
The thing is, just like news headlines, social media trends go away just as soon as they appeared. Unless someone is, like, waybehind on things, no one is still posting Ice Bucket Challenge videos. Even writing about it in 2019 is making me feel outdated. After one thing goes away, something else comes up. This creates the perceived constant need to care and support everything. Sometimes even old things do resurface. People seem to remember that Chick-Fil-A doesn’t like gay people every three months or so. Yet people continue to eat there. Knowing about something does not equal caring, or maybe chicken nuggets are just worth a little bigotry. Who knows?
All of these ideas have to do with “awareness.” Awareness is only good as a first step, if there is something that requires people’s attention that they were truly unaware of. After that, spreading awareness does nothing. If it does anything, it can either confuse people with vague statistics or in the case of a disease, awareness can put people unnecessarily on edge. The fear of cancer, for example, is legitimate, but the risk, as
well as the necessary response, is often well overstated. It either just becomes marketing
or it becomes another way for people to feel like they are helping without actually
you probably have cancer.
This message is brought to you by the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Posting about some awareness month, or wearing the right color ribbon, or not shaving
for a month makes people feel good about themselves. Feeling good about yourself obviously isn’t a bad thing but it also makes them feel like they are helping and accomplishing something. That however is a bad thing because it sets the bar for being
an activist and helping so much lower than it should be. If simply doing something, doing anything, becomes your metric for success, then even failure pushes you forward.
In other words, even if nothing changes, as long as you think you’re making a difference, you’re not going to change anything either.
"Happy Movember, Movembros."
This man has no idea what prostate cancer is.
So why do people pretend? Why are people convincing themselves that they’re helping or making a difference? I believe it’s because of all the pressure there is to care and to help. The news creates the pressure by reporting on things that we feel like we need to care about and then social media allows people to react, which makes people seeing the reactions feel even more like they need to do something.
"I listened to this podcast about the conditions in
Haiti. I had no idea... I feel like I have to help now."
All these people posting don’t really care but have either convinced themselves, or have been convinced, that they need to. But since deep down they don’t care they end up doing the bare minimum. Another explanation is just that people feel the need to look like they care. That’s why it appears on such public places like social media. Either way this is an example of the suffering that I talked about. We are clinging to the belief that we need to be doing something or at least look like we’re doing something. The pressure that comes with that causes the suffering. If we are able to let go of this pressure and the perceived need to look like we are helping, and to only help causes that we value, we will be free from the suffering.
people only care as much as they think they have to.
Conflict can be a driving force sometimes. Things get done when there’s conflict or something to beat. It keeps things interesting. I mean, Star Wars without Darth Vader would be real boring. Although conflict keeps things interesting, life without it is much easier. Yet, by forcing ourselves to care about things or by clinging on, we are creating conflict. That would be like if there was no Darth Vader so the Rebels created their own enemy to fight. There’s no need for it. What I mean by this, is if you don’t care about something to begin with, why make yourself care any more? At the risk of sounding lazy, why do anything you don’t have to? I mean, students in general wouldn’t do any of their assignments if they weren’t required to.
This all also has to do with deciding for yourself what’s worth caring about. Is it worth it
to stay mad at the cashier that wasn’t as fast as you would have wanted, or to stay worked up about a TV show that you only kinda liked getting canceled? These things only serve to distract from things that truly matter. The same is true about small personal conflicts - that coworker or classmate or neighbor you hate. Why waste time
or energy thinking about them? Hating requires caring. If you refocus and find things to
care about that are more worth your time, I bet you’ll find yourself thinking about them
a lot less.
A lot of the time, these feelings can come from comparing yourself to other people and hoping people compare themselves to you. This has to do with our personal values as well because our values determine what metrics we compare ourselves by. It can be about how successful or happy or physically fit or any number of things we are. These values can change, and often do. All this requires caring about what we think of others or caring what they think of us. Here’s a little secret: no one cares about you. Everyone else is also going around thinking about what other people think about them. Or they managed to reach a state where they don’t give a shit. I think that only comes with age. Making yourself think that you need to care is a waste of time. It only creates a cycle that escalates that makes you constantly think you need to care more and more. This only leads to obsession.
