“Raylan, you do a good job of hiding it. And I s’pose most folks don’t see it, but honestly, you’re the angriest man I have ever known.”
Oh fantastic, the Internet exploded about Lena Dunham again. It must be a day ending in f and u. You can pretty much light your cigarette off of your computer screen, the anger is burning so hotly.
But I’m not here to talk about Dunham or about our disagreements there, but about the topic of rage on the Internet. See, I love arguing. I love it to a fault, and with the sadism born of high school debate can spend an hour online doing nothing but arguing with someone, dancing rope-a-dope style with little concern for what I actually think about an issue, driving some poor someone into a froth. But I gradually figured out that it wasn’t really about arguing. I was never addicted to the argument, or to the dance of ideas, or even to the issues I would argue about. I was addicted to the rage. To losing myself fully in righteous anger, just burning down the Internet for the sake of burning it down.
There’s something in American Gods that always rang so true to me: that those who gamble don’t do it to win, but to lose. It’s a statement that most people don’t really get. They either disagree with it or think it’s cute but fundamentally a smartass inaccuracy, a metaphor more than a truism. But if you’ve ever been an addict, you know differently. To be an addict is to find something that you love so much that you want it to devour you. It doesn’t matter that it’s terrible for you, or that your rational mind can tell you that in the long run of your life this isn’t what you want. Addiction has a spiteful self-destruction to it.
Oblivion is its own joy, and every addict whether with pills or drink or needles or blackjack or sheer anger, toes that line every single time: will this be the time that I let it burn down everything all around me? Will this be the time when I lose my house to the casino, die facedown in my own vomit, or just simply alienate every single person I have ever loved. But here’s the twist: there’s a black eagerness accompanying that thought, like kids daring each other to jump off a ledge into dark waters. Addiction is a god and addicts are its fanatics, always taking one hesitant step closer to slitting their own throats on its altar with orgiastic glee.
Rage is its own addiction in exactly the same way, and the Internet feeds it with its real-time news cycle of outrage, and its easy anonymity with no consequences. Have you ever watched a movie you hated, played a video game that made you mad, and went googling for “xyz fucking sucks” only to spend an hour reading angry diatribes with that glassy eyed satiation that normally accompanies porn? Then you know exactly what I’m talking about. And given the emails I’ve gotten from readers who have found this site by those exact searches leading them to various articles here, I know it’s not just theoretical.
There’s a fine line here that has to be walked, because while it’s opium for that deep reptilian part of your brain, rage is also a positive. It makes us shake our fists at the injustices of the worlds, makes us try to right the wrongs instead of shrugging that they’re not our problem. It’s that righteous fury that fuels great art, that builds beauty that can fracture the world. Ambition is just anger at the world given purpose and direction. But let us not pretend that rage alternately originates from good places and bad. It comes out of a singular place, its own hole in the deep darkness. It is raw discontentment and like any elemental force of emotion can be used for good or for ill or anything in between.
Some people go through their lives searching for contentment. Some for beauty. Some for transcendence. And some people, the ones who have a rage that burns inside them, are looking for the hill that they’re going to die on. Pick the right one.