Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Soft Zen of Low Expectations

I was reading a recent entry on Man Bites Blog, and it was clear to me that John was upset. I mentioned this in comments, and he confirmed it. And then I didn't know what to say. It was clear that John felt belittled and insulted by the way the debate over values and the effects of rhetoric (and actions, for that matter) on society, and I could sympathize with that, but I was having a hard time linking into it, so that I could empathize with it.

Earlier today I was directed to an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal: "Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System," written by none other than President Barack Obama. If you really want to, you can go over and read it for yourself, if you haven't encountered it already, so I won't bore you with the details. But the general jist of it can be summed up with the idea that regulations are out of whack, so the President is signing an Executive Order to fix the problem. "This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth," the President tells us. Later, in summing up, he says: "Regulations do have costs; often, as a country, we have to make tough decisions about whether those costs are necessary. But what is clear is that we can strike the right balance."

Really? It's clear that we can strike the right balance between safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth while obtaining consensus from "experts, businesses and ordinary citizens?"

Yeah. Uh-huh. Sure it is, Mister President. Sure it is.

Nearly the entire time that I was reading the President's Op-Ed, I was thinking to myself: "This man must think that I'm an idiot." But then I realized that I wasn't bothered by that fact. I can remember a time when I would have been livid nearly to the point of incandescence. But now, my reaction is closer to "meh, whatever." Of course President Obama trots out a wild oversimplification of an issue and treats it as an accurate picture. Of course people on one side of an issue treat people on the other side as idiots. What more do you expect?

And maybe that's the problem. Maybe I should expect more. Maybe I should be angry when the President (or, more likely, one of his staff) pens an Op-Ed that seems predicated on the idea that I'm about as intelligent as a clam. Maybe I should be angry when partisans on either side treat me like a coward for not being firmly in one camp or another.

I'm starting to think that perhaps I've let going with the flow and not getting bent out of shape mold itself into a cover for a sort of genial contempt. It could be that I owe it to people to let them spark some outrage now and again.


JohnMcG said...

I'm not sure anger is a virtue.

More specifically, I don't think angry writing is good writing.

As the blogosphere has evolved, I've found myself moving away from blogs like InstaPundit and Andrew Sullivan that offer rapid-fire reactions to today's news. Those tend not to offer me much besides knowing what the blogger like and doesn't like.

If the main takeaway from my post is, "Boy, John sure is pissed off about this," then nobody's really learned anything. If instead, it's "John makes a good point," or "I hadn't considered that," then I may have added value.

So, I think your observation that my post came off as angry is a valid criticism, that my "Well, I am angry" response doesn't adequately address.

That being said, I think that anger can be a justifiable response to any number of things going on. But we need to channel that into something more than just letting the world (or my dozen or so readers) that I'm angry.

Aaron said...

My point wasn't simply to tell people that you were angry. And I didn't mean to point that out as a criticism. I'm not sure that I expressed it well, but my point was that you have expectations of people, and it angers you at times when people don't live up to those expectations. I lack anger at people because I lack expectations of them. You can't be disappointed in people when you don't expect anything from them in the first place.

But not expecting anything from people can either be dealing with reality, or a quiet way of reveling in one's one perceived superiority. And honestly, I'm starting to suspect that I'm on the wrong side of that divide.

You're right. Anger isn't a virtue. But I suspect that smugness, and pride that it stems from, is even less so.