We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Anger in America

It was a moment not to be taken lightly when presidential candidate Newt Gingrich angrily turned on the moderator of the last Republican debate before the South Carolina primary for bringing up an interview with Newt's ex-wife.  Newt was at his best—at once professorial, accusatory, self-righteous, vibrating with palpable emotion, and pandering to a cheering, equally angry audience.  Newt the giant slayer faced down the evil dragon of the left-wing, elitist media.  This was high political theatre, which mirrored a reality of our nation in 2012: there are a lot of angry people in America today and not just on the Right.

The sources of anger are many, and to a degree they reflect hard economic times.  In the political arena, there seem to be two major currents of anger and angst.  The tea party movement represents the right wing of our anger, and the occupy movement the left wing, although they are not mutually exclusive and both express the deep-seated feeling that things are not right with America.  At the heart of the occupy movement is the fact that income disparity is growing and has become a serious social ill.  We have a system where the rich are really, really raking in the dough while more and more families are falling into the dark well of poverty.  The tea party movement is a reaction to another fact, namely the "browning of America."  The social commentators love to  point out that we are rapidly becoming a majority of minorities and that soon enough white Americans will be but one more minority in a nation that used to be theirs.  Economic disparity and rapid social change create anger.

As a member of a gloriously "brown" family, my sympathies do not lie with the tea party nor do I share their fears.  That being said, we should all be painfully aware of the fact that anger and fear are not just emotions.  They are spiritual states as well, ones that have a profound impact on behavior and well-being—mostly a negative impact.  Angry people do angry things.  They cannot listen.  They find it impossible to compromise.  They provoke angry responses.  Demagogues pander to their fears in order to gain power.  Their anger thus poisons the political landscape in a way that makes it all but impossible to address the root causes of anger.  Their anger creates dangers that don't exist and enemies where there are none.

And when movements and politicians build their base on anger, they are doing exactly that thing that Jesus warned us not to do.  They are building their house on sand (Matthew 7:24-27), and as Jesus said, "The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!" (7:27).  Whether it be the tea party folks or the occupiers, if they cannot move beyond their anger to something positive and creative, their movements are doomed to failure, a failure that could have ugly ramifications for the whole nation.  Angry people habitually destroy the very things that matter most to them because anger, even if originally justified, always and rapidly turns destructive if not transformed into something positive.