A simple thing you can do to start the reform of America: get angry

Summary: Hundreds of posts about reforming America have struck no strikes with readers. So I’m doing it wrong. Dry analysis of the problem takes the wrong path. Let’s focus on motivating people, stoking the need to act. Perhaps anger is answer.

Aristotle
Fake but good quote!

“Anger is easy. Anger at the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, is difficult.”
— Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, (paraphrased)

“Telemachus, now is the time to be angry.”
— Odysseus, the film The Odyssey (1997)

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Look at the Wikiquote page for “anger”. Few of the sages quoted there have much good to say about it. They counsel calm and contemplation. For some people that produces a steely resolve. But not always. Sheep are calm, perhaps contemplative, but not estimable.

To get action a disengaged passive people, like Americans today, perhaps we should target the spirits, not the mind. Arouse anger. Anger at what we have become and how America changes. Like most things, anger can be a force for good or ill. Today it might be the missing element of a reform program.

“America is no longer, what it could be, what it once was. And I say to myself, I don’t want that future for my children.”
Barack Obama, 6 August 2008 — see the video here. See discussion of this incident here.

“An experience of profound contempt is necessary in order to grasp our situation, and our capacity for contempt is vanishing.”
— Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, chapter “Values” (1987)

Anger does it no good if it’s like the anger of watching the home team lose. It does no good unless coupled with assumption of responsibility for America, and so produces a willingness to act.  We have reason for anger, at ourselves and at our leaders.

Start the fire with this issue: why do we still have troops in Afghanistan?

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Wrath

Let’s begin with a clear and searing issue. We still have troops in Afghanistan, a 13th year of fighting, long after the folly of this occupation became obvious.

How long into 2014 should we watch the body bags come home? 118 YTD. How much time will we spend with injured and crippled soldiers in hospitals and rehab? How much time will we spend listening to Gold Star Mothers talk about their lost children and spouses? How long can we do these things and not get angry?

How long should we listen to people exploit for political gain the few deaths in Benghazi while they ignore the far larger and continuing toll in Afghanistan? We quietly listen, like sheep.

I have written 160 articles during the past decade about this mad expedition — as have many others (many far more knowledgeable and skillful than I). Reasonable, heavily documented, dispassionate articles. All in vain. The vehemence has all been on the other side, and so they’ve won. Year after year.

As they say at Alcoholics Anonymous, insanity is repeating the same behavior but expecting a different result. Perhaps it is time try something different. Logic and knowledge can only do so much. Passion and spirit must carry us forward.

“Beware the fury of a patient man.”
— John Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel (1681)

How to arouse Americans to anger

Perhaps if more Americans spent more time with Vets coming home — especially the injured and crippled — more would work to end this war.

Perhaps if more Americans spent time attending military funerals, consoling the families of dead vets, planting flags on graves of the lost — more would work to end this war.

Perhaps if we got Congress to fund our wars with a special tax — visible on every paycheck, every bond interest payment, every dividend — then more would work to end this war. Perhaps Americans love their money more than their troops, more than their nation. Perhaps this is the only way to reach America.

Each person that one of these things can become an angry citizen, someone whose passion for reform can infect others. The Republic-that-once-was lies prostrate, as the 1% plan to build a New Republic on its ruins. We must start now. Time is not our ally.

Anger assists hands however weak.
— Ovid, Amorum (16 BC), I. 7. 66.

“If not now, when?”
— Patrick Henry, 23 March 1775. Click here for more advice from him.

For More Information

To see posts about the Afghanistan War

About anger:

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23 thoughts on “A simple thing you can do to start the reform of America: get angry

  1. Trying to get people angry over complex and contentious specific issues is a very slow and uneven path to reaching a critical mass of opinion necessary to effect meaningful political change and in any case the impact may be temporary (e.g. the large scale public opposition gradually built up to the Vietnam War dissipated to such an extent over the years that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars faced little initial opposition). Moreover, a major reason why this path is so time consuming is that even the so-called experts are often too heavily invested in defending their personal views and positions for any public consensus on a specific issue to be easily reached. See the excellent article below.

    http://www.businessspectator.com.au/article/2013/12/9/economy/when-economic-theory-fails-maths-exam

    Anyone who wants to see political change has to start with achieving better governance. Come up with a package proposal including term limits, campaign financing reform, effective supervision of conflicts of interest between the government and the private sectors and genuine tax reform, all in order to reach a more level playing field. If you can get a swell of public support for such a package to be enacted, you will free the government from the control of the special interest groups and then the political system should be able to do a much better job of dealing with specific issues such as defense, health, education, employment, climate change, etc.

    1. RP3,

      We can only guess at such things. My guesses disagree with yours.