Obsession is a bigger problem. Obsession can come from a number of places such as personal values or outside sources placing things on too high of a pedestal. Alicia Keys comes to mind. Miss Keys once sang: “Concrete jungle where dreams are made of. There’s nothin’ you can’t do. Now you’re in New York.” It’s a good song. Catchy. Easy to dance to. Unfortunately, this is the kind of pedestal I mean. I’ve been to New York. There’s, like, a ton of homeless people. There’s a lotthey can’t do. How many of them became homeless because they came to New York thinking they’d make it big simply because they were in New York? How many of them believed this because of Alicia Keys? How many broken dreams is Alicia Keys responsible for?
Being in New York does not inherently mean you will do great things or that you’ve made
it. Sure, many people in New York are incredibly successful. And, sure, maybe the guy in
the bodega on the corner is living his life long dream, but there are successful people, and people living their dreams, everywhere. Spreading the idea that living in one specific place is the pinnacle of human achievement is dangerous. The same is true for anything else that is put on such high a pedestal. Whether it’s a place to live or a company to work for or a salary to achieve, if it is your only goal, you will likely be disappointed when you achieve it. It will not live up to your dreams. It will not be as great as you thought it would be. Or worse, you won’t make it there at all, and you will
still be disappointed. Or worse still, your singular expectations will turn into obsession.
alicia keys must be stopped.
It is important to have goals. If you don’t have any, you’re probably not that interesting of a person. However, it is not smart to only have one goal. I’m not saying not to try or not to dream or anything like that. It’s great to fantasize and to strive for things. I’m not saying not to. What I am saying, is that you can be just as successful in, say, Iowa as you can be in New York. Hear that Alicia Keys? I want a song about Iowa. Or at least a more accurate song about New York. How about: “Concrete jungle where stress is made of. There’s nothin’ you can afford. Now you’re in New Yooooooork.”
Obsession can come in to play elsewhere too. TV and the Internet only allows the best and worst of everything to come through - the best jokes, the most attractive people, the scariest things, the worst threats. It perpetrates the idea that exceptionalism is normal. It’s not. Constantly striving to be the best or at least look the best can drive you crazy. It can create confidence and self esteem issues.
Think of it in terms of competitions.An athlete trains as hard as they can to be the best, or the fastest because there is an official competition.There is a reward or a prize. Having the best resume is important if you’re trying to get a competitive job. A certain dose of obsession can benefit these things. There is an end goal. Trophies are nice. Jobs are nice. When the competition is only in your head and there is literally no reward, however, is when obsession becomes a problem. Waking up hours early in the morning to make sure your hair looks just so for work, or plating up your dinners for one to look like an advertisement. It is perfectly fine to do things for you, but with these there is no end goal. That is when obsession becomes dangerous. Compete against others, not yourself. Do things for yourself but know where to draw the line. It’s about picking your battles, I guess. Specifically, picking battles that align with your values. Some things just aren’t worth it.
The graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister said, “Obsession makes my work better and my life worse.” Not only that, obsession can be alienating to those around you. Is it worth it
to push your friends and loved ones away just to get an A or get your dream job. Again this is where your values come in to play. To some people it might worth it. I’m not saying to not try or that there is anything wrong with wanting to succeed. I just mean that some things are more worth caring about than others. And some people care more about different things than others. That’s how things get done. There is no clear right or wrong. You might disagree and think that all the things I said aren’t worth it are totally worth it. That’s cool. We just have different personal values.
People can also become obsessed that they need attention or that they need to give someone or something attention. This idea that you are responsible for someone or that someone is responsible for you is entitlement. Everyone either wants to be saved by someone or to save someone, or both. Both situations make people feel special. People love to feel special. This relates back to social media again because it can take the form
of people being obsessed to post about or “help” with every new cause or charity they hear about. They love to feel like they’re helping and be the hero.
My new favorite superhero / metaphor: The White Knight
Hashtags and social media challenges also ties into people only caring as much as they think they have to. If there isn’t a call to action, or a reason to, people don’t post. It’s almost like if it’s not popular to talk about people won’t talk about it. Huh. Gotta get those likes after all. But just because there isn’t a hashtag or challenge circulating right now doesn’t mean people can’t still donate to ALS research. Just because there aren’t daily headlines about Flint doesn’t mean you can’t donate to provide aid. People either don’t realize this or don’t care. My money is on the latter.
