Friday, December 12, 2008

Part I: When to listen to advice

(Let's say this up front, when I talk about "advice", I'm talking about the big stuff. Philosophy, religion, morality, etc. The concrete stuff like, say, "what kind of concrete should I pour for my new patio" is best left to the people who actually have some expertise in that field. Just google it -- unless, of course, google becomes self-aware at some point between now and when you're reading this and decides to start a nuclear war to wipe mankind from the planet. In that case, use Yahoo.)

The short answer to the title question? Never.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated.

There are few hard and fast rules for knowing when the advice you're receiving is good advice, but here's one that you can set your watch to: anybody that claims to have "the" answer about anything is probably lying.

Right about now you're probably just realizing the massive challenge in front of you: not only do you have to navigate high school, but eventually you're going to have to find a wife, get a job, and (gasp) maybe pop out a couple of kids of your own. You have every right to be scared out of your gourd; when I was your age, I was shitting perfect little blocks of pure fear. Had the government known, they might have harvested them for use in the first Gulf War.

The thing is, you don't look all that scared, probably because a lot of your psychic energy is being spent presenting a public face to the world. (Don't worry about that, pretending to be something you're not is an important part of high school and it doesn't make you a poseur, no matter what your friend who recently got into punk music tries to tell you).

Because you're so focused on yourself right now, you're unaware of a very important truth: everyone else is doing the same thing you're doing. Specifically, hiding their fear.

Let me say this again: everyone is scared. All the time.

You think you're alone in your fear because when you look around a room all you see are vital young men and women ready to change the world, spread their wings and fly, and all that other bullshit the valedictorians write in their speeches. But, as I've said, you're not alone.

This is where you need to listen to me very carefully: these people don't have any secret path to overcoming their fear. You might think they look like they've got it all covered, but consider this: you look to them just as calm and collected as they look to you. And considering the boiling clusterfuck of raging fear that is currently sitting directly on your chest, that's saying a lot about what outward appearances actually mean.

People start chasing courage and since they can't find it in themselves, they turn to their peers who seem like they have their lives together. If people had any decency or sense of limitations, they would tell you flat out that they don't have any kind of special answer. They're doing what we're all doing: muddling through.

At best, what you're going to get is some pontificating (nothing strokes an ego like the opportunity to wax philosophical about the world). At worst, though, you're going to be manipulated.

This is why I'm leading off with this. Anybody who tells you that they can fix it, that they have the answer to unlock your fear is lying to you. They want your money, they want your support, they want your soul.

Two types of people who will treat your brain like it was a passed out sorority girl at a frat party:

1. Missionaries. Not all religious people are seeking to convert you, missionaries are. They'll target your fear. If you run into people trying to "save" you, take a good look at their literature. Do this thought experiment: if you were going to try to manipulate a scared and ignorant teenager into turning over their mind, body, soul (and money), to a cause, how would you target them? Don't think about what you're actually trying to do with the religion, just think about pure and utter manipulation of the mentally weak. Okay, good, now look at the literature. See? The old man knows a thing or two, right?

2. Politicians. They want your vote and they want your money. Listen to their voices, oozing calm and confidence. Everything about them says, "Don't worry, I'll take care of you", because deep down, that's what we want to hear.

Neither of these people are to be trusted, ever. When they're talking to you, trying to bring you around to their way of thinking, remember this article. Remember that they don't know the answer any more than you do. They're just people, scared and lonely. Nothing they say will magically make your fear go away.

Now, what have you learned?

If you really learned something from this article right about now you should be recognizing its central irony: that I'm advising you not to take advice. Your first assignment is to poke all the holes in my argument. Figure out what I don't know. Tell me I'm wrong and stupid and that I don't know anything.

I want you to do that for every article I write to you. Don't slavishly copy me. What the fuck do I know about anything? I'm just as scared as you are.

And, truthfully son, I'm more scared now that you're in the world.

More to follow...

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