Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Danger of Complaint

Reposted from way back in 2010:
Criticism as I understand it differs entirely from attack or complaint. Its difference from complaint is especially important here, for I am persuaded that complaints against the machinations of culture today have become as poisonous as the things complained of. This is not surprising. Resentment and indignation are feelings dangerous to the possesor and to be sparingly used. They give comfort too cheaply; they rot judgment, and by encouraging passivity they come to require that evil continue for the the sake of the grievance to be enjoyed.

--Jacques Barzun


G. Verloren said...

This sums up my feelings about a lot of online culture I encounter on a daily basis (and a fair degree of offline culture too). It seems everyone has something they hate that they want nothing more than to rant and rave about, but almost no one has anything constructive or helpful to say in the process. People sadly don't seem interested in problem solving and analysis so much as they seem interested in ego tripping on inflated senses of superiority and self righteousness.

That said, I can't readily fault people for what I consider one of the quirks of being human - unhappy people tend to complain, and our society breeds a lot of unhappiness. Happy, well adjusted, rational people seem pretty uncommon, and even they can fall prey to negativity when passions run high. There are any number of outrageous injustices to observe and be offended by on a daily basis in this world, and with globalism and digital communications, we suddenly have a much greater total capability for people to voice their outrage. The nasty, troubling flaws of the world are more visible than ever, and humanity's collective voice is louder than ever.

I suspect a big part of the problem is that people feel powerless to change things, for any number of reasons. The world is astoundingly complicated, and and in general people already struggle plenty enough just trying to get through the workday. So to then constantly expose these people to complex societal issues from around the globe is a recipe for overwhelming and frustrating them. People have a hard enough time building relationships and managing their finances and finding free time to do the things that actuall interest them - how in the world can they be expected to cope with large-scale issues like racial and ethnic friction, economic and legal disparities, human rights violations, violence and warfare, divisive and backhanded politics, religious and moral disagreements, and all the rest?

When humans are out of their element, faced with things they cannot properly comprehend or significantly influence on an individual scale, they have certain predictable psychological reactions, chief among them being anger and frustration. And when humans are angry and frustrated, they suffer from the resultant emotional stress and try to find ways to relieve that stress.

Often this leads to their trying to reaffirm their sense of control of a situation, trying to protect their ego and their psyche from the trauma of disempowerment. The old fable of sour grapes perfectly demonstrates how we tell ourselves and others comfortable, dismissive lies to soothe our battered egos. We aren't flawed in our inabiity to reach the grapes - the grapes are flawed in that they certainly must be sour! We aren't the problem, the grapes are! Curse those terrible grapes! We never wanted them in the first place!

So people hear about the latest travesty in the world today, and lacking any meaningful way to address or cope with it, they dismiss it and complain about it, often inventing and latching onto the first superficially plausible thought that might explain how these things came to pass. Healthcare is completely unaffordable for millinions? It's because of whatever it is Obama is doing, probably! Banks are getting bailed out despite clearly corrupt and amoral behavior? It's the Conservatives' fault / the Liberals' fault! Some nutjob went on a mass murder shooting spree? It's the NRA's fault / gun control lobbyists' faults / Wall Street and the banking establishment's fault / the education system's fault / the CIA's chemtrail program's fault / whatever the hell else you can think of that conveniently fits into your personal preconceived notions. Et cetera.

G. Verloren said...

So how am I any different? Sadly, more often than I'd like to admit, I'm not. But the only way I or anyone else can make the jump from complaining to critiquing is in stopping to think and learn and reason logically. We have to take the time and effort to understand an issue before we pass judgement on it, otherwise we're just blowing hot air. We have to have the patience and the principle to search out the truth and the facts - even when they go against our personal views or ideals. We have to examine ourselves, learning to recognize and combat our biases and our fallacies, holding ourselves to higher standards of rationality and civility. We need to resist the human instinct to lash out at things which threaten or anger or offend us in various ways, and instead seek to study and understand them in order to find ways to actually meaningfully change them - or sometimes, when logic dictates it, meaningfully change ourselves instead.
Anger and outrage gives us the illusion of strength, but in reality it only saps of it. We are not wise or brave or moral when we are angry - we are bullheaded and stupid, petty and destructive, and all around miserable and misery inducing.

We must turn away from anger - both individually, and culturally. We must foster patience and rationality, even in the face of human tragedy and brutality. We cannot overcome the flaws of humanity by weilding anger as our weapon, because anger is itself a flaw of humanity. We must instead find the courage to let go of our anger - to give it up willingly, and thus free ourselves of it's poisoning effects. We must then find the strength to be calm and rational; even in the face of great wrong or great suffering; even when we are passionate and moved to great actions or great words. We must rely upon sound judgement and cooperation - on forgiveness and trust, not outrage and suspicion. We must recognize and work to correct our own flaws to be able to truly correct flaws in the world around us. We cannot change society for the better until we first change ourselves.