Sunday, March 25, 2007

Enjoying a George F. Will Column

George has an interesting column today, titled Anger Is All the Rage and one of its most interesting aspects is the ‘reader comments’ posted. They are almost uniformly angry.

George has an interesting column today, titled Anger Is All the Rage and one of its most interesting aspects is the ‘reader comments’ posted. They are almost uniformly angry.
Georgefwill I like George Will. I don’t always agree with him and there will be fairly long periods when I seldom do, but I can be depend on Will to advance a well-thought-out argument. That’s more and more difficult to find in opinion columns these days.
Provocation is flipping the bird, but to write provocatively enhances discussion and encourages people to think. It’s a shame the words are so close, ‘cause their meaning is worlds apart. Here's a portion of today's column;
Under the headline "San Franciscans Hurl Their Rage at Parking Patrol," the New York Times recently described the verbal abuse and physical violence -- there were 28 attacks in 2006 -- inflicted on parking enforcement officers in a city that has a surplus of liberalism and a shortage of parking places. Parking is so difficult that George Anderson, a mental health expert, has stopped holding lectures there because his audiences arrive seething about their parking frustrations. Anderson represents the American Association of Anger Management Providers.
George posits that “there is a new style in anger -- fury as a fashion accessory, indignation as evidence of good character.” I have to agree with him. The blogosphere is full of rage and the likes of Ann Coulter have made a good living from outrage.
There is road rage (and parking lot rage when the Whole Foods Market parking lot is congested with expressive individualists driving Volvos and Priuses). The blogosphere often is, as one blogger joyfully says, "an electronic primal scream." And everywhere there is the histrionic fury of ordinary people venting in everyday conversations.
Looking to the ‘comments’ section that followed the column, I was astounded at the degree of transference. Here's a sampling of those who chose to ignore the thrust of the argument and take out after George for his politics (which were mostly absent from the column);
Georgie boy, you don’t KNOW rage my friend. But you will . . . You and the other Enablers who continually shill for Bush, Cheney and the other Republican idiots in Congress have a lot coming to you. And the American People are going to be giving it to you for decades.
(another) As a Roman Catholic hack serving Rome’s American Fifth Column Mr. Will should be identified for special treatment after the bi-partisan fascist plutocracy he has been promoting is brought to justice.
(and my personal favorite) I hope you blood boils to the point to steaming, you pompous posturing jacka$$ hack. Your Neocon-Nazi boy toys have been found out and you cannot stand it, can you? You big baby. Whaaaaaa! Everyone hates the Fuhrer! Boo hoo! Why don*t you tie that bow tie a little tighter. Your reasoning already shows you to be oxygen deprived, but I think you being unconscious would be best for all parties.
They go on for eight dreary pages, which pretty much proves the premise. But the interesting thing to me  is the filter through which we read and listen these days. Will writes;
There is road rage (and parking lot rage when the Whole Foods Market parking lot is congested with expressive individualists driving Volvos and Priuses).
Which elicits this comment;
Speaking of anger, Mr. Will seems to be seething towards liberals, especially those who fill out the parking spots of his Whole Foods. He finds sophomoric relish in suggesting that these people are loathsome hypocrites . . .
It’s a pretty broad leap from an obviously tongue-in-cheek (even if it is a Republican tongue in a Republican cheek) from parking lot rage at Whole Foods to sophomoric relish and loathsome hypocrites.
Whew!
I think there’s something else afoot and perhaps George missed it. Much of what I see as the decline of civility in America is traceable to just too damned many people. We’re stumbling over one another, commuting 2-3 hours a day, lined up, spindled and mutilated, over-messaged by radio, TV, billboards and e-mail, way over-scheduled both personally and in our jobs—just plain exhausted.
The old gaffers who tell us it wasn’t always like that are right—it wasn’t. I’m an old gaffer and I remember. When I was a kid, living on the west side of Evanston, there was a farmer’s corn-field three blocks west of my house. If you head west from Evanston today, you drive for fifty miles before glimpsing a soy-bean field and it more than likely has a for sale sign on it. The only green left is the golf courses and the rich have them all to themselves (a $50 green fee at a public course?).
Sheer numbers of people make us feel like herded cattle. The anxiety quotient goes up, we give the finger to a perfectly nice guy in traffic because we’re crowded. Gaffer-wise, I remember going shopping with mom, sixty years ago, on Central Street in Evanston.
Parking was not a problem, mom often absent-mindedly left the keys in the car. There were actually separate grocery, meat and bakery shops. The owners knew your name, added the bill in pencil on a paper bag and were mortified if you had a complaint.
People talk about simpler times, but what they mean were less crowded  times.
Those were not simple times. Roosevelt’s death, millions back from war and fighting now for jobs and education, housing shortages, dark clouds on the Korean peninsula and the beginning of a cold-war. But they were civil times. Strangers said excuse me and opened doors for one another—there was an after you congeniality on the commuter train platform instead of an elbow in the ribs. We could afford eye-contact.
There were fewer eyes.
In those ancient times, a mere three score years ago, the world was home to 2.5 billion people and, as I write this, it approaches 7. A hundred-forty million Americans have just become three hundred million. By extrapolation, Central Street is jammed, there is no parking and if you stood in one place all day, you’d likely not see a person you know.
Will closes his column with this comment;
Today, many people preen about their anger as a badge of authenticity: I snarl, therefore I am. Such people make one's blood boil.
And if you don’t see the self-deprecation in that, if you aren’t able to understand the irony—maybe it’s more a case of too big a herd than too partisan a writer in that herd.
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