The emotional release of bomb-throwing

When the Supreme Court of the United States handed down their decision on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case yesterday, ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, people on the internet had two options.

On the one hand, they could take time to carefully read the exact wording of the decision, find out what legal experts had to say about the implications, weigh information from a variety of sources, and then give a considered reaction.

Or, they could slam out histrionic knee-jerk reactions based solely on the title of the decision and their own assumptions, typing as quickly as possible to get their voices on record as soon as humanly possible.

You can guess what most people did.

In the early morning hours that day, most of what I saw on Twitter was reactions from people who had no idea what the details of the ruling were: conservatives did a lot of fist-bumping over the “huge victory” for religion, Christianity, freedom, and so on; while liberals did a lot of hand-wringing about how this signals the end of the world, and before you know it companies will be able to legally stone women to death and cite Leviticus to get away with it.

These reactions annoyed me, and I said as much on my personal Twitter account.

Although I was being sarcastic, I thought my point was rather clear: Hey everybody! Maybe instead of trying to be the first person to speak, you could take some time to read the full court’s opinion, read some responses by actual legal experts and people who study this crap for a living, and form an opinion and a measured reaction afterwards.

On my personal Twitter account I followed my own advice:  I read the court’s decision, I read the dissenting opinions, and I read a few of the early analyses by actual legal experts. Then, I took a moment to think things over, and a full 9 hours later…

[GASP… THE HORROR of waiting 9 hours to react to something! How ever did I control myself???]

…at 6:40 PM of the same day the decision was handed down, I expressed my own opinion.

This is what I had discovered. Logic of the argument hinged completely on the fact that there was already an exclusion allowed in the wording of the Affordable Care Act, through which non-profit organizations could be exempt from providing for women’s birth control. This exemption was written into the law in order to appease religious conservatives from the beginning. All the Supreme Court did was make a ruling on the breadth of applicability of that exemption.

This is why the ruling will not automatically “lead to” people being able to ignore whatever laws they want for religious reasons. This is also why the ruling will not lead to an undermining for Obamacare itself. It’s an extremely narrow interpretation of a clause that was already present in the law itself.

Do I think the decision was a step in the wrong direction? Certainly. Do I still think Scalia and Alito are disgusting and morally bankrupt and corrupt? Absolutely. But I can’t blame the outcome of this specific case on them. The real problem here is much deeper: it is in the fact that our legal process forced the hands of the legislature to include that exemption clause in the first place.

That is my level-headed, fully-considered, rational response to the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

 


 

Now, let’s face it: that’s no fun. It’s pretty dry. It isn’t the kind of statement that gets traction on Twitter.

However, I also run a left-wing political satire website, which has a Twitter feed. Normally I try to keep a fairly balanced, intellectual and dignified persona on that account… but for whatever reason, this time I decided to just let loose.

I did the exact opposite of the Wise Words that I was espousing from my personal Twitter feed. I decided to go freaking NUTS with far-left demagoguery… and have some real fun.  

 

So there you have it.

I’ll be honest with you: this little rampage was fun. It was a satisfying emotional experience.  And there is a little voice in the back of my mind that is nagging at me with a question: Why???

Well, these tweets got a lot more attention (through retweets, stars, and responses) than any level-headed, measured, moderate thing I’ve ever said. So I suppose part of the excitement may have just been the attention, both positive and negative, that this type of trolling can garner.

But I think the strong emotional response was more than that.

I was reveling in anger and hate. Allowing the emotional fires to burn bright and wild for a period of time was just damn exhilarating. It felt GOOD to just spout venom, to say things that were totally irrational, but that allowed me to vent my deepest fears, my deepest hatreds, and my deepest abstract angers. Letting those emotions run wild is a powerful feeling: and it feels a lot like strength.

#GeekNote: I am reminded of the Emperor talking to  Luke Skywalker: “The hate is swelling in you now. Use your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you. Strike me down, give in to your anger. With each passing moment you make yourself more my servant.

There is one more thing, as well. Burning white hot with abstract anger and hate is…. easy.

What do I mean?

One of the most frustrating things about today’s politics is that there are no simple solutions. Even the simplest of minds, even the most radical of ideologues, understands that the world we live in is very complicated. All solutions involve trade-offs, there is no tidy solution that will work for everybody. And that is frustrating. It is angering, because it makes us feel helpless and frustrated when we think the world is a problem that is too hard to solve.

So what do you do? You say: “Screw it all, I’m gonna throw bombs.”

Once you make that decision, psychologically, that the world is too screwed up to save by “working within the system”, suddenly everything becomes very easy. You no longer have to worry about nuance.  You no longer have to worry about unexpected consequences or long-term plans. All you have to worry about is screaming “Tear down the wall!” as loudly as you can.

It’s a lazy solution. It’s a solution for someone who has given up hope. Because when you start throwing bombs, you are telling the world that you don’t think anything else will actually work.

But man it feels good. Why? Because before you were worried about complexity and nuance and incremental solutions. And now you don’t actually have to care about any of that.

When the world is about to end, everything becomes much simpler.

 


 

For anyone who isn’t clear, I’ve been using the phrase “bomb-throwing” metaphorically. I’m talking about trolling. I’m talking about scorched-earth politics. I’m talking about “Let’s shut down the government unless we get our way!” I’m talking calling Obama the anti-Christ. I’m talking about the kind of liberal rhetoric I was using, above, goading Christians and making them out to be nutcases.

That’s what I mean by “bomb-throwing”.

Or at least, that’s what I’ve meant so far.

You know what my biggest fear is?

My biggest fear is this: This kind of extremist rhetoric feels too good. There are large groups on the fringes of our population, groups that are growing larger, who indulge in the emotional pleasure of scorched-earth rhetoric on a regular basis. They feel the hot fire and they revel in it.

The beating of the drums, the passionate venting and fury, and the throwing of bombs… it is not just a temporary way to relieve frustration with the world for these people. It has become an ideology. It has become a political philosophy, and a way of life.

And when I look to the rebels and the terrorists in the middle east, who throw actual bombs, I can’t help but wonder if this is how that culture started out: people venting their frustrations in the most unhealthy way imaginable… and enjoying it too much.

 

The appeal of bomb-throwing



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