Surrendering the Mind

I have worked extremely hard these past twelve months—and I place this in the context of many years of doing that and really not doing that. Momentous life changes are happening, and smoothly I might add: As you might know, I am getting married to my wonderful, joyous fiancee, Alyssa Evers. What you may not know is that I spent the last year studying for and completing the last of eight taxing exams required for a CTC English Teaching Credential. Furthermore my only pathway to a tuition-free program that can provide said credential, LAUSD’s District Intern Program, was also a success. I cannot stress my relief: literally every other program costs $13,000 and above, nothing less than the straws upon a quarter-million dollar camel. So here I am, living in pristine downtown Burbank with the only person I could ever imagine wanting to talk to every hour of every day, well on my way to the best salary/benefits one could hope for with two writing degrees, with the immense edification of setting young lives on the right course… ostensibly I’ve outrun the panic of personal failure that first acutely plagued me in the fifth grade at an Avalanche game, and has never left me since. Though teaching jobs are sparse mid-semester, the influx of openings required by the strike agreement all but guarantees I will be an English teacher next fall. It’s a stunning turn of events: two years ago I bore the title ‘Production Executive’ and worked in a glorified, actually-saw-roaches call center for an animated film that will almost certainly never come out, and may in fact be subject to SEC inquiry. (Kidding.) (But am I?)

Again: I completed my Master’s at a fine program, tilled at robo-mills for two years (with a brief stint of 4 a.m. alarms to rent Ferraris for an overseas producer), met the dream girl, moved to the perfect apartment, and obtained my credential without any applicable post-grad study. My therapist, who moved to Washington D.C. to work with the Peace Corps, may now have her first client who called years later just to gloat, which I find so hideous in other rooms, but of course the phrase “called my therapist” usually denotes a major problem. And it was way more layered than I expected.

All along, our parents—the world itself, through a relentless blitz of consumer-primed optimism—said the world was our oyster. When I face the oyster now, I am frustrated not by its staggering cost or the promises that turned out not to be true. The generations before ours made dozens of mis-steps and squandered the single greatest opportunity for post-war economic conquest this country will ever see again. The planet was murdered, their fair wages/safety nets and high taxes for the rich are now socialism and anti-American. Yet I cannot pretend for a minute that Millennials would not have done the same, given the information available. Even now there is a “seize power now to create growth later” mentality, with a fully unformed picture of what those opportunities will look like. We were perhaps only formed into a force for positive change by the collapse of that system. So the single, deep, defeated breath in the elevator some mornings does not spring from that.

President Trump is invariably an appalling, grotesque, lying demagogue. But does it matter? He’s the worst possible representative for the nation, and also dead-on in regions. King Prick affects our well-being, surely; but is he a real shift in American ideology or just our perception of its reality? These antics, though embarrassing at the highest level of governance, don’t register as life-altering.

Maybe we look to the source. His awful supporters do arrive at certain truths: Politicians are opportunism incarnate. Hillary ran a hapless campaign with weak, self-centered messaging, and jettisoned a highly likable candidate in the process. She still should have won handily against a silver spoon who serves McDonalds on a platter to match. There’s even something to be said in defense of pretending to care about people and social issues, even when you’re out for number one. It should matter, especially when all we want ninety percent of the time is everything Trump isn’t doing now. You should get points for not being the actual demon they paint you to be. You should lose points for sailing under our absolute lowest expectations. Yet despite FiveThirtyEight’s excellent polling, there’s a general air on voting day that feels like fifty-fifty. That, like gender, somehow there will always be a 51-49 split between the parties nationwide, come hell or high Watergate. American competition, the damn searing poker, does not allow first-round byes in November: We expect a Super Bowl, even if the Patriots are going to win. So I’m not confused or angry with 2016 anymore. The gameplan wasn’t there.

Maybe I should grieve the apparent negligence of so many Americans, or at least the refusal to emphasize education as a whole. But I know that is the casualty of a shifting workforce: good jobs once existed without education, as did fulfilling lives. (Realizing you aren’t that smart is a familiar pill.) Anti-vax is cause for concern; the other minor conspiracies, I suspect, are just hugely amplified online, or the outlying extrema of deep-seated issues. The American people are far too callous in discounting the media—where thousands of earnest, hard-working journalists and dozens of small outlets dig for truth every single day—but the click-driven industry, which ranges from infotainment to propaganda, has earned a fair amount of the scorn. Regulatory capture (i.e. total corporate legislation) remains an exhausting battle but nothing new. The ruling party feels less ashamed to openly betray the country because elections last and news doesn’t.

What I’m trying to say is that you can ratchet up the degree to which the opposing party sucks, and yet like a parabola, this only technically connects to the gnawing cynicism opposite.

