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Old 17.01.2009, 13:41
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Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

Would you agree that there is a tendency amongst many of the comfortable, safe, overtelevisioned inhabitants of Western Europe and North America to indulge themselves in what might be described as 'disaster p*rn'; that is, exposing themselves to the pain and unhappiness of others by watching endless feeds of satellite and cable news, getting themselves into a state of righteous wrath about it, then turning off the television and doing something else, sated for the time being?

I'm sure so many of us have done it: We've sat watching some war or other, eating our crisps, sipping out of our cup of tea, and found ourselves shouting at the television set, or going onto the internet to 'express ourselves', feeling much better for having actually felt something, having 'empathised' (as if we can) with those who are having a much worse time of it than we are, then having 'made our voices heard', albeit not by those who are actually taking part in the war, but nevertheless... we have done our bit.

To me there is something slightly pornographic about watching images of violence on the television: Just as I've never really felt comfortable with the popularity of crime novels - we all know that murder, rape and kidnap take place, but do we really have to read graphic descriptions of it for our own pleasure? - I've always had a lurking feeling that watching a war on the television is not much different from watching people having sex, that it is, ultimately, a self-indulgent pleasure that helps nobody but the person watching. Where the p*rn addict gets himself into a state of sexual arousal at the sight of squishy activity, so the observer of violence gets himself into a state of anger at the sight of dead children, injured civilians and ruined homes.

I've been very fortunate in having worked with many people who've been actively involved in helping those who have endured war and oppression around the world, and one thing about their manner has consistently struck me: Their lack of anger.

Disappointment, sadness, concern, indignation: They will often demonstrate these emotions to a lesser or greater degree, but rarely have I met someone who is actively involved with refugees and victims of war who expresses any form of anger.

What is the difference between those people, and those who enjoy watching CNN and BBC reports about mayhem overseas? Is it that, having seen the reality of the human consequences of these wars, they no longer feel the need - or desire - to indulge themselves in the misery of others? Or is it that they have become cold through exposure to misery, as the sex worker might lose the thrill of intimate contact after years in the business?

Of course, those who are angry often act upon their anger in ways that make them feel much, much better than merely talking about it - and, with reservations, these people must be admired for actually doing something - whether they be signing petitions, waving placards in Whitehall, refusing to buy the products of a particular country, or even actually going there and joining in the struggle - but how many people actually do this? And how much good will they do?

Meanwhile, thousands of people are quietly going about their business, providing help and support for the victims of war - all wars, not just the ones that make it onto the television - without making too much fuss about it, invisible and ignored by the rest of us.

Are they worse than us for not making a noise? Should they, too, indulge in the pleasures of disaster p*rn?

What do you think?
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Old 17.01.2009, 14:00
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

Wow, DB, that's a lot of thought for a Saturday. Does your mind ever get a rest?

We have to strike a balance constantly between being grateful for our small, comfy little lives and doing something about the misery of less fortunate folk. But let's face it, how far have humans evolved? We are still greedy, lazy, bloodthirsty, violent, xenophobic and power hungry -- more than ever, it seems.

On the other hand, there are humans who are selfless, compassionate and pro-active. Highly evolved -- spiritually and emotionally.

We decide every day where we want to be. We should be true to our conscience. Some of us don't have a conscience apparently. Some of us do but feel we are powerless to change much in this troubled world. We need another Ice Age to sweep us all away; then Earth can start anew.

*Edit: Sorry. I failed to respond to what I think is your question. I try not to watch scenes of war and tragedy although I don't rage over them (they make me sad and wonder when we'll ever learn). I just try to keep up with the news.
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Old 17.01.2009, 14:00
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

I understand where you are coming from with this.

I am sure that somone with a good scientific knowledge could explain about similar hormones being activated or whatever.

As to why people who work in these areas do not react in the same way. I suppose this is similar to not feeling attracted to friends or relatives in the same way that one may feel when meeting a new aquaintance who may be a potential partner.

