Have you ever wondered why people get so angry with those who hold different viewpoints about politics? Unfortunately, in our polarized society this condition appears to be the new normal. But it wasn’t always this way.
Long gone are the days when a modicum of comity existed in politics. Don’t get me wrong, politics has never been a “short pants game,” heck back in the 1800s Congressmen were known to cane each other. But the days when the President of one political party would meet with the Speaker of the opposing political party and share an adult beverage while hammering out a legislative agenda, as Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil did in the 80’s are a distant memory.
Writing for Intellectual Takeout, Dr. Daniel Lattier opined that at least with regard to politics, modern culture has come to see anger as a virtue. He believes the notion of, “If you aren’t outraged, then you just aren’t paying attention,” is becoming pervasive in our society. And if that’s accurate, then political anger has now become identified with political & cultural awareness, in other words, “If you are outraged, then it must mean you ARE paying attention.”
Recently this concept was brought home to me when a very dear and old friend asked me to remove his subscription to my weekly blog, “to save our friendship.” It’s difficult sometimes to wrap words around emotions, and candidly I was dismayed by my old friend’s request, because c’mon, he knows my commentaries and blog are important to me, yet from my perspective he chose to dis me, and it hurt. Yes, the blog post he objected to, had a conservative bent, but there was absolutely nothing accusatory or offensive in it—but to “save a friendship”—really!
It’s been speculated because anger is now associated with political & cultural awareness, anger is now giving meaning to the lives of many. Meanwhile, as Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death opined, the majority of the news we hear is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but seldom leads to any meaningful action. Additionally, most of the political news we see these days actually has very little impact on our daily lives; nor we on it. Yet the extreme toxicity exists.
It’s a sad and dangerous commentary if we need anger to give meaning to our lives. It’s also a sign of the decline of virtue in our society and represents a reversal of classic Western thought on anger, something I’ve commented on in the past. Psychologists tell us anger is the shortest emotion because it cannot be held onto. Once anger is fully expressed, relief and letting go follow. And what in many cases passes for anger is actually drama.
Drama is a set of storylines that keep the emotional fires burning. And there is no clearer illustration of this drama than last summer’s riots that left the police with 3 dead and more than 2,000 officers injured in addition to the 27 civilians who were killed and the more than $2 billion in property damage.
True anger does not lead to danger or violence—drama does that. And by drama I’m referring to ego-centered, manipulative theatrics with an articulated storyline. In fact, most of the time what passes for anger is little more than a dramatic storyline.
Anger informs, drama frightens. Real anger is meant to communicate; drama is meant to silence. Legitimate anger needs no response; but drama insists that others see the justification in the anger of those who are outraged.
In many ways, humans are like “pack animals” and derive much of our identity and even some self-esteem by identifying with groups we belong to. We are proud of and identify with our social clubs, the schools we attended and even the NFL teams whose jerseys we wear, so why not politics?
As someone who served in the Marine Corps fifty years ago, I still feel a sense of pride and belonging at being a Marine. And yes, if someone were to criticize the Corps my first reaction would be to take it personally, that’s human nature. But in today’s society, it appears that the political venom and vitriol is little more than drama on steroids, and that benefits no one.
Quote of the day: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”—Thomas Jefferson