I’ve been frustrated with a lot of things lately, but they all boil down to carelessness.
Carelessness is a big umbrella. You can fit greed, fear, stupidity, childishness, spite, envy and all kinds of base behavior and unsavory emotion under it. The root of carelessness is a significant lack of attention to, or care for, better behavior. Fuck it. Why bother?
We’re careless with each other, careless with our institutions and careless with the planet. I’d argue that for most people there’s little to no malignant intention behind that carelessness, that it’s born out of the defenses we erect against pain and real connection. For some, it’s absolutely intentional. See: billionaires, despots, narcissists big and small.
We talk in social justice circles about how intentions don’t matter. The effect of our actions is branded as harm, and harm can be done despite our best intentions. This is true. I agree wholeheartedly that “oh, I didn’t mean to offend you,” isn’t the alpha and omega of an apology by any means. We have impact, and we need to address it. And, forgiveness cannot ever be expected or demanded from another person.
I do think intentions matter in two contexts. First, in self-analysis, because they can signal where we’re at in our thinking or in our current level of emotional maturity. Further, they indicate if these are aligned, or if we’re performing our values without embracing them. My own intentions are worth analyzing and understanding so I can gauge if I’m acting out of simple ignorance, or defensiveness, or fear. If I’m not exercising conscious control over my emotional state, I need to know when I’m not so I can practice it in the future.
Second, I have to develop a real spectrum of harm done, otherwise I will lose my fucking mind in this culture. Full stop.
I can’t process a forgetful moment of incorrect pronouns at the same threat level as someone who gets in my face on the street. I can’t classify a thoughtless or out-of-context tweet alongside a clearly voiced slur or pointed intimidation. I can’t do six degrees of guilt association until everyone looks like an enemy. If I live like this, I won’t have any adrenals left. Total burnout city.
In this context, a question about my identity clearly asked out of ignorance or real curiosity can’t land in my psyche with the same malignancy as overt cruelty. Nor can I apply a backlog of said cruelty in my response. It is unwarranted, and to pass that cruelty along to someone else is irresponsible.
I need this distinction so I can root myself, and so I can identify real threats – because they sure as hell do exist. I am not some bubbly, utopia-minded dingbat over here. My co-workers who just don’t get certain things about me aren’t a threat. They’re an annoyance. I need to understand this carelessness for what it is, and not respond with a meat cleaver when a fly-swatter will do, because otherwise this shit just adds up to unbearable levels. There are real people in the world who do harm based on perceived difference or for profit, and they’re worth identifying and treating as the fuckers they are. And then, there’s everyone else.
The adage “when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail” applies directly to how I’ve lived most of my life. That’s its own form of carelessness. I’ve burned many bridges coming out of the gate swinging when an invitation to dialogue – or a calm “I don’t have it in me to talk about this now” – would’ve done fine.
I’m not preaching respectability or perfection here. Sometimes we don’t act as our best selves. It happens, and if we’re going to make room for other people’s imperfections, we can apply that mercy to ourselves. We have to learn from those moments, though. I lacked the emotional maturity to understand that everyone brings a suitcase of shit to every interaction, and that not every interaction requires a reckoning. Some most definitely do, and I have to save my self-righteous energy for when it counts.
We’re getting to a place in art, critique and online interaction where most people categorically refuse to do this work. This is lazy, self-centered, careless thinking and behavior.
With notable exceptions that we should all learn to identify – racism, stereotyping, sexism, homophobia and all forms of bigotry, willful ignorance and hate delivered for kicks, or cash – art, and the people who create that art, are not responsible for your feelings about it.
I’ve watched films, read books and listened to music that have devastated me. Absolutely hollowed out my heart and soul in hard and necessary and gruesome ways. I’ve also experienced art that’s offended me on a deep, personal level. I know gratuity and bullshit when I feel it, instinctively and totally, and even then I try to take a beat to see if it’s doing anything else alongside its need to shock or repulse. If it’s more sinister, I investigate.
I’ve had to develop this skill over my lifetime. I call it resilience.
I can’t take every piece of art as something that’s out to get me. Some shit is just bad. Some shit isn’t for me. Some shit absolutely is because it clearly touched a nerve, and created resonance and a well of discomfort I have to plumb for some form of truth.
This is not fodder for the “If you don’t like it don’t say anything” crowd. Critical thought and informed critique is vital. Learn and flex those skills, and don’t whine about reasoned responses to your beloved tentpoles.
Art’s designed to evoke and, in subtler cases, invoke. Art can deliver personal pain, trauma, truth and hurt. It can highlight social inequity, systemic injustice, individual loneliness and, yes, despair. It can instruct, illustrate and remind us of what we’d like to forget. About ourselves, about the world we’ve built, about the harms we do to each other. It can shock, entertain, entice, repulse and challenge in all sorts of ways, and I’m not just talking about THE DARKNESS, here.
I cannot dismantle the purity-test, good-vibes bullshit of the careless mob. All I can do add my voice and reinforce a real truth: we need to stop fetishizing uncomplicated media of our youth, examine our need for comfort in art, and push ourselves to engage our brains and hearts.
And I’ll call the frothing, mindless behavior as I see it, from anyone who exhibits it: childish. Irresponsible. Immature. Careless.
Your keyboard may seem like a justified weapon, and you may feel danger in everything. You have to realize that the more you shunt your emotional and psychological weight onto the art you consume, and the people making it, the less likely you are to be able to function in an increasingly hostile, cruel and careless world. We have to integrate our discomfort and build strength in the face of the howling void. Otherwise, what’s the point?
I can’t change anything you do, and I don’t want to. I don’t want the responsibility, nor do I have the confidence that I ever can or should. I do invite you to get curious about how and why you react to what you read and watch. Is there something going on that’s worth dismantling? Or are you left feeling defensive, ragged or breathless for some other reason?
Please, do this for your own health and happiness. We are killing each other and ourselves with our careless rage.