I been feeling kinda down on myself so I decide to take a trip to the funfair. I call up my buddy Big Ears Avery to see if he wants to come with me and he does, so I jump in my limo and grab him on the way.
It’s a real nice night. The air is crisp and the heat is low and me and Avery sip champagne like two real classy motherfuckers. He tells me about the shit his boss is giving him and I tell him the same thing I always tell him, that I can bump into the man after his shift at the supermarket and make his ribcage a heavy bag. But Avery doesn’t want me to get into trouble and he knows that I’m trying to put those days behind me. He’s a good kid and I love him.
We arrive at the funfair and as I get out of the limo, my foot sinks into 5 inches of mud and soils my brand new Armani shoe. I see red and tell my driver that I will rip his head from his neck and face-fuck it into another dimension for putting us down in a bog. He looks terrified and I squeeze my eyes shut and count to ten like I been taught. I say sorry and he says it’s ok and that he’s real sorry for stopping in such a bad place and that in future all of his stops will be on firm ground where my shoes can sparkle like the stars at twilight. I like his poetic style and tell him so. Then I invite him to join us at the fair and he says he would love to because his dad used to take him to the fair when he was a kid and he misses him badly. My heart fills with love for the man and I wrench him out of his driver’s seat and hug him tight.
The three of us—me, Avery, and Jack—make our way into the funfair. It’s beautiful. I ain’t seen this much colour since I took too many mushrooms at Caesar’s Palace last year, when there was so much colour I thought I was trapped in a motherfucking rainbow. Except this colour was peaceful and it didn’t feel like it was merging with my soul. I say “man this colour is beautiful” to the boys and Jack says it reminds him of the sweet evanescence of the world, which floats on the night like a firefly at the end of time. I respect how deep this motherfucker is and I tell him.
We make our way to the haunted mansion because I love that spooky shit, and the three of us jump into a car. I suddenly get nervous the way you always do when you’re about to get scared. A few seconds later a bright green witch leaps out of the dark and laughs and shakes her broom at us and I scream like a goddamn woman. I jump out of my seat and rip the broom from her claws and smash her plastic face with it again and again until she looks like Pinklon Thomas in 1987 after I was through with him. I gather myself and realise what I’ve done, and we make a quick exit out of a side door before a funfair man catches us.
Avery asks me if I’m alright and I tell him I’m fine, I was just embarrassed I screamed. He says it’s ok because he was scared too. He always makes me feel better about myself and I hug him and tell him I’m gonna treat him to the biggest damn hot dog he’s ever seen. We find a hot dog stand and sure enough they sell jumbo dogs which fills my heart with joy. I order three jumbo dogs with all the trimmings and when the guy puts them on the counter they are the smallest damn jumbo hot dogs I’ve ever seen in my life, no more than six inches across. I say “hey man these dogs are no more than six inches across and you’re saying they’re jumbo? What kind of bullshit is this?” He apologises and says the business has fallen on hard times and that the dogs used to be bigger but they gotta make cutbacks. I don’t like his sneaky fucking ways and I grab the dogs and furiously launch them into the nearby carousel where one of them splatters across the face of a little blonde girl riding a pony who screams even though the hot dog was so small it couldn’t hurt a fly. The carousel-master realises what has happened and stops the ride. Its tune winds down slowly like an old record that’s been stopped, and every face turns our way. I realise I’ve done it again and that we’d better leave before the cops get here. The last thing I need on my record is a hot dog assault involving a minor.
We flee the scene and leap into the limo. Jack slams on the accelerator and the spinning wheels send torrents of mud onto the people behind us before the vehicle finally lurches forward and we escape into the night. Avery looks at me all shocked and then starts to laugh, which sets me off. I compose myself and tell him we shouldn’t laugh because I’m not that kind of guy anymore and he says he knows but it’s still funny. Then I catch sight of those stupid big ears of his and that sets me off again.
We decide to go back to my place and smoke some weed and watch The Hangover. We say we might even watch all three, even though we all know the first one is the best.
