Illustration by Penelope Gazin
Most of us suck, and most of life is sucky. Considered another way, everything is the worst. But it’s for the best. (Probably? Maybe.) That individuals and organizations and businesses and governments and even the collective consciousness are so roundly selfish and chaotic and banal and usually so ultimately boring is on the surface not so good. And yet couldn’t that consistently shitty foundation of almost everything we are and live with be some kind of necessary substructure of checks and balances? Like, a carefully evolutionary-ed trias politica, in the interest of maintaining a relatively stable level of the Fucking Worst Stuff.
I mean, think it through: The people who are actually right about ethics and morals—and, come on, we know who is right and who is wrong but then there is all of that stuff about energy and ego and how good steak tastes—are such bummers to hang out with. When things are sucky and awful, whatever goes well and right feels like the arc of a fourth-order rainbow coming and coming and coming out of every end; without daily, endless, expected badness, everyone would be like #richkidsofinstagram, and everyone knows that in between their smug dimples and beyond their 0.00001 percent teeth is the most fiery hellmouth.
Badness is guaranteed. What’s worse, and what makes the badness maybe impossible to overcome, is that values, generally, are obtuse. As a little kid, adult mistakes and limitations are so adorably understood as black or white things. They’re not, but what is worse (and, come on now, everything is worse) and harder is that pursuing or doing the right thing isn’t what’s hard, it’s just knowing what the right thing is with any clarity at all. (I would always and totally do the right thing if I knew what that thing was, you know?)
There is no real way out of this. Positive-thinking movements and The Secret and nihilism and the faux anarchy of punk and youth and an addictive reliance on intellectual justifications for gnarly desires and behaviors are all pretty obviously nonsolutions. The only way out is, I think, to go underneath, because the opposite of trying to outsmart or outrun or outdo all of this veritable and perpetual worstness is to accept it. I like to call this credo “extreme realness,” which is a sunglasses-on-a-skateboard way of identifying a breed of stoicism that inhales every once in a while.
What extreme realness amounts to is honesty—like, true and thorough honesty. Extreme realness accepts that everything is not only the worst but is getting even and ever more terrible all the time, and that the only valid, possibly useful response is the bottom-up acceptance of one’s and others’ limitations and inclinations and capabilities. Spin, of the industrial variety and applied to every machination of the culture at large, is right now so gorgeously constructed and elegantly invisible and easily communicable that actual children on Twitter know how to PR themselves into cartoon characters with their own brand statements. Most or much of American culture is about shadows and projections, and that explains almost everything about the market, the housing crisis, the too-perfect acrobatics of politics, why most TV and journalism sucks, and why anything isn’t what you thought it would be or want it to be. It is stupid and disease-y and something that has been internalized in this sick, sad way that can only be addressed by a psychophilosophical system of acknowledgement: Not only is everything the worst, but everything is what it is—a mom-and-dad thing to say that turns out to be revolutionary when applied the right way.
Extreme realness (“realness, to the extreeeeme!” and then you pop open a can of novelty cola) comes in three parts: The first is projection, like, instead of assuming that anything will be good, understand that it won’t be while being tooootally OK with that, because when you know what something is and isn’t you can do more and better stuff with it, inside it; the second is acknowledging that whatever is will be, and what the scope of that is is, because understanding what a given person or political machine or whateversies is bounded by, responding to, and offering is how to get what you want from them or it; the third is—and maybe this sounds retardedly easy, but listen—owning mistakes and failures as if they are essential and operative elements of existing, which they are. Extreme realness most crucially demands that you get over yourself. Actually, not so much “get over” as “meet yourself where you are.” It identifies “lying” as a singularly clarified negative value and elevates “legit” to what it should have always meant.
Most awesomely, extreme realness overturns the gross and ubiquitous mores of aspirationalism without affecting the imagination, because there isn’t any reason that the dreamiest daydreams—the most wild and blue and multijizzing rainbows—can’t be part of it. There isn’t any reason that honesty isn’t the dreamiest daydream of all.
Previously - Me Vs. “Me”
Kate Carraway writes the weekly Girl News column for VICE.com.
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