      (1). “Trying to get people angry over complex and contentious specific issues”

      Every public policy issue is “complex and contentious”. But a useless war is as simple and clear as it gets.

      (2). “is a very slow and uneven path to reaching a critical mass of opinion necessary to effect meaningful political change”

      Ok, I am excited. You have a solution that is not complex and contentious, not implemented in a slow and uneven manner.

      (3). “Anyone who wants to see political change has to start with achieving better governance.”

      What? Better governance is a result, not a starting point. It is not even useful as a stated goal. Everyone over here who wants better governance! And more happiness!

      (4). “Come up with a package proposal including term limits, campaign financing reform, effective supervision of conflicts of interest between the government and the private sectors and genuine tax reform, all in order to reach a more level playing field. ”

      Did you forget about “complex and contentious”? You solution is the extreme example.

      Also, I recommend you subscribe to a newspaper. Your recommendation is the primary method reformers have tried almost forever. It is not working. It has never worked.

      Reforms have come only when the situation has become intolerable. Progressive-era reforms, like food safety. New Deal reforms during the depression. Civil rights as Blacks geared up for major social unrest.

  2. I direct my anger at our institutional intellectuals. Where the hell are they? In theory it is they who have tenure to insulate them from blow back when they speak truth to power. The insane public funding of these institutional intellectuals is already being questioned and when the tough questions about moral leadership and guiding our youth come I expect these poseurs will have not a friend in the world. High time IMO.

    1. Peterblogdanovice,

      I agree, and would cast the responsibility even wider. I’m not a fan of William Buckley, but I agree that I’d rather be governed by the first few hundred names in the Cambridge telephone book than the Harvard faculty.

      I believe that our top quintile has gone, to some degree, bonkers. I suspect that the various delusions of Left and Right — which I have reported so often on the FM website — are much more prevalent and strongly-held in the top quintile than the next three (i.e., the broad middle class).

      Why is this? I have no idea. One of the many mysteries.

  3. Reforms take place behind some type of organized and very visible leadership. So Fab Max would come out of the closet…perhaps things could be changed.

    1. slapout9,

      Since almost nobody agrees with what I say, I doubt that seeing my smiling face would change many minds. Katy Perry I am not. The idea is IMO quite daft.

      What that would do is increase my vulnerability to the hate mail that too often clogs my inbox. The FM website offers a soapbox for non-consensus views. I have lost authors who found the resulting audience “feedback” too strong. Me, too — but I retain some distance from it. And there are other reasons of greater importance.

      It would be ok if I got fame or fortune to compensate. But not so.

      There are lots of scary people out there. I look forward to seeing your website offer controversial views on hot subjects. Report back how you handle the hate mail.

    2. Fab Max,
      I have been on many protection details from Governorss, Judges, local Politicians to Business leaders so I understand what you mean about hate mai, it is scaryl. Good news is the ones that write usually don’t strike, it is the silent ones you have to worry about.

      Now to the subject at hand. The point I was trying to make was that Anger like Hope is not a course of action as the saying goes. I grew up in the South during the Civil Rights movement and the War protest and The Weathermen movement (just when I enteredred Law Enforcement) and I am still of the opinion that this idea of some spontaneous uprising is mostly nonsense.

      Everything I saw was well led, organized and well financed, something not often discussed, the fund raising abilities of these organizations was a critical part of their success as was a very visible leadership and a supporting infrastructure.

      Maybe you should look at the problem from a Maneuver Warfare point of view intead of from a political point of view.

    3. slapout,

      I agree with everything you say. I do not believe you understand what I am saying.

      (1) “The point I was trying to make was that Anger like Hope is not a course of action as the saying goes.”

      Yes, but this post is quite explicitly saying something different. Anger can provide motivation. That’s all, but nothing happens without motivation.

      (2) “this idea of some spontaneous uprising is mostly nonsense.”

      How many times have I said this? Lots. Such as in my posts about the Tea Party and Occupy movements.

      See this post about the necessity of organization: The second step to reforming America (the most frequently requested subject on the FM website), 13 August 2013

  4. It seems to me that Americans are already plenty angry, as the Occupy movement showed. Trouble is, as FM points out, the key problems with America today involve structural changes. These are broad transformations which have occurred so slowly they’re not easy to see — changes like the gradual erosion of the minimum wage to 70% of its real value (after inflation) in 1968, the gradual growth of income inequality to levels not seen since the Roaring 20s, the gradual decline of intergenerational income mobility, the incremental loss of basic protections against authoritarianism like the right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers or the right not to be assassinated by the government without charges or the right not to be hurled into a dungeon forever without access to a lawyer or without even being accused of a crime.

