The Fine Art of Giving a Shit


“I don’t give a shit” is surely among the more commonly used expressions in the vast glossary of American clichés and catch phrases. Like most of the world’s vernacular wisdom, it thrives because it serves so many needs. It is near the top of the list of expressions that allow us to withdraw, to express indifference, to disavow the need to expend emotion, energy, or worry on things we’d rather not. It also carries a big dump of obvious disdain in most any context where it is heard.

The vulgar expression could be the official motto of the indifferent, the apathetic, or even of defeated people who hope to appear blasé about things they actually do care about, but feel powerless to change. It’s a verbalized shrug.

When it comes to politics or culture war divisions, many of those who pretend to not give a shit are not hardcore fascists, racists, misogynists, anti-Semites, homophobes, or xenophobes. Their pretense of not caring does, however, does enable such people by. No one has ever died under that banner.

The ugly attitudes now found so commonly throughout this country are, however, held by people who seem to give more of a shit about their benighted views than do the people who find them so deplorable. Those of us who abhor fascism, racism, and the rest of it are said to outnumber those thugs, reactionaries, yahoos, brown shirts, faux patriots and ersatz Christans who say they give a shit about this country never seem to get worked up about things like domestic terrorists, anti-democratic forces, or a white-washed version of history for their kids. They don’t give a shit when cops shoot 12-year-old black boys armed with water pistols, but they most definitely do give a shit when people protest such affronts to justice

It may seem in poor taste to draw the comparison between Thanksgiving and giving a shit, but the things we give a shit (or much more than a shit) about are the things we tend to celebrate on this day devoted to expressing gratitude. For that reason, I can’t and I don’t give thanks or express appreciation for the millions of Americans who seem so clueless about what should be valued, and what truly should never be valued in this nation’s history and heritage. I am not thankful for the abundance of racists, don’t want to offer up thanks for people like Trump, Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones, or the Proud Boys, of whom I definitely am not proud. Both as an American and an arguably rational human being, I give a shit that there are so many such people in this country now, emboldend by a man who seems entirely amoral and borderline nuts. What once could be seen as a Norman Rockwell holiday all Americans could share, now is seen as the place where we get together timorously, hoping we can endure a few hours with some of our Neanderthal kin, and they with us.

But, I am thankful for more things than I can mention, even in these darkening times. I am thankful for the jury (and for the prosecutors) in the case of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. I am not, however, at all thankful for that jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin, nor for that camera-loving judge, that expensive defense team, and the horrible people who donated more than $2 million to make it possible to award a not guilty verdict to Kyle Rittenhouse. He could not be found guilty of so much as jaywalking in a deeply troubled town that will now wear the shame of looking more like Georgia than Georgia does. Or did.

Many of us give a shit about stuff like that, more of us than “them.” I’m grateful for that.

This week, while buying groceries from the some of the same checkers who showed up for work throughout the pandemic, through all that time when none of us really knew if contact with other people might lead to death. We all should be grateful to them even as it seems their reward for service and dedication will be the elimination of their jobs as stores across America rapidly convert to self-checkout. Do not expect the loss of those good employees to result in lower costs at the market, however.

If you don’t give a shit about that, perhaps you should.

So much of what we all bring home from the stores and put in the fridge was harvested by Mexicans, including “illegals” who have put up with more shit and more prejudice than people should ever have to bear. We snatched their babies away and then misplaced them. They endured and endure insults. They are ripped off routinely by those who employ them and those who sell them stuff. They live under a cloud of hate and fear, and still they pick and produce so much that is essential to us. And, in their country as well as ours, they are almost always friendly, pleasant, and even gracious, despite abundant reasons to hate damn near every Anglo they see. Those of us who are shamed by the way they are and have been treated should make a louder noise against those who make so many of us look so monstrous.

In other words, we should give more of a shit than we generally do.

On a more immediate level, I am deeply grateful that my two daughters turned out to be such good, kind, and decent people. I don’t say this to boast about what a great dad I was. Like most parents, I have concerns about the things I did and didn’t do where the kids were concerned: the times I wasn’t listening when I should have been, the times I didn’t see or neglected things they were struggling with, or just times when I had no idea of how to fix things. The period in their lives when things could be fixed by just kissing the boo-boo or buying an ice cream cone doesn’t last long. Challenges arise that are complicated and not easily addressed. But there is little I care about more than these two women, a degree of gratitude I might not feel if they had not turned out so well.

There are people celebrating Thanksgiving this and every year whose kids are in jail, struggling with addictions, or mired in bad relationships that cause estrangement or alienation in the family. That’s a tough row I haven’t had to hoe, a break I caught, in part, when I was born white with the privileges skin color conferred. I would surely be a shit if I didn’t give a shit that so many other parents weren’t that lucky.

I am sure that fascist ex-cop in Georgia convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery thought he was acting as a responsible adult, concerned about the future his son would inhabit. Instead, his racist zealotry screwed that kid up pretty thoroughly. He wanted that boy to be a piece of shit off the old block, and now that kid will live out most if not all of the rest of his life behind bars. As he should, but that didn’t happen because his dad didn’t give a shit. The same can be said of Kyle Rittenhouse’s mother from hell. We all must choose wisely about what we choose to care about, and how much.

What drives people like them to think and do as they do is profoundly immoral, dangerous, wrong and, despite and also because of our history, profoundly un-American. We must never forget that line we all know about all men being created equal, and women, too, though lots of men and few if any women treated as equals when those words were put to parchment.

But if we want a country worth living in or celebrating, we have to give a shit about that every day of the year.

Happy thanksgiving. Here’s hoping you have much to be thankful for.


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