“I’m with Marx”
As laudable as I find the premise of “The Rage Machine,” your claim that we exist “in a constant state of rage” strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the media that transmits this rage to us. We turn to the sources of these indignant interventions with a regularity that approaches constancy, but rage is not the only thing we find there.
For every Facebook post that links to a rage-provoking article, two provide pictures of puppies, babies, kitties. For every tweet that angers us, a dozen provoke our admiration or envy, cause us to chuckle or groan, arouse us, disgust us, or, most likely, bore us. The machine we live in is not a rage machine, but an affect machine. We turn to our phones constantly not because we expect to be enraged by what we find, but because we expect to feel something about what we find. And if we don’t like what we feel, we are assured that the next emotional response is only seconds away, and that we’ll be validated in our own reactions by an ever increasing number of friends and likes, retweets and +1s.
This distinction seems to me to matter because, as Peter Sloterdijk points out in his Rage and Time, the idea of living in a state of perpetual rage permeates the Western intellectual tradition. Beginning with Achilles’s rage in the Iliad and continuing through the wrathful God of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the resentment that animated 20th-century leftism, the accumulation of great reservoirs of rage (Sloterdijk calls them “rage banks”) has been, until recently, a constant in Western culture. Now, however, our rage, rather than accumulating, is expended in fitful bursts, and all remnants of our anger are quickly displaced by some other instantaneous emotive experience; even if that same post that enraged us reappears in our various feeds multiple times, we’re sure to have experienced dozens of other emotional outbursts in between.
The injustices that provoke our rage do not rest and they are not interrupted. We have cause for constant rage. Let us build the machine that allows us to sustain it.
Defending the Friedmans
Most of Richard Beck’s “The Friedmans” is incisive. Clearly, he believes Arnold and Jesse Friedman were innocent of the child-rape charges that destroyed their lives in the 1980s. He aptly describes the family-feud-like, sordid, and emotionally inappropriate tone of the Nassau County district attorney’s recent report on the case, which found Jesse Friedman guilty.
But Beck overreaches when he blames the Friedman prosecution on the mothers and fathers of Long Island and their supposed unwillingness to acknowledge real child sex abuse in families. In fact, the bizarre child sex abuse accusations of the 1980s largely targeted family members. In cases with crazy satanic and Friedmanesque abuse scenarios, far more mothers, fathers, and family friends were falsely accused, convicted, and imprisoned than daycare workers and teachers. Most of these innocents were poor and working-class whites in the country’s hinterlands. Police and prosecutors focused on them with as much sadism as in out-of-family cases. Entire communities went along with this sadism, in the deluded belief that they were redressing real child sex abuse in terribly blameworthy families.