Montana Viewpoint: Merchants of anger
I watch people driving down highways in $80,000 pickup trucks and towing $200,000 RVs (which are bigger than a lot of people’s houses, but so are some of the pickups) and then a boat is pulled behind the RV and not to mention the various means of propulsion strapped here and there. And hanging from this caravan of maybe half a million dollars of toys is a license plate that says “Don’t Tread On Me” – which I like as a statement, but from the looks of it these people don’t seem to get trampled on very much. But they are angry.
Are they angry only out of anger, or is it anger at some particular danger to humanity? Or are people just afraid of losing what they have or think they deserve? I think of Marlon Brando’s line in The Wild One when a reserved waitress at Bleeker’s Cafe asks biker gang leader Brando what he’s rebelling against, and Brando says, “Whaddaya got?”
There is indeed a lot to worry about, but you can’t just dive into one big cloud of worry. It has to be about certain things. It must have a goal. It needs to be focused, and there seems to be an entire industry created just to channel all this free-flowing anger. People like Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson can focus on a person’s anger at loss of manhood, police beatings, immigrants, black, white, or America going to hell in a hand basket (which is ambidextrous – fits either right or left). move.
But there’s a greater purpose than just pissing people off, and it’s to divert people from what can actually be fixed by working together and toward what can be destroyed by working against each other. There’s also the economic aspect of anger, like increasing TV ratings and a show’s market share, not to mention increasing the salaries of individual anger dealers.
In this sense, is anger a commodity like wheat or potatoes or coal? Is there a futures market for anger like other commodities? Is anger the bitcoin of politics? Anger as a commodity has real value to those who use it because they make real money from it. It’s to the anger-monger’s advantage to make people angry, and like the snake-oil salesmen of yore, they play Americans for fools.
Anger as a political tool is not new, but the current speed at which anger can be spread and misinformation can be fabricated without adequate explanation or rebuttal is. I don’t pretend to understand the how, but while methods of communication have changed dramatically, human nature hasn’t. There is still greed, vanity, jealousy and pride, all served by anger. But there are also loyalty, a sense of duty, unselfishness, honesty and integrity. The latter virtues, however, do not sell as well as the former vices.
When someone tells us to be angry about something, we need to ask “why.” What is their motivation for convincing another to be angry with a third party? What’s in it for you? In the case of MSNBC or Fox, it’s money.
If the purpose of anger is to tear down something we don’t like, what plans are there to replace it with something better or even anything?
In the 1970s, the Chicago School of Economists, led by Milton Friedman, believed that when an economic system is destroyed, a new, perfect, ideal system will magically replace it. They tried that in Chile after the assassination of Chile’s first democratically elected President, Miguel Allende, and the result was mass misery.
Well, perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and the destruction of an economy or any other system does not take into account the human suffering that will occur. That’s not what idealists are very good at anyway. Today’s ragemongers are no better at proposing solutions to replace what they want destroyed than the student radicals of the 1960s and 1970s.
Get rid of what we don’t like and something better will happen? Much luck!
Montana Viewpoint has appeared in weekly and online newspapers throughout Montana for over 25 years. Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.