Fatherly Rage

No child is bad from the beginning… they only imitate their atmosphere.

Prince

Nothing in life is easy. Nothing. Especially the things that are good. Even things that are supposed to be natural, like parenthood.

Life is stressful enough without adding kids into the mix, and patience is always in limited reserves. Like any scarce resource, patience must be judiciously managed so that one doesn’t spend the last few hours of the waking day a simmering cauldron of rage.

This affects parents, no doubt. But this is not necessarily what has been affecting me. I am generally even-keeled and tend not to let my emotions overtake me, whether I’m at work or involved in something personal. This isn’t my natural disposition, though, but one borne through almost two decades of managing a legendarily short fuse.

And yet, I find myself getting angry at my son a lot lately.

He is four-and-a-half, very funny, and very energetic. This energy has difficulty being dispersed by nature of our having moved recently to a much smaller place in the city. This will change soon, hopefully, but I’m not making any guesses as to when.

So in lieu of being able to play outside, he has to deal with “indoor” stuff, particularly at night, when there are no playgrounds or parks or backyards nearby. And the indoor stuff soon gets boring for a kid who loves nothing more than being out in the open air. 

You can see where this is going.  Continue reading “Fatherly Rage”

Perpetual Outrage Machine

There is so much to be upset about, isn’t there? It never ends . .  . the endless voices calling for your attention, the rising anger and boiling tension.

It can be exhausting, too. Every time somebody is called a racist this or a communist that, the effect of the word has just a little less impact, the power of the accusation chipping away each time so that even a boring, bland, milquetoast public figure who has likely never even so much as farted in public is called a bigot, a hater, a murderer, and so on.

The end result is: Nobody listens.

The process takes years, decades, but I think we are finally here. “Wolf” has been cried so many times that nobody believes those playing the part of the little boy anymore.

This is not a political blog. When I do talk politics, I enjoy talking about the macro issues, not the minutiae. And this seems like a macro issue because the perpetual outrage machine affects our moods and our well-being. I contend that the perpetual outrage machine that is the American media in all of its various forms–news, pop culture, sports, and so on–is designed to elicit strong emotional responses not only to get clicks and eyeballs, which equal money, but also to desensitize us to actual bad stuff perpetrated by people who want to pull a fast one on us.

What do I mean? Well, when the Overton Window is shifted so far in one direction, positions and ideas that were beyond the pale moments ago all of a sudden seem reasonable.

This isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes the Overton Window needs to be wrenched in one direction in order to start a conversation on things that we desperately need to have conversations about. But other times it can be used to overwhelm our emotional and intellectual bandwith to the point that someone or something truly despicable seems sane by comparison.

I’ve written about this before a while ago in the context of manufactured racial division:

The insidious thing is that black America’s problems are normalized, celebrated, and encouraged by forces that want to keep them poor and angry, as long as they pull the lever for the right candidates.

Here’s another thing that pisses me off: Seeing blacks and whites at each other’s throats. 

Time for me to put on the tinfoil hat yet again, but this is also being done on purpose. Why else are black and white, man and woman, religious and atheist, Republican and Democrat, being pitted against each other at every turn?

Sickening, isn’t it? And things only seem to be getting worse.

Or are they?

The amazing thing about the world is that, when you go off-line, things aren’t nearly as dire as they seem. If you walk around most of America you’ll find that it hardly resembles the dire war-zone our lovely outrage culture makes it sound like. People do manage to get along pretty well.

Are there problems? Of course. Will they get worse if we don’t do anything about them? Of course. But the perpetual outrage machine, which focuses our attention on insignificant things, makes it difficult to do anything about what really matters.

There is good news: It’s relatively simple to alleviate some of this heightened emotional tension. Just log off. Just go. Start small: Take an hour-long break. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.

Social media can be fun. It can even be useful. And it is important to be informed.

But be aware that many of these stories are emotional weapons designed to elicit certain responses in you.

You are supposed to hate this group, fear these people, never take anything those guys say seriously.

You are encouraged to be incurious and accept what is given to you in pre-digested chunks.

This is no great revelation. However, even stuff you’re predisposed to agree with has the same purpose and needs to be passed through the same filter. Continue reading “Perpetual Outrage Machine”

So Divided. So What?: Why Division is a Good Thing

epic-futuristic-mythological-and-historical-battle-artworks-and-wallpapers-1dst-com-2

We are supposedly more divided, politically, culturally, even over stupid things like music and sports, than at any time in history. And as Americans, we are constantly bombarded from all sides with the message that this polarization is one of the pressing problems of our time.

Wouldn’t it be better, goes the conventional wisdom, if we could all join hands and want, think, believe, and act the same way towards the same goals?

Well, for starters that would be kind of beige. Second, it would probably admit “disappearing” everybody who disagreed with the prevailing norm.

And third, you have to ask: Whose goals? Whose “normal”? Whose “unity”?

I never understood the lamenting of this division as a concept. People disagree vehemently over what to eat for lunch, and you’re shocked that we can’t agree on the big things?

Yes, the things that we should do in order to have a wonderful society are relatively easy to figure out–be decent to everybody, don’t murder, don’t steal, and so on. But if 10,000-plus years of human history have taught us anything, it’s that human beings don’t play fair. We haven’t figured it out in all of this time. What makes the current purveyors of moderation think they have the answer this time?

Let’s just talk about politics because it’s on everybody’s mind just now, especially the United States. How could there not be division? Is division even bad?

I get into it with people who say they wish there was a “moderate party,” whatever that means, in the United States. Now what in the hell would a moderate party actually accomplish?

I get answers like, “Oh they would do what’s best, or what’s sensible.” But again: “Sensible” and “best” are subjective terms. Who’s defining them? I’m sure my idea of “sensible” is far different than that of a communist or a Scandinavian (but I repeat myself). I’m sure what I think is “best” is very different from what an Islamist thinks. Why the absolute living hell should I be forced to do what they think is right, and vice versa? Just for the sake of “playing nice”?

Why? Why should I be forced to agree with people who hate me? Why should you? Continue reading “So Divided. So What?: Why Division is a Good Thing”

Chain Reactions: Affecting the People You’ve Never Met

chain-reaction

In this journey to understand the world and understand ourselves, we need to learn about mastery. Not necessarily mastery of a thing, although that is important, but mastery of ourselves.

I’m thinking about this lately as anger and emotion are ratcheted up in the United States, especially as I watch the first presidential debate.

There is nothing wrong with emotions. Emotions are information. However, the task is to make sure we do not let our emotions–our passions–control us.

In order to maintain this control, you need to look at why you may be feeling the way you are, and what you can do about it.

I thought about this at church yesterday, hearing my priest speak about the various people the Lord sends to us every day. Every person, he said, could be an opportunity for you to work God’s will, not just for you, but for other people.

I’ve written before about an obligation–maybe “obligation” is too strong a word and I should say “a strongly encouraged method of being”–to be cheerful, and treat everybody with respect and dignity. Commentor and fellow writer J-Wall Jackson pointed out that Jesus himself was a man of sorrow, and that we are not expressly command commanded to be cheerful, but hear me out, because it’s a great little trick to help you gain some control over your thoughts and your emotions (and also not be a jerk). Continue reading “Chain Reactions: Affecting the People You’ve Never Met”