We live in the age of rage

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December 21, 2012


Firby-DougEiinCLOGOMINNEAPOLIS, MN, Dec. 21, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Some meatball cuts me off on the freeway, and I fly into a rage. I blast my horn; on a bad day, I’ll flip him the bird and mouth something foul.

We all have our dark moments – I’ll bet you do, too. I saw a cashier accidentally short-change a customer the other day, and you’d think she’d tried to rob a bank. I’d swear the customer was ready to give that poor working stiff a criminal record over 75 cents.

A friend of mine was fed up with a cantankerous program on her computer and punched the screen on her Mac hard enough to crack it. As I write this, Word wants to keep ‘correcting’ my spelling into U.S. English. I want to throw this machine out the window.

We throw coffee cups. We curse. We stomp our feet. We pull long faces.

Not many of us, fortunately, reach for a gun. At least not in Canada, and not in a lot of countries around the world. There are countries, though, where some angry people do crazy things like that, and one of them happens to be our troubled neighbour to the south – the United States.

We talk a lot about the U.S. and its fits of violence because it is supposed to be a civilized country. It’s
First World all the way – with world class luxury, leading-edge health care for those who can afford it, the hottest automobiles and the glitziest entertainment. It also likes to brag about its commitment to freedom. It doesn’t strike us as the kind of country where people go around slaughtering each other for no apparent reason. When I think of such violence, I think of Rwanda, Rio or gangland Moscow, or dangerous places like that.

So, what is it with the U.S.? Canadians in so many ways seem so similar to Americans, we have to ask what is The Little Thing that allows them to be killers, while we refrain? Yes, I know we have had our share of ultra-creeps, like Robert Pickton and Paul Bernardo, and we did have the Montreal massacre, so let’s not be so naïve as to think we’re immune from really bad stuff. But it’s the frequency that sets us apart from our neighbour.

French bloggers Nicolas Quint and Marc Verstaen did some quick number-crunching this week, comparing gun ownership in countries with incidents of violence. The results challenge the go-to preconception that reducing the number of guns alone will cure the problem.

The U.S. is indeed the leader in gun ownership, with nearly 90 weapons per 100 population, according to our bloggers. Canada, thankfully, is far behind with about one-third the number held by Americans. Switzerland, surprisingly, has nearly 45 per 100 citizens – just half the rate of the U.S. And France and Norway have a large number of small-calibre weapons, although the authors note it is relatively easy to acquire a .22-calibre long rifle because there is a long tradition of using them in farm operations.

Rwanda or Russia have relatively few firearms per 100 population. But Russia’s homicide rate is 2½ times higher that the U.S, 10 times higher than France and 30 times higher than Japan. Switzerland, with its high number of guns, experiences one-sixth of the homicide rate of the U.S. and half the rate in France. Iceland has three times fewer firearms per citizen than the U.S. – about the same rate as Canada – but 30 times fewer homicides per person.

So, it’s not just the guns. And it’s not the video games, movies or TV shows, either, because nations around the world are saturated with U.S.-sourced media that glorifies violence, underplays the trauma and consequences, and morally justifies killing, especially if it’s for revenge.

Here’s my theory. Nations grow and prosper when there is a strong consensus on national vision and powerful sense of communality. In such countries, citizens have our eyes on the same prize, and we make sure no one is left behind. It’s the metaphor of the Mennonite barn-raising or the fall harvest, when friends come from miles around to help, knowing one day the favour will be returned.

I don’t think enough Americans do that anymore. Although there are notable exceptions, as a whole the U.S. has become a narcissistic nation, obsessed with its own American Idol/Survivor moments of fame. Every man for himself. Let Darwin take care of the trash who aren’t strong enough to achieve The Dream on their own. In such an environment, it’s hard to spot the people who are turning from angry to dangerous.

Your damn right some people feel left out. And they’re mad. In the age of rage, there’s no little voice in the back of their heads telling them not to take the extra step that turns a tantrum into a tragedy.

Something’s got to change. Something big – a revolution, in its own way.

Dark days down here. Will the voices who need to stand up do so, and say the things that need to be said?

I’m not feeling very optimistic that a country which is ready to commit fiscal suicide is even close to grappling with the deeper questions at its rotting core.

Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief and National Affairs columnist of Troy Media.

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