Columnist Matt Taibbi, in a recent newsletter, lamented that columnists’ target audience has shifted from placid Sunday morning paper perusers to what he dubbed “rage addicts.” His comment was, in the end, self-deprecating and self-aware, but the phrase struck a cord.

I had elements of rage-addict in me, many moons ago, when I was first cutting my teeth on political debate in the Internet age. A friend called me relentless in my arguing; I’d go back-and-forth with someone for days, long past the time any third reader might still be casting eyeballs on our argument, and chew over dialogues while off-line. At times I found it invigorating, and I drew enormous satisfaction when I’d see, half a year later, “opponents” themselves asserting a point I had made and they had rejected.

In the long term, though, the investment of emotional energy was mentally exhausting. That led to my “epiphany” – that there was absolutely no reason to grant the slightest bit of that energy to some stranger on the internet. I still argued and argue relentlessly when I wish to, but I’ve detached from all that, and replaced rage with indifference. Out of that grew my apathy toward others’ insults, my amusement at others’ rage, and the ease of walking away without having the last word. Thence emerged my one idiot theory:

One idiot declaring something doesn’t make it true, nor does it affirm it to be a commonly-held belief.

Being human, we react to personal stories more than to dispassionate statistics, but any student of logic knows that anecdotes are not data. Similarly, one idiot doing or saying something does not establish a culture-wide belief or trend.

Of course, a large number of such idiots can do so, but then you’ve crossed the line to data, dispassion, and measured debate over policy and consequences.

Such doesn’t feed rage addiction, unfortunately.

Youtube videos and Internet memes do, no matter that they fall under the “one idiot” rule.

I know more than a few people, including some very close friends, who are rage addicts, and I have many “internet friends” who seem to live for feeding their and others’ rage addiction by sharing such on social media, often in clusters of half a dozen or more.

I’ve taken to muting the most egregious serial-sharers from time to time, especially when it’s clear they haven’t even vetted the assertions in their shares (something that almost invariably takes less than a minute) and aren’t sharing in the interest of discourse.

Unfortunately, rage addicts drive our current dialogues. The Twitter-verse is a tiny fraction of the US population, but it has a disproportionate effect on ideas and policy. The Squad specializes in rage-politics, with great effect, elevating the classic politician’s “I am outraged!!!” trope to new heights. Trump tapped into the rage addicts on the Right, and rode that rage all the way to the White House. Biden hid in a bunker, and let the anti-Trump rage addicts in the Press message his election on his behalf.

Even more unfortunately, rage addiction precipitates a binary, black-white, good-evil, Manichean political landscape where tribe loyalty and the vanquishing of foes is far more important than good policy or any sort of compromise, and its poisonous effect goes beyond the political arena. We not only aren’t talking to each other, some of us go out of their way to do harm to those who dare voice different opinions. Punishment, rather than persuasion, is the preferred tactic, to the point where it has its own name: Cancel Culture.

As always, rage addicts develop a tolerance, and need ever-escalating doses to get their dopamine rush. When it stops being enough simply to read a story or watch a video that outrages, sharing it provides additional pop, via the validation from other rage-addicts. When simply sharing the rage stops being enough, then vengeance via “cancellation” cranks the high to new levels. It is deeply ironic that the people who tell us words are violence don’t think the destruction of another’s economic or personal life is.

Fortunately, you can wean yourself off rage-addiction. And, unlike additive substances like nicotine, caffeine, or opiates, you can continue to partake of that which fed the addiction. The deeper you are into the addiction, the harder it is, but you can certainly stop caring as much about those “one idiots.” You can still be as politically involved as you wish, you can still voice strong opinions, but you don’t have to let things gnaw at you. Your life will be better, I assure you.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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