Anger & Self-Righteousness

There’s a lot of political divisiveness about these days.  I wish I could say that I’m part of the solution and not part of the problem.  Clearly people are frustrated with the current state of the world (we are in a pretty bad recession, after all) and are looking for solutions on either side of the political spectrum.  Some are saying that more Government is the answer, while others are saying less.  Some want to retreat from war, while others say we shouldn’t give up on our troops.  Some want more regulations, others want less.  All of this is fine and dandy, but what does it all even mean… really?

A recent protest in Washington D.C.

Though the media attempts to adjust every event to the center of the spectrum (making large events seem small, and smaller protests seem big), I would still propose to you that these days there is a great seriousness in people’s language, but not in their actions.  I’m going to resist the temptation to post links to particularize my description here for fear of offending people, but I think everyone knows what I’m talking about.  If you have a pulse and an Internet connection, you know what I’m talking about.

But why is this?  Why do we have so much hateful speech, and so little to do about it?  Are we cowards?  Are we too comfortable?  Nearly 40 years ago, people were in the streets burning flags over the Vietnam War, tearing up draft cards –students were being shot by the National Guard over their beliefs.  One hundred and fifty years ago, we fought the bloodiest battle this land has seen over the peculiar institution.  Today, there is nothing more than quiet desperation in peoples homes, drowned out by the sound of talking heads on television.

It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my brother a night ago that I realized how really angry I have been lately.  I spent some time over the weekend scrolling through my old Facebook status messages.  “Outrageous,” one says.  “Some heads need to roll,” reads another.

I can’t help but thinking how incredibly unhealthy, how wrong, and how stupid of me it is to act this way.  Hidden underneath it all is a self-righteousness that is obvious to others, but strangely hidden to myself: if only everyone were as concerned as I am, then maybe the world would be a better place.  If only everyone took the time like I do to find out about the injustices in the world! If only people knew as much as I knew about the oil spill and how it happened, if only they’d look at as many pictures of pelicans bathing in petrol as I have….!

Seriously.  Would the world really be a better place if everyone else were sitting at home in front of their MacBook posting self-righteous tweets to their Twitter account?  I doubt it.  There is a lie in the idea that being “informed” makes you a better person, especially when the ratio of information taken in is horribly disproportionate to your action ratio.

Here’s a good question for self-reflection, “How much information do I take in on any given day that I actually (a) care about, or (b) do something about?”  If you’re anything like me, this ratio comes in as almost infinitely balanced towards taking in information.  I hate that its true, but I must confess that this is indeed the case.

A family watching television, 1958

According to Steve Jobs, taking in information on the Internet is better than passively receiving information from the television.  The Internet is active entertainment, but the television is about consuming what someone else wants you to consume.  It’s about brainwashing.  With the Internet, though, you get to control what you watch.  You control the vertical, you control the horizontal.  The television is an inferior device.

Have you ever caught yourself thinking this?  I know I have.  But I wonder, is this really the case?

If I spend four hours a day calling up information specific to my view point, reinforcing my own prejudices, never querying anything new, I probably would’ve been better off watching T.V.  This is the downfall of the Internet as a form of Entertainment.  It creates people who are full of information about their prejudices.  That includes me.

This type of thing is highly addictive.  With the help of Google, there’s no end to the amount of information I can consume about my own selfish views.  On the Internet, the true challenge is learning about anyone other than ourselves.

But let’s get back to this anger problem for a moment.  If I’m so outraged, why aren’t I doing anything about what I’m outraged about?  I guess the answer is that I’m not outraged, and that in fact, I’m too comfortable with my life to do much of anything to change or improve the world.  I’m just interested in being self-righteous.  From Luke 18:

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a]himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

It’s amazing how clear the words are, how easy they are to understand, and yet, how easy it is to fall into the trap.

Over the next couple weeks, I’m going to be thinking about the issues that are closest to me, and how I can re-appropriate the time I spend uselessly spinning my wheels over the current state of the world, and instead act on it in a positive way…. And, no, I don’t mean showing up to some Townhall and cursing people out.  (Who does that really help?) I mean actually doing something.

In no particular order, here are some of the issues that, as much as I can tell, are near and dear to me:

  1. Wasteful Transportation – 70% of the oil we use today is used moving our bodies from point A to point B.  There has got to be a better way to organize our communities than around Highways, and a better way to move people around instead of by single-passenger automobiles.  What is it?  How can I help?
  2. Preserving the Environment for Posterity – Steam starts pouring out of my nostrils when I think of bridges being built on park land.  But how do I help preserve the parks in the first place?
  3. The Growing Gap Between Rich and Poor – Jobs that a person without a college degree can have and raise a family on are becoming few and far between.  How can I help fix this?
  4. The Urban Poor – How can I help build others up so that they can feel useful, human again, after living life on the Street?
  5. Being Anti-War, at least, but hopefully Pro-Peace – This was a big one from 2000-2010.  Although it seems to have taken a back burner in my mind as of late.

If anyone has any suggestions for how I can constructively contribute to these causes, or knows of any groups that support these values, feel free to comment or send me a mail.  But I’m also looking for small things I can do in everyday life.