Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why We Are Angry

After the election in 2004, I alternated between anger and depression. It isn't that I thought John Kerry would be such a great president, or that he would be able to clean up much of the mess created over the preceding four years. It was that a majority of voters in this country, in choosing George Bush, also chose pre-emptive war based on fear, tax cuts that go largely for the wealthy, continuted environmental degradation, and a host of other choices that undermined our national values. It was a triumph of fear, greed and ideology over fact, science, and law. That so many people could vote for Bush again, after seeing and experiencing the results of his disastrous policies, was simply unfathomable to me.

I've calmed down some over the last year and half. After all, this is politics - it isn't like there is an evil side and a good side. Right now, there is a corrupt side and a bumbling, wishy-washy, too-afraid-to-offend-anyone side. Electing Democrats will make the country a less corrupt place, but not a shining city on a hill kind of place.

William Rivers Pitt wrote an article yesterday on why there is so much anger on the left. It is a response to Richard Cohen of the Washington Post who wrote an article lambasting Stephen Colbert's routine at the White House Correspondents dinner, and then another article complaining about all the angry email he got from the first article. Cohen doesn't like all the anger on the left, and Pitt responds to this.

Anger is not an emotion that one can live on for very long without damaging their own psyche. However, anger is very useful for short periods of time if it spurs you to action to correct a wrong. Jesus was certainly angry at times, for instance when people were using the temple as a place of business. Good thing those days are over.

In any case, Pitt explains it all so much better than I ever could. If you care to understand anger on the left, go read it here:

An excerpt:

Why the anger? It can be summed up in one run-on sentence: We have lost two towers in New York, a part of the Pentagon, an important American city called New Orleans, our economic solvency, our global reputation, our moral authority, our children's future, we have lost tens of thousands of American soldiers to death and grievous injury, we must endure the Abramoffs and the Cunninghams and the Libbys and the whores and the bribes and the utter corruption, we must contemplate the staggering depth of the hole we have been hurled down into, and we expect little to no help from the mainstream DC press, whose lazy go-along-to-get-along cocktail-circuit mentality allowed so much of this to happen because they failed comprehensively to do their job.

George W. Bush and his pals used September 11th against the American people, used perhaps the most horrific day in our collective history, deliberately and with intent, to foster a war of choice that has killed untold tens of thousands of human beings and basically bankrupted our country. They lied about the threat posed by Iraq. They destroyed the career of a CIA agent who was tasked to keep an eye on Iran's nuclear ambitions, and did so to exact petty political revenge against a critic. They tortured people, and spied on American civilians.

You cannot fathom anger arising from this?


Eric Sink said...

Electing Democrats will make the country a less corrupt place

I want very much to argue with this statement, but I can't really think of a shred of evidence to support me.

Usually when this happens, I would like to resort to quibbling with you about minor details of your remark, but it seems you chose your words very carefully.

So I guess I have nowhere to go.


Dan S said...

Yes, it was cleverly worded to give the appearance that Democrats are honorable, when all it really says is that they are less corrupt than Republicans right now, which in the end, isn't saying much :)

Orinda said...

I've calmed down some over the last year and half. After all, this is politics - it isn't like there is an evil side and a good side. Right now, there is an evil side and a bumbling, wishy-washy, too-afraid-to-offend-anyone side.

Here's a quote from Rabbi Levi Brackman on the art of passionate disagreement which Mennonite bloggers might learn something from:

Having recently moved from Britain to Colorado in the United States, my wife and I are undergoing a culture shock. We have been disarmed by the friendliness of people and, compared to the UK, how inexpensive petrol (gas) is. We are also happy to see how many regular products have a kosher symbol on them. Another pleasant aspect of our move has been the staggering natural beauty of Colorado.

However there is one characteristic that has significantly disappointed and disturbed me. Healthy and balanced political debate does not seem to exist in the United States. Instead, both sides of the political spectrum seem to have their own media outlets where they vent their incredibly polarized and uncontested political views--often with the aim of discrediting the opinions of their ideological opponents. The problem with this is that the two sides talk at each other rather than to each other and as a result suspicion and hate festers. The situation is acute--people seem to have utter contempt for anyone with different ideological and political views.

