What Really Bothers Me

Posted: August 13, 2012 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church

By Matt Horanyelling

Here’s what really bothers me.

People are really pissed off. In fact, I think that there’s an increasing degree of pissed-offedness. Thankfully, that isn’t really a word, and further, there’s probably not the science available to us to measure pissed-offedness. And even if there was and I proved it, someone would discount my findings because I’m not a sociologist. So, I’ll just call it what it is–I have a theory that there’s increasing pissed-offedness in the world, though I’m without the tools or clout to measure it. I guess I’ll see if I can get some friends to become a fan of “Pissed-offedness.” Maybe if I can say that 16 of my friends are “fans of pissed-offedness,” then that can begin to look like some credibility for my theory. Until then, I guess it’ll remain just a theory. Fortunately, that’s all you need to write something and send it off onto the information superhighway for worldwide distribution. Beautiful.

I quote from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” when Charles Gibson (not the ABC News anchor), a friend of Lincoln’s Attorney General, Edward Bates, wrote about the loss of the Code of Dueling in the mid-19th century. “He maintained that, wicked as the code was, the vulgar public behavior that followed the demise of the practice was worse still. ‘The code preserved a dignity, justice and decorum that have since been lost,’ he argued, ‘to the great detriment of the professions, the public and the government. The present generation will think me barbarous, but I think that some lives lost in protecting the tone of the bar and the press, on which the Republic itself so largely stands, are well spent.'”

It’s true that there was a time, when the tone of an argument rose to a pitch or was conducted in a manner that insulted the honor of one of the participants, honor demanded that they be challenged to a duel: either retract the comment or stand by it at the risk of your life. It would be better to die than live so dishonored.

Well, people don’t challenge each other to duels anymore. Now you can pretty much say whatever you want to somebody, and claim that it’s Constitutionally protected free speech. Unfortunately, the Constitution allows you to be an ignoramus as well. A little ingoraminaity, crafted well and said loudly at a good point in the news cycle, will go a long way. (Admittedly, ignoraminaity is also not a word, though I stand by my right to say it as Constitutionally protected ignoramic free speech.)

So, perhaps this acrimonious pissed-offedness has been on the rise ever since the loss of the dueling code. I mean, let’s say that Joe says that the sky is falling. Then Tom calls Joe a liar. Well, back in the day, there’s a duel and the matter is settled, with the idea reinforced that if you’re going to claim something, it better be true, because you might end up dying for it.

Let’s say that Joe says that the sky is falling today. Then, tomorrow, Tom calls Joe a liar. This time, Joe and Tom begin a campaign. Joe rallies people and donors to his cause by making a convincing argument that the sky really is falling, and further, the only reason that Tom disagrees is because he’s a [insert distasteful word here]-ist, and stands to make a lot of money if nobody believes that the sky is falling.

Tom, not to be outdone, rallies people and donors to his cause as well, decrying Joe’s labeling him a [insert distasteful word here]-ist, and highlighting the benefits for Joe if everybody believes that the sky IS falling.

Joe and Tom rally more and more people to their cause because of the evil of the other. They shout angrily about each other, start websites full of “facts” that make their case. All of their facts are skewed versions of the best possible approximation of the truth, and FactCheck.org points out the misinformation on both sides, but Joe and Tom say their facts loudly on TV, which gets far more attention than FactCheck.org, because they both by now have a lot more advertising money that FactCheck.org. Once the whole country takes sides and joins in with Tom and Joe in their pissed-offedness, we will all think that our money is much better spent on Joe and Tom than on FactCheck.org. FactCheck.org won’t help us make our case. Commercials during highly rated TV events will, and those are expensive. Making our case has become more important than being right.

A few people don’t take sides. They get a lot of attention, called “undecideds” or “swing voters,” because convincing them will give Tom or Joe more supporters and donors and votes–thus allowing them to say that “consensus” supports them. Once you have that, you’re well on your way, though the person that apparently doesn’t have “consensus” would never concede that. But after a while, these undecided swing voters get made fun of, because they haven’t taken a side when everybody else in the whole world is not just on a side, but actually really pissed-off at the other side. How can people lack pissed-offedness about the sky falling or not falling? Everybody should be as pissed-off! Everybody should yell more and blog more and reply more and send more email forwards (full of stuff that FactCheck and Snopes would gag on) and make more signs and give more money so that more and more pissed-off people will be pissed-off about the same things that I’m pissed-off about!

