A screaming middle-aged man in a shiny black convertible stopped conversation in front of a Beverly Hills outdoor café the other day when he hurled a string of f-words into the air along with his cell phone. People in Los Angeles seem to be fighting with each other everywhere. You could make the case that an erosion of civility is a loud symptom of a sick society.
With our contemporary faux-spiritual soundtrack, along with the trauma of a 24-hour "bad news" cycle and recycle, (thanks, Nancy Grace), analyzing spurts of public rage and aggression on these wild streets begs the question: what's a girl or guy to think?
There are mental temptations and tempting reactions, of course. It is tempting to jump off from encountering anonymous ugly behaviors to constructing a linked chain of sociological explanations. One far out, yet common, example would be hooking together in one rant the matter of an increasingly out-of-control social narcissism with the truth vs. hope of who Obama has turned out to be. Now there's a beguiling, albeit whimsical, connection to make. That's also an absurd connection to make, although both narcissism and Obama are distressing subjects to some. Making such a connection goes to prove that when two believed-to-be disturbing realities are at hand, the human reaction is to merge them, develop a causal relationship, and to blame, blame, blame. Perhaps when we are outraged, any excuse to lash out, even employing extreme leaps of logic, becomes irresistible. (Cable news expert panels, anyone?)
David Brooks, in his current New York Times Opinion piece, writes about "The Spirit of Sympathy". Regarding how we view groups of people other than our own, he points to political culture as being "a system that bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy". He believes that in one on one experience, we do feel human sympathy. I'm not so sure. I am wondering if we have lost the map to normal behavior.
Glancing into the fumes of Enraged Convertible Man, it would help to find some awareness of identification with him. After all, he is driving a car and poses a potential danger to others in his mental state. In such moments, however, it may not be sympathy but acceptance that is called for.
Rather than raging against rage, it is possible that to see and accept what is may provide protection, even a soothing clarity. This does not deny matters that are genuine and troubling. For example, the White House and what I call the Obama thinness of being, the lack of "there there", in Gertrude Stein's words, on significant issues is disturbingly real to me. If this absence of veritas indeed exists and is deconstructive to the stability of social/emotional America, neither railing against it nor proclaiming it a lovely coat of fresh varnish, will help.
Those of us who bought the "hope" hype are rightfully stirred.
I could go on and on about how Obama lost me at Rick Warren's Inaugural "hello". Why dwell there as a progressive? Why dwell as a conservative with Rush Limbaugh in the hope of Obama's failure when it would be our failure, as well?
It's not a coincidence that both ADD and depression are said to be at all-time highs. Helplessness and overwhelm are strong mental health opponents, tough to deal with, often enraging. 9/11 and the intro of the televised news scroll grounded us in split focus. The television scroll may have existed prior to 9/11. But in the trauma of terrorism, an anxious country was glued to the tube, taking in unbelievable images while simultaneously being led to read urgent, bottom-screen news copy as never before. This is how terrorism was rolled out. It's no wonder that we enact social behaviors of rage, anxiety, and depression.
Nearly a decade after 9/11, some of us feel we've been at the raw end of a fresh bait-and-switch, voting in a President whose persona and salesmanship have fallen flat. Others are waiting for clues that their candidate has returned. Republicans are winding up for their own 2012 candidate pitch.
Health care, finance reform: does anyone really follow the facts on these subjects? I think the public --in private--- is too worried, even frantic behind closed doors, about the basic matter of surviving with their own finances.
More than ever, we need to see and admit what is real. Even when presented with the occurrence of another person's alarm or rage, it seems like we are called upon to strengthen our own personal presence. To accept the tough truths in front of us is the first piece of the road toward positive change.
And because we're Americans, we're either busy screaming at each other or putting up a pretty fence around it.