    Because these gradual changes have taken place so slowly and because none of them can be attributed to obvious Evil Villains, your typical Americano grows confused. We’re plenty full of rage, but it’s inchoate anger, directed at “things in general.” There doesn’t seem to be a single culprit for the typical Americano to focus on. We’re frustrated because we can’t identify an Ernst Stavro Blofeld to blame for the collapse of America.

    As a result, we get widespread movements like Occupy which don’t make an impact because they’re not precisely directed. What specific policies does the Occupy movement advocate? Which specific political candidates does the Occupy movement support? I can’t say. The nebulous anger of the typical Americano boils over and diffuses away without specific targets.

    In mentioning America’s endless unwinnable foreign wars, FM brings up a peculiarity of mass psychology discussed best by Gustave LeBon in his 1897 book The Crowd, which plays into this diffused unfocused anger. Your typical Americano today despises our endless unwinnable foreign wars (polls show 59% of Americans want to end our foreign wars), yet each individual American enthusiastically “supports the troops” and adores the U.S. military as an institution (polls also show Americans giving by far highest rating to the American military as a trustworthy institution, far higher than congress or the presidency or organized religion). Americans loathe the way our military treats the typical soldier like a piece of disposable kleenex to be brain-damaged by IEDs and then dumped on disability to rot in some urine-stinking VA cubbyhole. Yet Americans love movies that show American militarism — films like Zero Dark Thirty, Thor, The Avengers, Iron Man, and their ilk.

    So we’ve reached a peculiar situation where, as LeBon remarked, a jury may hand down a verdict even though every member of that jury disagrees with it. Americans collectively wind up enthusiastically supporting our out-of-control global military adventurism even though individually we each strongly disapprove of it. The result? A vague unfocused anger at “the way America keeps fighting all these pointless wars over there” combined with a weirdly contradictory flag-waving support for “the troops” and “the Pentagon” and “our men in uniform.”

  5. My advice: never under-estimate the stupidity and selfishness of people in large groups.

    Most people have a lot of trouble rising above their baser instincts, and so it’s often the lowest common denominator, the weakest link in the chain, that drives the direction of policy.

    So, what if we do succeed in getting people really angry, but then it gets out of control and those angry people decide that the real problem is those darn terrorists populating the Middle East who hate our freedom and refuse to roll over and accept Democracy. What if people decide the solution is in fact even more violence. Anger often begets violence. People like the idea of acting tough, and of not backing down from a fight, especially against perceived ‘bad guys’, and ESPECIALLY if they are not personally the ones who will be doing the fighting.

    In general, I think people won’t back down from calls to violence and war, even expensive and unnecessary war, unless they believe they might personally be harmed by it, unless they’ve got something to lose. If there was actually a direct tax that people could actually see being taken out of their paycheck or bank account every month, then that would certainly turn heads, as would something like a random military draft, but good luck getting that sort of thing past the front gate in today’s political environment. Still, if enough Americans felt they might personally have to pay for the war, either in money or in blood, then I think it would be over and done in a week.

  6. Your competing with Rush- Sean and Bill along with the rest of Lewis Powell’s disciples and they have a head start but it’s a great idea .how do we operationalize it. Maybe we could put homeless and injured vets in a uniform “T” shirt with a logo saying look “look what you did to me” I’ll contribute to that.

    1. More out of box thinking, if you accept MMT as I do then billboards predicting increased unemployment – possible Depression- will eventually get people’s attention when it happens as it must- with Powell’s disciples controlling the media billboards (and there are many empty ones throughout the US) is the only way to communicate. People choose where to go on the internet but pass these now empty billboards every day.

    2. Charles,

      “then billboards predicting increased unemployment – possible Depression”

      If you can accurately predict significant macroeconomic outcomes, then just invest in futures and then buy power with your new billions.

      But you cannot, and so will not.

      Markets are extremely Darwinian engines, testing economic claims like yours — as Las Vegas does for claims of powerful precognitive and telekinetic powers.

    3. Not talking markets or timing . Check the predictions of MMT over last 20 years. They got it correct but are still ignored. Look at Europe and results of austerity. There are a lot of horrible emotion eliciting images that can go on billboards. Just look at Abortion foes billboards. Does it work? I have no idea but has anything else?

    4. Charles,

      “you accept MMT as I do then billboards predicting increased unemployment – possible Depression”

      If you can make those sort of macroeconomic predictions with even modest accuracy, you have a LARGE investing alpha — and can make fortunes.

      Your bit about “great forecasts” is bunk.

      This kind of delusionality is one reason the 1% is winning. They are more grounded in reality than much of the top quintile. As seen in their long-term lavish funding of conservative political infrastructure, and the successes that followed..

      By the harsh workings of Nature’s God, they have a greater fitness to rule.

      It need not be so, but we will need to become better acquainted with the man in the mirror before this changes.

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