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June 09, 2012
How The Left Abandoned Traditional Notions of Restraint, Reserve, and Self-Mastery In Favor Of Righteous Rage, And How The Right Has Sadly Followed Them
And: The Blog Policy On Anger
In 2004, the left fully embraced anger and hatred, calling it justified and righteous.
In 2007, a guy named Peter Wood wrote a book called A Bee In The Mouth, documenting the "New Anger," an anger no longer ashamed, but now an angry proud and preening.
He warned, presciently, that this same New Anger was a poison beginning to infect the body politic of the right.
I doubt that even Barack Obama can save us from our anger now. That’s because the anger that lately pervades our politics is more than just an aftereffect of six years of Democratic setbacks (although the strikingly angry Democratic response to their six bad years does call for an explanation). Our political anger is only the most impressive expression of a much wider cultural transformation. In politics, in music, in sports, on the web, in our families, and in the relations between the sexes, American anger has come into its own. Wood says we’re living in an era of “New Anger,” and regardless of who becomes our next president, New Anger isn’t going away anytime soon.
Anger Old and New
What exactly is New Anger? Let’s find out by first having a look at Old Anger. Before we lionized all those angry anti-heroes — from Jack Nicholson in the movies, to John McEnroe on the tennis court — Americans admired the strong silent type: slow to boil, reluctant to fight unless sorely provoked, and disinclined to show anger even then. Gary Cooper in Sargent York comes to mind. Old Anger was held in check by ideals of self-mastery and reserve. As Wood puts it, “Dignity, manliness, and wisdom called for self-control and coolness of temper.” The angry man, Wood reminds us, was once thought a weak-minded zealot, bereft of good judgment and prey to false clarity. Above all, Americans (especially women) kept anger at bay “lest it overwhelm the relations on which family life depends.”
On behalf of this ideal of reserve, anger was not merely checked, but was even partially defeated (today we’d say “repressed”). There was a time when Americans strove to train themselves away from actually being angry — a time when even the private, inner experience of rage felt shameful and was shunned. Yet in compensation for the inner sacrifice and discipline demanded by the art of self-mastery, Americans experienced a mature pride in “character” achieved. In what Wood calls that “now largely invisible culture” of Old Anger, refusal to be provoked was its own reward.
That was then. America’s New Anger exchanges the modest heroism of Gary Cooper’s Sargent York for something much closer to the Incredible Hulk. New Anger is everything that Old Anger was not: flamboyant, self-righteous, and proud. As a way to “empowerment” for ethnic groups, women, political parties, and children, New Anger serves as a mark of identity and a badge of authenticity. The Civil War, and America’s past political campaigns, may have witnessed plenty of anger, yet not until recently, says Wood, have Americans actually congratulated themselves for getting angry. Anger has turned into a coping mechanism, something to get in touch with, a prize to exhibit in public, and a proof of righteous sincerity.
New Anger is nowhere more at home than in the blogosphere, where so far from being held in check, look-at-me performance anger is the path to quick success. Wood’s section on the “proud maliciousness” of bloggers (titled “Insta-Anger”) will stir debate, yet it’s far from a blanket indictment. The Insta-Pundit himself is off the hook, for example. “[Glenn] Reynolds’ comments are often sardonic but seldom angry,” says Wood. On the other hand, Atrios explaining “Why We Say ‘F***’ a Lot” (expurgation most definitely not in the original) fares far less well at Wood’s hands.
No False Symmetry
“For the first time in our political history, declaring absolute hatred for one’s opponent has become a sign not of sad excess but of good character.” That, Wood says, is why our political anger is now New Anger. For Wood (a conservative who’s written for National Review Online) New Anger is a phenomenon of both Left and Right. Yet Wood eschews false symmetry, and one of the fascinations of A Bee in the Mouth is following Wood’s attempt to make sense of New Anger’s long, slow, and decidedly incomplete seepage from the Left to the Right side of the political spectrum.
It's complete now. I think we can fairly state that seepage is complete now.