This doesn’t just apply to hashtags, people shouldn’t need a day as a call to action to do something. Don’t just pick up litter or plant a tree on Earth Day. Don’t just donate to breast cancer research in October. If it is truly important to you, you don’t need a reason to do it. You don’t need to be told to do it. You don’t need to post that you did it. You just do it. Otherwise it is just people doing things because they think they have to or they’re worried they’ll look like a bad person if they don’t. If it is not important to you it will be obvious that you are just going through the motions. If no one is looking, it’s apparently not worth doing something good. As soon as something isn’t trending anymore, you stop talking about it or as soon as the event ends you don’t think about that cause until next year. You don’t “need” to care, so you don’t.
April 23: The day after Earth Day
Overall, most people only care as much as something affects them. And often don’t care until it doesaffect them. This is the most basic example of caring as much as you think you have to. Anyone who deals with a disease or directly benefits from some cause or organization is going to be a much bigger advocate for helping the cause than anyone who is not. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Their values are just different. In fact, it goes along with what I’ve been saying. People are much less likely to do something if they don’t have a reason to and they shouldn’t necessarily be expected to.
If you give money to a homeless person, and no one is
around to see, are you really a good person?
not everything matters
to every person.
I think this idea is another thing that becomes more obvious with age. Probably around the same time you realize that no one thinks about you all that much you start to fully realize that people think about completely different things than you all together. As a twenty-two year old, I’m only guessing of course.
Realizing that not everyone thinks about or cares about the same things allows you to stop projecting on to others, which in turn allows you to stop expecting a lot of things from other people. Also, realizing that neither you nor your problems are special is liberating. Thinking that everyone else needs to care about what you do, or worse assuming people need to care about you personally, only leads to frustration when they
do not. This is yet another form of clinging and frustration is another form of suffering. This projecting onto others can also take the form of trying to pressure people into caring. People who go door-to-door or people who stand outside the door of the grocery store are all but yelling at you that YOU NEED TO CARE. Those damn Girl Scouts.
The Shining doesn't really have to do with apathy
or the Girl Scouts, I just thought this was funny,
The other side of this is assuming that because other people care, you need to as well. Whether its an issue that your friends care about, or an issue that people of your general demographic care about, there can be a perceived pressure to also care. The key is to know that it is only a perceived pressure. There is no real need to care about anything if it does not immediately resonate with you. There is no need to force yourself to care.
A lot of this has to do with fault and responsibility. Many people seem to mix up the two. To clarify real quick: fault is past tense and responsibility is present tense. Things in the past can be other people’s fault but things going on for you in the present are always your responsibility. People seem to think that they both have the same definition as fault. This allows them to project on to others. It is easier to care less about what you actually need to, like yourself, when it is someone else’s problem. This goes back to entitlement. There are many people that say “Oh, its just God’s plan” or fall in to the mindset of “It’s everyone’s fault but mine” when something doesn’t go their way. Keeping
a better sense of fault versus responsibility in mind will allow you to better find your personal values by keeping in mind what you can control and what you cannot.
I think this idea is especially important to keep in mind. People’s minds do not change easily and if something does not matter to them, you are likely not going to be the one to make a difference and change their mind. This is why protests and marches don’t work. Nothing ever happens. People don’t like being shouted at or preached to and the only difference between that lone guy standing on the corner shouting Bible verses and a full on protest is the amount of people. People look less crazy in large groups. But both have about the same amount of influence and impact. Marches are just angry parades. So instead of being angry and shouting at people who will not change their minds and blaming people who aren’t listening, let’s just have parades to celebrate us. We can call them “I’m Not A Bigot” parades. They’ll accomplish just as much and they’ll be a lot more fun.
"Y'know, I was staunchly opposed to your views
before, but now you've convinced me."
Why does one person shouting on the corner look crazy
but a large group of people shouting in the street doesn't?
This idea is not only about your own personal values but also keeping in mind the values of others. They will often differ from your own values and this is okay. As long as you’re not an asshole about your views and they’re not an asshole about theirs, there’s no reason it has to be a problem. It goes back to caring what people think of you. If that is not important to you, you will not be self conscious or insecure when people disagree with you. More importantly, you will not care that people disagree with you in the first place. This is yet another example of letting go. Acknowledging that people do not agree with you and not caring is a huge step in doing what you actually believe in.
caring doesn't make you
a good person.
