Triggers: NEWS, current affairs, mild swearing, aggressive writing
I’m a little recovered from yesterday’s grump (it has warmed up infinitesimally which means that some of the vertebrae in my spine have deigned to unlock), and am ready to plunge into today with a more sanguine disposition. (I swear that it isn’t my blood though).
I’m still talking about people being angry, but from a distant, sort of social commentary balloon. It is a very well cloaked balloon so that none of the angry people I am writing about decide to take it out with a BB gun.
I usually read, the sometimes dreadful, sometimes slightly less dreadful, always enlightening community newspaper that gets dropped off in the lobby of my building. Generally I use the editorial column as an exercise in trying to get my head around views that are very different to mine. Recently though, the editor has been saying some IMAO, really sensible things about the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
I’m pretty sure you, esteemed reader (please don’t airgun my balloon), are aware of both the campaign and what you think about it. I don’t like it. I didn’t like Kony 2012, or the call for all South Africans to march against dumping babies in dustbins much either. Surprisingly, this is not an admission that I support the LRA or that I think more babies should be abandoned inhumanely. It’s because no-one does, no-one that gives a damn about your marches anyway.
You can’t have a demonstration of societal outrage, when there is no-one to be angry at to hear you. You’re not going to ‘fix’ (and there are problematic, modernist, and slightly arrogant overtones to reducing this to a problem that we can apply the scientific method to until a solution pops out) child soldiers by putting up posters. You’re not even engaging with the pain and devastation, the poverty and fear and loneliness that logically must be deeply knitted into the phenomenon of dumping babies. You’re presenting one half of an argument to the people who are going to agree with you anyway, or would be outraged and hurt by your simple, slightly silly phrasing of this complex issue.
We’re fighting rivers here, because we’re desperate for someone or something to fight. (ref)
I see the same thing online, people getting outraged over what is probably a minor error of judgement, or an off-the-cuff opinion delivered casually or a post from an outright, ignorant, ass who is really not worth the time.
We fly to the defensive, and rage (sometimes eloquently, sometimes unprintablely) until our side of the story is thoroughly defended. And then what?
Well, me, I write rambling blog-posts from my societal commentary balloon. After getting miserable for having yelled at people, and more miserable because my yelling at them didn’t do much except make them yell back angrier than I am.
Sometimes yes, the battle lines are drawn very clearly and you do need to fight (not always by raging) for something you believe in.
But a lot of the time, the people you want to yell at, aren’t around, and aren’t really in the mood for being devastated by your raw commitment to this noble cause, at least not enough to apologize and leave the internet forever.
So yes, anger is good, it’s proof of life, proof of care, and there are a lot of terrible things going on right now in your street, in your suburb that if you knew about, should make you weep with anger.
But it’s not going to fix things.
People fix things. Sometimes the very people who are responsible for the injustice (listen, don’t take this in the general here, I’m not suggesting that Boko Haram will overnight, see the divine light and become a group of benevolent roving missionaries). People fix things, and when there is a genuine (whether you’re pro or anti dumping babies in dustbins), difference of opinion, there is the potential, through difficult and painful, but respectful and honest dialogue, to make things better and stronger than before.
So rage on closed topics like #bringbackourgirls might be cathartic, but it doesn’t really challenge your opinions or grow your brain, and I don’t think I need to point out how unlikely it is to change Boko Haram’s mind. Rage on controversial topics, it can be important, it can open the debate, piss off enough people so they yell back, and both of you learn stuff. It can close it too, if you’re not a little careful. But the most important kind of rage, once again IMAO, is the kind you swallow when faced with someone spouting the most, unutterably bullshit opinions that you have ever encountered, with conviction and confidence. Because you swallow your desire to call them an unmitigated ass-hat, or a staggering pratt-bag and you ask, “Why would you think something like that?”.
If you’re lucky, they’ll swallow the rage too, and try to tell you, in ways that you can start to understand. And if you avoid the “Your opinion is wrong so I’m going to try and fix (again that word) it syndrome” and are content to leave them to their ass-hattery, you might learn something.
About their opinions and yours.
And, if you accept that the world doesn’t need to agree on most stuff to still be okay, and that most of the time, changing people’s minds is not worth the effort, but that it’s still pretty interesting to hear what they have to say, you have a good chance of being the happier ass-hat.