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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/30/10

Hot Seething Anger

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I have to admit that I have become numb to and increasingly aware that I am ineffective against the hot seething anger that is being enacted out there. My numbness is caused by conflicts within my conscience, my need to strike out against the McConnells and Boehners, Cantors, Becks, Malkins, and others whose strategy is to overturn the commonwealth's applecart. I have wanted in my deepest despair to fundamentally eliminate some of these really bad people, but I know that they have rights to be what they are. Then I think that who am I to say they are "bad" or "evil," just because they stand foursquare against everything I believe in? I try putting on their shoes and find that they actually hate me, and would not accord me the same rights as I am entertaining for them. The battle within lurches back and forth on this uneven ground.

The anger motivating TeaParty folk is different from the animus motivating the demogogues like Beck and Limbaugh. Limbaugh, at least, is making big money doing what he does. These demagogues are preying on the people with the real angers out there; the media hate barons are willing risk tipping the apple cart to take it over and run it themselves, selling apples only to selected people and letting the rest grow their own. They will deny the obvious racism in their rantings, but without it, they would not be touching the TeaParty folk, for it is racism at the core of the anger, and beneath that are two concepts that really bear some examination.

Frank Rich, in the New York Times Sunday wrote about the essential disconnect between the Health Care Reform legislation and the seething anger. He correctly points out that when you peel away the opportunist demogogues and their misrepresentations, lies, and prevarications you have naked racism, spoken and heard. I happen to think that Health Care itself is part of the mix, though.

Directly at stake in the culture wars our country has been going through since 1954 and "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas" is a fundamental idea about humanity inherited from nineteenth century European (predominantly German) pseudo-science about race, mixed with real Darwinian evolution theory, and contaminated with the sort of Social Darwinism that pervaded this country in the Gilded Age (1885-1929) and has been a mainstay of racist explanation ever since, namely, that there are fitter people and less fit people, and that the less fit should be left to their own devices to survive ... or not. Fitness, of course, is measured by success in the local, regional, and national economies as well as by acceptance by the higher ups in these environments.

To me racism is at least half this pseudo-scientific idea that inheritance is key and that experience is not. It is just bad luck to be born Black or born in perpetual poverty in Mexico or Haiti or you-name-it-stan. The other half of the seething anger out there was addressed by Sam Harris the other day in a brief video interview.

Harris's understanding of human cognitive frailty is well stated here. He begins and ends with religion as the bogeymeister that convinces us that we "have" the answers to big questions, but his thesis applies to all world-views. It applies to all verities and theories clung to by human beings. And, of course, when cracks appear in the hypotheses, what do humans typically do? They cling all the more strongly to the "thought system" that provides those handy and comforting answers, whether the answers are at odds with facts or not. We have lots of factual data on this process, lots of wars and revolutions.

At some point, then, the cracks are so apparent and the worldview so decrepit that the faithful, the afficionados, the stalwart holders of these opinions are faced with the embarrassment of becoming ignorant (again), and they hate it. They hate being publicly shown to be wrong with a purple passion. They hate those who have proved their favorite ideas wrong or inadequate. They hate themselves in a way, because they know they will have to learn a whole new way of seeing the world, and they think they are not strong enough to learn. Many of them would rather die. We see this among the suicide bombers from other cultures.

Racism is a world view and it has been proved to be based on prejudice and emotion and not on fact. It is a way of explaining one's own successes and the failures of others. It does not explain one's own failures, so when a Great Recession strikes and 25 million people are out of work for a long, long time, these people are understandably angry about their situation and the thought processes that got them into it ... mostly trusting a system that is based on fallacious reasoning of the Reagan era. They invent bogeys and strawman enemies to combat, and when they run out of straw--when the last straw is passed from one willing hand to the next--they go blind with rage, knowing that finally in the violence of their primal tantrum they will be heard, noticed, and maybe in some way vindicated.

But, no! Definitely not! Vindication is out. Return to a Currier & Ives America or Father Knows Best or any such nostaglic scenario is not possible, even if it were desirable. Adjustment to ever changing realities is possible, painful or not. For many, though, the most realistic chance is that they will live out their lives with the crippling, humbling knowledge that they are fundamentally wrong and that the flood of human knowledge and understanding has passed them by. We are at one of the crisis points in the long process of human Progress.


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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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