maxbarry.com
Mon 24
Oct
2022

We Care a Lot

What Max Reckons You know what’s amazing: We can create things just by caring. That’s all you need to do. Just care. Two people care about each other: Pow! Now there’s a relationship. Before, nothing. But now anything might happen. They might move in together, quit jobs, travel, get in a fight.

It doesn’t just work on people. It can be anything. Look at all those sports teams who kick a ball or whatever and it’s televised and people flock to watch in giant stadiums. Just because we care! The kicking of the ball itself is pointless. That has no intrinsic value. It is clearly worthless. But we care about it! So actually it’s worth a lot! It’s driving economies and generating debate and making people wear scarves of particular colors.

TV shows. Religions. Novels. Everything! Everything in the world has value if someone cares about it! And only then!

This is a major background theme in Providence, by the way, which I have never seen anyone notice. I actually really want to talk about it sometime but can’t because I have to spoil the whole novel. Anyway, whenever I get to thinking that we’re all powerless motes in a maelstrom of external forces, and have no free will, I remember I can make something important by caring about it. And no-one can stop me! That’s the thing! I can care about whatever I like! Grass! Kids’ netball! Background themes in novels! You might think these things are stupid and worthless, but too late! I already cared about them! You know what that home-stitched doll of Marlene from Apathy and Other Small Victories is worth on eBay? Something! Because I like it!

Caring is amazing. As far as I can figure out, it’s the sole reason our existence is more than a bunch of physics: You can care about anything, at any time, for any reason. And when you do, you change the universe.

Nobody knows how this happens! We have no idea what makes someone care! We have only been able to persuade people to act like they care, which, okay, is pretty good, but not the same thing. (I once wrote 90% of a novel that I didn’t really care about. It was not the same.) Making people act like they care about things they actually don’t is a fundamental part of our world economy; just imagine if we couldn’t do that. I mean, you think there’s a staffing shortage now. Caring is so important, we pour unthinkable amounts of time and money into faking it.

Then there’s the other part. If you stop caring, you can kill things. Everything has a threshold, and when it receives less care than that, it dies. It just dies. And, again, you can do this in your head. You don’t need to make a plan. You don’t need to perform any particular deed. You can just stop caring. See how long that thing lasts.

Comments

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Machine Man subscriber Joel Pearson (#2145)

Location: Canberra, Australia
Posted: 32 days ago

I cared enough about you to read this email, so you get to live another day!

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 32 days ago

Thank you, Joel.

Awesomjohn098 (#8297)

Posted: 32 days ago

Okay, I'm going to try to be contrarian and disagree with this article.

People caring about something doesn't automatically give it value. If there's a burning dumpster, there's nothing valuable about that, even if in my sick mind I care about it. So the firefighters should still put it out.

Something is valuable whenever it's provides cultural, social, or economic growth. Like a new museum being built so people can learn more about history, or someone forming a family, or getting a raise. Those things I would argue are objectively valuable no matter what someone says.

I don't think we should just declare something to be valuable because someone out there likes it. Might be an extreme example, but Hitler was a pretty big fan of the Holocaust, and I think it was a bad thing.

I'm not going to do this with every single email, but I decided to do it with this one because this seemed to be one of the posts that is just like "no one's going to disagree with this". So I wasn't going to let you get away without some without any disagreement. No need to thank me. You're welcome.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 32 days ago

You can't stop me thanking you, John. I'm doing it right now.

Objective value is a wild idea. I feel like there must be a long Wikipedia article about that. It will be a philosophical argument thousands of years old. But no, objective value is just someone's subjective value in costume. You say growth is objectively valuable but surely that's only what you care about. Someone else might think growth is worthless, or worse. We have no ultimate authority on value. The closest is the free market, and that's a sum of individual subjective desires, which we can change just by caring about things.

I do agree bad things can be valuable, though. Lots of valuable things are bad. Not you, though, John. You're a treasure.

Colin Matthew (#3660)

Location: Portland, Ore.
Posted: 32 days ago

Apathy and Other Small Victories? Now there's a book I haven't heard about in years. It has one of my favorite first sentences.

syrup6 (#1224)

Location: Arkansas
Quote: ""Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion" - Kierkegaard"
Posted: 32 days ago

You're not wrong. (One of the worst phrases in the English language)
It's weird how much I care when you publish a book. Or release a blog. Or write words in general.
I don't fan girl, but maybe I do a little? Because I don't think there's anyone who knows me that I havent forced one of your books on them. Because I care. They need to read the words and get it, like I get it. I even shared your alien short story as an analog for coding in a college class I just took.
I first read Syrup at 17. My 16 year old daughter has it on her night stand right now. My husband recommends Company to everyone in his corporate goon world because -I- cared enough to introduce him to you. And now he cares enough to share your words with those in the trenches with him.
Care is a funny thing and maybe the most of things. And giving up on caring is a tragic thing.
You're not wrong.