It’s Saturday and I’m at Walmart picking up my groceries. I get a cart with a busted wheel so things are already bad when I get to the deli.
Behind the counter is a young brother with big ears that stick out underneath his tight blue hair net. I think those ears are supposed to go inside but that must hurt him too bad. I never seen him before but his badge says “Avery” which I like cause it’s where I keep my pigeons at home.
The deli has powerful lights that make all of the food real bright. The ham and salami blaze like fire, and the turkey breast slices are like white spotlights that make my eyes hurt. I can still taste the joint I smoked this morning. I wanna get my meat and get out of here.
There are people everywhere waiting for their tickets to be called. I twist my bad cart up to the ticket machine and tear off a ticket but I get three instead of one, so I smash the machine with my fist. I say sorry to the people standing around but the motherfuckers are all staring at the floor like I’m a stone cold killer. It makes me furious because I ain’t that guy anymore. But I drop my head and count to ten like my therapist told me.
When I finish counting I see a blonde lady with a bob haircut and a snotty toddler standing in front of the sausages being all herky jerky. She’s angry about there being no hot dogs and wants to speak to the manager. Avery says the manager is out sick. She pounds her little white fist against the bright glass and I step in and say she should be respectful to the young man with the big ears because it ain’t his fault there’s no hot dogs. She tells me to mind my business which she shouldn’t do because the last person who told me to mind my business was that limey Julius Francis who I knocked out in under four minutes. I bare my teeth at her and take a bite out of a nearby basket and spit it onto her feet. Then I tell the bitch I will eat her child if she doesn’t start being nice. I regret this right away. She shrieks and runs away so I back up, squeeze my eyes shut and count to ten again.
When I open my eyes people are staring at me so I know I better get out quickly before somebody calls the cops. There’s nobody at the counter so I ask Avery for 2 pounds of pink jumbo shrimp and he snatches a handful and dumps them on the scale which shows 2.7 pounds. He asks if that’s ok even though he knows it ain’t ok and I tell him I will gut him like a fish unless he puts 0.7 pounds of shrimp back. I say sorry and he nods his head like a robot. I ask for a pound of the olive tapenade and when he’s done he puts the spoon back into the herbed walnut potato salad even though three millions Americans got nut allergies. I say “listen brother, three million Americans got nut allergies and you’re gonna give some motherfucker a big swollen face like I did to motherfuckers in the 90s.” He says sorry and I say it’s ok and that he should be more careful.
Then I bend my bad cart towards the meat area and ask for a pound of the sticky honey-glazed ham that is sparkling under the bright lights. That’s when I see a new meat between the chicken and turkey, like a little brown chicken but with longer legs all tied up. The label says “pigeon.”
My mouth drops open and my hands turn into fists. I glare at that dirty motherfucker Avery and beads of sweat appear on his forehead. I tell him those pigeons ain’t done nothing to nobody and he says he loves pigeons and it wasn’t up to him to sell them at the deli. I close my eyes and count to ten and can feel my fists uncurling. Avery seems like a good kid so I tell him about Cus, Kevin, and Frank — my three favourite pigeons at home. They’re the best pigeons in the neighbourhood and he says he’d love to meet them. I say that’s ok but I’m still disgusted about the pigeons for sale and wanna talk to his manager next week, and if I ever find a Walmart pigeon-catcher near my property I will put that motherfucker in a body bag.
I tell him to come by my place tomorrow to see my pigeons and smoke some weed if that’s his thing. I grow the best weed in America. He grins and tells me he will see me tomorrow. I bump the kid’s fist and say sorry for my temper again and he says it’s ok because it must be hard being Mike Tyson. He’s a smart kid and I tell him it’s real hard being Mike Tyson but I try my best. I grab my honey-glazed ham and bump fists with the kid again. I can’t wait to show him my pigeons tomorrow.
Her apartment’s doorbell rang. She walked over to it and pushed the “answer call” button.
There was a moment’s pause, then a commanding Bavarian voice: “I haff your delicious vings. Please open ze door so I can deliver zem to you.”
“Hi — you can just leave them in the hallway, I’ll come down and get them.”
