Humanity is primarily defined by its inability to grasp the obvious. So, let me ask you this:
What is the most obviously wrong shit that people believe on a daily basis that — wait for it — you also believe?
I’m talking about something that you know on an intellectual level is wrong, but five minutes after being reminded of it, you forget again. If you can’t think of one, well, I bet I can. And it comes back to bite you in the proverbial ass way more often than you think …
#5. We Are Secretly Sure Everyone Feels The Same Pleasure And Pain
When you’re a toddler, you assume everyone and everything in your world is identical to you. That’s why you used to think your stuffed animals got lonely if you didn’t play with them and that your parents would love your cartoons if they would just give them a chance. It’s a normal phase of a kid’s development and as this much smarter guy points out, we never really grow out of it.
I mean, you probably remember being a teenager and hearing an amazing new song that made you want to punch-dance through a brick wall … and then you played it for a couple friends and they just got that gross look on their faces. You know, the look of nervously pretending to enjoy something loathsome? What follows is the most awkward three minutes of your life, during which you find yourself getting steadily angrier (“Why are they pretending not to like it?”). But eventually, you grow up and realize that not everybody likes the same things.
Years later, you get the flu but power through work anyway, rather than miss time. Then, a co-worker catches it and takes three sick days. You roll your eyes and call him a pussy, automatically assuming that the two of you were feeling exactly the same symptoms, but that one of you was tougher.
The obvious thing you’ll be missing is that suffering is just as subjective as music. Hell, science even says that redheads tend to feel more pain than everyone else, due to a genetic quirk. It appears that it’s the same for women, due to how pain signals are relayed to the female brain. Meanwhile, people from colder parts of the world literally stop feeling the cold the way the rest of us do. Some people almost never feel fear — not due to courage, but due to a failure of certain connections in the brain (they’re called psychopaths). All of the sensations that motivate us to pursue some actions and avoid others actually feel completely different from person to person.
She can snow angel for hours on end, but needs an ER trip
and three months of rehab after a snowball fight.
You’ll shrug and say, “Of course, everyone knows that, you turdthinker,” but five minutes after reading this article, you’ll act in a way that proves you don’t. I’ve had fit friends get frustrated with me when I say I’ve never felt the “runner’s high” euphoria that comes with hard exercise. They say it’s because I’m not pushing myself hard enough, while science says some people are just physically incapable of feeling it. So, are my friends fit because they’re more dedicated than I am, or do they just enjoy the “high” of exercise? They clearly want the former to be true. My thin friends don’t like to admit that there’s a hormone that makes you hungry and that some people just have more of it.
That’s because once you accept the idea that it truly would feel completely different to live inside another person’s body, everything changes. After all, at what point can you safely blame someone for, well, anything?
#4. We Don’t See The Battle Inside
I know what you’re saying. I always know. “Oh, so you’re one of those buttholes who say nothing is anybody’s fault, because those poor souls are helpless to resist their impulses? So, when somebody tortures a child to death, we’re supposed to give him a hug and say he couldn’t help it? Is that it, butthole? You are the hole of a butt.”
No! You totally are defined by how good of a job you do fighting your destructive urges and overcoming pain. Maturation is all about getting better at it; success is all about mastering it. Beating back the urge to procrastinate, to quit, to be lazy … that’s how you reach the top, baby! Buy my book!
You know that guy at the office who’s always angry? He blew up last month because somebody lost an invoice. Last Christmas, he lost his shit because he thought somebody stole his lunch out of the fridge. You see him throw his tantrums and marvel at how immature he is. After all, you get angry, too, but you control it! Hell, you’ve had people steal your lunch tons of times, and you’ve never kicked a trashcan so hard that it left a dent and made the secretary cry.
Sure, you’ve fantasized about shitting in the culprit’s yogurt and blaming
it on the intern, but you’ve never actually done it.
However, here’s the thing: From your end, he’s “always” angry. From his end, he’s had two blowups spread across several months and, in between those incidents, he successfully resisted the urge to explode 162 times. His anger urges come more often than yours, and he feels them more strongly. For him, every “normal” day is the result of a hard-won battle … but, you only see when he loses. He sees himself as the hero of his own life, battered and bruised by his personal demons. You see him as a ridiculous manchild who loves to hear himself yell. You hate his unstable, raging ass.
Or, you see the way your depressed friend gets home from work and immediately crashes on the sofa, refusing to go out or do anything fun. You hate the way she just … gives up and refuses to even talk about it. Invisible to you is the brutal effort she exerted just to make it through work. So, you get annoyed. Or, you find your partner cheating on you. You didn’t see all of the dozens of times he had the urge and resisted. You only see the moment he finally gave in. And you want to fucking kill him for it.
Basically half of all country music careers are started this way.
And because you only showed up in the aftermath of these battles, they consider your complaints to be the equivalent of some bureaucrats browbeating Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character after the events of Predator. “Why did you blow up a whole jungle, asshole? Your whole crew is dead, and it’s your fault! No, I don’t want to hear your excuses! Whose arm is this?”
