Critical mass

“I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” –Howard Beale, Network, 1976

Over the past several weeks, as the political debate over the health care reform law has gone from boiling to boiling over, people from all parts of the political spectrum have chosen to express their frustration and anger with threats, vulgarity, and acts of petty violence. While such actions are never an acceptable part of any kind of rational political discourse, they are also predictable.

I believe that many people on all sides of this debate are angry because people in positions of power and influence are not listening to what they have to say. Conservatives are angry because Congress passed a bill into law without any consideration for the Constitution, individual liberty, or the long-term cost to our nation. Liberals are angry because the same bill addresses very few of their concerns about what is wrong with health care and does not provide a clear path toward fixing problems like availability, access, and long-term cost.

The key here is that the politicians, pundits, and jabbering heads who drove this debate forward over the past year and a half have been deaf to what real citizens with real concerns have been saying about it. In the mean time, these so-called intelligent, self-righteous, faux-intellectuals have found it necessary to lecture, mock, and insult these people with legitimate concerns whose voices deserve to be heard.

Anyone at all familiar with group interactions of any size knows that when one part of the group treats another part of the group with constant disregard and derision, the offended group will eventually stop listening to anything their tormenters have to say and will lash out at any opportunity, if only to stop the torment.

I believe this is what is happening in the United States as I write this. The torment of some people accusing others of being unintelligent, uninformed, incapable, selfish, and undeserving of an opinion has finally reached the point where those being tormented are no longer listening to their tormenters. Instead, they are just mad as hell and want to get back at those they perceive to be causing them harm.

And, instead of recognizing this phenomenon, the tormenters continue to add fuel to the fire. These so-called intelligent, self-righteous, faux-intellectuals continue to accuse these anger-blinded people of being unintelligent, uninformed, incapable, selfish, and undeserving of an opinion. The President openly mocks his opponents during his speeches while jabbering heads like Beck and Limbaugh continue to insult the intelligence of people who understand the problem is more complex than a few hours of TV or radio punditry allow for.

Of course, there is no place for threats, vulgarity, and acts of petty violence in rational political discourse, the people who are angry do not care and are not listening. Now, they are mad and they want blood, be it of the political, or in extreme cases, the flesh variety.

Now is the point in this debate when all of those politicians, pundits, and jabbering heads, if they want to prove they are intelligent, compassionate, and well-informed, will listen to these anger-blinded people and seek ways to assuage their anger. If the President and the Democrats really want their health care law to work, they will start listening to the complaints the conservatives who oppose them have. If the self-righteous opposition wants to bring the nation together, it will acknowledge that there are problems that need to be solved and start providing solutions.

Even then, it may be too late. It may be that there are too many people blinded by too many years of torment to even care if anyone tries now. Critical mass may well have been reached, and we reached it because those who could listen never tried and decided torment was the better option instead.


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