People spend so much time believing that they’re awesome that they often forget to actually do something that makes them awesome. This goes back to posting on social media about awareness. It’s often all people do and they feel like a saint afterward. Just because something you do, feels like it’s good doesn’t mean it is. As I said before, awareness is nothing. Unfortunately, people seem to feel that not posting something will make them appear out of touch or like they’re a bad person. Just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it is.
Yeah, it’s not great to feel bad, but if you feel bad about not caring then find something to actually care about. That’s much more productive than pretending to care about whatever it is you’re posting about this week. With that in mind, I would even argue that doing good things does not make you a good person if your only goal is to look like a good person. If you only care how you look and don’t care about the people or cause you’re supporting, you’re still just a dick.
Is this activism?
This demonstrates how effective awareness
campaigns are against real issues.
I have never met a person who went to any country in Africa on a service trip that did not come back with a picture of themselves with a group of starving children. Granted, I’ve never been to Africa to help anyone so maybe I don’t have room to talk. I’m not saying that these people who went on these missions or service trips did not do good things. I just want to know what purpose the picture serves. If it is for you to fondly remember all the friends you made and people you helped, that’s great. It’s beautiful
in fact. But, more likely, I think it’s so these people can say, “Look at me. I’m such a
Pics or it didn’t happen should only apply to meeting celebrities not meeting impoverished people. The same idea applies to traveling really anywhere to do service work. If you’re picking the destination just because it’s a place you always wanted to go, and the service work is secondary, just take a vacation. Helping people is good but if it is just an excuse for you to travel, why bother? Just like those who genuinely care do not need an excuse to help people, helping people shouldn’t be an excuse to do other things.
"What is cheese?"
Another thing to keep in mind is that charity or aid can sometimes hurt the very people you’re trying to help. Sending supplies to an impoverished country can hurt local businesses in that country. Similarly, giving a dollar directly to the homeless guy on the corner can hurt the funding that organized homeless shelters receive, which in turn hurts more homeless people. You may feel like a good person in the moment but as a whole, you’re making things worse. If you are inclined to support a cause it is important
to make sure you know whom you are supporting and where the aid is going. Research is important. Not just for the reasons listed above but it is also important to know if the charity or organization you are supporting is on the up and up of they’re kinda sketchy.
That idea brings me to another form of obsession: caring too much about caring. I would absolutely be remiss if I wrote a book about activism and caring too much and did not talk about Kony 2012. In case you don’t know what that is, here’s the basic story: This is the story of some guy from California named Jason Russell, a Ugandan warlord named Joseph Kony who uses child soldiers, and an organization called Invisible Children that created a video for an awareness campaign (oh, good) called Kony 2012. The video gathered over 100 million views in the first six days it was published. People went nuts. The organization raised twenty million dollars and people even changed their social media profile pictures for it. That’s how you know it was a big deal. People even got tattoos about this thing. But the thing is, not a lot of practical stuff got done. Just views and likes and shares. One like equals one saved child after all.
The “practical” side came in with an event called “Cover the Night.” You paid $30 and you receive a kit that has a t-shirt and some other fun things like that and also some posters to go out and vandalize your neighborhood with on April 20th. However around this time, the movement started to attract a lot of criticism, including from the Ugandan prime minister who said they didn’t need a bunch of Americans helping them. And all the criticism was directed at Jason, saying this was just for his ego or out of greed. In addition to criticism, questions of responsibility: such as “How are yougoing to prevent children from being murdered, Jason?” Nonetheless, he was constantly promoting
his cause and doing interviews. It eventually became too much for the guy. He finally snapped. Like really snapped. He ended up outside on the sidewalk in San Diego, completely naked, shouting and clapping at the sky. That kind of snapped. It was rough.
Then, April 20, 2012 rolled on in. Everyone was stoked. Too stoked. People took it as an opportunity to just straight up vandalize stuff. Not just putting up the posters but spray painting and destroying stuff. Despite that, the turn out was abysmal. For example, in Toronto, Canada, 50,000 people registered for the event. Only fifty people actually attended. Nice. And then, it all went away.
I tell you this story because it is another, much more extreme example about how obsession can drive you crazy and also what happens when you think you need to care more than you do. Jason convinced himself he could fix this and convinced thousands of teenagers that they needed to help and look where that got him. It also points out that caring about something does not always mean you’re a good person. I’m not saying Jason Russell is a bad person, I’m sure he was well intentioned, all I’m saying is that the criticism he faced was legitimate and also pointing out that, well, nothing happened. Kony is still out there somewhere.
