What makes you angry?
Seriously. What does it take to get you riled up these days? Yes, I’m talking to you.
Does the Darfur genocide quicken your pulse? Does a $700 billion robbery of the US treasury do it? (With no direct help for consumers, and no punishment for the culprits) How about a vice-presidential nominee who cynically refuses to answer questions at the debate, and some find her intransigence strangely endearing? Go Barracuda, go! Does Matt Drudge piss you off with his shameless hard-right-wing agenda setting for the news cycle? How about arctic permafrost methane release which could lead to irreversible and extinctive planetary warming? Worried about 3,836 children dying right now, every day of diseases which could be prevented for $30? Are you upset or even vaguely concerned with reports that say a billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water? Does it infuriate you that the U.S. still doesn’t have an energy policy friendly to renewables while we spend untold billions in Iraq on a war to defend an oil supply we shouldn’t even need? Does it raise your blood pressure to contemplate that since 1973, we’ve never been closer to the overturn of one of the pillars of modern women’s rights–Roe v. Wade?
As what has become the salient political product of the 2000’s, this apathy-assisted-greed-fueled war on reality is nothing short of a direct affront to the notion of civilization.
Personally, in the face of it, sometimes I just gotta say FUCK YOU!!! Not, "My opponent is incorrect, and I respectfully disagree." FUCK YOU is the only response that will do in the face of such epic malfeasance, such self-serving, larcenous, mass-anesthetized "I don’t give a shit" dished out on a plate. Sure, speak truth to power and all that jazz. Truth is helpful. Facts have been in very short supply. But it’s anger that gets things done.
Anger is what makes people "throw the bastards out" when things are going badly. It’s why politicians fear nothing more than a sagging economy. The patricians seem to be able to spin anything else to their advantage in their relentless government-corporate gang bang. But when people are losing jobs and going broke, the party in power nearly always suffers. That is, unless they can abuse the full faith and credit of the U.S. government to engineer a series of desperation maneuvers, like "stimulus checks" and Wall Street "bailouts." We only have to wait about a month to see if their latest gambit worked.
American history is filled with expressions of rage ("righteous indignation" for those who can’t stomach the real word). Let’s start with the Boston Tea Party. About 8,000 colonist protestors, led by the "Sons of Liberty" (our thugs, but still thugs) destroyed British property (worth $2 million in today’s dollars) out of anger. They did not say "kind sirs, with deepest apologies, we would most assuredly like to beg to differ with your tax policy." No they said FUCK YOU, and threw the tea into the ocean.
When John Adams was president, as dramatized in the recent Emmy-winning HBO series, criticism and rage toward him were brutal. The rhetoric published in the papers of the day would make modern commentators’ hair curl. But the tolerance of raucous and angry dissent was as vital then as it is now to democracy.
Other than venting spleen, what’s my point? To address what has been one of the most enduring criticisms I’ve heard from readers. Over seven years of writing this journal, I’ve been told I’m "angry," that BSJ is "negative," or "extremist" in some way. That I should "tone it down." That "anger never changes people’s minds." That I’m "preaching to the choir."
…[your] language borders on the abusive and I do not think that it is helpful for anyone except maybe to entertain the people who already agree with you. It certainly doesn’t change minds. –reader correspondence
In keeping with my desire to explore my own shortcomings and see if there’s something to be learned and improved, I’ve decided to publicly ask myself that question. Does my anger help or hurt my goals?
To answer this question, we must consider that some things are worse than rage. We must gird up our delicate ears and sensibilities and understand: when two siblings have a quarrel, it’s not automatically the one who’s punching or screaming who’s wrong. Sometimes the quiet one has needled and riled the other so relentlessly that there’s no option left but to scream and lash out. Inexperienced parents are usually quick to hypocritically punish the angry kid. "No hitting, Bobby, violence doesn’t solve anything, (now pull down your pants I’m going to spank you)."
Like the angry kid, I feel that common sense, rationality and humanity have taken a tremendous quiet trouncing in the past decade. So let’s answer the question: what’s worse than rage? Injustice. Repression. Public deception. For starters.
Who silently tolerates injustice and repression? Slaves. Who fails to challenge mass public deception? Sheep.
A bigger question than whether or not someone’s angry is "What are they angry about?" Everyone has a threshold. Maybe none of the political issues I mentioned at the top of the article would get you going–or maybe you’re a wingnut and think Bush/Cheney and McSame/Plain are just peachy. How about this? How about if your loved one was lying bleeding in the street and died waiting for an ambulance that took over an hour to arrive? Imagine if this happened and someone told you to calm down, that you were too angry. Does it matter that my example involved a family member? Not really. Injustice is injustice and it should concern all thinking people when it occurs.
