American Culture

2016: so far a bleak year, fettered by anger

anger_quoteI began 2016, the year in which I turned 70 years old, so damn angry.

More than sufficient reasons exist for all that anger. I, like many of you, am unwillingly steeped daily in the raw, heavily mediated sewage of billionaire-induced partisan politics; increasing and intolerable economic inequities; a deeply flawed educational system; conflicts in law, society, and government spawned by religion-fueled hostility; assaults on racial and ethnic sensibilities; the slow, agonizing death of democracy; and the decades-old rise of greed-driven, power-hungry oligarchy.

That’s just the background noise obscuring intelligent discursive signal about so many more problems — local, national, global — that the billions of us ruled by oligarchical forces sense are beyond our control or, often, our comprehension.

Add in the immediate, inundating surface noise: There’s the racially charged divisiveness crafted — or at least proudly nurtured — by Donald Trump. There’s the ever-shifting personalities adopted by Hillary Clinton as she tries repeatedly to imitate a human being instead of a corporatist. There’s Mitch McConnell, who has declared he alone should decide whether a Supreme Court nominee should receive a fair-minded hearing (ha!) and a vote. There are all sorts of “journalistic” media — print, online, cable, and broadcast —consumed by such politically charged, personality-driven stories. Why? Ratings. Traffic. Circulation. Ad revenue. Profits. Beat the drum loudly and often — if it’s not for Taylor Swift or Kanye, then it’s for Trump, Clinton, McConnell, or some guy named Obama.

The reasons for my anger flow in undammed, unchecked. They reside in a pool of dismay, fear, disbelief, shock, and sorrow. Anger fertilizes hate: Who to blame, who to attack, who to flay?

In time, anger invites irrational actions. Anger erodes faith, undercuts kindness, deducts time from patience, assaults clearness of thought, fuels endless frustration, slays intimacy, hardens the heart, produces rashness of action, and throttles love.

There is so much anger to endure. It has grown far too powerful, begetting and masterminding a world overflowing with hate.

Anger ends peace. Anger oozes conflict. Doesn’t anger produce hatred? And not just between nations and city-states and ethnic regions — but also between you and me. Too many of us, lost without an experience of inner peace, fight wars inside that seep outside, turning neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, lover against lover. Too many of us reside in a pit of relentless helplessness. We churn through our days, wondering Does this get any better?

Anger has consumed too many of us — too many of the electorate of any political skin have discarded the notion of free speech or fairness. Attack Trump protesters. Repel Republican true-believers. Anger and hate seep through all facets of politics.

Peace should begin with each of us, resolutely opposing anger and its consequences.

But these days, that’s a tall order. So few examples of sufficiently exemplary human beings exist in our mediated political, social, and cultural landscapes for us to emulate.

With that realization, sadness surrounds and consumes my anger — 2016 ain’t gonna be a good year.

9 replies »

  1. I’m turning 70 this year too, and I relate to a lot of this. I’m certainly unhappy with the state of the world, and I don’t see it improving any time soon, and I worry for my grandchildren and the world we’re leaving them–we screwed up big time. But you’re right, anger solves nothing, and in fact gets in the way. I’ve become very zen about it all, which I’m not sure is good or not. But I’ve decided I can’t solve anything big–so I’m working on small stuff. But it has its gratifications, and it’s what I can do.

  2. Wuf: That’s part of the frustration: Half a century ago, we Boomers thought we could — and would — “solve anything (and everything) big.” We didn’t. A half-century passed. We saw issues and problems with deep roots, perhaps deeper than we were prepared to face.

    Now, at 70, part of that anger stems from understanding what we (and I) did not resolve to do and succeed. As a professor, I am frustrated that I have not successfully conveyed to my students how serious the stakes are in their own futures. What they face is far more consequential than what we did.

    So, for me, I’ll keep teaching. I can work on the small stuff — teaching sophomores what an apostrophe is and how it’s used. I shouldn’t have to — but that’s how deeply flawed the U.S. educational system is.

    I’ll stick it out, wuf. But I’m still so, so, royally pissed.

  3. I grew up a very angry child, a kid whose anger, usually but not always at perceived unfairness, defined who he was. That could have gone… badly… had I not read what I consider to be one of the best comments ever on anger. I continue to be annoyed that the observation was made by a homophobic asshole by the name of Orson Scott Card. Alas, our favorite artists are not always (in fact, so rarely are) worthy of the pedestal we place them upon when we are moved by their art.

