Less Heat, More Light

Six-year-old Lisa was waxing philosophical while setting the table for me tonight. “Mommy,” she said, “Ricky (her 7-year-old brother) and me are really smart when we be friends. When we be friends, we can tell that the mean things we do to each other are dumb. But not when we’re mad.”

“When you’re mad,” she added, “even a fly is smarter than you.”

I wonder how a six-year-old can so effortlessly encapsulate a concept that continues to elude so many of her elders. I wish she could have been there to question Warren Kinsella’s glowing analysis of punk rock culture in an interview on CBC last week. Kinsella was promoting his new book, Fury’s Hour: a (sort of) Punk Manifesto, and reminiscing about his days as a punker in a band called the “Hot Nasties.” What precisely did he love about the movement? The way it leveraged anger to try and change the world. “Anger,” he said, “is energy.”

It’s an ironic statement from the same guy that gave us Web of Hate: Inside Canada’s Far Right Network nearly a decade ago. Back then, anger as a political motivator was presumably a bad thing. But it’s different when the angry are spiky-haired, oddly-adorned rebels who name their bands after porn flicks and declare war on "oppressive social constructs" like the family. Then anger is empowering.

I have to disagree. Anger may energize, but it also blinds. The angry can’t discern between treasures and trash – they see only what is theirs, and what belongs to their enemies. They impute the worst possible motives to the other guy. And they are utterly incapable of admitting that their adversary has a point. They are, however, energetic.

The importance of that energy was patiently explained to me by a pro-family strategist during the same-sex marriage debate. Action alerts that are moderate and reasoned are ineffective, he said. They don’t spur people to action, or donations. “You have to make them angry,” he instructed. “Then you give them an outlet where they can channel their anger.”

The same attitude prevails on both sides of the political fence. Is it any wonder that our national discourse has devolved into an adolescent shouting match? Or that we fixate on grotesque caricatures of each other? From the rabid religious zealot who hates gays to the resentful idealogue who’s intent on destroying the family, the malicious images may actually suit a few of the characters on our cultural landscape. But the vast majority are none of the above. They’re caring citizens who yearn to make a better world but are swept up in a storm of “energizing” rhetoric that pits them against each other.

Frankly, I’d prefer fewer outraged action alerts and provocative headlines, less mind-numbing fury and more intelligent debate. What we need is less heat, more light.

From 2006


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