I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a very angry time.
First of all, you had Vietnam. Everyone took sides on that one. Then there was the fight for civil rights. To top it off, in the early 1970s you had Watergate, which pretty much killed any shreds of confidence anyone still had in government.
When I was young, I thought that riots and protests were just the way things were. They happened all the time. People back then didn’t just throw a brick or torch a car, they burned down entire neighborhoods. Not only that, they regularly shot the most beloved leaders of the era. The Kennedy brothers and Dr. King were assassinated and the people who did the shooting didn’t really have a lot in common except they were angry people.
I guess if you didn’t live through it, you don’t realize what a giant effect things like the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement had on everyone, even skinny little kids growing up in Troy, Ohio.
So here we are 50 years later and you know what? There are a lot of angry people around again, only there’s something different about it this time around.
Angry people are the reason Donald Trump was elected president. Then once he got elected, an entirely different group of angry people popped up to protest against just about everything he does.
I blame part of it on social media. People now have the opportunity to say something stupid and immediately broadcast it to the entire world when it used to be a lot harder to make a fool of yourself. Then there is an instant response, and before long the fight escalates into two (or more) sides screaming at each other. It’s like an instant firehose full of gasoline ready to be applied to any fire.
Adding fuel to that fire is that people throw all kinds of things around in cyberspace without any factual basis, and then other people believe it. You end up with both sides of an argument throwing “facts” at each other that have little basis in truth.
I see it being a little bit like the famous bell curve teachers use for grading. At both ends, there are small areas where the people who get the high grades and the low grades reside. At the middle is the big area where everyone else ends up. You could say that in a society those small areas at the ends are where the really angry people live and the big area in the middle is populated by people who can work and live together with some sense of decency. That big curve in the middle keeps the two ends from blowing each other up. The people on the ends influence the people in the middle and help bring about change.
However, these days it seems like the bell curve has flattened out and those areas at the ends are getting bigger and bigger. More angry people.
Maybe it’s because I’m older now, but today’s anger seems to be a lot more personal than it was 50 years ago. There was a lot more violence back then but somehow it seemed to be aimed at institutions and injustices. Today it seems to be more based on a lot of people getting mad because they’re not getting their way (and I’m talking about people on both sides of the political spectrum).
This is not necessarily the first time this has happened. Go back to the 1850s in this country and there were angry people running around shooting each other all over the place. Of course, this is not an encouraging comparison. That ended up in the Civil War.
All the name calling and meanness isn’t going to convince the people in the middle of that bell curve that your cause is just. It’s just going to convince them you’re a bunch of jerks — oops, there I am calling people names.
I guess the anger can be contagious.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected]