SIEGEL: Zen outrage and the art of democratic maintenance

Citizens should look to leave reactionary politics behind in the new year

op-Altidor-CourtesyEmbassyOfHaiti

Paul Altidor, Hatian ambassador to the United States, responded to President Donald Trump's comments with nothing short of eloquence.

Courtesy Embassy of Haiti

The 2017 calendar year was riddled with an explosion of problems hindering global progress. America trudged through an unconventional election year, a period in our nation’s history which has been dubbed the “Anger Election.” Supporters on both sides are increasingly dissatisfied with our current government and overall political climate. This frustration is well founded, and has subsequently translated into the global rise of populism, ultimately disrupting traditional politics. Populist movements channel active resistance to the status quo, provoking profound expressions of anger and disaffection. However, the sentiments of the anger election know no bounds — Americans have carried their insecurities with them, initially defining and only further escalating the age of outrage. Outrage may be a means to the end of necessary change, but we cannot consider it an end in itself. Our current societal operations have been severely disrupted by the election of President Donald Trump, and we cannot allow this frustration to manifest itself in public outrage. 

Trump made comments about an immigration deal on Thursday, using indisputably vulgar language to describe Haiti and some African nations. NPR spoke to the Haitian ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, on Friday morning. When asked what his reaction was to such a slur, Altidor responded with nothing short of eloquence, stating he believes “the president has been misinformed or he is miseducated.” He refrained from deeming these remarks racist, and instead, asked for clarity. Hoping to engage in social transformation by redirecting this negative narrative, Altidor used this opportunity to inform us of the incredible Haitian contribution to the United States’ social fabric. 

The American people are ticked off about things that matter, no debating that. However, “rage uncorked becomes rage indulged, and rage indulged becomes rage applauded,” ultimately leading to the normalization of anger and an error of proportion. Our “call-out” culture is not productive — we attack each other’s every word instead of looking to redirect them, as Altidor intends to do. Fair, outrage makes sense for media pundits and news outlets — it sells. But for the rest of us, it doesn’t. It incites reactionary hatred and widens fissures in the nation’s core. 

This conversation begs us to consider the productivity of anger in guiding our actions, a response which forfeits a sober and deliberative thought process. We have forgotten how to separate our political anxieties from all other aspects of our lives, namely our educational institutions. Outrage is rapidly replacing rational critique and scrutiny on college campuses across the country. Jonathan Haidt, a professor of ethical leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business, offers a fine-tuned liberal democracy hypothesis in an effort to reason with what is happening to our country, and more specifically, our nation’s universities: “as tribal primates, human beings are unsuited for life in large, diverse secular democracies, unless you get certain settings finely adjusted to make possible the development of stable political life.” In essence, we are abandoning the maintenance of our political system, letting the clock tick out of sync. Haidt speaks to the new variant of academia, intersectionality, which encourages students to think in strict, binary dimensions. This means of educating our youth has encouraged anger to thrive as we sift through these dimensions, struggling to find the right response to oppression. We couple activism with anger in an effort to ensure political engagement with a sense of fortified purpose. The educational vision of our Founding Fathers bends towards the arc of reconciliation, and away from that of anger-induced activism. To empower fury as fundamental and withstanding the realm of rational analysis rejects intellectual pursuit, putting logos on the backburner. 

So how then do we make change when we are angry, when we do care, when we are dissatisfied? I am not requesting we hold our tongues in the face of injustice and irreverence — but I am requesting we choose our words and actions deliberately so as to prevent unhampered outrage from becoming the new truth, we convert our emotional reactions into thoughtful response and we refrain from using “the same techniques of exclusion and oppression that [political activism] rejects — only now in the name of liberation.” If we forfeit our authority to anger, we risk investing in violence and further deepening social divisions. 

Lucy Siegel is the Opinion editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at l.siegel@cavalierdaily.com

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