I watch people drive down the freeways in $80,000 pickup trucks towing $200,000 RVs (which are bigger than a lot of people’s houses, but then so are some pickups) and then a boat gets towed behind the RV and to not forget the various means of propulsion tied here and there.
And attached to this caravan of maybe half a million dollars worth of toys is a plaque that reads “Don’t Tread On Me.” Which I like as a statement, but by all appearances these people don’t seem downtrodden very hard. But they are angry.
Are they angry just for the sake of anger or is it anger against a specific 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 demure waitress at Bleeker’s Cafe asks biker gang leader Brando what he’s rebelling against, and Brando says, “What’s wrong with him?”
There really is a lot to worry about, but you can’t just go into a big cloud of worries, it has to be about specific things. It must have a goal. It has to be focused and there seems to be a whole industry that has been created just to focus all that free range rage. People like Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson can focus one person’s anger on loss of masculinity, beatings of the police, immigrants, blacks, whites, or America going to hell in a wastebasket (that’s ambidextrous: it fits both left and right).
But there is a greater purpose than just making people angry and that is to take people away from what can actually be fixed by working together towards what can be destroyed by working against each other. There’s also the economics of anger like increasing a show’s TV ratings and market share, not to mention increasing the salaries of individual anger traders.
Looking at it this way, is anger a commodity like wheat or potatoes or coal? Is there a futures market for rabies, as there is for 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 using it. It’s to the anger monger’s benefit to keep people angry, and like the snake oil salesmen of yore, they’re playing American for the suckers.
Anger as a political tool is nothing new, but the current rate at which anger can be spread and disinformation produced without a corresponding explanation or rebuttal is. I don’t pretend to understand how, but while methods of communication have changed dramatically, human nature has not. There is still greed, vanity, jealousy and pride, all served by anger. But there also remain loyalty, dedication to duty, altruism, honesty and integrity. However, as the newspaper editors say; “The dog bites the man” is nothing new but “the man bites the dog” is, these last virtues do not sell as well as the first vices.
If someone tells us we need to be angry about something, we need to think “why”. What is their motivation for getting others to be angry at a third party. What do they earn? In the case of MSNBC or Fox, it’s about the money. If the purpose of anger is to bring down something we don’t like, what are the plans to replace it with something better, or even something like that?
In the 1970s the Chicago school of economists led by Milton Friedman believed that if an economic system is destroyed, a new, perfect, ideal system will magically replace it. They tried it 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 destroying an economy or any other system does not account for the human suffering that will occur. Idealists aren’t very good at this, however. Today’s rage mongers are no better at proposing solutions to replace what they want destroyed than were the student radicals of the 1960s and 70s. Get rid of what we don’t like and something better will happen? Good luck!
Montana Viewpoint has been featured in weekly newspapers and online 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.