To be sure, it is good that people are passionate about their individual political and ideological views. However if one only converses with like-minded people one will never know when one errs. The Torah says, "Man is a tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19). There is a Chassidic saying that explains this verse. If a tree grows in isolation it is likely to become crooked and bent. However, trees that grow together in a forest grow straight and tall--they "keep each other straight," so to speak. Similarly, for truth to be upheld it is fundamental that human beings do not live in intellectual isolation, only hearing views that reinforce their own. Vigorous and respectful debate with the aim of reaching the truth is crucial if one is to remain intellectually healthy.

Respectful debate amongst scholars with divergent views has always been a hallmark of Judaism. The Talmud is replete with debate amongst rabbis who disagreed with one another. They were not afraid to debate because being proven wrong was not seen in a negative light; they only had one agenda--to reach the truth. And even if a consensus could not be reached, it did not mean that either side was entirely wrong.

The Talmud says that divergent views can both be seen as the words of the living G-d (Talmud, Eruvin, 13b). There is a deep profundity in this statement. As long as we are taught to appreciate that divinity is also found within the view of people who disagree with us, then respect and dignity will be paid to intellectual opponents.

This Talmudic dictum implores us to engage with people who are in our opinion mistaken, because although their view may not be ultimately accepted, it is nonetheless legitimate. This element of respect for the views of others is a critical ingredient of a decent, harmonious, strong and healthy society.

Now more than ever, the Talmudic model of respect for intellectual rivals should be seriously heeded. Yes, we can disagree--and even passionately so. However, we must never allow ourselves to become so entrenched that we stop talking to each other--or "talk" only to belittle, defame and delegitimize the other's view.

The other and his/her views always have something to teach us, if only we are open to the lesson.

That being said, I don't think it serves anyone, least of all the Left to keep calling George Bush "evil." It invalidates what might otherwise be a reasonable position.

Sorry but I'm just doing my small part to clean up my own house, which is located somewhere Left-of-Center.

Dan S said...

I actually heartily agree with most of this article, and I do also honestly appreciate your comments orinda.

Respecting other people's views is exactly right, with one major exeption - when they are doing things that really are evil. For instance, would the Talmadic tradition be so even keeled about torture as a legitimate interrogation technique?

I'm pretty sure Bush himself isn't an evil man, but many of his policies and the actions of his administration have certainly been, or if not outright evil, they have been exactly the opposite of Jesus' teachings.

I think it actually perpetuates these evils to try to be "balanced and fair" about them. They are wrong, and we shouldn't make excuses for them.

But anger does not equal hatred and strongly worded positions do not equal lack of respect. The trick is to make people accountable for their actions without dehumanizing them, and always hold out the hope and opportunity for grace.

I don't always succeed at what I value. Evil is a strong word that shouldn't be thrown around lightly. But I use it to describe the actions of people, and not to make ultimate judgement of them, which is not for me (or anyone) to do.

Again, I appreciate your challenging me on this orinda, as it is important to be called on it myself.

Dan S said...

After re-reading the original post, I can see how "evil" could actually be misapplied to have meant all Republicans are evil, which isn't what I meant. It was mostly meant as a joke in the context I put it in, alongside Democrats being weenies.

So, I changed it to "corrupt". Republicans are just about as corrupt these days as Democrats are weenies :)

Orinda said...

The trick is to make people accountable for their actions without dehumanizing them...


Corrupt is a much better word--more accurate. 'Self-serving ends', dubious ends', if I think of others I will let you know.

But a fine improvement

Orinda said...

For instance, would the Talmadic tradition be so even keeled about torture as a legitimate interrogation technique

No. this is absolutely against the teachings of the Talmud, and I would reason that the pricipal described here is about debate itself, not evil acts.

But remember, we do have enemies and the reason for this is precisely owing to our enemies' refusal to see humanity in Christians, Jews, Buddhists, etc. We don't want to be like them. Healthy debate is an indicator of the best of humanity.

Brownie said...

"Love one another, as I have loved you..." -Jesus of Nazareth

If we can maintain love for one another while debating our political adversaries, then yes, all is well and good. But when it deteriorates into name calling, unfounded accusations, and personal bitterness, we are deviating from the path of love.

And I love the path of love.

Dan S said...

Brownie, you are such a hippie

Brownie said...

And proud of it!