Friday, June 11, 2010

Is anger the right response?

Like anyone else who has been paying a little bit of attention to current events, I've heard and read a lot of news and opinion in reaction to the oil spill/leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the result of the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon catching fire on April 20, 2010 and sinking on April 22, 2010, its well pipes breaking and crumbling to the floor of the Gulf, more than 5,000 feet below the surface.

Most of what we read now is opinion: what BP (British Petroleum, the company that leased and operated the rig)
should do, what President Obama should do, what the U.S. government should do, etc. There are also the occasional reports that another attempt to cap, plug, or fill the open well have been unsuccessful, as well as reports on how far the ever-spreading oil has traversed onto the coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico, and how the oil poses an increasing threat to wildlife, etc.

Of course, none of these reports are good, and no one is happy that so much oil is being loosed on our natural habitats and threatening so much wildlife. But the opinions seem to be increasingly fueled by
anger as the predominant impetus for voicing them. Without a doubt, anger is one response that we should not be surprised to find in reaction to such an event (or series of events, if you will). But anger normally shades us from the light of reason, and it also tends to cause overreaction.

I have to ask, therefore: is
anger the right response?

Many will claim that it is: after all, even Christians will affirm the reality of "righteous anger". And while righteous anger is a reality, there are several things to keep in mind with regard to righteous anger:
  • First, as Glen Scrivener recently pointed out, "ALL anger is righteous anger-- it's just that 95% of it is self-righteous anger." We must be careful that our anger towards events like the ones following the sinking of Deepwater Horizon aren't simply an attempt to draw comparisons and make ourselves look better? This strikes me as often the case when I hear people start talking about what "others should do". One thing I know to be true: I wouldn't have any better sense about how to handle such a complex and tragic problem than any of the leaders involved. I must be careful, then, that my response to all of this isn't self-righteous.
  • Second, as Dr. George Scipione commented, "yes, there is righteous anger-- but I'm seldom that righteous." Rather than self-righteousness, we need to acknowledge our own lack of righteousness in all of this. I drive a car every day, and heat my home with gas, and use plastics all the time. My world is full of petroleum products. So is yours. We are therefore all culpable, in an indirect way, for the demand for oil that is depleting more readily-available sources and driving corporations to install deep-water wells like the one at Deepwater Horizon. I am not righteous in this; my hands are not clean. Neither are yours.
  • Third, I question whether our anger ought to also be directed at opportunists who are sensationalizing these events and playing on our emotions for the sake of ratings and revenues. The only group of people who benefit in a time like this are the news media. Yes, we need journalism for the sake of staying informed, but I would argue that the sort of journalism that makes up 85% of reporting on something like this is neither strictly informative nor is it done for the sake of our information. There is precious-little such altruism or objectivity in journalism today, if there ever has been any. We need to recognize that we are often being preyed upon by "journalists" whose goal is to incense heightened and irrational emotions for the sake of increased ratings and therefore greater advertising revenues.
  • Finally, I have to wonder what anger accomplishes in this sort of situation. Apart from those who wield genuine power and influence, anger never motivates others to take appropriate action. (And even for those with the power and influence, motivation by anger will substantially reduce the net amount of power and influence they wield.) If we want to see real, helpful reaction to our response to the Deepwater Horizon leak, anger won't get us there.

Is anger the right response? I would say that anger, while understandable and not unfitting for a time like this, is not the
best response. Sadness and grief strike me as better ones. Reasonable accountability and expectation are good ones. Motivation toward substantive, lasting changes in whole-culture patterns (such as significant decrease in dependence upon petroleum products altogether) is a great one. Sorrow for the loss to families and wildlife that our demand for oil causes-- that's a good one.

But anger? No, I don't think anger is either the best or the right response.

What do you think?

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