“Fuck the chopper, your ass is getting to the unemployment line!”
#3. … But We’ll Usually Forgive Ourselves For The Same Failure
Here’s a question I bet you’ve never stopped to ask: Why is it an insult to accuse cops of loving doughnuts? Or to joke about how black people love fried chicken or watermelon?
And just to be clear, those are insults (in the U.S., at least). If a cop pulls you over and you tell him, “Hey, you know the doughnut shop closes at 8 p.m., you better hurry,” you know you’re pissing him off. If a white dude walks up to a group of black people standing on a street corner and says, “What, did somebody drop a bucket of fried chicken?” he knows he’s trying to start a fight.
One that’ll end with him complaining online that nobody but him has a sense of humor anymore.
But, why is it an insult? It’s not like the behavior itself is shameful — right now, there’s some white dude sitting in a Popeyes Chicken restaurant snickering to his friends because a group of black guys walked in. “Ha, how did I know they’d be here! I bet they’d riot if this place closed down!” — literally mocking their love of fried chicken through a mouthful of fried chicken. Well, what you’re seeing is a ritual we all go through in order to reassure ourselves. There are two steps to it:
For the first, imagine a group of friends sitting around and sharing embarrassing stories. As many of you know, during filming of the TV show Nashville, I was accidentally captured in the background of a shot urinating into a fountain. So, I will tell that story among friends, because I know someone else will immediately try to top it (“One time,” says John, “I was pissing in the bathroom during a White House tour, and the president walked in and I accidentally turned around and pissed on him! I think some of it got in his mouth!”). The goal is to reassure each other that our lives are screwed up in exactly the same way.
“For the record, John totally stole that story from me.”
But, then comes the second part of the ritual, in which we’ll laugh at somebody else’s screw-ups in a completely unforgiving and mean-spirited way, purely to reassure ourselves that their failures aren’t like ours. “My family went to India a couple of years ago. All of the streets smell like piss! Just a disgusting people — they’re like animals!”
This is why I spent my first couple of decades of life making gay jokes with my small-town peers. For a bunch of guys scared of what their hormones were doing to them (“they can never know I jerked off to a Sports Illustrated article about beach volleyball!”), it was very reassuring to sit around and say, “Man, can you imagine getting turned on by dude butt?” It’s the same reason we would laugh at a friend’s messy sex stories (“So, then I wake up and roll over — I’m like, I don’t even know this chick! She looked like fucking Richard Belzer!”) and then immediately talk about what worthless sluts those cheerleaders are. The message? Our uncontrollable impulses are lighthearted fun, theirs are a sign of weakness and degeneracy.
“Can you believe Richard Belzer just takes these pics that guys like us
could easily masturbate to? God, what a Hollywood closet case.”
Thus, the “fried chicken” jokes. The implication is that, where my consumption of fried chicken is just a normal dude eating an incredibly popular American dish, their consumption is due to a shameful cultural failure to control their urges. It turns them into cartoonish gluttons, with no more self-control than dogs. It’s the same reason my high school gay jokes usually implied that homosexuals are ravenous rapists who can’t control their depravity (“When you’re in the locker room with Kevin, don’t bend over for the soap!”).
But, in addition to causing us to be dicks to other people, this double standard also means …
#2. You’re Constantly Getting Blindsided By Your Own Weaknesses
There’s this thing everybody does the first time they have to sit down and write up a budget. They’ll plan everything down to the penny — the really smart ones will even set aside some money for emergency car repairs and those sorts of things. But, they will also completely fail to plan for one important category:
I’m talking about the weekend when you’re so depressed that you just buy a shitload of day-old grocery store donuts and eat all of them yourself. I’m talking about the eBay auction you win thanks to a drunken late-night bid, or the expensive gift bought for a special someone who you discover doesn’t like you back, or the dumb impulse buys you’ll inevitably make when you’re getting over the breakup and want some kind of bright spot in your life (maybe it’ll be a puppy next time!).
“I’m not going to name you, so I’ll feel less guilty when you have to be returned.”
“Well, I just won’t do those things,” you’ll say, “now that I have a budget!” See, Future You gets tagged with the same nonsensical assumption we make about strangers: All impulses can easily be overcome with a little effort. Future You won’t make dumb purchases to soothe desolate moods! That shit is what Old You did — from here on out, it’s smooth sailing!
And when you start dating somebody new, you never think, “This will be a good person to handle my alternating temper tantrums and emotional cold spells six months from now!” You’ll instead imagine yourself being awesome and stable, forever. And when an opportunity comes up to take on a second job, one that would eliminate both sleep and your social life? “No problem! Future Me doesn’t get sleepy or lonely! Future Me is a robot that works with absolute precision and reliability!”
“Ho Hos from the vending machine are the only Christmas dinner I need tonight.”
Oh, sure, there are people out there who go the opposite way, who joke about how they’re just a loser destined to wind up old and drunk. But, usually, the precise reason they’re down is because they’re continually disappointed by how they screw up in the same ways again and again. Their own weaknesses continue to surprise them, because they refuse to be realistic about how strong the temptations are by comparison. Here’s a relevant clip for those of you who want a brief YouTube break:
It’s hard, if not impossible, to make peace with the fact that we are always going to fuck up on occasion. And, at the risk of getting taken out of context, I’ve got to say that this has really helped me appreciate Satan.