People who work in difficult situations such often say that they switch off or that you have to ignore the problems to be able to cope. It is certainly not the case that they are emotionless or don't care. It is their way of coping and remaining professional. Are they subconciously deactivating these hormones?
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Old 17.01.2009, 14:06
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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People who work in difficult situations such often say that they switch off or that you have to ignore the problems to be able to cope. It is certainly not the case that they are emotionless or don't care. It is their way of coping and remaining professional. Are they subconciously deactivating these hormones?
I can certainly vouch for this from my own limited experience. I used to have a rather emotionally challenging job back in England, which became more and more difficult to handle until I was reminded by a colleague that my ability to do my job would be negatively affected by my continued desire to put the whole world to rights rather than actually doing what I was paid to do. I heeded her advice, and, by stepping back, was even able to achieve more than I had before.

We've got a couple of paramedics on the forum - it would be interesting to hear their angle on it.
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Old 17.01.2009, 14:12
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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Wow, DB, that's a lot of thought for a Saturday. Does your mind ever get a rest?

We have to strike a balance constantly between being grateful for our small, comfy little lives and doing something about the misery of less fortunate folk. But let's face it, how far have humans evolved? We are still greedy, lazy, bloodthirsty, violent, xenophobic and power hungry -- more than ever, it seems.

On the other hand, there are humans who are selfless, compassionate and pro-active. Highly evolved -- spiritually and emotionally.

We decide every day where we want to be. We should be true to our conscience. Some of us don't have a conscience apparently. Some of us do but feel we are powerless to change much in this troubled world. We need another Ice Age to sweep us all away; then Earth can start anew.

*Edit: Sorry. I failed to respond to what I think is your question. I try not to watch scenes of war and tragedy although I don't rage over them (they make me sad and wonder when we'll ever learn). I just try to keep up with the news.
My mind rarely wakes up... so it doesn't need any more rest!

I agree with what you say about feeling powerless. However, I don't believe that we are completely without power - merely that we should concentrate on changing what we are capable of changing, and not get too hung up on those things that we are unwilling or unable to do anything about. There are many, many things that we can do to improve the lives of human beings now, even if the world can never truly be made a better place.

Ranting at the television set, though, cannot really be considered to be a useful activity, except for the gratification of the viewer. Unless, of course, the viewer then decides to actually act upon that anger - and even the rationality of that may be debated...
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Old 17.01.2009, 14:39
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

I've had similar thoughts about the popularity of the Nazi death camps in Poland, which have become a kind of tourist resort, albeit with noble intentions.

Is it necessary to actually feel despair and sadness to understand what happened there? Do we actually have to go there, and gawp at the piles of shoes, and feel a sadness which is nothing compared to the sadness of those who endured it, and those who loved them? For whose benefiit do we make such pilgrimages?

That is not to say that we should forget about their misery, any more than we should ignore the misery of those who are suffering today, but do we need to provoke an emotional response in ourselves, to pretend that, somehow, despite its sheer impossibility, we have an empathetic connection to these people, in order to consider their situation?

And if someone, given the chance to visit Auschwitz, say, chooses not to go because he has no interest in imagining that he can feel the pain of people he never knew - is that person any less of a human being than those who are moved to tears by what they see and read there?

Has anyone here been to the death camps, or the killing fields, or any other place with a traumatic history? How did you feel? How did you feel about the way you felt?

I went to Verdun, and was moved by what I saw, but was ashamed at my presumption afterwards. Easy enough for me to feel sad, before going to eat pork and sauerkraut in a nice restaurant. Easy, and a bit of an insult to the poor sods who died there, to be honest.
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Old 17.01.2009, 14:40
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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Would you agree that there is a tendency amongst many of the comfortable, safe, overtelevisioned inhabitants of Western Europe and North America to indulge themselves in what might be described as 'disaster p*rn'; that is, exposing themselves to the pain and unhappiness of others by watching endless feeds of satellite and cable news, getting themselves into a state of righteous wrath about it, then turning off the television and doing something else, sated for the time being?
argus & DP made good comments which i agree with.
i also see your point, dougal. But despite us watching this "disaster p_rn" as you put it, and turning off the tv or logging off the computer.
I think if it makes you angry it is better than not having any feelings about it at all.
Of course most of us cannot do anything productive to end wars & are never in the frontline of any war or danger.
But we should always have an opinion and not become too desensitized by the sensationalist news that we have, as you rightly said, that is practically shoved down our throats 24/7.