And I haven’t even touched on my main premise: With respect to the greed and malfeasance I’ve mentioned, and the gross apathy about the climate and humanitarian crises, nothing compares to the stupefying influence of faith. Nothing makes people ignore problems like the idea that "God will provide" or that the "Rapture is coming." Like an impenetrable fog, faith puts unrepentant morons in the highest offices of the land–and makes them immune to rational argument. ("I’m the decider.")
Coincidence that George W. Bush is the most incoherent and yet most religious president of the modern era? I don’t think so. Coincidence that Sarah Palin has ridden her toxic mix of culture-war wedge-politics to national prominence? Not hardly. It’s not that Bush or Palin are particularly religious themselves–any more than most politicians. (They’re too busy figuring out how to get or stay in power to spend much time soul-searching). It’s that they’ve figured out how to say the right words to exploit the gullibility of "values voters" who are. Case in point, James Dobson’s famous quote "I’d pull that lever."
I am fucking outraged that our political process has sunk so low, that rationality has been so devalued we are more concerned about our leaders’ ability to "communicate" with "Joe-Six-Pack" than their grasp of vital facts which will determine our future. That national leaders demagogically invoke "God" to guide them and bless the nation when they’ve cynically broken nearly every one of the Ten Commandments, not to mention quite a few of the laws they’re sworn to uphold.
Dammit, I’m livid.
I’m furious that when Sam Harris writes an extremely cogent and well-reasoned critique of Palin for Newsweek, his article is headlined "When Atheists Attack."
I’m waiting for the day when our nation is not imperiled by religious fanatics, both within and without, when candidates actually debate instead of reciting talking points. When there’s a moderator who actually performs real-time fact-checking and challenges the candidates, instead of sitting there mutely officiating.
I look forward to the day when atheists no longer have to sit exasperated, dealing with believers’ profession of their hallucinatory fantasies, tiredly reminding them one more time: "your god is made-up," or "you can’t prove a negative," or "the bible was written by Bronze-age nomads, and it’s really kind of violent and misogynistic," or "that’s equivocation." I look forward to the day when it’s not even a discussion in the UN about universal human rights–when the despicable machinations of the OIC to redefine those rights in favor of Islamic repression would be laughed out of the room.
I know that if humanity survives the 21st century, that day will come. Maybe not in my lifetime. But as sure as we conquered plagues, discovered the earth was not flat, figured out that matter was composed of atoms, we will discover that religion has its origins in the human brain. We will come to learn and accept as a universal truth that religion and its traditions have posed the greatest existential threat to our species–greater than any predator in evolutionary history–greater than any virus. That religions once had a valuable role in tribal cohesion in no way reduces their danger to the modern world. As we gain full understanding of the functioning of the human brain, we will group religion along with other forms of subjective cognitive errors. We will find ways of replacing old modes of belief with knowledge–and with something better–something that genuinely meets the needs of all humanity for meaning, hope, community, charity, and dealing with death. But without the pernicious reason-destroying by-product of faith.
In the meantime, when people try to shove the stinking corpse of their privileged beliefs down my throat or into the public square, I’m going to be angry about it–and I’m going to express myself. Focusing this anger for change is my personal strategy, and it’s been the hallmark of Black Sun Journal from day one. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Otherwise, silence is consent. Otherwise, I’m complicit in the confusion and social dysfunction that inevitably ensue when religion or religious metaphor are allowed unchallenged access.
Now, to my question: Does anger help? Or does it turn people off? Both. First it turns them off. Then it reaches a critical mass and they take notice. Then a battle is joined, and that’s when things can change. It happened in Boston after the tea was dumped. It happened with women’s rights, gay rights, and it will happen with atheism. In the meantime, there’s plenty to stay pissed off about. People who say we’re too angry obviously have some kind of stake in the status quo. If they are so convinced anger will turn people off, then they should be happy we’re angry. They should stand back laughing and watch us blunder. But they don’t. Clearly they know anger is an effective tactic, and they correctly fear for the demise of a worldview that’s as bankrupt as the plundered U.S. treasury.
I see red
It hurts my head
I guess it must be something
That I read.
It’s the color of your heartbeat
A rising summer sun
The battle lost or won
The flash to fashion
The pulse to passion
Feels red inside my head.
And truth is often bitter left unsaid
Said red red
Thinking about the overhead
Couldn’t we talk about
Something else instead.
We’ve got Mars on the horizon
Says the national midnight star
What you believe is what you are
A pair of dancing shoes
The soviets are the blues
The reds, under your bed
Lying in the darkness
And the mercury is rising
Barometer starts to fall
You know it gets to us all
The pain that is learning
And the rain that is burning
Feel red, still, go ahead
You see black and white
And I see red, Red
–Neil Peart, Grace Under Pressure, 1984