We’re going to start a restaurant called “The Affrontery.” It will be a place you can come to be mildly outraged at things you don’t really care about. A place you can loudly air your imaginary grievances. And you can share your outrage with other people who also pretend to be affronted by the same things, and you can build off each others’ offended sensibilities, until your anger starts to feel real to you. And you can all feel clever when you ALL use the exact same phrases, as devoid of meaning as your anger is devoid of feeling, until the words somehow become a homing signal to the outraged. You and your new friends can fuel the fire of your ire by telling each other shocking things you mis-read on social media or half-heard on Fox News, where feeding manufactured outrage is the only form of discourse, the lowest form of discourse. And what begins as mild irritation at people who frighten you because they’re slightly different from you in any way at all, will grow and build into a real terror that civilization as you know and define it, is at risk. Though, of course, you’ll know it’s not true, not nearly true. It’s just that the anger is so addictive, so infectious, the feeling of being included in this gang of self-righteous haters so delicious, that you’ll tell yourself you believe it.
And the waiters will run, screaming, to the exits.
Of course there’s no need to start such an establishment, because we already have the Internet. Maybe people have always been this way; but surely the ease of talking on the internet, the shallowness of connection, and the anonymity of the speaker contribute to the cruelty of the rhetoric. In my own town, people are unfailingly kind when they meet in person, but unnervingly abusive on the community Facebook page. Somehow, reasonable adults are turned into middle school bullies, or maybe it’s just that this sadly-human instinct is given room to grow. The sickening feeling of join-or-become-a-target is depressingly familiar.
Perhaps the saddest thing is that this false fury belittles actual anger. In a grotesque twist, this mock outrage is often directed at people who actually have something to be angry about. Because real anger is powerful, and that is frightening to people trying to cling onto whatever power they feel they are entitled to. Real anger is an agent for change, so they try to subvert it and represent it as hysteria or categorize it as nonsense. Women and other marginalized people recognize this treatment (Side note! “I’m not hysterical, I’m angry,” from the latest episode we’ve watched of my current favorite show. Call My Agent). The anger of the Black Lives Matter movement was seen as revolution or worse. But on January 6th an insurrection fueled by ignorance and affrontery–was described as a pleasant tour through the capitol building by very fine people. The entire history of our flawed nation, so grotesquely, predictably skewed; the false anger that has sustained us for as long as we’ve existed desperately trying to cover the devastating depths of justified anger we are terrified to acknowledge.
I love something I saw recently, a lot of people have seen it, but it’s so beautiful I will share it here. I saw an interview in which these beautiful girls described the incident that inspired them, and they said “We were really angry so we decided to write a song about it.” That’s what we need, really angry people who are angry about actual injustice, to write, sing, paint, and yell about it. Pure anger, pure, joyful, change-the-world anger. (Another side note: I know that anger doesn’t need to be this sweet and beautiful. I know that true righteous anger can be frightening and ugly and still valuable and still beautiful)