Anger is not a virtue, and hatred is not courage.
Screaming and ranting does not improve morale, and does not stiffen spines.
There is a word I love: "unmanned." Bereft of manhood; sent into an emotional tizzy; screaming like a child.
It is not manly to become unmanned.
Let it be known:
Most of us are pretty angry.
But yet it must be kept in check.
Anger is sinful; but to indulge in anger, to make excuses for it, to call anger prudent and wise, is pathetic.
It is narcissistic to claim flaws and indulgences are really virtues in disguise.
I am angry. I'm often angry. Sometimes I mask it with humor.
I am also a reasoning human being who knows what most people have known since age six: Anger does not produce good decisions, nor good results.
Anger is an indulgence. A soft, callow indulgence. An indulgence of emotion, and indulgence -- like all indulgences -- that feels good.
I indulge in it too. We all do. But make no mistake, every time we do, it is an indulgence, and not a badge of righteousness.
For over a year I have been inveighing against unchecked anger, exhibitionist anger. I have cautioned against mistaking this indulgent state with actual virtue -- virtues alleged, most frequently, to consist of "courage," "integrity," and "principle."
I don't think that's what it is.
I know the left thought that their anger gave them "courage," "integrity," and "principle" when they indulged it unashamedly in 2004 (through the present), and never once did I think, "All that angry, emotional talk of theirs really shows their courage, integrity, and principle."
What I thought was: "They sound like clown-babies."
This precise same angry talk does not suddenly sound any more elevated or noble simply because it emanates from the right. A swap in political branding does not transform a fundamentally childlike, indulgent state into a noble one.
What people who are truly, unapologetically, unashamedly angry need is need less politics, not more.
Politics is not the reason for their anger; deep-seated emotional turmoil and private tribulations are their real problems.
"Politics" is simply the convenient, "socially-acceptable" outlet for it. Some are too afraid to confront their real problems, too cowardly, so they talk about "politics."
It is primal screaming, and it ought to be done in a more suitable, more productive venue.
I have always suggested productive ways to channel anger. How many of people who feel enraged and voiceless have joined their local party and attempted to take it over?
Or contacted FreedomWorks to learn how to grassroots-organize?
Taken any positive step, at all, to doing something about the alleged source of their rage?
A blog's comment area is not a good vehicle for changing the world.
The world gets changed in the one place it's always been changed: Out in the world.
Anyone filled with anger ought to try something like that. He might find his anger largely dissipated, as he would feel empowered, actively doing instead of merely emoting, and not reduced to impotent shrieking.
These utterances do not help anything, except the personal need for catharsis. Unhinged ranting is embarrassing for the entire movement, and does not, as is often alleged, somehow, in some unexplained manner, "help the cause."
Ever watch Ed Schultz and his red-faced raging? Does he seem attractive, even to people who lean to the left? Does it seem likely his impotent fury is gathering supporters beneath his flag?
Or do you think he's repulsing people?
The comments section of this blog is for intelligent conversation, interesting tips, unexplored points, fun snark, bustin' chops, running riffs, inside jokes, sockpuppet gags, making friends, flirting, talk of boobs, and of course praising me, and if you must, even praising the cobloggers.
It is expressly not a forum for rage or running other commenters down (except for trolls, and I do mean trolls, not someone you disagree with).
People often -- usually -- hide their unhappiness and fear in anger.
Anger feels like a "safe" emotion; it feels empowering, it feels like you're not expressing vulnerability.
Whereas confessing unhappiness and personal problems feels vulnerable, like a show of weakness, and people don't want to do that.
People never want to do that.
Here's the thing, though: It may seem that way, but in fact admitting problems is a far, far more courageous -- a far more manly -- thing than to hide them behind anger.
Anger is vulnerability. It's just vulnerability in the form of shouting.
People think the anger disguises that, but it does not. It's the most vulnerable vulnerability there is -- the vulnerability that's so raw it doesn't even dare confess itself.