To illustrate a point, i recently read this satirical article called "How to write about Africa" by cultural activist Binyavanga Wainaina. It illustrates how we have become so desensitized to Africa's problems that the ideals and motivations of Western aid is far different from what actual aid Africa is actually getting and needs.

I am the first to admit, i am practically indifferent to most news from Africa now, sad as that may be. And what does one have to "write" or broadcast about Africa to get the necessary attention?
The same could be said about your point about why we need/want/have all this news p_orn....
what does it take? and what can we do , if we want to do anything at all?
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Old 17.01.2009, 14:50
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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"How to write about Africa" by cultural activist Binyavanga Wainaina.

What a brilliant article!

And the principles contained therein can be applied to many other regions and peoples, too.

Excellent stuff, thank you!
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Old 17.01.2009, 15:01
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

Oh yes, this is just how we are DB, aren't we.

I belong to those who enjoy reading and watching crime, yet I have been on two searches for girls, one in Israel, one in Portugal, both of them had been found, dead. So anything written in a crime novel about a child or young girl getting murdered I simply can't stand anymore nor watch it on TV. But I still enjoy a good thriller story.

I also enjoyed watching erotic stuff, I must say much less now, because I simply got bored with it and probably over saturated too. Then I lived for a while in the Redlight district in Amsterdam and suddenly my outlook on sex changed entirely but I haven't lost my healthy appetite for erotics yet, thank God.

I see that I think about the Israel/Palestine conflict differently now than a few years back, because I have lived in Israel for over 3 years.

I could mention some more examples but in short I would say, I quite agree with you and what you have written there.

As always, sometimes we think we know it all, because we have seen it on Television, read articles, know someone who knows, etc. and then just repeat after, reproduce, like parrots.

Sometimes, I just can't be bothered to what is happening at the other end of the world, not even in the next door country.
Why for God's sake do we need to know about all the horrible things happening all over the place, why ???
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Old 17.01.2009, 15:08
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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I think if it makes you angry it is better than not having any feelings about it at all.
I disagree. I believe that anger is little more than a self-indulgence, when felt by those who are not directly affected by an outrage. That is not to say that apathy is any better. But at least the apathete lacks the hypocrisy demonstrated by those who get angry but fail to do anything about it.


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what does it take? and what can we do , if we want to do anything at all?
As the Green Movement always tells us: Think Global, Act Local.

It is not necessary to become active in politics or send thousands of francs to the Red Cross/Red Crescent, although both of those actions are great if you can get it together.

In most parts of Europe there are organisations which support and help asylum seekers and refugees - and they are always ready to accept offers of help and funding. There are many politically motivated groups for the support of Kurds, Palestinians and others who would also be grateful for your support - though it's always bearing in mind the notion of the 'Useful Idiot' when supporting foreign political organisations.

Or take it even more local: Help at a hostel or kitchen for those without homes; help at a home for old people, or those with disabilities; take part in a playgroup - after all, respect for other human beings begins at birth.

I'm not suggesting that you do all of these things, or any. Merely that, if you feel strongly about an issue, rather than getting angry it is better to do something, than just sit there stewing in rage.

My own interest in the past was the support of asylum seekers and refugees. In Switzerland, I haven't found anything I feel strongly enough about to get involved - plus, I feel a little uneasy about imposing my beliefs on the local population.