“I’m sorry but we must now deliver zem to ze door. New policy.”
She stopped for a second. She hadn’t heard about this change, but with so many food services jostling for customers, it didn’t seem unreasonable. And it was difficult to challenge such confidence.
“Okay, it’s the second floor, apartment twelve.”
She walked to the door to make sure the safety latch was on. The wings should easily fit through the gap anyway.
The delivery driver knocked on the door — donk donk donk donk. Four solid hits. She cautiously twisted the lock, opened the door, and let out a gasp.
Standing in front of her was a tiny man with a massive head. He couldn’t have been any taller than five feet, but his head was a thick block of meat and bone that looked like it had been stolen from a heavyweight boxer. Atop his colossal bonce was a black baseball cap that said “Bratwurst For Life,” with two piercing blue eyes underneath, a wide-bridged nose equipped with cavernous nostrils, and bulbous lips that glistened in the hallway’s lights. He definitely wasn’t a dwarf, but he also wouldn’t look out of place at a dwarf convention. He wore a shiny UberEats jacket that was too big, and the hand that clutched her food was a bitty pink claw that was starting to turn white. He seemed confused.
“Hi, thanks for bringing it up,” she said, composing herself. She stuck her hand through the door’s gap as the man’s eyes followed it.
“Ze gap is too small,” he said, the bass of his voice rumbling through the apartment below. It seemed safe to open the door. She was pretty sure she could overpower what amounted to a loud child if she needed to. She removed the latch and swung it open.
“Sank you,” the man said. “Now, before ve exchange ze vings, I vant you to know I vaited for over thirty-five minutes for zem. It took a long time.”
“Oh, I’m sorry about that.”
“Sank you.” He raised a claw to the crown of his cap and readjusted it. “Given ze troubles, I thought you might repay me vith a drink. I haff finished work for ze night and vud enjoy talking vith you.”
“Oh, I’m sorry but I have a boyfriend.”
He sucked his fat lips into his mouth and bit down on them.
“But I vaited for thirty-five minutes.”
“I’m sorry about that, but it isn’t my fault. You seem… nice. But I can’t invite strange men inside my apartment for drinks.”
“You sink I am strange.”
“Not strange — I just don’t know you.”
“You sink I am small.”
She stifled a snigger. “Well no… you just can’t come in.”
“I am big where it counts.”
She burst out laughing, and an unfortunate fleck of spit landed on his shiny jacket. He looked at it sadly.
“But I haff provided for you,” he said.
“I paid for this food.”
“I gathered zis chicken with my own hans.”
“You collected this food from a restaurant.”
“I vill always provide for you. Look at ze vings I haff brought tonight. I can bring many more vings.”
“Will I have to pay for those too?”
“I’m sorry please give me my food.”
He looked down at the bag, sighed, and handed it to her.
“It is because I am small.”
He stared at her for a moment longer, heaved his oversized backpack onto his shoulders, and walked towards the elevator. She could just about see his legs underneath the backpack, diddling along like a centipede’s.
“I’m sorry,” she called.
He turned, his head emerging from behind the backpack like a slab of swinging beef.
In the aftermath of the Capitol Building being stormed by fanatical, violent Trump supporters—an act not seen since the British breach over 200 years ago—empathising with them seems impossible. How can a sane, ethical person put themselves in the shoes of someone so batty and immoral; so dangerously flammable; so maddeningly illogical? And should we even bother?
America has never been so divided. Before the internet, extreme political views were spread through pamphlets, newspapers, radio and television shows, and the occasional book. Today, we can access them wherever we go. They’re the subtle lie in a humorous meme, shared by your racist cousin on Facebook; the insidious idea whispered into a podcast microphone by a radical influencer; the two-minute video that uses a simple data trick to convince people that global warming is a natural phenomenon. Before the internet, someone with these ideas needed to invest time and money to make themselves heard. Today, they can create a YouTube account in 30 seconds and step up to the tallest soapbox in history. The result is fanatical partisanship, political polarisation, and the election of someone clearly unfit for the job.
