Let me start by making it clear that I am absolutely terrified by the political climate in the US right now and by the fact that we are edging precariously close to electing a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic sociopath to the highest office in the land. I fully “get it” and recognize that this is probably the most important election of my lifetime…at all levels.
I also recognize that the whole country is on the verge of having a stroke. That worries me a little bit too.
There was a time when I spent the bigger part of my life being perpetually outraged and angry. Some people who knew me at the time might suggest that it was one of my defining characteristics. I had an opinion on everything and was not hesitant about sharing it, no matter how irrelevant or inappropriate the venue nor how serious the overreaction. If you’d tell me you were going for a beer, I’d make sure you knew just how much I hoped it wouldn’t be a Coors. If you were casually listening to Axl Rose or Donna Summer, I’d make damned sure you knew exactly what awful things either had said (or was believed to have said) in the past ten years. I’m sure I was pretty annoying. I’m also sure I changed vere few viewpoints.
I really began to recognize this behavior in others when I lived in San Francisco in the 1990s, where even the most innocuous comments (e.g. “I’m off to lunch” or “It’s nice out today”) would often elicit a shrill and politically programmed response on the evils of anything from factory farming to global warming to corporatism and average wages in the restaurant industry. If I mentioned I was hungry, I might get a lecture about world hunger and how Americans were fact, lazy, and overfed. A comment about my small apartment might get me very quickly schooled on homelessness or conspicuous consumption. Yes, I’m exaggerating–though not as much as you might imagine–and yes, I was guilty of doing some of the same things, albeit with what I thought was a little more humor.
The point, though, is that at some point I realized that it’s really fucking exhausting–both for me and for everyone around me–to be perpetually outraged and angry and complaining about everything all the time. I also realized it was making people tune out a lot of what I was saying.
Is there a lot to be angry and outraged about? Of course there is.
Will this fact change if you constantly make yourself and everyone else miserable because of it? Probably not.
Things have gotten a lot worse in the past few years with social media and the rise of clickbait journalism whose purpose is not to inform but to grab audience share by whipping everyone–left or right–into a frothy, outraged frenzy by appealing to emotion and righteous anger (and adding a “share this if you agree” chaser). That’s why I’ve been doing a judicious amount of social media muting and pruning lately.
I think I it’s pretty clear that I value irony, sarcasm, and snark, and that I have a pretty low tolerance for stupidity and injustice. But I don’t feel the need to talk about what’s wrong with the world every fucking minute of my life. That doesn’t mean that i don’t care. I do. I stay awake some nights caring so much. But being outraged and morally indignant is now how I want to spend my life.
I believe the key term here is “perspective.”
This weekend I did a semi-humorous Facebook post about how sometimes I think my life might better be lived in a 1950s film noir. Most of my friends took it for what it was. One relative seemed not quite to get it. And one friend followed up completely out of left field with a response about how horrible life would actually have been for me as a gay man in the 1950s. It was not just an overreaction that missed the point of a very lighthearted comment. It was also really condescending, suggesting that I don’t understand history, which really pissed me off, considering history is pretty much what I do.
This was an old friend so I held my tongue even though it really bugged me. The whole tone of the post just reminded me of that whole shrill, strident tendency to respond to everything with a political rant that made me hate initiating a conversation with some people in San Francisco. It’s like the “angry vegan” meme where there’s a vein popping in the guy’s neck because it’s been more than five minutes since he’s had the chance to tell anyone he’s a vegan.
If I ever become that person–vegan, carnivore, or otherwise–please smack me upside the head. Thanks.