Let’s talk about another example. I’m a graphic designer and because of that I look at a lot of other design work and follow the work of many designers. Graphic designers and artists are some of the biggest culprits of doing things and posting them because it is trendy. This takes the form of a poster for disaster relief or political buttons. As soon as a designer posts this on their personal website or on social media, it instantly becomes about them. Not the cause, but them. T-shirts and posters is the graphic designer equivalent of thoughts and prayers.
Making a t-shirt or a pin that looks like a turd with a certain president’s hair on it isn’t activism. It’s barely commentary. The only thing it is, is cashing on people’s outrage. Designs like that are cute but that’s about it. Making activist designs certainly does not inherently make you a good person. Another interesting thought about design is that I can’t recall a single piece of design that has ever changed my mind about anything. That makes me think that posters, buttons, t-shirts, websites, or anything else is no better than that guy standing on the corner shouting Bible verses. At least design makes things looks good. Sometimes.
Pictured: activism, apparently.
Just like a designer posting their image on social media for a cause, anyone posting photos of themselves to talk about a charity or a movement, is taking away from the message they’re supposedly trying to spread. It becomes about you, as soon as you put your face on it. To me at least, there is something strange about seeing a photo of someone smiling while holding a protest sign. Like… you’re protesting? Doesn’t that mean you’re unhappy? This is the Internet equivalent to constantly talking about how awesome you are. Whether it’s talking about the charity you support, or the diet you’re on, or how much you work out, or whatever else it is. All this looks like is you have something to prove. Like you’re saying, “See? Look how great I am.”
"I can't get the sign and your outfit in the picture."
"Oh, that's okay, you can leave the sign out."
some final thoughts.
Let’s talk about the grand scheme of things for a little bit. Like the real grand scheme
of things. If you’re anything like me, anytime you go to a planetarium, you leave with a deep feeling of good ol’ existential dread. I know it doesn’t sound great, but if you’ve never felt this, I really recommend it. It really helps put things into perspective. Specifically,
it helps put you and your life into perspective.
You don’t even need a planetarium to do this, but if the astronomer presenting the show
is particularly overzealous, it really helps. All you really need to do is look up at the night sky. All those stars you see are, like, stupid far away. They’re so far away, in fact, that miles and kilometers just don’t cut it to measure the distance. Scientists measure the distance in light years. A light year is six trillion miles. The closest star to us other than the sun is called Alpha Centauri and is 4.2 light years away. You do the math.
That’s only one other star system. If you look up at the sky on a clear night you can see more stars than you can even count. All of those stars are also trillions and trillions of miles apart. And those are just the ones you can see. And what’s beyond those ones we can’t see? Does space go on forever? Or does it just, kinda, stopsomewhere? I’m not sure which possibility is easier to wrap my head around. The point I’m trying to make is we are all incredibly small. Unfathomably small compared to, well, everything. I don’t believe enough people fully realize that. To be clear, I’m not saying all this to say we don’t matter (even though we don’t). All I want is to provide some food for thought to chew on the next time you’re having a hard time forgiving someone, or you’re particularly stressed about something, or just looking for something to think about the next time you’re lying awake and can’t sleep (just like I’m writing this at three o’clock in the morning).
"Oh my god, if I go to the dog veganism march, I won't
have time to go to the public yoga rights protest."
In case I didn’t bring the mood down quite enough, one more thing: we are all going to die. Just sayin’. It could be tomorrow, it could be when you’re 150. Maybe you’re, like, wicked healthy. I don’t know. But I do know that you’re going to die. And when you die, you’re not going to care about that guy that cut you off in traffic. You’re not going to need any of your stuff. No one will remember that time you posted about that charity you donated to. You’re not going to care about how your hair looks. Because you’ll be dead. None of the things you care about today, or will care about tomorrow, or have ever cared about in your life, will matter or affect you. Whether you’ve agreed with anything else in
this book or not, I sincerely hope that you can concede that I’m right about this one thing.
Gotta love a good, healthy dose of existential dread.
Well, this guy is still upset, I guess.