So, perhaps the sky is falling, or perhaps not. Either way, they sure have gotten everybody pissed-off about it. And really, can that many pissed-off people who are that pissed-off be wrong? (Well, I guess half of them can be, but it’s the other half, not mine…)

yelling tshirtSo, convinced of their righteous pissed-offedness, the sky fallers and the non-sky fallers dig in their heels. After all of this fuss, they can’t concede that their side might be wrong, no matter what approximations of facts might come to light. If a scientist comes out with a new theory that doesn’t agree with Joe or Tom, they’re lambasted as unqualified or motivated by their allegiances to Joe or Tom. Unfortunately, many scientists’ research IS funded by Joe or Tom’s donors hoping for evidence that will get more people pissed-off at the other side. Though, even if some independent fact sneaks through, regardless of how compelling it is, winning the argument has become more important than knowing the truth. Too many people would look too bad if they’d been pissed-off on the wrong side all this time. So both Tom and Joe employ teams of people that spin every statistic or fact in a way that makes it look like Tom or Joe is right and the other side is wrong, and they’re so wrong that we should all be really pissed-off about it.

Then a culture develops around Joe and Tom. Joe fans all cheer when another Joe fan makes a Tom fan look bad, and Tom fans all cheer when a Tom fan makes a Joe fan look bad. They try it on blogs and Twitter and Facebook and when they make signs for marches and when they talk on call in shows or send in letters to the editor. Then they go back and tell their fellow Joe/Tom fans what they said and how bad they made the Joe/Tom fan look. A whole industry grows up around it, with companies making and selling anti-Joe and anti-Tom t-shirts and bumper stickers to both sides. The more pissed-off everybody is, the more bumper stickers they put on their cars, and the better these companies’ profit.

Joe-ists and Tom-ists become the way that everyone in the country is defined. Either you’re one or the other or stupid and “not paying attention.” Everyone is so pissed-off that these two sides are elected and come to dominate the government, and do all that they can to remain there, because to lose ground would make their side look like they might not be right. No one is sure which side is right–probably neither is entirely anyway–but that hasn’t mattered for years.

They do all that they can to gain power and keep the power that they have in the government. Incumbent politicians outspend challengers 10 to 1, and they redraw their districts so that they can group together all of the people who will vote for them into their district to keep winning elections. They collect taxes from everybody, and then spend the tax money in ways that will keep them in power. When there isn’t enough tax money to afford what it will take to keep them in power, they borrow it from other countries. They’re too pissed-off to think about paying it back–the priority is beating Tom/Joe. When it comes time to have to pay the money back, Tom/Joe will have plenty of people who have gone to college and gotten degrees in arguing so that they can work hard to make the debt look like Tom/Joe’s fault.

Fortunately, even though Tom-ism and Joe-ism formed around the sky falling, they all agree about almost everything else too. All Tom-ists are against trout fishing, for tree climbing, against parachuting, for pet penguins, and against bottle cap collecting. This makes it really convenient, because they now have dozens of other issues that can make them really pissed-off at the Joe-ists, who are pro-trout, anti -climb, pro-parachute, anti-penguin, and pro-bottle cap. They’re so positively infuriating that Joe-ists and Tom-ists raise their children to be pissed-off too. That way people will be pissed-off for generations. The beauty of it is, when these generations grow up and have to pay back the debt amassed by Tom and Joe, they will have been raised to blame it on Tom and Joe, and will therefore be really pissed-off. Oh yeah, people will be pissed-off forever.

That’s what really bothers me.

  1. […] it possible for us to step out of our tribes for a moment and converse freely apart from our tribal allegiance?  If we were to admit that the other side is right, we would have to go back to our tribe members […]


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