Given the lack of political news, I have the opportunity to get caught up with some older articles that I haven’t gotten to yet. One of them is another article by Kathleen Geier, The Right’s Latest Candidate for History’s Greatest Monster: Jeff Spicoli. For those of you who aren’t so old, Jeff Spicoli is the surfer dude in Fast Times at Ridgemont High played by the young Sean Penn. He is the guy who famously ordered a pizza in history class and when questioned as to what he was doing, said, “Learning about Cuba; having some food.”
It seems that Fox News now has it out for surfer dudes who are collecting welfare. That’s very typical of the conservative movement: get people upset about a justifiably annoying issue that is literally exceptional and totally unimportant on a large scale. It is an issue that I’ve thought about a lot. And I have yet to come up with a way to talk to people about it. It doesn’t seem to matter (for example) that there are only a hand full of surfer dudes collecting food stamps and that they really have no relevance to the issue of food stamps which help millions of people who really are struggling. The surfer dudes make them angry and they can’t let go.
Geier gets to the heart of what is going on, I think. She wrote, “Like hippie punching, hating on the hipsters enables puritanical conservatives to feel morally superior to young people who reject certain bourgeois norms and who seem to be having some fun in their lives.” Now I don’t know about the reasons that these people feel superior. Geier suggests it is that the young people are having fun and the conservatives are not because they are old and bitter. But I’ve seen this same thing coming from young people. What seems to be going on is simple in-group and out-group politics. What they do is wrong simply because it is them. Often what is being done is the same thing. That’s certainly the case when affluent Social Security recipients complain about employable surfers getting food stamps.
The question is why is it so fulfilling. I think it is that feeling morally superior is like a drug. I’ve watched it. Hell, I’ve felt it. There is something deeply satisfying in justified anger. Clearly, neurotransmitters are released. But the effect is short lived and it needs constant tweaking. And that explains why three million people tune into Bill O’Reilly every night. They are getting their moral superiority fix while BillO gets his rage fix. Of course, people get this in a lot of different ways. I think the same thing (to a lesser extent) explains the popularity of the judge and “cops” shows.
I wish I knew a way to get through to these people, but it may be that I am especially ill-qualified in this endeavor. It isn’t that I don’t feel morally superior to others. I most definitely do. But it burns low and constant. Any given outrage story brings out my science training: I look for the error in the reporting. If that doesn’t work, I put it into perspective. Those two tools eliminate 99% of all outrage as I explain to everyone whenever they come to me with one. But apart from all of this learned behavior, I just don’t have the proper receptors for these outrage transmitters. When I hear of someone taking advantage, it just makes me sad. And that’s how I feel about all those outrage addicts who inject it right into their eyes and ears every night. It’s very sad—for them and us.