Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Culture of Anger

As you all know, Dear Readers, the state of political discourse in this country is wretched. There’s no gentility any more. There’s no rational give-and-take, no willingness to trade ideas and to compromise, no desire ... or ability ... to concede that one’s political opponents might just have a point.

Looking at this mess as a linguist and semanticist*, I think that one of the significant stokers of political ill will is the language our media uses to report on political issues. Consider this:

The main theme in political writing and reporting today is anger. Someone is always angry about something. The conservative base is enraged over the latest thing the government did, especially if it views Congressional Republicans as being complicit in it. Voting blocs are described as livid. Members of Congress are furious or outraged over the latest thing that President Obama did/said/thought, and many Republican voters loathe him and resent pretty much anything he does. Voters are “so mad they can’t see – or think – straight.” Members of both parties compare each other to Hitler and the Nazis**.

And it’s not just the verbs and adjectives of anger that contribute to a sense of violent disagreement. Consider the number of idiomatic expressions we have in American English that are based on the language of weapons – particularly the firearms we worship:

Something unlikely to succeed may be a long shot. A random comment may be a shot in the dark that’s fired for effect. We construct our speeches using bullet points and we aim high to ensure we hit the target. We had a TV politics show called Firing Line, on which guests fire off short answers to complex questions. We often fire a shot across the bow as a warning or to get attention. Tense situations are explosive.

Linguist Deborah Tannen wrote about this topic in her 1998 book The Argument Culture, in which she described "a pervasive, warlike atmosphere that makes us approach anything we need to accomplish as a fight between two opposing sides, (urging) us to regard the world and the people in it with an adversarial frame of mind (and assuming) that opposition is the best way to get anything done."

You can see Tannen's Argument Culture play out in the troll-to-troll bellowing in the comments section of any news article or opinion piece, and in the I'm-right-you-hate-America blather of media shouting heads.

Are you convinced that the Other Guy is either a fascist or a commiepinkoratbastard, with nothing to say that's worth listening to? Welcome to the Argument Culture and the language of anger.

And good luck with the election.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* One who studies semantics, defined as “the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning.”

** One of the more blatantly stupid comparisons.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

So true! The anger-mongers seem ready to go into fighting mode and provoke others by their outrage. Chill, people!

Mike said...

It's time for a law that limits campaigning to only the election year. Not that they wouldn't figure a way around something like that, but it's worth a try.

Big Sky Heidi said...

I'm tired of all the anger and hostility. And I'm a Republican!

Big Sky Heidi said...

But I'm especially tired of the chickenshit arguments.

Gonzo Dave said...

One of the constructions I am so very tired of is, "I will fight..."

I will fight for this. I will fight against that. I will fight the other side.

Whatever happened to *working* for things? "I will work for this result" sounds SO much more constructive than "I will fight for this result."


Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer said...

I think that fight is used metaphorically in place of 'do' because people think it sounds more forceful and direct.

Brandi said...

There is an undercurrent of frustration and anger that politicians exploit.

allenwoodhaven said...

Anger requires a lot of intolerance and, often, a profound lack of understanding. "How dare they ____ (fill in the blank)! We can't allow that to exist!"

Fabulous comic! I read the papers for almost all of my news. I wish they weren't in such trouble.