Now that I’ve gotten all that brooding and angst out of my system, let’s wrap things up, shall we? It is important to me to make one thing clear: I am not telling anyone to stop caring about things they genuinely care about. All I’m saying is to not waste time on things that don’t matter to you. And more importantly, I’m saying to do only feel compelled to do what you believe in. You shouldn’t have to convince yourself you care and you especially shouldn’t have to convince anyone else you care. The truth is, if you really care everyone around you should already know. It’s the same reason Bill Gates wears a ten dollar watch - he doesn’t need to prove he’s rich.
Do things for you. Do them because they make you feel good. Do them because you wake up in the morning and can’t stop thinking about it. Don’t do it just because you see other people doing or because you want other people to see you doing it. If you hear about something in the news or on social media and think “oh no” or “that sucks” and then don’t think about it again, you probably don’t care that much. That’s okay. The thing is, there are always going to be things that aren’t okay. And that’s okay too. That might sound lazy, but really it is no one person’s responsibility to fix everything.
There are always going to be problems. Some that a lot of people care about and some that not very many people care about. Some that get fixed and some that don’t. The trick is to find the problems that you want to fix or that you enjoy fixing. Those are the problems that will make you feel fulfilled after you work on them. Be the change that you want to see in the world, not the change that other people want to see. It doesn’t even have to be something specific. A general compelling to donate your time or money or services to whatever cause or whichever person needs it at that moment is of course great as well as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons.
However, to be fair, if you don’t do anything, you probably aren’t that great of a person either. That’s why Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame comes under so much criticism. I don’t think Mr. Bezos really cares what people think about him. At least he’s doing things him for him and not doing what he doesn’t care about, I guess. That’s cool and all but if you make twenty-five dollars an hour and donate forty dollars a year, you’re donating more of your salary than Jeff Bezos does. Just sayin’. Not that he has to prove anything to anyone but, like, c’mon Jeff.
Jeff Bezos, the Amazon dragon.
As I’ve mentioned multiple times, it’s all about personal values. While values will differ from person to person, (Jeff Bezos has the same values as a dragon hoarding his treasure, for example), there are still rules that I think determine good and bad values across all people. Good values are reality based, socially constructive, and most importantly, controllable. Bad values on the other hand are based in superstition or perception instead of reality, are not socially constructive and are not controllable. As I’ve mentioned, an example of a bad value is wishing to be perceived as a good person. This is not controllable. You can do things that many people will perceive as good, but you cannot control how any given individual will perceive you.
These bad values lead to obsession. Wanting people to look up to you, wanting people to like you, or even expecting to work for a certain company. You can take measures to work for these things but at a certain point it is no longer up to you. This can also lead to confusing things that are worthwhile such as your loved ones, and things that are superficial, such as how many likes you get.
"I really hate this guy... but if I don't like his post, he won't like mine."
Caring too much about how you look can make the superficial things seem important and the important things seem superficial. The only person you can control is yourself, which is why I have stressed only doing things for yourself. It is not selfish to only pay attention to causes that you care about. Other people may view you as selfish for that but you can’t control what they think anyway so, like, who cares?
Another important thing to keep in mind is that values change. Do you still care about the things you did when you were thirteen? I doubt it. At least, I hope not. Thirteen year olds care about if their friends sit with them at lunch or if people think their shoes look cool. At least I think so. I’ve worked hard to block what it’s like to be a thirteen year old from my brain. Regardless, these are bad values because they’re based on outside parties. Bad values can change but so can good values. Just because something was important to you before does not mean it always has to be. As long as your values are based in reality, are controllable, and ultimately constructive, you’ll be fine. Even as far as activism goes, expecting to single handedly solve a problem is unrealistic and therefore a bad value. However, you can control how much you contribute or how much you donate. A healthy dose of realism is important to get things done. Have goals but not obsessions.
I sure hope my friends sit with me.
It is important to care about something, just not about everything. It is important to care, just not too much. This can certainly be difficult. Caring is contagious. It is easy
to get caught up in hype or hysteria. Emotions can make us do some crazy shit. Once your emotions subside though it is important to take stock of your values. Only personal values and goals actually motivate people to change. A little correctly aimed apathy
can make the important things much clearer. If more people were to think about what
is really worth caring about, there would be a lot less suffering, and I honestly think a
lot more would actually get done. And best of all it would get done for the right reasons. Together, we can make an indifference. I’m an apathetic activist and I hope that you will be too.
Well, I don’t hope that much. you do you.