Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jane: Outrage

I've been trying to understand some of the outrage I've heard about political issues recently. As a person who teaches rhetoric, it's of academic interest to me. And as a friend of many people who feel outraged about recent political issues, I'm curious.

And I think I also might have some insights--based on my own experience and my discussions with Bruce--about what makes people so outraged.

1. It sucks to lose. The very first time I voted in a presidential election was in 1980. I found myself on the liberal side of most issues, so I voted for Carter, even though I wasn't crazy about him. But my candidate lost! I don't care how good a sport someone is, it is much better to win to lose, so I was feeling bummed.

Bruce pointed out this morning that lots of people who are outraged about political policies these days were on the losing side in the last big election. They lost! And it sucks to lose. So even if they're usually good sports, they're mad.

2. Outrage is exhilarating. OK. I know this from experience . . . there's nothing like a good rant and some serious outrage to get one's blood flowing! Especially if you feel like you are totally justified in being mad--I mean, you just lost, and someone who does not have your views won!

There's something fun and exciting about outrage. Those radio personalities--Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh and that liberal one whose name I can't remember--they know this! They are constantly saying that they are entertainment. It's entertaining and exhilarating to be outraged!

Robbie used to be the king of outrage. When he was little and he got hurt, instead of crying, he'd get mad, and often would hit or otherwise abuse me . . . because he fell down or whatever. I totally did not understand this at first. Then I realized: when you feel down and you've lost and you're hurt, it's way more "empowering" to feel outraged and mad than to feel sad. And if you can find someone to blame, well that's even better.

3. It seems like it'll be a disaster. You can convict me on this one, too. Remember after Reagan was elected and there were all these people predicting nuclear apocalypse and the end of a civil society? Well, if you were the "winner" in that contest, maybe you don't! But I heard a lot of that, and as a gullible and tender 18-year-old, I fell for it. I was sure that Reagan was going to make horrible choices that would completely doom my country.

You know what? It wasn't a disaster. Bruce could probably fill you in on the policies of the Reagan era that were and weren't complete disasters. But really, we are still alive. Some things got worse from Reagan, and some got better.

So I wondered if these insights could help outraged people settle down a bit--if they're getting a bit weary of outrage. Bruce and I--as people who've been on losing sides before--were talking about some things this morning that might actually bring some hope to the outraged people out there.

1. It's a democracy. Keep in mind that even though there's a majority of people in government who stand for something completely different from what you believe, there are still a whole bunch of people who stand for something you do believe. It's not like Obama is a king--or a Marxist. Remember that Reagan wasn't a king either--or a fascist!

Reagan couldn't be as completely Reaganesque as he acted during his campaign because there were still liberals around. So the policies passed during his administration couldn't be as extreme as those outraged people predicted they would be.

2. You do have power. Some of the outraged people are acting like they are victims, being completely run over by the winners. But it's not true: if there are as many outraged folks as the outraged folks seem to want everyone to believe, there must be plenty of opposition everywhere to those policies they hate. Conservatives in congress and elsewhere can make your voice heard.

Sometimes it won't help, and you'll lose again. I've been there: remember that vote about going to Iraq for a war to get rid of WMDs? And to cut taxes so there wasn't really a way to pay for the war? I was on the losing side there, and it's been a small disaster in diplomacy and the economy. I mean, isn't that debt figure something that people are outraged about? It's been there a while. Obama didn't create it.

But it's not like my views aren't represented. They are! And changes are being made because of it. I'm not a victim here, especially when I do things like write to my congresspeople.

3. Sometimes the winners have OK ideas. This may be way too hard to admit when you're feeling sore from losing. But as Bruce pointed out to me this morning, it's not like Obama's or Reagan's ideas are/were TOTALLY insane. They were honest attempts to solve problems in our society.

Reagan's hard stance on Communism may have had some effect on the fall of the Iron Curtain. Ouch, it's hard to admit that. And Obama's policies on health care may have some effect on the skyrocketing cost of health care and its availability to citizens.

I'm not sure anyone who's outraged would even like to hear about these points. Again, outrage is just so fun! Hey, I've been there; I know! But rhetorically--and democratically--toning things down a bit, looking at things rationally, seeking common ground, and admitting that there are different ways to solve problems might be, in the end, a more satisfying way to live.

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