And yet it does. "Issues," people short-hand it-- "That guy has issues." What is intended to be hidden by anger is not in fact hidden at all. It's plain-sight. Everyone immediately knows, "This guy is not just talking about politics."
It is often the case that the steps we take to conceal ourselves reveal us most of all.
This blog is a home, of sorts. People want to come here for interesting and fun banter.
It is not intended to be a hostile environment. If anger makes you hostile, you will have to check that, or check out.
Although I would strongly urge fixing the problem that drives unthinking anger in the first place. Or find a productive channel by which you can feel empowered by really doing something to change the circumstances you despise.
Anger is hard on the heart and makes life poorer. I don't think some people understand a basic fact: No one is "comfortable" with someone else's angry outbursts. The person engaging in those angry outbursts may be comfortable with his anger (a little too comfortable, by my lights), but others are not.
Of course you don't have to listen to me. Just free advice. Free, but in this case, valuable.
And in this case, also, mandatory.
I heard Dennis Praeger say something to Adam Carolla that I thought was stupid and sappy when I heard it, but then Adam Carolla agreed, and then I realized they were both right.
He said it is a selfish indulgence to be unhappy, and that it is a moral necessity to be happy and cheerful.
Not for yourself, he clarified-- for others. For the sake of others in our lives, we should project good cheer and warm spirits, even if we do not exactly feel that inside.
I've been trying this for a while. About, I don't know, a couple of months. My whole life I had done what Praeger called moral cowardice, or selfish indulgence -- I had frowned, I had shown a lack of interest or enthusiasm, I had been stingy with kind words and compliments.
I was, in short, a real piece of shit. Still am.
But I am trying. I am trying to take Praeger's counsel and remind myself that to be unhappy, and to project unhappiness out into the world, makes other people's lives poorer, other people's lives unhappier.
So far, at least in my personal life, it's working. I'm still depressive, but I feel good on occasion by just being nice.
So I'm faking it. Fake it 'till you make it. To do otherwise is to simply indulge oneself. Yes, my natural state is phlegmatic, unenthused, unengaged, reserved, lazy, and depressive; but then, my natural state is also to be fat, and beat off twice a day. And I've done something about those (1, Adkins, 2, "Rawdog Aversion Therapy").
I began this post much angrier myself, in the beginning; I've tried, in successive drafting passes, to soften it, and add some lightness to it.
But the people I mean -- not many, but a few -- know who they are. You have to lighten it up, you have to keep in mind that it's not just your own emotional state, but those of your would-be comrades.
I will enable comments for just this post. I imagine some will want to argue about this. That's fine; that's why I'm enabling comments, so you can express that, so you can argue back.
But the policy is the policy and will be the policy. I will enable comments, so you can express your disapproval, and suggest I'm taking away your right to free speech, or whatever other grievance you might have; but in the end, I think this is the right policy, and the policy that will make these comments better for 95% of all commenters. 5% it might make it worse for, but it's a numbers game.
It's also my very strong preference.
There is always a dispute about noise in a building or neighborhood-- the noisy guy thinks the Neighborhood Standard should be set to "Noisy" and the quiet guy thinks the Standard should be Quiet.
Neither one really has any objective proof that his preferences should prevail. Nevertheless, between the two, someone must prevail, and that always seems unfair to the losing side.
But it is every bit as unfair to the other side, should that side lose.
It's a question without an answer you can "prove." And yet, a standard must exist. Either the guy is going to have to turn down his stereo, or the bookworm is going to have to wear uncomfortable earmuffs; two purported rights are in conflict, and someone is going to lose what he purports to be his "rights" (which will be found, in the end, not to be "rights" at all, but merely preferences which have been disfavored by official policy).
I'm setting the standard as lower hostility, and lower anger. Arguments are fine; attacking other commenters, unprovoked (and the expression of a disfavored idea is not "provocation") isn't.
Some people will object to this, but most, I believe, will welcome it.
Anyway, comment away. I have attempted to scrub some of the first-draft angry talk out of this, but I probably missed some. For that, I apologize in advance.