Sunday, December 08, 2013

Of Vitriol and Malcontent

I'm no stranger to coarse language nor indignant rage, but I make an effort these days to control both, (hopefully not at the expense of entertainment value). I'd like to explain why I worry about the digital aether being over-saturated with outrage, and why maybe we all need to cool our heads a bit even when our anger feels justified.


Clearly, I'm no stranger to outrage. For years, the better portion of what I did here was complain passionately about random topics and hope it was vaguely funny to somebody. It's not hard to see why I did it; I enjoyed it. An acquaintance on a forum once said,

Being angry is fun. And it's so easy.

That phrase has been in my signature ever since. It's funny because it's true.


In contrast, let's consider what a close friend I've known in person for several years said about me recently. I'm paraphrasing slightly, but the gist of her comment was,

Dan, you don't get angry. You only have two settings: unperturbed, and slightly less unperturbed.

It's easy for people who know me to get this impression. I am by no means a Zen master, unwavering in placidity, but that is definitely what I strive for now. I am a paragon of restraint. If I ever have an unkind word for anyone, it should never be delivered in anger, only a firm tone with a calculated disregard for their feelings. If push comes to shove, I'd rather come off in a verbal fight as a heartless bastard than a raging maniac.

Now, to be fair, anger in the right person fosters passion, and passion is the seed of motivation and ambition. So, I can't say that negative feelings never yield something positive. The point is just that I'm extremely cautious and distrustful of my anger, and I think I have good reason for being so. It basically comes down to what that person said online:

Being angry is fun, and it's easy. That's why it's dangerous.

Raging out is fun. Being angry or upset triggers a heightened mental state, the effects of which can actually feel pleasurable. It's that Fight-or-Flight response we've heard so much about. It's like the adrenaline rush you get from watching scary movies, or taking part in dangerous sports and activities like skydiving, snowboarding, or injecting methamphetamine into your bloodstream. At least with the meth you're kind of aware of what it's doing to you. Even if you aren't consciously aware of it, your brain likes being in that dramatic elevated state, and if you experience it often enough, it's easy to become addicted.

Now, couple that with the fact that getting angry is easy. Finding your fix takes no effort these days. If you don't have anybody in the immediate vicinity to bother you, you're not stuck in traffic, no Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on your door this evening, it's not 2012 and the Obama campaign didn't send you another god damn email, you're still ready to rage. All you have to do is turn on the TV news (or what passes for news on TV), or log onto your favorite Internet-enabled device, and you'll be readily bombarded with hate-porn. Look, all around you! Bad people are being wrong and doing and saying wrong things! Be mad about it!

The great thing about being addicted to rage is that, unlike traditional feel-good drugs, there are no real side-effects to speak of. I mean sure, there's the embarrassment from when you got into a shouting match with your brother-in-law at Thanksgiving, the monetary cost you were charged to fix the display you overturned while screeching at a cashier at Wal-mart about expired coupons, the damage you've done to your career after that ugly hate-speech you put on after getting drunk at the office holiday party, and the untold emotional damage you've done to your friends, your spouse or significant other, and any kids who might have the great misfortune of calling you a parent, but those things tend not to slow a true addict down.

Oh, did I mention that being addicted to rage means you get mad more easily? Well, it does. Like any addiction, you develop a tolerance, and so need a bigger fix to get the same high. Luckily, in the case of rage, your brain handles this for you by gradually trimming all those pesky connections to empathy and logic that you weren't using, and strengthening the paths that trigger an anger response, thus allowing you to get much angrier much faster with much less prodding. Isn't that convenient? And it explains why that lady in the grocery store is able to go from perfectly calm and pleasant to livid and violent at the mere sight of two guys holding hands or a teenage girl holding a baby.

So clearly, there are a lot of things that make rage an easy and tempting pass-time, but I just don't want to be that kind of person. I don't want to use my ego, my sense of personal entitlement and superiority, or my political, social or spiritual beliefs as some kind of excuse to justify my selfish desire to feel good, to fill my communications with others with violent obscenity, and my brain with delicious rage-juice. If I allow myself to indulge too much, I'm afraid a day will come when I can't stop it.

Besides, I know this is a big leap in logic, but I'm going to go ahead and assume that of all the people who have ever thrown a rock through a window, caved in someone's eye socket with their fist, set someone's house on fire, shot somebody in the chest seven times, hung someone by the throat from a tree, or killed crowds of complete strangers with an improvised explosive device, very few of those people could be described as "slightly less unperturbed." The less I have in common with those people, the better.

So, that's the long and short of it. I hope that made some kind of sense. I feel a bit bad that I don't have any scholarly sources to back up my bullshit about the science behind addiction. If anyone knows of papers or articles that back up my observations, please do send them along so I can include them. If you have any material that could disprove me, kindly keep it to yourself; that's not what science is for. It's to make me sound smart, nothing more.

Thanks for listening. Peace and love, gentle readerlings.

2 comments:

  1. An excellent piece Dan. You are wise beyond your years.

    ReplyDelete