You Are Unimportant, and That’s a Good Thing

We like to believe we’re the heroes of our own stories. We’re the protagonist, we have control, and we matter. And to an extent, that’s true. Our actions have meaning, we affect the people around us, and we are affected by them.

However, we only have so much impact, and for most of us, the world is largely indifferent to our actions. Some may find this depressing or that because they can’t control certain outcomes that things are hopeless. For me, I take comfort in my relative level of unimportance because it means I don’t have to stress out about things I can’t control.

I thought about this while reading Will Leitch’s great article about how we’ve forgotten how to fear, particularly with regards to nuclear war. My counter to this would be two-fold.

First, we haven’t forgotten HOW to fear as much as there’s now so many different things to fear. In 1983 when Testament was released, you didn’t have to worry about climate change, ISIS, mass shootings or any other variety of onslaught. It was like having only 3 TV channels and you watched the Nuclear Annihilation channel because that’s what was on. Now you have way more things to be terrified of, so nuclear war (which could certainly happen! I’m not dismissing it!) has to vie for attention among all the other things scaring us.

My second, and larger point, is that you just have to accept that in the event of nuclear war you will suffer and die and there’s nothing you can do about it. I was terrified of pandemics, but once I accepted that in the event of a pandemic I would simply be dead, I was able to watch Contagion relatively stress-free.

Stressing about things we can’t control doesn’t benefit anyone, and while fear can be useful, it can also be debilitating and cause us to make bad decisions (it’s also worth noting that in the midst of the Cold War, we ended up going to war in Vietnam and electing such luminaries as Nixon, so it’s not like knowing HOW to fear led us to better outcomes).

Do I think Trump will roast all of us in a nuclear holocaust? It’s possible, and it would be a fitting end to America—a leader elected on racism and greed (a reflection on our country’s original sin of slavery) obliterated by nuclear weapons (our final sin). But what can you do about it? Is it worth being anymore terrified than when the Bush administration had those idiotic color-coded terror threat levels?

These days, I find my fears tend to be more about what could happen to my loved ones or about my health or my career. My nightmares are, for the most part, comically mundane (I’ve had multiple dreams about the Falcons losing football games). That’s not to say that things aren’t bad or that they couldn’t get worse. It’s to say that unproductive fear is pointless, and that putting up signs for fallout shelters solves nothing.

Friday, December 29th, 2017 politics

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