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Friday, October 8, 2010

Fairness(good), Anger(inevitable) and Hate(bad)

This political season, everyone, at least here in America, seems unusually angry.  I include myself.  As I read my prior Posts, I realize that as I write them, I become more angry and start "frothing" more openly.  This has led me to think about why everyone is angry in a political context.  I have tried to follow my own advice - to really listen and try to understand people who seem to be acting crazy, and to see if I could understand where they were coming from.  I actually think I may havedone so, at least to some degree [Hubris, anyone?]


It seems to me that we get most angry when we believe that someone or some thing is not treating us in a "fair" manner. [Think of arguing with a small child].  Now, "fair" is a tremendously subjective word.  Is a progressive income tax fair?  Is an estate tax fair?  Is the fact that rich people send their kids to better schools fair?  Is the fact that they can afford better lawyers fair?  Is the fact that we have to pay for poor people accused of a crime to obtain lawyers fair?  Is any form of "redistribution of income" fair?  Different people will answer each of those questions based on their own political, legal and moral ideas about the nature of our collective responsibilities to those of our less economically well off citizens.

Nonetheless, I can think of three things that almost all of us would agree are essentially unfair: 1) being treated unequally in the absence of a good reason, 2) changing the rules in the middle of the game, and 3) rewarding people for "bad" behavior, particularly at others' expense.

Now, let's look at the really angry people in American politics;  the easiest example is, as usual here, those who call themselves the Tea Party.  They are angry for a number of reasons (and they each have his or her own), but I think that some of it relates to the three things I list above.

1) being treated unequally in the absence of a good reason

a.  Being asked to be tolerant and deferential to other groups (often minorities) and their beliefs and practices, when they apparently refuse to be at all tolerant of mineMoslems (certainly some international elements-no need to go into details here), Hispanic immigrants (they won't learn english like we all did; they expect bilingual education and signage; they "insist on seaking their native language and "acting" foreign; and they expect us to be tolerant of illegal immigration),  African Americans (claiming there is no such thing as "Black Racism", publically labelling whites as "evil"  (with no universal condemnation by their "leaders"), and insiting on disparate treatment (affirmative action, busing)),  the banks, big companies and (sometimes) the unions - no one bails out my company when it goes under, no one guarantees me a really fat pension,  Our government leaders (we'd get fired if we collectively did our jobs as poorly), homosexuals - not only do they flaunt what I [well, not "I", but I'm trying to understand others here] believe to be immoral conduct, they file lawsuits when my voluntary organizations seek to restrict membership to those who believe as we do, and they insist on the right to trample on my religion/emotional attachment to things like the word "marriage", liberals (they want me to respect their views when they make fun of me, and call me and others like me dumb stupid crazy hicks). Atheists and secularists [yes, I know these are not the same thing.  I'm a secularist but not an Atheist]  you want me to be tolerant, but you won't let my kids pray or have Christmas pageants in public schools - you insist on secularizing all public and communal life, but I'm supposed to respect you.

There's a lot of anger out there against women too, be that's more complicated and not as strictly "political", so I won't touch it here.] 

b.  Being asked to pay my money for other people's mistakes, stupidity, laziness or whatever. Poor people (I have to work hard for my money - why should they get a free ride at my expense?),  the Banks and big companies again.  (the phrase "bailout" really resonates here).  People who overleveraged or bought houses they could not afford.   Accused criminals who get free lawyers. (I'm too rich to get a free lawyer and much too poor to actually pay for one.).  Uninsured people who chose not to buy insurance or "good enough" insurance.  You want me to pay for your abortion ?(could also easily fit in category a. above).

c.  Having the Government and courts so solicitous of the rights of minorities just because they are minorities.  (this one is absoluty accurate - there may be good reasons for this - I certainly think so - but it is in some sense fundamentally unfair)

 2) changing the rules in the middle of the game,

a.  First rule.  "Capitalism has winners and losers.  Be smart or lucky and you win; be dumb or unlucky and you lose."   Again, the bailout -  big banks and big companies have been rescued;  why haven't all their shareholders and bondholders been wiped out?    Wall street types - your trades lost money, so should you.

b.  Second rule.  "Majority Rules."  We all grew up with this.  We still really believe it.  When did this change to protect all of these minorities, in political religious and cultural matters?  This is not how it uses to be.

c.  Third rule.  Really psychological in nature and somewhat contradictory to the first  rule.  I grew up in  society that strongly inculcated one with the idea that "if you studied, worked, were a good person and kept your nose clean you would succeed in America."  You might not climb as high as you wanted, but you'd be ok.  You could have a job, a family, a house-the American dream.  Your employer would be loyal to you if you were loyal to it.  Just do your job, and do it reasonably well.  To the extent this was ever true, it's certainly not now.  The Rule has changed.

d.  Fourth rule.  Strictly psychological.  "The world and its values will remain the same as it used to be".   And for many of us, "used to", even when not idealized, was better.

3) rewarding people for "bad" behavior, particularly at others' expense.

This Post originally also included something about "rewarding good behavior", but I took it out.  I think the negative really strikes us as more unfair.  We know better than to think that good behavior will always be rewarded.  But rewarding bad behavior?  That is what makes our blood boil.  This one is interesting; it ties into 1) being treated unequally in the absence of a good reason - but it is distinct.   It also reasonates in both a "traditional" and "new" sense.  The traditional sense leads to the resentment of poor people who get some sort of public benefits.  The new sense goes to bankers, et al who basically cause others to loose millions, almost cause the fall of western civilization, due to their unbridled greed (if not actual criminality), and walk away (laughing all the way to the bank), counting their millions in bonuses, while we pay for the results.

If I sound sympathetic, I am.  All of this stuff is basically unfair, and it makes ME really angry to even write about it.  


To the extent I am less angry than your average Tea Party person (and I may be just as angry, but at different people), it is because:

1.  I am more resigned to the fact that life may not be fair, and that sometimes one may have to do what is "necessary" instead of what is "fair" or even "right".  The big example here is the bailout.

2. Some of the bad stuff (liberal contempt and economic disaster) is either not directed at me or has had less effect on me, at least so far

3.  I identify myself as a minority (Jewish), and am really nervous about "majority rules", and am very solicitous of the need to protect minorities

4.  I am a liberal, politically and socially.  Paying taxes to help poor people does not bother me.  Neither does cultural change (well not philosphically anyway), which I view as inevitable.

But, Anger is a pretty much inevitable reaction to perceptions of unfairness, and people have been treated unfairly (as I describe it above), and they have a perfect right to be Angry

Who they should be angry with is something I would disagree with most conservatives about, but I have no quarrel with the Anger itelf.


I'll be brief.  Anger often leads to Hate.  It does in me, but I actively try to fight it, with what I hope is generally a good success rate. Hate is usually very bad.  I don't like it morally, but my biggest point is that it is drastically counterproductive as a means of achieving one's actual, rational political goals, particularly when one is operating within a political group. We are a political collective in this country, even if we can't stand each other.  We are really stuck with each other.  Hate begets Hate.  Fanaticism begats fanaticism.  Not a good recipe for trying to solve what are problems that affect all of us.  Enough.

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