After all I am nothing if not a realist: power changes hands. Good men (like Jimmy Carter) may not find the conditions they need to succeed, bad men (like Trump) survive through expert manipulation. It happens, that’s fine; American ideals are more resolute than administrations. But lately anhedonia in everything “patriotic” has been unshakable, and only now have I found a common thread, one absolute certainty why modern life moves underwater: I am livid with how easily the American people gave up their autonomy. I’m not talking about their legal freedoms—for without rioting and protests, our freedom is subject to those who control it. I am talking about the right to experience current events like a normal human being who pays a modicum of attention. What’s happening right now… what keeps me in a state of near-constant, low-level agitation is the total and complete surrender of the mind. What do I mean? Some examples:

On more than one occasion, both online and off-, I have been told that I cannot trust what I “see on the news”. (Never mind the preposterous assumption here that watching cable news is ever a substitute for research.) In these instances, the conversation did not revolve around the integrity of the media, nor left vs. right outlets. The conversation merely involved Donald Trump being an immoral person and a dangerous President. I made no reference to how he would have compared to President Hillary. I made no reference to the tenets of conservatism. Here in this conversation, one person informed me I cannot trust what I have heard, thereby discrediting entirely my abilities as a person of rational thought—moments like these make you disgustingly yearn to launch into a tirade about all the smart books you’ve read and all the framed, ivory-stock paper that says you matter, and thereby prove them right. Furthermore I have heard such comments as: “You’re young, of course you’re liberal”, “A conservative in his twenties doesn’t have a heart; a liberal in his forties doesn’t have a brain”, and “Let’s get him back on the right side of things”— all unsolicited, unprovoked. These people had zero ways of knowing what I have or have not read, nor where, nor what I made of the biases, nor my approximation of the content to truth. On the surface their argument is: “Some journalists embellish for money, and some are outright wrong, therefore we can never know what’s true anymore.” But it’s a facade and it’s slander: The fakebook deluge makes not one iota of difference to criminal convictions in the Russia scandal, nor are my liberal beliefs so integral to the simple devastation of children in cages and deadly Nazi rallies. Our emotions are not just the parties we vote for; the only people who claim otherwise seek to demean you.

I do grant the digital age more latitude with skepticism. But supposing the entirety of the claims made against Kavanaugh are untrue, you don’t need “fair and balanced” to see a man with a judicial temperament unfit for every level of government. You don’t need an analyst to perceive cruelty, insults, contradiction, and hyper-partisan speech. And you certainly don’t need to bean count the past every single time your side shat the bed. Dems are trying to throw out their own racists and perverts as often as they can, which they memorably failed at on many high-profile occasions. (Thanks, Oscars.) They are now asking the same from everyone, nothing more. Go back far enough and it’s a sordid affair for all of us, always, no exceptions. Can we get through one scandal without a scoreboard? Can we feel anything without hedging?

Probably not. Somewhere along the way, your feelings became part of the Larger Picture. In a clever feint of “interconnectedness”, your feelings and intuitions are eliminated entirely, always a point of scrutiny needing sources and extrapolation. It’s blatantly unsustainable to push-pull the blame needle to get what we want, and the methods for doing so will only increase in acumen.

Make no mistake that complaints about the media are a marginalization of your critical thinking. The word “media” itself is a blanket statement that signals an audience apathetic to your opinions.

Know that when a President who has provably lied 8,000 times and counting receives no 2020 challenger from his own party, when the conversation centers around “which Dem can defeat such a strong candidate (87% support from the base)”, we have surrendered the mind not because of the media nor Hillary nor Russia, but because it was easier than thinking. Easier than facing the totality of emotional shit we are so, so far underneath.

I have heard that we are too busy to keep up, which is undeniably true and many shrewd people count on that. What I haven’t heard is people still fighting for their right to feel regardless. Great vitriolic lengths are taken to ensure we have the right to our feelings; and these rights are used as often as ‘No Quartering for Foreign Soldiers’. Feelings are often confused with abundant hatred and disgust for the Other. Meanwhile it would appear no time is allotted to be in a room and have genuine, personal revelations, to weep for a Liar President without listing equally intolerable Dems. To just take in the division and chaos, when so many wars against the Other must be fought, feels like victory through defeat. Nothing will ever escape the umbrella of “fake news”, not even simply how you feel about a Stanford professor telling her brave, humiliating story at great personal risk and to no benefit whatsoever.

We are not post-truth. It will be incredibly difficult, at times, to not rush to the first voice that soothes a pain others cannot see or understand, and oftentimes won’t care about. Nonetheless, the fragmentation of news changes nothing about us. We could always only arrive at a reasonable approximation of the truth. The parties you oppose would not devote so much time and energy if you could know the full, unbiased picture—even the stock market more or less operates on perception—so when people ask which party I support, the technical answer would be Democratic. But the honest answer is the party of justice, whenever possible. And you know? People respond to that.

Justice does not guarantee the right person gets the right verdict. Justice means you are heard in a uniform fashion, in front of an impartial audience, all rights respected merely because you have a soul to honor like everyone else. Most importantly justice can always begin anew, for it demands a case-by-case basis, with the past as precedent and nothing more.

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About Chris O'Toole

Chris O’Toole is the founder and writer of O2L Sports. BA English - Colorado State; MFA Writing - Chapman. CBS, Livestrong, etc. You can reach him at otoole.writes@gmail.com.