It seems like it’s official. There’s a name for the recent trend of self-help books that tell you there isn’t any help and that we’re all pretty much fucked. It’s comforting to know that writers like myself are tapping into a common vein, like junkies passing the same conceptual needle back and forth. You can read more about this anti-self-help movement at the link provided at the end of the article. However, I found two interesting things about this article that I’d like to share.
First of all, this article rightly picks up on the existential blood that pumps through the veins of this literature trend. This anti-self-help movement is honest in a way that traditional self-help books fail to be. Now, traditionally, you’d buy a self-help book in order to get a boost of motivation, get information on how to achieve something like more self esteem or earning more money or screwing more people (in the bodily fluids sense or not), or something similar. These books have always aimed to give people the sense of having power; having control; and, possibly above all, having purpose. This may have worked back in more innocent times but these are not those times. Everything in this era reeks of decay. Our societal systems are collapsing, our government is deteriorating, and my generation, the much maligned Millenials Generation, will have a lower standard of living than our parents. One of the biggest things we all take from this and internalize is that there is no inherent order or meaning to any of this. It’s just a big shit cyclone and we’re caught in the middle of it. We certainly don’t have any meaning or purpose we can turn to. Especially when so many of us are fucked when it comes to employment or finding an outlet for our natural talents that will also be accepted and valued by the marketplace. Essentially, if you can do something but the market place has no use for it, it may as well not exist and you may as well not exist. So the marketplace, which a growing number of young people already don’t have faith in, also has no faith in us, a cycle of fictitious entities in a race to devalue one another. This also speaks to the other aspect of why traditional self-help books are not sufficient.
There is a myth that we’ve been sold. That myth is progress. You might say, “But look at all the progress we’ve made! iPhone six (or is it seven?), bitch! Another Alien movie! Look at these fucking sequels and new products! Look at them!” To this I say you’re an idiot. But that’s nothing new. In reality, progress is slow and prone to reversal. It is not a given, as so many would like to think. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to think that. It does help to stave off the horrible encroaching intimation that this is all for nothing but that’s all an unswerving faith in progress is good for. But back here in reality, there is no such thing as progress. There’s just the same shit with a different coating. It’s like Taco Bell. Same salty yet flavorless mix of indistinguishable crap, just in a different shell. Progress assumes an endpoint. It assumes there is something to work towards. I invite anyone to tell me what that is. There isn’t one. What there is is the daily workings of life, of getting up, doing stuff, then going back to bed until you die. That’s not a bad thing. It’s life and I’ll be damned if I’d trade it for the alternative. However, we can’t keep lying to ourselves that there’s this magical promise land awaiting us in the future. It’s all we can do to not totally fuck up everything immediately around us. And as long as we’re on the topic of fucking shit up, I want to move on to the second thing that caught my eye in this article.
The author seems to have a problem with the levels of vulgarity that this genre or movement employs. Kind of fucked up, right. Why do I consider this fucked up? Shouldn’t I aim to say less horrible shit? Well, here’s the thing, ya bastards, these are words. They are signifiers. Their entire existence is dedicated to referring to things and sharing concepts and meaning. They are employed by people who want to get certain ideas into the bone balloons (heads) of others. The thing to remember here is that words themselves have no intrinsic power or meaning. They are merely an amalgamation of symbols or sounds. All meaning is ascribed to them by intent and context. This is why you can go up to someone you’ve known for a long time and say, “How are you you son of a bitch?” and be completely friendly. The use of this, “vulgarity,” is a way to break down distinctions and boundaries and it works in print too. When I curse you know I’m not holding back and that I’m not hiding anything. Accordingly, you should feel like it’s alright to be yourself. You don’t need to feel inadequate or less than me or anyone else, a problem that I encounter in many conventional self-help books. These writers, by setting themselves up as gurus, by presenting themselves as people who have made sense of and more or less mastered life’s difficulties, make themselves inaccessible. Cursing and using profanity puts us all at the same level, it eliminates distinctions, it makes it easier to empathize. And, considering the amount of shit we all have to deal with in this life, we could all use a bit of empathy, which brings me to another reason why a couple of well placed expletives are just what we need to get to a more realistic understanding of our place in the world and how to cope with it.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to recognize that the world is a brutal, cruel, and unfair place. We’ve all been under life’s boot heel at some point. We’ve been hurt, we’ve watched powerlessly as those we cared about were hurt or taken from us, and we’ve known what it’s like to look at the world and realize how little impact and control we have over anything. In such a world, some foul language is the least of our worries. Think about it. This is a world where there are millions of women and girls who are kidnapped or tricked with promises of a better life then sold on the human trafficking market. And people are offended by the word, “fuck?” Seriously, let’s get our priorities straight. There is an incredible amount of suffering and what could be called evil in this world. If anyone should be offended by anything, it’s the amount of injustice and wanton cruelty that is happening every day all over the world. After we internalize these facts, who gives a cabbage patch fuck about some, “bad words?” Not only are they a non-issue but sometimes we need strong, direct language because the unforgiving nature of existence necessitates it. Sometimes we need a punch to the cortex and one of the fastest ways to do that is with curse words. We need to feel something and, since the anti-self-help movement is primarily in the business of realistic advice, a lot of what we need to feel and get comfortable with is the harsh nature of the world in which we live.
There’s no one coming to save us and we’re all on the same sinking ship. But, there’s the opportunity to go down with grace and style, like a million dollar escort. That’s what I think the anti-self-help movement is best at. It doesn’t make false claims that you too can be on top, and make a million dollars, and look like a million dollars, and be liked by everyone. Nope. It just ain’t so. And the anti-self-help movement is here to help you recognize this fact and show you that you never needed all this shit in the first place. All you ever needed was to live a simple, happy life as yourself, hopefully with some people you care about and who care about you by your side. It may not be glamorous or perfect but it’s life and that can carry its own reward.