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The Fucks You Give . . .

Author: Mark Manson

I came to this book for Lent, having decided to give up worrying in particular and stress in general. Of course, that ended up being poorly timed, thank you COVID-19.

Manson’s book has been sitting in my Audible queue for years. Armed with some extra credits, the blunt title got my attention and I downloaded it for fun. Now I returned to it with a real cause. Could this sweary, street smart author help me realize how ridiculous worrying about absolutely everything really is? Armed with a lifelong diagnosis of OCD, that’s no small feat to attempt. It was still easier than my long-ago failed Lenten vow of giving up swearing, started with the best of intentions a few years ago and quickly discarded during my first morning commute.

As with most self-help styled books, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is a mixed bag, half blessing, half rambling bullshit. Manson takes an in-your-face approach that is just as refreshing as it is insulting. It’s what we’re looking for, this bluntness that takes on the crappy side of life, acknowledges it, and by doing so let’s us better deal with it. The grand, overriding sentiment to Manson’s approach to life: you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Choose them wisely.

With chapters such as “Emotions are Overrated,” “The Tyranny of Exceptionalism,” “Happiness Comes from Solving Problems,” and “Shitty Values,” Manson converges on his theme. There are no prizes for participation here. You’re not always the very best or, converse to the subscribed victimhood “specialness” theory, the worst. You’re just average. Deal with it and move on. And by dealing with it, Manson means choose what you care about, diagnose your values, and then do something about and with them. Live, shut up, get over it. The book could be summed up in that many words. Throw a few fucks in if you fancy making it sound cooler and more “street smart.”

Manson makes a lot of good points, especially in the beginning of the book. Many of us are tired of everyone being “special” and winning a prize for everything. Conversely, many of us are overburdened by the idea that we must be top of the class, always. This inbuilt desire to strive toward perfection tempered by the realistic notion that it’s impossible, hamstrings many of us before we even get off our collective couches and set aside our Cheeto stash. It’s trying and failing that Manson argues is character building. Perfection never enters into it.

He also takes an interesting trip into rock star land, talking about an now unknown rocker removed from the Beetles just before they hit it big who still sees his life as being extremely fulfilled because he found love and built a family. This man had the right values. Conversely, we see Megadeth’s lead guitarist with all the fame and success in the world feeling like a failure because the old band that ousted him, Metallica, didn’t disintegrate and bow to his superior success. Moral of the story, what you value leads you by the nose. Happiness is in the eye of the beholder and we basically make ourselves miserable, giving fucks about things we shouldn’t.

As the narrative goes, bouncing around essay style and insulting everyone from self-victimizers to society in general, Manson loses some of his flair. What he has said is common sense, and enjoyable to hear in his easy, foul-mouthed style. One could say, he has rid the house and cleaned it out, but then he just leaves this new space empty, and what pours in is worse than what was there before.

Combining snark and Buddhism, Manson takes a weird turn, trying to be philosophical but mostly failing. It reminds me of another book I just finished reading by Ravi Zacharias, Why Jesus. Ravi is a Christian apologist with a Hindu background, and in this book he takes a hard look at what he calls custom made religion, which essentially is where a person samples all the bits they like best from major world religions that are diametrically opposed – Buddhism and Hinduism mostly – and then crams it into a personally edifying theory where all the culpability is removed, as are the bits they don’t like about religion (i.e. some of the shit we want to do is wrong and we shouldn’t do it). Manson is guilty.

He dollops some Buddhism in with some stoicism and then smears it over with his own life experiences, taking time to tell us how popular he was with the chicks back in the day of his biggest blog success and drops his custom made ball of religious confusion onto us as the answer. His previously clear lines get murky and he goes back on some of the things he said, looking, ostensibly, for meaning because his own answer is just too bleak.

It gets weirder as the book loses steam, and at the end the author, who has deviated from his rant and started to give us details of his own life that really don’t fit into giving a fuck (i.e. the druggie friend who jumps off a cliff), finds himself flirting with a similar death. Life, he then determines, is special . . . even if we as individuals are not, and he finds some weird comfort in dying and becoming . . . nothing I guess? This dark ending makes us think that we were quite a bit better off worrying about everything as opposed to this desperately sad nihilism.

So – take the good, common sense out of this book, ignore the weirdness and the “nothing means anything so why care anyway, let’s all off ourselves” ending, and take Manson’s one nugget of triumvirate truth away: it’s not all about you; cherish your friends and family; you don’t have to be perfect.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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