    What he wrote in Ender’s Game was this:

    Hot anger was bad. Ender’s anger was cold, and he could use it. Bonzo’s was hot, and so it used him.

    Hot vs. cold anger. Self-destructive vs. constructive.

    I don’t know if that adds much to the conversation, but it’s something you got me to think about at least. Thanks for that.

  4. This was a sad piece for me to read Denny. We all choose which signals to process and which to ignore. It seems you’re focusing on the loudest while skipping the most worthwhile.

    Globally things are looking quite upbeat. Crime and poverty are down, fewer people are hungry and sick, warfare and violence are much less prevalent than a few generations ago.

    I think you just need to retune your receiver sir. You do make a difference, the world is a better place because of you. I myself am a little kinder for knowing you. Seriously.

  5. Frank is exactly right. A dozen or so years ago I read a book called “It’s Getting Better All the Time” that took a quantitative approach to whether things were getting better or worse, and the answer is better. It’s not much of a book, but it really changed my life because it made me realize that I only think the world is getting worse because (1) every increasing availability of bad news and (2) Boomer narcissism.

    That is, yes we Boomers thought we could fix the world (in our spare time, with a concert) but somehow we morphed that into thinking that only we could fix the world, and if we don’t do it by the time we kick it, the world will go to shit. Without us, the world is doomed, doomed, doomed. Thinking that the world is bad, getting worse, and that we did it is the ultimate hubris.

    When I was growing up, there was a murder where the father decided that his family was broken and he couldn’t fix it, so he killed everyone and committed suicide. Every day our school bus rode by the crumbling house with chest high weeds. Come to find out, that’s a not uncommon event, although often the dad chickens out when it’s his turn. Thinking that the world is failing and despondent because we can’t fix it is that same sort of over-self-importance.

    Now the problem is emotion is emotion, and logic doesn’t always move it much. As you know, I think the world of you–your art hangs in my house (most recent pic is also fantastic, btw) but this is one where I think you’re off base. I really, really hope you can shake out of this one.

    • Thanks, O. I’ve always appreciated your ability to see a “bigger picture” than I often do. I’ll take your advice to heart.

      • O is probably right about how we perceive things vs how they are in the aggregate. Denny, what was the media theory we studied that addressed this, the “dangerous world” stuff? Was that enculturation? If so, they’re saying basically the same thing. We live in a media-saturated world and there’s ratings in the bad news stories. So that’s all we see, so that’s how we think everything is.

        Doesn’t mean that you don’t feel the way you feel, and theory notwithstanding, the frontrunners right now ARE Trump and Clinton. So it ain’t all puppies and rainbows flying out my ass, for sure.

  6. Here’s a blunt example of my worldview: I protested the Vietnam War (admittedly mostly to meet wimmin) at UMass. Occupied the dean of students office a few times. All I wanted was peace. We believed peace would ensue.

    Yet America has been in a state of war or preparations for war in every year of my earthly existence. That has cost blood, time, and treasure. I never expected so much of taxpayers’ money — or such a percentage of GDP to — be spent on destructive potential. I never expected the quality of American education to take such a deep dive in the last half century — caused, in great measure, by money spent on destruction rather than investment in education.

    And don’t get me started on the dramatic inequity of wealth and the consequences that has left us.

    So I’m angry. I appreciate O’s point. But really — what we envisioned in the ’60s never happened (and we played our own significant, selfish roles in what has transpired).

    I no longer see the prospect of peace in my remaining lifetime. Nor do I see a stark readjustment in what Americans fear today — conflict, stress, and turmoil. Nor do I see what used to be considered “the American dream” as a feasible possibility for my students. They face a half century of trying to climb uphill. I’m sad for them — and angry.

  7. Yes on all counts. We hoped, we tried and we won’t.

    However, there have been 108 billion people on earth over the last 50,000 years. During that time there’s been constant war. There were 76.4 million boomers and we’ve been trying to save the world for about 50 years each. Using rough math, that says that 99.9% of humans have been engaged in wars for 99.9% of history. It’s probably going to take more than one generation to end it. We tried and maybe future generations will learn from what we did and move forward.

    It took 5 generations to build Notre Dame Cathedral. It will take more than one to end war, poverty, and unsustainability. Give us some credit for laying a foundation, celebrate our success, and move on. At least now an end to war is in the conversation.