Quipu is and always has been a personalzine. This means you get what I want to talk about. I hope you like it, or dislike it in an interesting way. This time, it looks like what you get is politics. I'm angry about the state of the world, and the state of my country, and about what my fellow Americans are angry about. Anger seems to be an approved emotion these days, and the yell and the insult the currency of political discussion, if I may call it by such a name. I suppose it's better than despair, though it isn't enough: unfocused anger is at best catharsis, at worst a recipe for disaster. But if you get elected on anger, you can ride it without actually getting anything done: if you offer people hope, they'll expect things to improve, and that requires a program that works. Anyone can yell and point fingers.
That paragraph was written shortly after the November 1994 elections. In an odd way, looking back, one thing that occurs to me is that I clearly had more faith in "the American people" than I might have told you ahead of time, because along with the anger I was genuinely surprised. Somewhere or other, Kurt Vonnegut wrote about "Hunter Thompsonís disease," the illusion that Americans can be led as eagerly to joy as to bitterness. I still think itís possible to do that, but not that itís easy. Anger is a very basic thing, closely allied to the fight-or-flight mechanism you learned about in high school biology. Women have problems in part because, more so than men, weíre taught to suppress our anger. Channeling it is fine and even necessary: if we all struck out, physically or even verbally, at everyone and everything that made us angry, civilization would probably collapse by Friday. We need to sort out which anger is worth acting on, which needs to be redirected, and which is best soothed with a nightís sleep, a pint of cider, some good music, or a chocolate chip cookie. But many of us have been taught, not merely to channel anger--and not take it out on the people we love if a stranger yells insults at us in the train--but to deny it exists, not even letting ourselves be aware of it. That way lies either frustration or despair. And there are those--the people we really need to be angry at--who are quite happy with our despair, because despairing people donít rebel, donít complain, donít volunteer at the blood drive or the afterschool program or do anything else that might make life a little better and political control a little harder to maintain.
Part of the problem, I think, is that a certain intellectualized despair has become fashionable: it is far easier to write newspaper articles about the decline of liberalism than to organize people to preserve and even extend the gains made back in the days when compassion was considered a virtue, not a character flaw. Itís easier to bitch to oneís friends about government not listening than to try to get its attention.
Copyright 1995 Vicki Rosenzweig
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