The formidable canyon between left and right must be narrowed, and it cannot be achieved with hostility, no matter how good it may feel. While we may never agree with a Trump fanatic, we can at least recognise the reasons why they’ve formed their political views, most of which are outside their control. This simple act of empathy can help to soften our animosity towards them, make conversation easier, and help to dilute the toxic polarisation that is poisoning the country.
It’s impossible to map the entire evolution of a Trump fanatic’s political views, but we can identify the strongest influences. The main determiners of personality, character, and behaviour are our genes, and the environment that we grow up in, i.e. our nature and nurture.
First, let’s talk about nature. Every single person receives 50% of their genes from each parent, which defines their susceptibility to disease, their physical characteristics, and most of their personality.1 We may inherit genes that bless us with a svelte outline, a sharp brain, and an inclination to hug everyone that we meet, or we may inherit genes that curse us with a turkey neck, a gullible mind, and an appetite for throwing molotovs at our political adversaries. Either way, we don’t get to choose, which means we can’t be held entirely accountable for our personality. Some people are just made from a blueprint with “Arsehole” stamped across the top.
Next, there’s nurture. As babies and children, we’re the most helpless species on the planet, counting on our parents to protect us, shelter us, feed us, and educate us. Some parents do wonderful jobs that help to create happy, confident children. Some do the best they can, creating children a little more cautious and anxious. Others are unfit to be parents, botching the job so badly that their kids turn into frightened, confused, and hopelessly angry adults. Again, a child doesn’t get to choose its parents, so can’t be held accountable for the quality of its upbringing. Some children are just raised by arseholes.
We also encounter thousands of people in our childhood, each one with the power to improve or subvert our character. There’s the uncle who shoots pool like a god; the smooth schoolyard friend who teaches us how to talk to girls, and the teacher whose explanation of black holes inspires us to become physicists. There’s also the brother who got a little too handsy; the hungover dentist who bungled a tooth extraction, and the local gang who hardened us with collective strength. Every experience helps to shape our personality in one way or another, and we cannot dictate how they’ll go.
Then there’s the cultural aspect of nurture—a powerful force that forges our most potent beliefs, including momentous forces such as religion, media, local customs, and the ideas of the community. Pluck a baby from Florida’s Big Bend and place it in the care of Californian parents, and it probably won’t end up as a Trump fanatic. It’s unlikely to give two figs about guns, same-sex marriage, or the rights of foetuses. Such beliefs are absorbed from our local culture, and when that culture changes, so do we. Again, something that we have no say over. Combine a horrible environment with genes that favour neuroticism, low agreeableness, and low openness, and you have the perfect storm for a Trump fanatic.
Everyone chooses their actions. The violent Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol Building are fully accountable for what they did, but not for the powerful causes that shoved them in that direction—their nature and nurture.
With their genes, upbringing, and environment, you may have draped yourself in the colours of the confederacy, placed a MAGA hat atop your head, and stormed the country’s most sacred democratic building. With their genes, upbringing, and environment, you may have turned out the same.
Many people in Western society seem to harbour the impression that their lives are somehow lacking; that their current position in the world, their numerous, shiny possessions, the relationships that they maintain, and the emotions that they feel, aren’t entirely up to scratch, as though what they’re experiencing is just a lacklustre pre-show—a taster before the main event. Though our days may be peppered with stimulating challenge, favourable encounters, and a great deal of comfort, there’s still something missing. Surely thiscan’t be it?
We carry within us an insatiable desire for more—a destroyer of contentment; a hankerer of stuff, status and success, that we assume will assassinate our demons, or at least muffle them for a little while, as though the fulfilment of our wantscan somehow repair our yearning souls.
Where does this voraciousness come from? There’s a few culprits, each with their own part to play.
“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
One of the most depressing misconceptions in Western society is the idea that accumulating stuff makes us happy. Observe the terrifying fracas of a US shopping mall on Black Friday; hoards of consumers dashing for cut-price products, more than willing to thrust their elbows at anyone who gets in their way. Consider the tacky line of super-bright Lamborghinis that might appear outside a Monte Carlo casino—their gold-dripped owners assuming that admiring looks from the public will help to camouflage their deficits of character. Contemplate the ever-expanding wardrobe of the average person, every square inch of space being used, and yet nothing to wear.
