Right Wing Sensibility

From Jonathan Coe’s 2019 novel, Middle England  (NY: Alfred A. Knopf):

The speaker is an Asian Brit (born and bred in England of Sri Lankan parents), responding to two novelists who, in a panel discussion, have praised British “moderation.”

“These people don’t know what they are talking about.  This so-called ‘tolerance’ . . . Every day you come face to face with people who are not tolerant at all, whether it’s someone serving you in a shop, or just someone you pass on the street.  They may not say anything aggressive but you can see it in their eyes and their whole way of behaving towards you.  And they want to say something.  Oh, yes, they want to use one of those forbidden words on you, or just tell you to fuck off back to your own country–wherever they think that is–but they know they can’t.  They know it’s not allowed.  So as well as hating you, they also hate them–those faceless people who are sitting in judgment over them somewhere, legislating on what they can and can’t say out loud” (30-31).

This seems exactly right to me. It certainly (at least I think so) explains 80% of the animus against the University of North Carolina by the politicians in this state–and the minions that have placed on the university’s Board of Governors.  And it also captures what I have heard Trump voters say.  That he everyday drives the “liberals” nuts is the reason they love him–and willingly blink at all his obvious faults.

A bit later, another (but different) person of color discusses the fact that “there is a lot of anger out there”–and offers her explanation.

“It’s not always to do with race anyway.  People like to get angry about something.  A lot of the time they’re just looking for an excuse.  I feel sorry for them.  I think for a lot of people . . . there’s nothing much going on in their lives.  Emotionally, I mean, maybe their marriages have dried up, or everything they do has become a kind of habit.  I don’t know.  But they don’t feel much.  No emotional stimulation.  We all need to feel things, don’t we?  So, when something makes you angry, at least you’re feeling something.  You get the emotional kick” (44-45).

I hate the condescension of this, the Thoreau-like claim of “lives of quiet desperation.”  But this comment gets at the fact that there is something false about all the staged anger out there–right and left.  It all dissipates so quickly and rarely connects up to action of any sort.  Pure catharsis in so many instances. Anger for it’s own sake, a kind of emotional aestheticism.  Partly an internet effect: the ability to grab the public stage to display your anger, plus the need to be more and more outrageous in order to garner any attention.  How many hits, how many likes, can you grab?  All with some awareness that the internet, like the stage, is not real; it’s a virtual space disconnected from actual interactions with others.

The right does traffic in this anger more than the left (which traffics instead in condescension.)  What seems real enough in the anger–and deeply scary–is the desire to hurt other people.  A kind of indignation tied to fantasies (let’s hope they stay fantasies) of violence.  As long as it all remains a video game, that desire is at least somewhat contained.

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