“The Internet can be a hard place to find kindness, maybe especially right now, but I believe it’s worth fighting for because I believe it makes the world bigger and that it eases the hard but inevitable changes that define life.”
– John Green
It so happens that I am tired of the things that I’m against, and that are against me. This being-against has come to circumscribe my days and define my existence, ever since the putative election of the Idiot Toddler King five months ago.
The writer John Green refers to a “strange brew of outrage and worry and exhaustion and not being able to look away …” and says, “I feel some vague but nagging obligation to be informed about the events of the day.” I can relate. It feels like I’ve been sucking information from a firehose and that it’s my social obligation as a citizen to go on doing it, perhaps forever. I can’t look away.
I don’t want this misery; this feeling of being subjected to hypnosis or mind control. The failing landlord has had rent free use of the space between my ears for far too long. I have given him and his minions power over my thinking. That’s the most precious thing I have and worst thing I can carelessly give away. Enough!
I no longer accept the moral obligation to be constantly informed about the minutia of the highest and most profoundly innervating horrors of insensate Power. It’s not my job as a citizen, or yours. If a few of the tens of millions of us who are chronically outraged remember that we still have finite lives and look away for a moment, Trump will not get away with all of his cunning and evil plans.
I want my field of vision back, and the spectrum of my hearing, and the depth of my understanding too. There are still beautiful books to read, and music to hear. There are more important things to think about than what steaming pile of crap The Clown Prince has stepped in today.
I’m not saying I want to stop being well-informed and caring about what’s going on. But being informed doesn’t mean staying lock-step with the nation every day. It’s easy to go way beyond being informed and become obsessed. The traditional news media and countless content sources on the Internet are in the business of obsession. They make a living, one way or another, by getting our attention and keeping it. They manufacture outrage.
I’ve heard there’s no truth in the news, no news in the truth. But even if what they’re feeding us is True, they don’t want us to be merely well informed and say that’s enough thanks, and glance away. The information machine is an all-you-can-eat buffet, an eternal flame raging in a dumpster. Nobody cares if you sit there, in rapt attention, until your background level of stress pegs off the meter.
The problem with living on a daily diet of outrage against the things that we’re against is not just that it ruins your health and happiness. It doesn’t do any good. It never has. No good change in the world has ever come about just because people – no matter how many – were against something and outraged about it. Every time people have succeeded in creating positive change, it’s been because they found something that were for and felt passionate about. They then stood up and fought for that thing and against whatever was trying to destroy it. There’s no use being against something without being for something, is my point.
Anne Lamott has famously written, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Being outraged against The Other Side always results in overblown, inaccurate stereotypes. If everybody over there is evil and stupid and incapable of rational discourse, there’s no hope at all of ever making progress toward solving common problems. We become part of the problem. Believe it or not, cooperation is never optional, and those stereotypes, at some level, are always wrong.
“Now, if you ask me, what’s going on is that we’re all up to here in it, and probably the most important thing is that we not yell at one another. Otherwise we’d all just be barking away like Pekingese: ‘Ah! Stuck in the shit! And it’s your fault, you did this …’ Writing involves seeing people suffer and, as Robert Stone once put it, finding some meaning therein. But you can’t do that if you’re not respectful. If you look at people and just see sloppy clothes or rich clothes, you’re going to get them wrong.”
I want kindness to prevail between us, I really do, but it’s going to take time. If you voted Nazi Stupid in the 2016 election, don’t tell me. I still think you’re a raging fool who should not be trusted with scissors or the care of pets or houseplants. Even if you’ve repented and wish there had been an actual Conservative to vote for, just shut up and keep it to yourself for a while. You are the stereotype, the poster child for bad judgment. Sorry. Let’s find something else to talk about. Not NASCAR or Rodeo. …Movies?
Of course, I still despise Donald Trump. He’s batshit crazy and evil, corrupt, and probably a traitor. But our job as citizens is not just to consume and react, consume and react. It’s to thoughtfully receive information, decide what values we are willing to stand for, and then find a way to stand up for them.
It’s time to cut back on the news. So how often is often enough to check in? Every 10 minutes, every hour, day, or week? Well for me it’s going to be a quick daily dose online. Then I have a couple of nice weekly magazines, TIME and The Nation. I’ll still be outraged but less viscerally so, I hope. If you’re not outraged, you haven’t been listening.