That concept of a tempter who can work from inside your very mind, offering up short-term pleasures in exchange for long-term destruction … it makes sense. I don’t mean as a literal being, but as a way to help step outside yourself in those crucial moments. You get an urge and you stop to say, “Is this the devil, tempting me?” It makes you suspicious of your short-term indulgences — the hunger, the rage, the selfishness — all that shit that will ruin your relationships and health in the long run. When somebody else screws up, you can see them as a fellow victim of the Dark Lord himself, deserving of sympathy.
But, you know, there’s a reason Christians still cheat on their wives and drink themselves to death. All they have to do is shift the focus to other people and keep it there (“Gays are just heterosexuals who’ve been tempted into sin by the Devil!”). Hey, speaking of which …
#1. We Offer Clueless, Bullshit Solutions … And Then Get Angry When They Don’t Work
That last thing is probably the most perfect illustration of what I’m talking about in this article. Why do Christians seem so obsessed with homosexuality? Why have they decided gay marriage is the one issue capable of exterminating the light of the righteous from the universe forever?
Because it’s the ultimate test of the “Everyone experiences the same temptations” fallacy.
If you sit down a bunch of anxious and tired people and start preaching to them about their weaknesses (greed, gluttony, petty cruelty, adultery), you get lots of annoyed folks shifting uncomfortably in the pews. But, when you take that same crowd and preach against temptations they never feel, if you rail against the “gay agenda” and Muslims and the depravity of Hollywood, now you get some cheers and “Amens” flowing your way. “Let us all congratulate ourselves for not succumbing to the urge to change our sexual orientation or convert to Islam! We are truly badass warriors of virtue!”
“Like Jesus before me, I truly have the eye of the tiger!”
And make no mistake, having grown up in an evangelical church, up until my 20s I knew exactly how to solve the gay marriage thing: Simply give them the same rights as everyone else. And by that, I meant the right to marry the opposite sex. I swear it made sense at the time and, because you presumably did not just start reading the article right here, you already know why. Everyone, I was told, is actually a heterosexual — God said so. Thus, “gay” people just have a weird fetish for the same sex that they can get over with a little practice. If you’d told me that my homophobia was itself the result of my own bad impulses (including an overdeveloped sense of disgust that’s common to social conservatives), I’d have stared at you like you’d just puckered your lips and made one steady fart noise. “My behavior isn’t due to uncontrollable impulses! I’m a fully functioning human being, with a soul, who makes moral choices!”
And if you’d told me that not only is what they’re doing not immoral, but that if I switched bodies with them, I’d be just as gay, if not more so? Impossible. For me, at the time, the implications would have been shattering.
You’d have gotten a similar opinion from me regarding anyone outside my group, in fact. If you’d driven me through the projects, I’d have calmly explained that if I was born there, I’d get a part-time job, save up some cash, and move the hell out! I walked around every day patting myself on the back for overcoming urges I didn’t even feel, to make myself feel better about the ones I was giving in to on a daily basis. My years of asshole experience are probably why I’m so fascinated with the Internet’s fat-hating obsession today. I bring it up a lot, and it’s because every time some clueless 20 year old says, “Losing weight is simple: It’s calories in, calories out! All you need is a little self-respect!” I smile and nod and think, “Yep, that was me! I thought that same condescending bullshit!”
Spoiler: I was wrong.
But, I swear that even experts make the same damned mistake, and always will. Pick any subject. Like the obesity thing — we’ll hear a new theory every month about whether fighting obesity is about cutting carbs, or fat, or sugar, or just ignoring it all and cutting calories. They rarely seem to factor in the only thing that really matters: which diet doesn’t leave you hungry. Because if you’re getting pummeled with hunger urges, you will succumb. This is why exercise doesn’t make you lose weight — exercise burns calories but also makes you hungrier. And exactly 100 percent of humans have a threshold at which they no longer have the energy to resist an urge. I don’t care who you are — if the president himself got thirsty enough, he’d be begging John to piss in his mouth. It’s science.
It would also be a great way to determine who in the field really wants to be president.
Or what about crime? Statistically, if you grew up under certain circumstances, you’re far more likely to turn into a criminal. Now, cue the anecdotes: “Well, I grew up in the rough part of town, and I never so much as got a speeding ticket!” See, because their impulse to commit crimes is surely no stronger than ours, and our clean record is, therefore, proof that we’re Gandhi. So, why lift a finger to help those Ferguson “thugs” change their lives? Nobody helped us! Better to keep a gun under the bed and fantasize about shooting them when they break in.
“Well now, wait a second,” you say, “that just brings us back to the blame question that you never got around to answering. If we can’t truly know how hard somebody fought the impulse to do the shitty thing he just did, then how do we know when it’s okay to call him an asshole?”
Hmmm. Good question. Here’s someone petting a tiny owl.