Captain Awesomepants (#5009)

Location: South of the River
Quote: "If I didn't flush OR wipe, do I still have to wash my hands?"
Posted: 32 days ago

Told my son during a long car ride last might about your novels, and not-often-enough blog posts, and now he cares.

I think my heart broke a little when I got to the part about how not caring can kill.

And I would LOVE to talk themes of Providence! Holy shit, I may or may not have gone on and on about that one during that car ride. There's a metric f*ckton going on under the surface in that one. I'll email you. Because, boy howdy, do I care.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 32 days ago

Thank you for the cares. I write stories because I care, but I only get to do it as a career because you do.

Machine Man subscriber Jarrad (#837)

Location: Hobart
Posted: 32 days ago

The last paragraph made me think of Kanye. Perhaps he will vanish if people stop giving him a platform?

Michael Kazak (#8368)

Location: Plainfield, IL
Quote: "A Quote! I don't know any quotes!"
Posted: 32 days ago

I care enough for Season 3...

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 32 days ago

> I can care about whatever I like

No you can't, because you don't have free will.

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 32 days ago

> If you stop caring, you can kill things.

To be fair, caring too much kills a lot of things as well; sometimes the thing cared about, sometimes anything else.
On the one hand, a lot of things have two thresholds, similar to how most plants want enough water but not too much. On the other hand you have a limited "care" budget, at some point you run out of shits to give. So caring more for one thing goes at the expense of another.

> We have no ultimate authority on value.

Some people think they do, though. And I suppose if they care strongly enough, it's the ultimate authority for them, whether it exists or not.

Brenda (#7217)

Location: Berowra Bushland
Quote: "entering your world via the book portal is awesome"
Posted: 31 days ago

I am older now and spend more time caring about my happiness and peace of mind. When I was a lot younger I thought I was a 'sensitive' person and stuff I cared about often made me feel crazy and upset. In one of my career reinventions I became a therapist and learned NLP and for 10 years I saw up close and personal lots of people caring deeply about stuff that made them feel crazy and upset. I am super grateful that I learned easy reprogramming techniques that I continue to use whenever I start caring about issues that are outside of my sphere of influence.

Timothy Williams (#7814)

Location: riter
Quote: "...it is so strange the way things turn."
Posted: 31 days ago

Max, Max, my main man Max... reading your blog about caring hit me hard. It was like a therapy session, and while reading it I paused so I could leave my body and look at MY world and what I care about -- and do not care about -- from a completely objective perspective. I was left feeling depressed. Bleak is more like it. First because of all the things I am pretending to care about in society, many of which are forced upon me by society. Then, personally, about the things I CHOSE and SELECTED to care about: a few people, some alive, some dead, all dying like me; many animals, some alive, some dead, and at the moment a dog (Lucy) who is, as I write this, in her very last stage of her life and I am caring deeply for her and helping get through this, dying like me; a lot of ideas, a few lingering in my head, most of them on paper; a whole lot of personal items that I alone care about, much like Charles Foster Kane's beloved Rosebud. And when I'm gone those items I cared about will lose their meaning and become absolutely worthless, because only I cared about them. The ideas in my head, gone, and the ones on paper will become just pieces of paper that will be recycled into either a cheap table or just more paper. And the people will all die, wont they? And that's that. These are things I cannot STOP caring about because they bring peace and joy to my tiny world. The world in which I am the star and everyone else is an extra, a background player, placed around me as props while I go about my leading role.

You, Max, are one of the aforementioned people I care about. I found Syrup in a Dollar General Store. $1.00 for a hardback copy! I have been loyal ever since (buying each new release at full purchase price!) because I CHOSE to care about you, your ideas, your characters and storytelling, and the themes you have woven within.

[As an aside, your mention of Apathy and Other Small Victories made me go look that up, and I bought a copy of Amazon -- and while there I also noticed the new John Irving, and geez, I care about him so I bought that too. These are all books my wife will give away/donate/toss when I'm dead. Even my autographed copy of Providence. Gone]

Timothy
7814

Machine Man subscriber Ben (#3924)

Location: Alberta, Canada
Quote: "I don't wanna ride the elevator."
Posted: 15 days ago

John,

You say the dumpster on fire has no value, it's just burning garbage, but people should extinguish the fire anyway. What is value though and where is it? You caring about the fire has value in and of yourself. If you didn't care, you wouldn't call the fire department, the fire wouldn't get extinguished perhaps, and maybe it starts something else on fire. Then maybe someone cares enough to call, the value is in the people, in your mind.

Caring isn't necessarily liking either, as you imply. It just means you give enough of a shit about something to take action. If Mac is wrong in any way here, it isn't that caring created value, it's that the thing you care about is still worthless, your value just improved and with it the world around you. This has nothing to do with wealth, it's more abstract than that, some rich people are completely worthless and some poor people are without equal.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 13 days ago

Man, thanks so much for all the comments above. I don't know where you people come from, but you're awesome.

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