But there's plenty to be done by those who wish to do it.
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Old 17.01.2009, 15:31
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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Has anyone here been to the death camps, or the killing fields, or any other place with a traumatic history? How did you feel? How did you feel about the way you felt?
shame. I have been to Lidice in the Czech Republic and spent time in Budapest, and am familiar with where the ghetto there was when much of the Jewish population was rounded up in 1944. I feel the same sense of shame as I do when people use racist or derogatory terms for minorities. For me, that is kind of the point of remembering: to realize how dangerous rhetoric can be.

However, I don't think if someone chooses not to go to Auschwitz given the chance is any less of a human being than someone who does. It's just that this type of remembrance has become a politically correct way of dealing with history, meaning it's almost as though it's supposed to provoke strong feelings in you.
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Old 17.01.2009, 15:55
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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I think if it makes you angry it is better than not having any feelings about it at all.
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I disagree. I believe that anger is little more than a self-indulgence, when felt by those who are not directly affected by an outrage. That is not to say that apathy is any better. But at least the apathete lacks the hypocrisy demonstrated by those who get angry but fail to do anything about it.
Certainly, where anger is just a response without any follow up action it could be self-indulgence. If the anger/disgust/shock etc. prompts someone to do something positive in relation to what they have seen or heard, or in some other way, it is worthwhile.

Sadly, in many cases the response is something along the lines of "That is terrible." "It shouldn't be allowed. "Someone should do something about that"

This may ease our conscience, or may be disaster fatigue and becoming immune to the problems.
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Old 18.01.2009, 11:50
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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It's just that this type of remembrance has become a politically correct way of dealing with history, meaning it's almost as though it's supposed to provoke strong feelings in you.
I think that's very true: I can't speak for the rest of Europe, nor, indeed, the anglosphere, but in England a strong public emotional response is now expected in a number of situations where before it was enough to merely experience and, perhaps, later recount; and where it was acknowledged that outsiders could not be expected to feel the emotions experienced by those directly involved in the tragedy.

A very graphic example of this was the funeral of the Princess of Wales: No matter that very few people in the country had met her; No matter that days before she had been the subject of scurrilous gossip in the tabloid newspapers which had been enthusiastically gobbled up by half the country; No matter that she'd not had a bad life, all considered: It became expected to grieve for her, to make a big show of how terrible you felt, to fall quiet upon sight of her coffin, to say a soft word about those two 'poor boys' - all of which is perfectly fine, I must add - but if you didn't... well, you were just a heartless unfeeling *******!

The same goes for any disaster that takes place in some far flung corner of the world. Quick, says the director, get a shot of that howling woman with the baby in her arms! Quick, say all the bloggers, I must get on the internet and tell the world how terrible I feel!

My ex-fiancee was angry with me after the 2005 bombings in London because I, apparently, 'didn't care'. I don't live in London. I'd called my friends in London and they were fine. My emotional involvement ended there. And why shouldn't it have done? Must I grieve for strangers? Does that not devalue my grieving for those I have loved?

If we must feel emotion towards everyone in the world, then what is the value of our emotions towards those people we actually love, with whom we live, with whom we go away for the weekend, with whom we work?

Should we allow ourselves to be manipulated into feeling emotions for which, considering that mass communications didn't exist for the first couple of million years of our existence (our emotional lives revolving around people living here, now, in our village or tribe), we have no real justification?
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Old 18.01.2009, 11:59
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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My ex-fiancee was angry with me after the 2005 bombings in London because I, apparently, 'didn't care'. I don't live in London. I'd called my friends in London and they were fine. My emotional involvement ended there. And why shouldn't it have done? Must I grieve for strangers? Does that not devalue my grieving for those I have loved?
i was about to burst out with a rendition of "we are the world" for a second...heh.

funny you mention london and the bomb scares. I was a student there 1991-1994 and there were various bombs and many threats, but you never let it affect your daily routine. I never felt threatened or afraid.
But my parents would call me from overseas to say they had read or saw on tele something to do with these threats and they would be so worried for me "don't take the tube!" "watch out for crowded areas!"
it was quite funny really, how the media portrays the news which reaches someone thousands of miles away in minutes and yet locally there is an all together different perspective...
not sure but it has something to do with this thread, in a roundabout way!
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Old 18.01.2009, 12:14
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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it was quite funny really, how the media portrays the news which reaches someone thousands of miles away in minutes and yet locally there is an all together different perspective...
not sure but it has something to do with this thread, in a roundabout way!
It has plenty to do with the thread!

