The dog days of summer are behind us and something I’m calling fallancholia (the melancholia that comes with the first few whiffs of fall) is unmistakably in the air, but despite my best efforts to escape the planet, my collar still gets hot every time my personal space gets invaded by the latest horsebleep coming out of that perpetually tomato-faced and supremely angry white man Donald Trump.
With Trump as poster boy, the topic of anger and how the Internet fuels it in Homo sapiens’ behavior is currently a hot and bothered topic. Last week, National Public Radio decided to stop running readers/listeners comments, with Scott Montgomery, NPR’s managing editor of digital news, explaining, “After much experimentation and discussion, we’ve concluded that the comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users.”
Ya think? The truth is, online comments come from less than 1 percent of all readers, so for the most part I’ve taken Lizzo and Caroline Smith’s advice in “Let ‘Em Say” (“don’t read the comments”) when it comes to my hometown newspapers. But whenever my morbid curiosity craves a window into the deepest and darkest psyches of my neighbors, I make the mistake of perusing the comments sections of the Star Tribune and City Pages, which pretty much annihilates my faith in humanity and makes me want to never have interaction with another person again, live or virtual.
What to do? There is, of course, only one way to go in this mad, mad, mad, mad and getting madder world: Go inward, breathe, meditate, disengage, achieve bliss through ignorance, and above all else:
Another political diatribe that echoes Hitler and Satan?
Another bigot, racist or homophobe in your midst?
That creeping sensation that the world is going down the drain and there’s no goodness in people and no such thing as the kindness of strangers?
Of course, the kinder and gentler readers of the Southwest Journal will recognize this manifesto as the sequel to my “Stay Warm” column of the brutal winter of 2015, which lamented our practice of making enemies and boxing in strangers based on snap judgments, skin color, politics, religion, sports, etc., and celebrated a rash of “stay warms” between strangers that gave me a little hope.
Almost two years later, things have gotten worse, and from the looks of things they will only get much worse as we ramp up to the election and the presidential debates. But the choice is ours. “Stay warm” is an easy way of greeting one and other in the winter, and a genuine pleasantry issued to strangers to take good care. The two mindsets are related, but these days I say “stay cool” to myself more than anyone else, because Lord knows I need the reminder.
I’m not alone. Within hours of each other this weekend, two friends weighed in on Facebook about the need to stay cool and sought to rectify their dim view of humanity with similar pleas for peace.
Joseph Pettini: “I really do not understand why, when someone posts about something they think is cool or fun, there are people who will post something negative like ‘that band sucks’ ‘that movie sucks’ ‘that guitar sucks,’ ad infinitum. I delete comments from my page on a daily basis. It’s one of the things I truly dislike in this world—the compulsion to rain on someone’s parade. Just move on, or put it on your own page. Let’s be nicer to each other. Please.”
Brad Zellar: “A lot of times lately I don’t know what I feel until I see what I put on the turntable. Tonight: Tim Buckley, Phil Ochs, and Gene Clark. I guess I’m bummed. Were people really this crazy and mean before the Internet? I tuned in earlier to the live stream of the Tragically Hip’s final concert—the lead singer is dying of brain cancer—and I couldn’t believe the steady barrage of evil, bat[bleep]-crazy hatred that kept rolling down the chat screen. Afterwards, at the Super America, some bastard who was in there scratching off lottery tickets gestured at that photograph that I still can’t really look at of the Syrian kid in an ambulance and said to the clerk, ‘Boo hoo, some kid in Iraq had to go to the hospital.’ Who are these [bleeping] people? And what are we going to do to save ourselves from them?”
Good question. Again, my only way of dealing is to stay cool and kind and creative at a time when too many others are circling the drain and bringing the rest of us down. Don’t believe me? Time magazine saw fit to address this budding health crisis last week in the cover story, “How Trolls Are Ruining The Internet.”
“If you need help improving your upload speeds the web is eager to help with technical details, but if you tell it you’re struggling with depression it will try to goad you into killing yourself,” writes Joel Stein. “Psychologists call this the online disinhibition effect, in which factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building. And it’s seeping from our smartphones into every aspect of our lives.”
Time and other commentators offer no concrete advice for dealing with all this, but it says here that there’s only one way to combat all the petty, mean, angry, unoriginal and uncreative energy fomenting out there and only one way to rise above the seemingly endless of parade of divisiveness, road rage, stranger danger and overall jerkdom.
Stay cool, stay cool, stay cool.
Or, as Walt Whitman put it for all turbulent times, “Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].