The era of aggressive obsessions

Those of us – and I know this includes me – who spend too much time on certain social media platforms come to witness one thing very quickly: that we live in an age of irate obsession. This hit me very starkly on my most recent holiday, which was in South Carolina. The state is historical and very beautiful, and Charleston in particular is one of my very favourite cities in all the world; I may publish some photos from there presently.

But South Carolina is also the reddest of red states in the US. ‘Red’ in America does not have the same connotation that it has in Europe. It refers to the colour of the Republican Party. The Democrats are blue, and so, to take an example, Massachusetts is a ‘blue state’.

Back to the red South Carolina. The state has voted Republican in 13 of the last 14 national elections. In 2016 Donald Trump got 1,155,389 votes here, compared with Hillary Clinton’s 855,373. But while that was a solid majority for the current US President, Clinton’s share still came to over 40 per cent of the vote.

But within these camps, the tone is becoming more and more divisive. Like elsewhere in the US, success within a political division now increasingly depends on aspiring politicians moving as far away from the centre as possible. Just before I arrived there, a long-standing South Carolina Republican Congressman, Mark Sanford, lost the local primary election to an enthusiastic Trump supporter; he had not been wholly obsequious to his President, and so he found that political moderation did not pay. In neighbouring Georgia there is a Republican candidate for Governor who boasts that he owns a truck so he can personally round up illegal immigrants, and he has been running a television advertisement ‘in which he points a double-barreled shotgun at a teenage boy asking to go on a date with one of his daughters.’

It’s not all on one side: in New York the long term Congressman Joe Crowley has just been ousted by the self-proclaimed socialist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is young, inspiring, charismatic – but certainly not seeking out the political centre.

Of course this centrifugal political tendency is not just in evidence in America, though the rhetoric there is particularly stark. It’s all over us everywhere, including the UK (where it’s all mostly about people aiming abuse at those who disagree with them about Brexit) and much of Europe. In fact, just not being on the high-volume off-centre edge of the spectrum itself qualifies you for abuse right now, as the ‘centrist dad’ epithet illustrates.

Is this all a product of the social media era? Have we all become locked into our echo chambers in which we can only compete with others by out-shouting their tirades of anger? Is this the inevitable grade inflation of indignation and outrage in which there are only totally right and abominably wrong opinions, with nothing in between? Is this the era in which obsession has moved from stamp collecting into politics (and everything else) while also acquiring the garments of visceral anger, often over nothing much in particular? And has this been transferred into our lives more generally, so that we can only ever either adore or despise people?

In America I watched some of the news networks, and watched how everyone was really only articulate when expressing hatred of someone or something. Surely, surely there must be some way of extracting ourselves from this madness.

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8 Comments on “The era of aggressive obsessions”

  1. Donncha Kavanagh Says:

    Very, very well put. Though that might be a bit extreme.-

  2. Vince Says:

    While SC isn’t an outlier it is at the far end of the graph. But what’s unique to SC is the level of poverty coupled with the sheer level of control the society exerts in SC. Remember before the 60s ALL elected representatives were Democrat. And the only small spot that had Republicans at was a small enclave populated by wealthy industrialists from Pennsylvania.
    But what’s fairly distinct is the sheer lack of investment in SC that you see in Atlanta and the wider Georgia and NC centered on Raleigh.
    To try to answer your question on the madness.
    No, I no longer think we can. I think Trump will be in place for another term and the POTUS after him will be forced to react far far worse. I think whichever party directs the leaving of the EU will implode forcing a realignment that darn well should’ve taken place in the 90s. The EU will begin to see the error of playing the right wing game played since Bertie was in a cabal of fools thinking neo-Thatcherism would make everything OK.
    But mostly I think until someone reads the bloody basics of high school economics and start making stable the lives of people. For what we’ve got at the moment is an insane system derived in the 18th century -and virtually unchanged in SC- reinvented to terrorise the poor. And where in the past we had liberal thinking newspapers explaining the system so people understood where the ire should be directed. Now we have greedy scum providing entertainment.

    • Vince, I would take a less jaundiced view of those in power. However I agree that we must give people a proper share in society’s benefits and wealth if we are to have stability.

      • Vince Says:

        Jaundiced ?, I think I’m hopeful. A while back I wasn’t so. For as twisted as it might seem, the UK leaving, and Trump in the US is a peaceful democratic reaction to systemic flaws.
        What makes me incandescent with fury is that we dismantled the structures put in place in the early part of the 20th century designed to stabilize society. Those mostly around housing, but also education possibilities and access to employment.
        Note, with all the QE we’ve had these last 10 years we should have prospects of good employment. But we saw the S&P500 stockpile cash.

  3. Anna Notaro Says:

    I have often wondered whetger today’s politics is as divisive as we think it is, rather than more partisan, and I’m entirely persuaded by the arguments put forward in the piece below (although the focus is on the US only). Also, I am not sure that the ‘centre’; politically speaking, is always desirable (although perfectly respectable of course), crucially being at the center of the politcal spectrum is no assurance that one’s positions are what the country (at some particular historical juncture) needs. One cannot fight the cancers of racism and fascism with some chamomile tea.

    • That’s an interesting observation, and you are right that we need to distinguish between partisan and divisive attitudes.

      I wouldn’t want to suggest, actually, that only centrists are reasonable; I have myself adopted radical positions on this and that. But I would want to argue that not all centrists are bad, which is where we increasingly been taken to.

  4. Wendy Says:

    It really is awful. We watch US TV from time to time (mainly CNN but some other channels too) and not all commercials are substituted for Canadian ones, so we see some of the vitriol in TV ads, as well as on the news. It’s not only different camps shouting at each other with neither of them listening, but there are outright lies being peddled all the time. Whether it’s Russian trolls, Trump’s constant lies, Guiliani with his peddling of the notion that there is no objective truth, or Alex Jones and his obnoxious Infowars, it’s everywhere. (If you’re not familiar with the disgusting specimen of humanity that is Alex Jones, look up his conspiracy theories about the Newtown elementary school shooting: how it never happened and that the murdered children were really just child actors).

    The real worry is what happens beyond the Trump era. Distrust of different political factions, of the media and the so-called ‘deep state’ has been sown deep into American society, particularly in his supporters. They’re not going to drop those prejudices and beliefs once Trump is no longer around. I’ve seen some commentators observe that they haven’t seen divisions this deep since the Civil Rights era. Racist and white privilege rhetoric is far more open than it’s been almost since then, and some Fox “News” opinion anchors are even starting to voice racist sentiments openly on air.

    And the refugee influx to Canada continues to happen; Middle Easterns and Africans with no legal status in the US who no longer feel safe in Trump’s America. We haven’t been down to the US since his election, and don’t feel comfortable given some of what’s been reported in Canadian media about US border patrol officers behaving more aggressively and in some cases refusing entry to people who’ve crossed without incident many times before.

    By the way, have you heard about Doug Ford, the “Trump-lite” new Ontario premier?

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