The fact that we are expected to feel this emotion towards strangers is another aspect of the manipulation to which we allow ourselves to be subject by modern mass media.

I don't blame the purveyors of mass media for this. Television companies and newspapers have a job to do, and they are doing it well.

But that doesn't mean that we should go along with their suggestions, any more than we should put on our shoes and go down the kiosk every time we see an advert for Coca-Cola on the televison - or that we should be angry with our neighbour for not wanting to put her shoes on and go down the kiosk too.
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Old 18.01.2009, 12:23
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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It has plenty to do with the thread!

The fact that we are expected to feel this emotion towards strangers is another aspect of the manipulation to which we allow ourselves to be subject by modern mass media.

I don't blame the purveyors of mass media for this. Television companies and newspapers have a job to do, and they are doing it well.

But that doesn't mean that we should go along with their suggestions, any more than we should put on our shoes and go down the kiosk every time we see an advert for Coca-Cola on the televison - or that we should be angry with our neighbour for not wanting to put her shoes on and go down the kiosk too.
i often read of celebrities (or other famous people) who do not read the news or watch any news.
what do you think about that? I am not sure if i could go for long without news updates (i guess in some ways i am sucked into this media obsession too)
perhaps we could do a social experiment on EF to see who can go the longest*w/o any news at all!


*nb. this does not include weather updates because i do need to know which type of shoes to put on!
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Old 18.01.2009, 12:29
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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i often read of celebrities (or other famous people) who do not read the news or watch any news
I rarely read the news, apart from the 20 Minuten paper to practise my German, and never watch television news.

Most of it is irrelevant to my life, and I resent the way that television news, in particular, is so manipulative.

I don't want to learn about the world through carefully edited soundbites and images. I would rather experience it, talk to people, read books and documents, get stuff, wherever possible, from the horse's mouth.

There's a whole thread on it here.
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Old 18.01.2009, 20:33
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

Recently I found myself being drawn to the news stories regarding the Baby P. case in England - the 17 month old boy who died following months of physical abuse from the mother's boyfriend and a lodger in their house.

As a parent of a similarly aged boy, I was saddened and also angered after reading the reports from the court case - I really cannot imagine anybody subjecting a defenceless child to such treatment; but clearly it goes on. I sincerely hope that the little boy gets some kind of justice when the guilty parties are finally sentenced.

However, you realise with such stories that you run the risk of becoming voyeuristic and this was brought home when reading the "reader's comments" on some of the online versions of both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers. Many such comments were written by people who think SMS abbreviations constitute proper English and were mostly trash.

Such mentality is best summed up by the cover photograph of Private Eye just after the death of Princess Di:



Cheers,
Nick
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Old 18.01.2009, 21:28
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

The biggest shame about that is that Private Eye is now 1.50...
I suggested an article to them about something in the papers regarding birds and it was in the next issue, six days later (current issue if you get it).

Back on topic - sometimes the anger can be useful if enough people feel enough to get their government to do something, but it also risks being a knee-jerk, a la the anti-gun campaigns after Dunblane.
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Old 18.01.2009, 21:35
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Re: Disaster porn; or The Joy of Rage

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sometimes the anger can be useful if enough people feel enough to get their government to do something,
That's true - if the government responds, of course - which I can't remember happening very often over the last ten years (or my lifetime, come to think of it...). But is anger ever a good substitute for reasoned debate, careful consideration and cautious action?



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but it also risks being a knee-jerk, a la the anti-gun campaigns after Dunblane.
Exactly! That's why anger, as opposed to indignation, concern or discomfort is such a dangerous emotion. It motivates people to act - but do they act with reason?
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