Indignant or Asinine?
It is the inalienable right of the individual to publicly demonstrate a feeling. No authority can prohibit it, no civil institution can enforce it. It’s simply a right we all have and exercise as a matter of personal choice. While infants, dogs and lunatics exercise this right in the form of enthusiasm, affection, amusement, frustration and anger, the well-adjusted adult exercises it in the form of idealism, mawkishness, patriotism and belligerence. However, unlike infants, dogs, lunatics and those otherwise mentally and emotionally compromised, the well-adjusted adult does not have the excuse of naiveté, ignorance or disease. He has morality and religion, and with these, the embarrassed witness is left to judge the worth of the particular display of emotion.
One emotion often demonstrated by those who are stunted by morality and religion is indignation. Becoming indignant advertises and flatters its possessor as being of higher moral integrity. It ostensibly shows that he or she has conviction enough to defend a valued paradigm of the way one ought to think and feel about the matter in question. This presumption, however, bypasses the elemental concept, and worse, the reality, that people may think and feel whatever they damned well please.
Indignation has the effect of leaving its audience stunned and confused. After severe demonstrations, they will sometimes apologize for or clarify what they perceive to have been the cause; however, these apologies and clarifications often come off as a wimpy attempt to placate the indignant one. Here are some common starter phrases uttered by victims of indignation: “Not that I…,” “What I meant is…,” “I was only…” Or, in less formal circumstances, the victim may even blurt something comic in the vernacular vein, like, “Don’t get your panties in a twist,” “Let’s have a fat fuckin’ hairy why don’t we,” “That a crab claw hanging out of your ass?” or “Does your wife know you’re gay?” These latter reactions, though more appropriate, usually only serve to buttress the indignant one’s exaggerated self-regard.
But let me differentiate between indignation and taking offense. Indignation is anger at something taken to be immoral or mean, whether personally directed or not. Taking offense is a conviction that there has been an actual transgression against one’s person. For instance, Don Corleone took offense, but never became indignant. That is, he never put on a show of moral righteousness. There were two reasons for this: one, it was unwise to alert those on whom he planned to take revenge and, two, it would have been undignified. Don Corleone was a bit more of a pagan: he preferred opportune retribution, or payback. Furthermore, he knew that, ironically, the indignant lose their dignity, which only serves to alienate or amuse the offending party and bolster the case that the indignant one, being demonstrably asinine, deserved the offense.
The Bible is full of examples of indignation and even holds it in high regard, which is unfortunate, seeing as this has encouraged this importune attitude in many a true believer. In the Bible, indignation is deified. The god of the Jews is repeatedly called upon to show the “full wrath of his indignation” for the iniquities suffered by his worshippers. And this temperamental disposition is invariably a precursor to violent vengeance. In Revelations 14.10, indignation is described as the cup into which Yahweh pours his wrath. And, friends, it’s a bum chug for those who refuse to bend over. When old Yahweh’s indignant with you it means two of two things: one, you’re wrong and, two, you’re toast. Is it then so strange that a culture informed by such a divinity would confuse being indignant with being right?
Empirican politicians invoke the Bible precisely for this reason: it’s scary. Think Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter, with “love” and “hate” tattooed across his knuckles. And like their god, these grim, punitive politicos raise their hackles when called into question. Indignation has become rhetorically programmatic with a few of them, who in a less cowed democracy would be tried as political criminals. But, by being indignant, they cleverly shift the show from the theatre of politics to that of morality, as if their integrity were called into question. Most Empiricans, as the rest of the world well knows, are too dummied down to discern between politics and morality anyway. Instead of a Realpolitik they have a Hollypolitik. Instead of holding these inflated nerds to account for their actions, they let themselves be entertained by the spectacle of appeals to morality.
But it isn’t strange that people get indignant when reminded of their weaknesses and faults. It’s a defense tactic. Even if they haven’t been publicly exposed, humiliated or embarrassed, the possibility constitutes a threat. Take the irate tonality and couched threats, for example, of our mighty Emperor. As the world knows, he and his coterie reek of the double-guff of the judge and executioner. Thus, when they get indignant, it is scary. Heads roll.
Indignation, which is based on the Latin word dignitas, meaning worth, is anger aroused by the sense that something has been denied or stripped of its worth. As it is the view of the indignant that their sense of worth must be everybody else’s, they often plod into hypocrisy as readily as they trample on others’ values to enforce their own. Politicians who ban what they practice, condemn what they perpetrate, and deny what they allow are, again, a perfect example. Killing for peace, whoring for fidelity, coveting for equity and lying for veracity depend on the end justifying the means. Never mind that the end is antithetical to the means. And too bad questioning that contradiction amounts to questioning the hypocrite’s belief in the justness of his or her intention. Worst of all, we have put them in charge of the Empire, when, as Wyndham Lewis said, “Continuity, in the individual as in the race, is the diagnostic of a civilized condition.”
© Copyright 2005, Jan DiVincenzo. All rights reserved.