Everything is trash is part of a book title I saw today, which is not surprising, because at least once a day there is a headline with something similar.
Some line telling me how everything is trash, how everything is terrible, how everything is awful, how everyone is awful, how the world is a dumpster fire and America is a particularly smelly part of the dumpster fire and there’s nothing anyone can do and no matter how hard we try we probably can’t change it but we’re so noble we’re going to keep trying.
Perhaps there is something to see in these things but when I step back a bit and stop trying to be a good person who cares, I recognize the smell: it smells like bullshit.
Everything is not trash. The world is not on fire. In fact, by and large, for most people, things are better than they have been in all of human history.
Quit your knee-jerk arguing and go look up the statistics yourself, you lazy, arrogant bastard.
Of course we’re arguing over shit which seems obvious now.
You know why we’re arguing over this shit now?
Because up till almost now — up until not very long ago — we were too busy fighting to survive to argue about anything, really.
Today I walked past a store that is some sort of spa and haircut place for toddlers. Let me reiterate, in case you weren’t paying attention: we live in a world where there are specialty shops for toddlers so they can have a fun time getting a haircut.
Yes, we also live in a world in which there is racism, human trafficking, and murder, abuse, and unkindness. BUT HEY, did you know? The world — as long as humans have been around and there have been enough of us to interact with each other — has contained these elements. Racism, sexism, and all the -isms. Violence in every version. Abuse in every form. All of it has existed, as long as humans have existed.
Know what didn’t exist, up till now?
Specialty spa and haircut shops for toddlers. Those didn’t exist until a minute ago.
Also, most ice cream flavors.
A lot of the good stuff is new. But all the bad stuff has been around for a long, long time: war, hunger, slavery, abuse. Some of it even existed before humans existed.
Did you think we were the species which invented violence? God, you really are a lazy, arrogant bastard. Violence was around before humans were around. Violence will be around when humans are no longer around.
But it’s only humans who have a problem with violence.
Read that line again, without your weird expectations about what you think I mean by it, and understand the simple words, the mind-blowing concept: violence has been part of life for a long, long time. But it’s only humans who have a problem with violence.
Only humans think violence isn’t natural, normal, inherent, necessary, the way things should be.
Take deer, for example. Deer have been preyed upon, violently murdered and eaten by any number of predators. Do they seem to mind? Certainly the ones who are murdered might prefer it to be otherwise. But deer — as a species — have made no statement about violence. And since silence is complicity, we can only assume that deer are not only okay with the violence but are somehow advocating for it.
Humans don’t like violence. And humans commit a lot of violence. So we have conflict. External conflict, between separate individual members of our species, and internal conflict, between our own warring need for survival — which often necessitates violence, or seems to — and our condemnation of violence.
How many other species feel conflicted about violence?
None, that’s how many.
We are the only evolutionary force fighting to reduce violence. We are the only species able to choose ideals over instincts. Are we slow to do this? Maybe; but who is setting the timeline here? Slow compared to what other species or force?
Do we often disagree — as individuals — on what these ideals are? Sure. But as a species, we all seem to agree that we should move toward ideals.
What if we quit focusing on the details of how there is friction and focused on the big-picture of what is happening, collectively, with humans?
Some of us are better at long-term thinking than others. Right now, all of you involved in thinking about how to make the world better are nodding smugly. You think I’m talking about you. No. I’m not. If you are stressed about, right now, about how to make the world better when everything is trash, then you are one of the most short-sighted individuals on the planet. Because you are not able to see the scope of progress. You are not able to see that the struggle itself — for whatever constitutes your idea of justice — is a triumph.
What a massive, collective step forward: to struggle for justice rather than survival.
Do you realize that’s what we’re doing? Can you look back — with a little bit of long-term thinking — and see that the capacity to work toward ideals is a relatively new development in human history? And, like anyone learning a brand-new skill, we’re not super good at it yet. Yet, in all our awkwardness, stumbling, and still-instinctive turning toward violence, look at what we’ve accomplished.
Here are a few examples:
Today, as a woman in America, I went places by myself while wearing pants. I drank beer with my lunch, which I ate alone. I worked on my computer to make a decent living without selling my body or any parts of myself that I don’t want to trade for money.
Today I sat in a cafe and listened as a Black man explained several complex political and economic concepts to a white woman. They sat behind me. They were both young. Dressed casually. They finished the discussion and walked off together, talking about going to Nordstrom’s.
Today my husband took our four children to a skate park, where our two girls and our two boys will all skate and play and talk and hang out. My husband will talk and joke with all of them. He will listen to them. He will care about their feelings, and he will help them and encourage them all. The girls will skate too, because they won’t be wearing petticoats and long skirts and layers of modesty clothing designed to make them dependent and doll-like.
A mere 70 years ago — less than a century! — all these scenarios would have been not just impossible, but unthinkable.
Everything is not trash. If you are one of the voices of self-pity telling me about how everything is trash, I have a single, sincere favor to ask you: shut the fuck up.
You are drowning out the ability to have a little teeny slice of perspective with your whining.
Shut the fuck up and take a look around you and see more than the nose on your face and the last ten years.
Good god, of course things can be better. What do you think we are doing? What do you think we’ve been doing? Why do you think we have the luxury of looking at all this shit we’ve accepted as okay for so long?
Of course racism is terrible! Of course sexism is awful! Of course people are still stupid sometimes! Of course we’re short-sighted and survival-oriented! Of course politics is a veritable shit show!
Know what politics used to be? A literal bloodbath. Believe it or not, shit show is a step up from bloodbath. Would you rather deal with biased media or with a literal assassin?
Of course we have work to do! We’ve actually never stopped doing the work. We worked on survival of species for quite a long time. Now we have different work to do. And the beautiful, amazing, glorious, unavoidable fact is this: we are doing it. We are doing the work. We are evolving. We are learning. We are changing. We are choosing. We are growing. We are beautiful.
And we will not stop being beautiful, and we will not stop getting better. It’s what we do. It’s our place in this collective reality we inhabit. It’s our unique capability as a species: not adaptation, but vision. We see not what is, but what can be. Then we force ourselves into difficult, conflict-riddled situations to evolve — to change ourselves and our societies — into what they must become to bring that vision to reality.
That’s what we’re doing, and we’ll keep doing it.
Everything is not trash. Everything is better than it’s ever been, literally, in all of human history. If you want to complain, make noise, and fight to change the corner of reality that seems most unjust and undeveloped to you, great. Do it.
Do it with perspective.
Because perspective will let you lay down the burden of resentment and guilt, and step forward with wisdom and power. Perspective will allow you to see the glorious work of your ancestry stretching out on one side, and the infinite work of your potential stretching out on the other. See first what has been; look hard and long. See all of it: how far we’ve come, how much we’ve changed, how hard we’ve worked. Acknowledge what we’ve accomplished as a species, in a few millennia. Of course we have a long way to go; we’re just getting started.