Materialism is baked into our capitalist economy, driven by the nonsensical belief that every purchase carries a little bit of happiness with it, but in reality, leaves us both financially and spiritually emptier. Excessive materialism has shown to cause a decrease in personal well-being. The things that are being rapaciously sold to us—our irises continually flashing with the bright reflections of persuasive adverts—are making us miserable. A study undertaken by the American Psychological Association found that materialistic values are driven by insecurity, with sufferers buying more stuff in an attempt to assuage their harrowing self-doubts.
“Our economy is based on spending billions to persuade people that happiness is buying things, and then insisting that the only way to have a viable economy is to make things for people to buy so they’ll have jobs and get enough money to buy things.”
“When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.”
“The point is, there is no feasible excuse for what we are, for what we have made of ourselves. We have chosen to put profits before people, money before morality, dividends before decency, fanaticism before fairness, and our own trivial comforts before the unspeakable agonies of others”
In his book The High Price of Materialism, Tim Kasser explains that those hell-bent on obtaining possessions tend to experience fewer positive emotions every day. On the flip-side, those who report high levels of life satisfaction are liable to entertain fewer materialistic values, and have better relationships. We’re much more materially affluent than our grandparents, but are slightly unhappier, with a higher risk of depression and social pathology. Materialism not only fails to increase our subjective well-being, it causes us damage. Every happiness-promising advert that flashes before you is tainted with a sickening irony.
“For what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
As social animals, status is naturally important to us. We’re anxious to stand out from the crowd—to tower over our peers so that we may win their respect, and so their love. We abhor the condescending glare that we might receive when paying for a train ticket with mountains of small change, as though our temporary financial hardship is something disgusting, to be placed at a far away distance so that it cannot infect the more fortunate among us.
Much of our craving for status is created from our inherent desire to be loved, fuelled by the assumption that we’ll be treated with benevolent respect if we’re able to show off our expansive seven-bedroom mansion, our platinum gray Armani suit, or our Instagram model girlfriend, lovely to look at, but with the conversational skills of a hyperactive parakeet. Status is compensation for inadequacy—the idea that we’re not good enough, and so must surround ourselves with luxurious wealth, creating a facade that might trick our audience into thinking that we’ve really got it together.
“By faithfully working eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.”
“Having worked professionally with several multimillionaire malcontents, I can say that what they really craved were those things intrinsic to happiness laid out at the beginning of this post [supportive relationships and self-acceptance]. The transient highs that accompanied their wealth accumulation were never much more than a hormonal rush anyway. And even though in the eyes of the world they were enormously successful, continuing frustrations and insecurities gave testimony to the fact that the blast of ‘feel good’ chemicals their success yielded was all too easily exhausted.”
“Are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither think nor care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul?”
Self-help gurus tell us that CEOs read a book a week, and that we can do the same when purchasing their cut-price course, eventually eclipsing the achievements of our colleagues and accelerating away from them towards career dominance, a position where our perpetual emptiness might finally be filled. It’s bullshit, of course. Status and wealth may produce admiring glances, but they cannot create what we really need—the love and compassion of our fellow humans, and patient, sympathetic self-acceptance.
“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
Sadness, and its accompanying, so-called negativeemotions, has a tendency to be rejected by Western society, as though there’s no place for it in our lives. We’re taught that happiness is our natural birthright, and sadness a disorder to be cured. Naturally, during our darker, melancholic moments, we suspect that there’s something wrong with us, and that the situation is somehow unnatural. We’re not supposed to be this way!
Sadness—along with the other six basic emotions—is a permanent part of our biology. This inevitable, painful emotion will appear countless times over the course of our lives, often at the most inopportune of moments, challenging us to a battle in which we have little desire to partake. Instead, what we usually do is attempt to numb the sadness in some way, whether through alcohol, drugs, shopping sprees, or any other vice that offers nothing but a band-aid with weak adhesive. Our unreasonable desire to expel sadness from our lives helps to feed an addiction to positivity, a compulsion doomed to failure. We simply cannot change our nature.
“Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or very foolish imagine otherwise.”
Now that the some of the culprits of our perpetual yearning have been unearthed, what can we do to battle them? How can we learn to become content with what we have? You might consider trying the following.
Gratitude is like kryptonite to our greed for more; a neutralising element that drains its destructive power. The field of positive psychology has shown that a gratitude diary can increase feelings of contentment, because it forces you to focus on what’s goodin your life, rather than what’s lacking. By paying attention to the things that we love, we stumble upon the realisation that our lives contain much joy, and our thirst for more is temporarily diminished.
“You own twice as much rug if you’re twice as aware of the rug.”
Mindfulness meditation is an exercise sent from the gods, offering benefits such as reducing stress, controlling anxiety, and much more. Though it certainly requires practice and patience to become an expert, the process itself is simple, and requires no equipment.
Meditation helps to fight our desire for moreby forcing us to slow down and appreciate what’s in front of us, as opposed to frantic, anxious thinking which tries to soothe itself with destructive behaviours such as gluttonous shopping. Our new-found calm carries an enhanced sense of self-awareness, allowing us to catch ourselves in the act of pernicious thinking, whereby we stop for a moment, realise that we’re about to engage in a toxic act, and decide to do something healthier instead.
Self-acceptance and self-compassion
Self-acceptance is allowing, accepting and welcoming all parts of yourself, whether good or bad. It’s about accepting your shadow—the dark, grisly side of your nature that you’d rather keep locked away in a dusty cupboard. There’s not a person on earth who doesn’t have flaws, the trick is learning to accept them. Unconditional self-acceptance allows us to live full and honest lives, embracing each and every aspect of our personality.
“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.”
As we become more self-accepting, we also become more content, which weakens our incessant yearning for more. By reminding ourselves that we’re worthy of love (from ourselves most of all), we’re instilling our lives with genuine, clear-cut value.
“You accept that, as a fallible human being, you are less than perfect. You will often perform well, but you will also err at times… You always and unconditionally accept yourself without judgment”
This practice can be accompanied by self-compassion—being kind, gentle, and supportive to yourself at all times, even when you make the most horrifying of mistakes. Self-compassion allows you to distinguish between making a bad decision, and being a bad person. Gaffes are being made everywhere all the time, and a typical reaction is to attack ourselves for the indiscretion, creating destructive feelings of shame and unworthiness. Treating ourselves with sympathetic kindness is the favourable alternative.
“Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness, concern, and support you’d show to a good friend. When faced with difficult life struggles, or confronting personal mistakes, failures, and inadequacies, self-compassion responds with kindness rather than harsh self-judgment, recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.”
Friends make us feel loved, creating a sense of belonging and a deep-seated satisfaction, vanquishing our desire for more. Voracious shopping sprees or glistening palaces are no longer needed to make us feel better about ourselves—our friends do a much better job. Side-splitting laughter, or serious, soul-touching conversation, is no substitute for an oak-panelled corner office in a Manhattan high-rise.
“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”
All of the money, material goods, and status in the world cannot quench our incessant desire for more. Often, it backfires and our craving is strengthened, leaving us in a worse state than before. Our insatiable desire for more can be allayed through consistent gratitude, regular meditation, self-acceptance and self-compassion, and strong relationships. Eventually, we’ll come to realise that we don’t needa million dollars or a house full of expensive gadgets in order to feel content. Eventually we’ll realise that we have just what we need—we have enough.
“Two men graduated from the same high school. One of them went to college and graduate school and became a professor, making a professor’s salary. The other went out and became a billionaire in the business world.
At a reunion, the two got together, and the billionaire was boasting about all the things he had accomplished and was able to buy with his billions. The professor said, “I have something that you will never have.”
The billionaire said, “How can that be? I can buy anything with the money I have. What do you have that I will never have?”