The Department of Taking It Easy

5 11 2010

I made this video with a very express purpose.

Allow me this: a modest proposal. The creation of an independent executive-level department, operating as a sort of ombudsman with responsibilities distinct from the type of policy implementation functions that are the raison d’etre of executive-level departments. Similar to a newspaper’s ombudsman or the Office of the Independent Counsel, this department would serve a watchdog function. To wit, a Department of Taking It Easy.

How we would all be better served if we pursued, through mild paternalism, a lifestyle animated by an unswerving impulse to take it easy, encouraged by gently imbued policies. Be still my heart.

The Department of Taking It Easy would be headed not by a Secretary, but a Relaxer-General, to emphasize the independence of the department, with analogy to the old Postmaster-General position. Like the ATF inside the Department of Justice, the policies of the DOTIE would be enforced by a Bureau of Cool Beans, headed by the Bursar of Cool Beans.

Before I continue, let me explain that. When I was 11, my sister brought home her eighth grade yearbook, which featured a “student survey” listing students’ self reported “favorite band” “favorite teacher” and among other categories, “favorite saying.” Number three on that list was “cool beans.” I’d never heard anybody actually use this phrase, I assumed that it was something you said to calm down a situation, like, “Hey, I think we’re all getting a little too heated in here. Everybody just cool beans, okay? C’mon man, put down that fireplace poker, take a deep breath, cool beans, cool beans.” I carried on this belief until I was seventeen years old when I heard it properly used to mean, inexplicably, “cool.” I decided I liked my version better and have used it that way ever since. And since this is my department, I get to give things whatever name I want.

The Bursar of Cool Beans will be the tactician to the Relaxer-General’s strategist; a sort of Don Corleone-Luca Brasi relationship, but with more numbered forms and a human resources lady.

More important than these hilarious details, however, is the department’s mission. The mission of this department will be encourage Americans–individually and as groups–to take it easy. In basically every situation, people need to take it easy. Look; just take it easy, okay? Whatever the situation is, you’d almost certainly be well served by taking it easy.

Perhaps this is better illustrated through example. From my forthcoming Restatement (First) Of Cool Beans,

§ 100 93. One should take it easy when, in a normal course of non-coerced events,

  • (a) A driver in a car ahead of the actor doesn’t start going at a green light right away;
  • (b) A public figure is exposed to have committed some foul and/or immoral, but lawful, sexual act (where “immoral” is defined as having the quality of being outrageous to the conscience of an average member of the community);
  • (c) Invitees to the actor’s neighbor’s party keep accidentally buzzing the actor to get in the building;
  • (d)The actor’s partner is phoning in a sexual performance, where that phoning occurs rarely enough as to be constructively unforeseeable (where “phoning it in” means falling below a standard established through previous performance, and foreseeability is defined as a likelihood falling less than probable)
  • (e) The actor’s preferred political party loses an election, or a person from the actor’s less-preferred political party makes disparaging public comments about the actor’s preferred political party or ideology;
  • (f) Apple does some new shit.
  • (g) Guy next to actor at sports bar is cheering obnoxiously enthusiastically for Duke.
  • (h) Reality TV stars exist.

This excerpt sets the basic guidelines. “Oh my god, this bar used to be cool, now it’s all hipsters or yuppies!” “Okay, just take it easy. Things change sometimes, take it easy.”

Now, the DOTIE is not meant to be imposing. This isn’t some Ministry of Love situation. Let’s say that your boss tells you that you can’t go to the bathroom anymore. Were you to begin sneak outside to pee on his car, we would not be asking you to cool beans. Or, say, if your entire ethnic group were forced to march across the country in conditions so brutal that people would call the route a trail of tears. Kvetch away.

Notably, scientists would be exempt, in specific instances, from the DOTIE’s purview. You can get worked up because your experimental cancer cure isn’t inducing necrosis in tumorous cells, but not because your graduate assistant overslept and made you late for the conference.

I’ve been drafting the legislation to create the DOTIE and writing its administrative code for the last six years, testing the application of its precepts by constantly telling people I know to take it easy, and seeing when it caused them to actually take it easy and when it only infuriated them further. (As it turns out, telling people to take it easy often has the opposite of the intended effect).

But, after watching the reaction to the midterm elections, I felt it was time to publicly unveil the plan and demand on its immediate implementation.

If this seems like an excessively elaborate, self-indulgent way to tell you to take it easy, that is because that is what it is. At the risk of invoking a cliche, made you look, made you look, dirty crook.

The Democratic Party’s establishment looks to Bill Clinton’s presidency as a halcyon period. The same presidency that included a Republican tidal wave, and a Congress so hostile he was actually impeached. Also, barely more than five generations ago, the country split into two teams and fought a war against each other. Here. Like, seriously a few hundred miles from where we are right now.

Jesus, take it easy.

You know, cool beans. Illinois elected a Republican to the Senate. “Obama’s seat,” a mere four years before he left it, was “Peter Fitzgerald’s seat.” Peter Fitzgerald was a Republican. Debbie Halvorson’s seat was held by a Republican until 2008. Bill Foster took the seat over from Dennis Hastert a few years ago. The Republicans controlled the House in 2006. This doesn’t mean that the Republicans won’t do bad stuff. But they were doing bad stuff four years ago. Yes, they’re more radical now. But still, take it easy. This is politics, and life. Sometimes the lady in front of you in line at the grocery store tears the coupons out of the catalog at the register. Sometimes girls don’t call you back. Take it easy.

Taking it easy is a state of mind, yes, and a physical state as well. The physical state requires relaxation of breathing, serenity in facial gesture, and limiting your hate sweat. When you’re taking it easy, you are accepting that, sometimes, the servant drops the crystalware. Crystalware will fall.

Seneca said, in his Praemeditatio,

Nothing, whether public or private, is stable; the destinies of men,
no less than those of cities, are in a whirl.
Whatever structure has been reared by a long sequence of years, at
the cost of great toil and through [great kindness of fate], is
scattered and dispersed in a single day.

If this sounds pessimistic, take a second look. It is quite the contrary; how can accepting what is true be pessimistic? In fact, it gives you great power, and great comfort. Understanding how subject we all are to inconveniences, even pain–even tragedy–inures us from feeling victimized, of raging at an unexpected turn of events. We should expect it all, because it is all as likely to happen to us as anyone else. Only the discrepancy between what we expect and what we face can cause pain.

Epicurus made a similar case by arguing that anxiety is the source of most human misery. His solution was summed up in the tetrapharmakos, or “Four part cure,” which can be summarized as, “Fear no god and fear not death; what is good can always be obtained, and what is painful can always be endured.” The latter pair is what concerns us here (though, yes, Epicurus was for practical purposes an atheist). Epicurus argued that pain was either acute and short or dull and chronic, and in either case, we should be mindful that we could endure it. Similarly, what brings human contentment–a shelter, enough to eat, good conversation and freedom of thought, could typically by obtained with minimum effort.

These are significantly more flowery ways to ask us to cool beans and just take it easy.



One response

15 12 2010

This is very well constructed and I would like to officially announce my candidacy for Relaxer-General. I am really good at taking it easy, like to say “take it easy” and have a playlist on my ipod of relaxing songs called “alright everybody, just cool beans, ok?”

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