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Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Lost Cats and Right-Wing Anger

When we first moved to Los Angeles, our cat, Ajax (from whom my name is derived), disappeared.  He had always been an indoor cat, having spent his entire existence in 425 square feet on the second floor and having only seen birds and other cats from windows and doorways, and even though he was a bit of a bruiser (We stopped going to the bathroom at night because it was too dangerous.  He was panther-sized, black, and strong and would stalk us mercilessly at night, pouncing and then wapping us hard across the Achilles tendon as we  dashed for the safety of the bathroom), we worried about him going outside.  He was sleek, big, and aggressive, but he was also dumber than hair.

When he disappeared, we decided to put up signs around the neighborhood.  We did them in English and in Spanish, transliterated directly because neither of us remembered much from high school.  Perdido Gato from Lost Cat.  It had a picture of him on it and a phone number.  We posted them.   Then we were reminded by a passer-by that, in Spanish, the adjective follows the noun.  With what we had written, what we wanted was loss that took the form of a cat.  A cat that was, in effect, Loss embodied.

Fortunately, that was exactly correct because we found him three days later under the house.  He had been there for days, crying softly next to an open vent.   Aside from getting lost under the house for days on end, he also predated on pumpkin innards and spinach at every opportunity.  If there was ever a lost cat, it was Ajax.

I love language.  Like most great things, it is as fun as it is useful and when I find myself using it well, it makes me feel oogy inside like almost nothing else can.  I write novels.  I write blogs.  I write poetry (but that's a secret).  And I talk.  I talk a lot.  I'm sure the captive-audience aspect of the classroom was part of the appeal for me and why I didn't go on to become a lawyer like I intended.    Since I loved language, I was fascinated by the difference in how Spanish and English dealt with states of being.

In English, we say "I am hungry," which implies that while we are undernourished, the state becomes the entirety of our identity.  In Spanish, "Yo Tengo Hambre," translates directly as "I have hunger."  The speaker's identity remains constant and is not displaced by physical, emotional, or social need like in English.

English is a language which forces its user's very identities to be supplanted by their own desires.

When we are hungry, it is who we are.
When we are tired, it is who we are.
When we are happy, it is who we are.
When we are angry, too, it becomes our identity.

And this is the problem identified so well by Daily Kos diarist, Mark Sumner in his diary entitled "Why Solyndra Signifies a Ray of Hope."  His main point, though hopeful, isn't what fascinated me.  It was his introduction in which he describes scenes from the Rush Limbaugh television show.  He gives us a fine exemplar of how, in English, our identity is our state.  Anger, on the right, is not simply an emotion, it's an identity.

They are anger.

It is not something that they have, along with a nice wardrobe, hunger, and faith, it is something that they are.

And they are angry at us.

Being angry at "liberals" and progressives is not about issues, it's about identity.  This means that the efforts we make to try and ameliorate their anger, or to re-channel it, simply exacerbate it.  When we say, "this helps you,too" and when we say "you are arguing against your own interests," their only response will be, "If you want it, we are against it because we are angry at you."

So what do we do?

How do you get somebody to willingly change their identity?  How do we get somebody from "I am angry" to "I am an American who feels frustration?"

I don't know.  I really don't.  If I had an answer, other people much smarter and more connected than myself would also already have it and they would be doing it and I would simply be saying, "Yeah.  What they said."    But they're not saying it and so I'm just lost.

But what I do know is that when we call ourselves progressives, they hear us say that we think they aren't good enough.  When we say we are liberals, they are angered by the fact that we are proud libertines.  When we say we want what's best for America, they hear that they are not it.

We can't stop saying it but we also can't simply allow 20-30% of our citizenry to stew on the sidelines.  That would be just plain dangerous.  We also can't let them have their way because they don't have a way of their own, they simply have the opposite of whatever we say.

This is why 27% of people with pre-existing conditions believe that our new healthcare laws will make them worse off.

This is why working class people are screaming for deficit reduction and reigned in government spending.

This is why workers are anti-union even as they drop like flies in Amazon warehouses.

This is why your conservative relatives argue that black is white (unless you say it, too, and then it's purple).

It's not about the issue, it's about you.

It's personal.


What do we do?   Please tell me.


  1. All very true and I too am lost about what to do. But one thing... we, liberals, progressives, are angry too - at them, for trying to destroy everything that has been accomplished in this country and in too many cases succeeding. And we can only see more of the same coming.

  2. Language Lessons. Only, people have to want to learn.