Friday, October 30, 2020

Anger Swells

     “If you are to rule France, you must learn restraint. Keep cool in battle or in sports. Be angry, but in cold blood.” – Alexandre Dumas pere, The Man In The Iron Mask

     There’s ample justification for the conviction that in 2016, American voters were motivated, in large measure, by anger at the political Establishment and the status quo. Here we are, four years since that campaign and its momentous result, and the anger has not dissipated. Indeed, it seems to have swelled to an unprecedented height. Why?

     My thesis is that while the reason for voters’ anger is consistent with 2016, the focus – the specific people and institutions we’re furious at – has shifted somewhat. Our focus has broadened: we’ve found that we have room in our anger budgets to include the media along with the political Establishment.

     Allow me to tell you a personal story. It’s about someone I’ve met. I’ll call him Stu, because that’s his name.

     Stu is about my age, has lived in northern California for some time, and is loosely connected to my little family in a way upon which I shall refrain from expanding. I’ve met him exactly once. I think you’ll agree with me that once was more than enough.

     On the occasion of that meeting – which, for reasons beyond the scope of this tale, could not be averted – the C.S.O. tried her best to prepare me for the experience. She told me that Stu would have advice for me – about everything. He would overlook nothing: my occupation, our children, my home, my animals, my preferences in entertainment, and so forth. Moreover, he would strive to elicit my opinions about all those things so that he could find fault with my ways and offer his advice about them. She assured me that it would be a trying experience.

     I resolved not to cooperate with Stu. A good thing, too, because he lived up to his billing. After less than an hour in his company, I was nearer to homicide than I’d been since...well, than I’d been in quite a long and storied time. I have never been so glad to see the back of anyone’s neck.

     No, it wasn’t then that I learned to hate the word should. But my experience of Stu certainly contributed.

     Don’t you bristle when you’re made the target of a torrent of unsolicited, unwanted advice, Gentle Reader?

     When governments act, it’s with force: “the Rods and the Axe,” as we learned in Latin class. That’s the nature of governments. They have no other tools. Oh, they can offer their “advice” on various subjects, such as it is – i.e., usually wrong – but when they seek a particular outcome, their methods are compulsion, prohibition, and expropriation, with threats of forcibly imposed penalties for those who dare to dissent.

     But those outside government cannot (legally) compel, prohibit, or expropriate you. They’re limited to noncoercive methods to get what they want from you. In the case of the media, it’s via implied applications of “should” and “shouldn’t,” and the outright suppression of stories unfavorable to their “narrative.”

     The media’s “shoulds” and shouldn’ts” are seldom spoken aloud. Instead prominent media figures will attempt to imply them by assembling sequences of events that seem to militate toward particular conclusions. Sometimes those sequences can be shown to be deceits; the supposed relation of carbon dioxide emissions to global temperatures is a good example. At other times, the sequence is accurate but the implied causal connection to what follows is fallacious. And there are still other times when causation is omitted from the argument in favor of appeals to “compassion” or “social justice.”

     But always, behind the curtain, the “shoulds” and shouldn’ts” are at work, striving to make you conform to whatever pattern of behavior the media have decided would best suit their allegiances and interests. When the revolving door turns afresh, the same persons go from being anchors and newsreaders to policymakers and advisors. Then the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” are shelved in favor of “musts” and mustn’ts.”

     “First they nudge, then they shove, then they shoot.” – Glenn Beck

     Before the rise of the alternative media and the citizen journalism it makes possible, Americans would listen with moderate respect to the media’s “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” They were our information conduits. We had to trust them, for we had nothing else. Sometimes their failures were immediately and riotously apparent; at other times, we had to wait years to learn that we’d been misled. We were seldom offered anything resembling an explanation, much less an apology.

     But then came cable news, the World Wide Web, inexpensive sound and video recording, and the proliferation of outlets for evidence and views we’d neither seen nor heard before. Americans’ eyes were opened. We became angry. We expected the traditional media to offer explanations for its failures. We never received any.

     The traditional media could have salvaged some fraction of our regard had they merely admitted to their faults, apologized for past sins, and changed their ways. They preferred to “double down.” Traditional-media commentators went on the attack against their new-media competitors. The offerings of the new media were derided as “fake news.” We who found the new media informative and persuasive were castigated for it. Some trad-media figures called us dupes.

     And our anger swelled.

     At this time, with a presidential contest before us, our anger is at a height Americans haven’t experienced in more than a century. The superciliousness of the traditional media has been joined to an unabashed and incomprehensible favoritism. They’ve striven to protect and promote a candidate whose lies are so thick on the ground that we can’t walk between them. There are so many failings, deceits, and flaws to his name that his party would have been better advised not to run anyone at all. But we, who prefer a candidate whose record in office is four years of newly perfect success, are once again being derided – sometimes even condemned – for our preference.

     I don’t think our anger has reached its peak yet. Do you, Gentle Reader?

     (See also this fine piece from sundance at The Last Refuge.)

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