“You’re beautiful when you’re angry.” Five words that are sure to get you a smackdown that will turn you inside out. It’s the ultimate cliché of condescension, especially that of a man brushing off a woman. That it is a cliché obscures its truth and blinds us to how beautiful anger really can be.
Americans almost have as much of a problem with anger as sex. It scares the shit out of us. Like fucking, anger is sloppy and impolite, and mature people make damn sure not to show it. We should keep it inside, like our dirty little secret, the mad relative that’s kept locked in the attic.
And the further we get into the nightmare that is the early 21st century, the more we feel ourselves getting screwed, the more locks the politicians and media hand us to put on that door with loving smiles, reassuring us that there is no reason for your anger at all. To me, the cruelest torture is the sense that comes sometimes from reading and watching and listening until that message starts to sound seductive, as though I’m crazy for feeling pissed off, and that no one else sees the monsters. In other words, that I really do have no right to my anger.
It’s true that anger can overwhelm your brain and twist otherwise decent people into decent thugs. This simple fact is the bread and butter of every demagogue that’s ever lived. But the beauty of anger is that that when you can turn it loose without letting it overwhelm your intelligence, it is a wondrous kind of freedom. It is like sliding steel against a stone until it becomes a sharp, strong knife; it is the freedom of putting your hand up to block the fist of the bully who’s been pummelling you and saying, “Stop.”
Sometimes my own anger feels like shackles, because I can’t find the words to properly shape it into that knife. Then, it just weighs me down like a stone in my gut, making me silent and inarticulate.
All this is by way of appreciating blogs by two friends of mine: A Violently Executed Blog, by Adam, a bisexual gamer from Texas and Designated Driver of North America and ExFundie by Phyl, a lesbian ex-Christian fundamentalist from Canada. The thing that I love about all three blogs, and by extension both people, is their inability to either stop being pissed off about the bullshit of modern life, or to let their anger gag them.
Adam lives in Austin, which has the rep of being the “blue state” part of Texas, where all the weirdos and artists in the state have kind of congealed to make a little haven for themselves. Even so, I gotta give props to Adam for not exploding in a frenzy of network news-making psychosis. A friend of mine who lived in Texas for way longer than he ever wanted to said that the worst thing about Austin was that despite all its coolness, you always knew that you were surrounded by the rest of Texas. I imagine that this has a particular resonance to Adam when the state legislature pulls nasty, mean-spirited shit, such as declaring that queers aren’t fit to be foster parents. Of course, even that’s missing the real point: nowadays, people who live in liberal enclaves like Austin, New York, and San Francisco are beseiged by the knowledge that they’re surrounded by the rest of the country, which either passionately embraces such actions or blandly tolerates it. Adam doesn’t post anywhere near the volume of someone like Kos or Atrios, and his blog is much more of a personal statement than theirs, he’s got a sharp sense of what’s important, and he’s zeroed in on some really important issues that speak, in a larger sense, to where we’re going as a culture, like the Orwellian disappearing of two 16-year-old girls in NYC that the government claimed to be “an imminent threat to the security of the United States based on evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers.” (More info)
One of the best things that I’ve gotten from Adam is the term “Theo-stalinists,” to describe the thugs who aspire to rule the country with bible in one hand and gun in the other, and who are not the least bit ashamed of wanting to eliminate federal judges in order to do this. It is completely descriptive, and I’m making it mine.
Speaking of the theo-stalinists, Phyl is invaluable as a resource on the reality that they live in. It’s rare that you get to talk to someone who’s been on the inside of that culture and come out. Her blogs Designated Driver of North America and ExFundie are, like mine, updated somewhat sporadically, but ExFundie in particular is fantastic to read when she puts up new material. Since November, Phyl has been working on an extended series of very dense articles outlining the basic principles of fundamentalism titled “How Fundamentalists Think.” So far, there are eight entries in the series:
- Part One: First Premises
- Part Two: Who is This God Person Anyway?
- Part Three: So What’s Wrong With People?
- Part Four: The Nature of Nature
- Part Five: Promises, Promises
- Part Six: History — The Part God is Interested In
- Part Seven: History — Oh, Those Other People
- Part Eight: Jesus Christ Was Not a Good Man
The real battle that’s going on right now is not East vs. West, or Christians vs. Muslims or Americans vs. Arabs. It should be blindingly obvious to anyone who hasn’t been bludgeoned into a coma of ignorance by the brass bands and pious flag-waving that we’re all – Arabs and Yankees alike – in a struggle for the souls of our respective cultures to determine whether we’ll be ruled by fundamentalist theocracies based on absolutist moralities or secular liberalism that encourages pluralism in thought and lifestyle. Beyond those individual issues of who fucks who and which are the right prayers, the fight is over the nature of truth and power. The fundamentalist view of truth is as an immutable thing; not only has it been fixed and absolute since the beginning of time, but the rules are easily found and understood. The humanist approach to truth, which birthed the European Enlightenment and our country’s underpinnings, takes a much more agnostic approach to truth: truth is something we strive for, through questioning and debate, but in the end the value is in the striving, because precious few things are absolute.
It’s much too easy to blow the fundies off as ignorant and illogical. That’s part of how they got control of our country so easily. There is a logic to their worldview, and even humanizing it somehow. Phyl says in her introduction:
In fact, most of their beliefs are very difficult to argue against, because in fact a fundamentalist system is very, very logical. If you grant a few specific premises at the beginning, everything else flows from these premises with such consistent internal logic that people feel like they’re banging their heads against a brick wall when trying to refute these beliefs.
The only way to make any headway in talking to a fundamentalist is, first, to understand the way they think, and how their ideas hold together. Only after we do that can we start looking for the small pieces of this tightly-held puzzle which can be pulled out, to make the entire edifice collapse.
I’m still working my through Phyl’s whole series — she is nothing if not exhaustive — but she’s consistently precise and analytical about the worldview she was brought up believing. The image of fundamentalists that leftists keep pushing is of a bunch of ignorant, inbred bible monkeys. It’s an easy image to believe, especially when a twisted fuck like Fred Phelps keeps popping his head up. But ultimately, it’s a useless one, because it’s utterly one-dimensional. Phyl’s essays put together a complex three-dimensional picture of the people who would rule our country and our souls. I look forward to her followup entries.