I’ve lost my sense of humor. When not even Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert can make me laugh consistently, I’ve got a problem. I’m not depressed. The world just sucks.
Much of my unhappiness is entirely personal: nagging health issues that make me realize that the concept of the golden years is a crock; the sad realization that a couple of people I considered friends are not; the stress-filled atmosphere at my wife’s job which has her returning home many nights looking like a beaten dog. A lot of it, however, is too much contact with a culture that feels increasingly vapid and rude, especially the toxicity of public discourse.
I can’t surf the Internet, whether it’s the blogosphere, news sites or even my goddam email inbox, without feeling like I’m under assault. The Net gives everyone a forum and everyone takes advantage of it by airing their outrage about everything, whether major or trivial, and they expect me to share it. Either it’s something Barack Obama did or didn’t do, or something Mitt Romney did or didn’t say, or else it’s some offensive thing some Republican hack or some unpaid blogger wrote, or else it’s some very important issue that’s being overlooked or some issue that’s getting way too much attention, or it’s some politically incorrect ad nobody’s seen for some product nobody wants, or it’s who got eliminated last night on American Idol or .. God, enough already. There are six billion people in the world and there will always be someone doing something unpleasant. I just don’t have that much outrage in me and often I’m only outraged by how easily people are outraged. I’m suffering from outrage overload.
I’m tired of reading screeds by people who are so cocksure that their opinion is right that you must be a fucking moron to … wait a second, let me change to language they’ll understand … YOU MUST BE A FUCKING MORON TO DISAGREE. I have strong opinions about many things, but I’m not cocksure about shit. I am always aware that I’m a flawed human being evaluating flawed human beings by using flawed knowledge to build flawed analyses, and frankly anyone who doesn’t feel that way frightens me. Too few essays I read today indicate a writer wrestling with his or her thoughts. Well, I wrestle with my thoughts all the time.
The atmosphere has gotten so vitriolic that if either Obama or Romney discovered the cure for cancer, there are people who would be angered by it. We’ve gotten so antagonistic that now we’re arguing about dumbass shit that Romney did as a teenager – because we know that teenagers doing dumbass shit is so rare – and we’re arguing over what Obama ate as a child in Indonesia. What next, which candidate as a baby peed on his mother when she was changing his diaper? Election Day isn’t until November, so we have six more months of this bullshit and it’s going to get worse.
Political discussion inevitably brings out the worst in people. We may tolerate widely varying opinions and tastes in any other venue – “You love punk rock, I love Baroque composers, but we’re still BFFs!” – but air the smallest disagreement on Obamacare and we’re reaching for the knives. Yeah, I know outrage and overreaction have been par for the course ever since God got pissed off at mankind and instructed Noah to build an ark, but only in recent years has the 24/7 cable-Internet combination turned our rancor into a nuclear cloud that constantly chokes our lungs.
The anonymity of the Web allows people to infect even innocuous forums with their abuse. Recently I read an online article about Will Smith and wondered, “How many comments will I have to read before I encounter one that’s blatantly racist?” The answer: two.
We feel a need to make every difference sound apocalyptic and we reward the commentators that are the loudest and most outlandish, like Rush Limbaugh. Really, Bill O’Reilly is the “Worst Person in the World” while Charles Manson and the butchers in Darfur are still drawing breath? We have a “war” on religion and a “war” on women; I wonder what the PTSD-affected soldiers returning from the Middle East, or the parents of soldiers who never returned, think about us comparing our political disagreements to mortal combat.
The tipping point for me happened when I watched MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, so angry about George Zimmerman’s lawyer leaving the studio before a scheduled interview that he yelled questions at an empty chair. I know O’Donnell expected me to share his outrage but all I thought was: Please, somebody slap me silly if I ever act like that big a fool.
I am 61 years old. I don’t know how much time I have left on this planet. 25 years, hopefully. 25 days or even 25 hours, possibly. I don’t want to spend that time with bile in my throat and anger in my heart, so I’ve been spending much less time online and I’ve stopped participating in any discussion that has the potential to grow caustic. I’d like to believe that I can hold an opinion without thinking that someone who disagrees is a moral midget. I’d like to believe that I can feel disdain for the political views of candidates like Mitt Romney without feeling the need to trash him and his family as human beings. I’d like to believe that I can have critical thoughts about public figures who do stupid things without feeling that they are evil personified. That probably makes me a fucking moron.
Stop the world. I want to get off.