North Americans are the wealthiest, most pampered people in human history, and yet so many are angry.
Weirdly, it’s often not the poor and the homeless who are outraged about their plight — they’re merely begging for help, almost timorously, almost ashamed.
I was driving the freeway south from Vancouver, escaping the overheated city with its traffic jams, its bearded, filthy homeless men weeping at the sky, and the elderly women pushing shopping carts filled with their life’s possessions.
There was a jam before the tunnel as three lanes funneled into two. A number of hardcore rush-hour drivers were speeding down the adjacent closed lane and wedging in ahead of the line, slowing us dutiful drivers even more.
When I finally reached the point where the right lane offered no further room to these cheaters, I noticed in my mirror a car zooming down it, past all the traffic, before it stopped alongside, trying to nudge its way into my lane ahead of me.
This didn’t sit well with my classic Canadian sense of fair play. I refused to let him in. Since I was a bumper width ahead, he’d have to hit me to get in the lane. He glared, and I smiled beatifically. The wife was starting to sweat. “Let him in,” she said.
“Nope,” I replied. “He’s cheating. And I’m not going to let a cheater take advantage.”
Traffic sped up after the merge point and we entered the tunnel. On the other side, he suddenly reappeared to my left, having fought his way through the snarl. He gave me the finger, and edged his car into my lane, threatening to force me off the road.
His car was a lot more expensive than ours so I knew he wouldn’t hit us. He continued gesticulating, red-faced.
I gave him another big smile. Sharon was now terrified. We were almost at our exit. He was trapped (unfortunately for him, fortunately for us) and couldn’t cut in front because of the traffic.
At the last minute I checked the mirror, signaled, and veered onto the empty exit ramp. I could see him braking, tempted to try it himself, but he didn’t have a chance of following us since we were now separated by concrete dividers.
He disappeared down the freeway, still waving his arm in a teeth gnashing-rage while we motored towards the ferry terminal to Salt Spring Island, and Sharon threatened to leave me if I ever did that again.
The driver’s anger made me consider the mood of our times. What kind of man would become so enraged because someone wouldn’t let him cheat?
Was his blind entitlement a symptom of something deeper?
Or was he just a pathetic individual?
Lynne Truss, the celebrated linguist, discussed the growing rudeness of our society in her book Talk To The Hand.
The phrase devolved from someone putting their hand in your face and saying, “Talk to the hand because the head ain’t listening,” a phrase used by a famous TV interviewer who believes insulting his guests demonstrates his superiority.
Recently, I witnessed a CBC interview from the ‘60s. It was intelligent, astonishingly deep, and polite. Now you listen to interviews on CTV, GLOBAL, CNN or especially FOX and they are mostly shouting matches in which little intelligence is evident.
The same with talk radio. It’s the era of abuse media.
Once the corporate conglomerates got their stranglehold on the news they cut their research staff, and replaced reporters with arrogant and opinionated commentators to keep viewer’s attention, which might be why print, radio, and television news audiences are declining.
Abuse is boring after a while, so the public has turned to the more liberated internet, but the tentacles of corporate and government control are already gripping it.
What made our culture so rude? Why are the online comments at newspapers’ websites so heavily populated by ignorant louts who believe that insults and name-calling are honest debate.
Then, as I passed my charge-card to the teller at the ferry terminal I recognized what was different about our age. The computer.
Never have I felt so harassed as in the last 10 years. Fifty years ago credit cards were a new phenomena.
Today, they come with 30 pages of small print designed to screw you in every way you could think of, plus a few more.
We are peppered with forms and e-mail and bizarre accounting that can only be calculated by computers.
Governments have discovered “the death of a thousand cuts” with their insidious, punish-the-poor user fees, and assault us with thousands of methods for gouging small amounts of money out of us that eventually turns into big debts.
We sigh, and we sign. Technology is gradually forcing us into spending all our time filtering out its meaningless gibberish, while living more and more alone.
A month ago I lost the manual for our television and I had to pay 30 bucks for a new one because no one could operate it, not even the 12-year-olds.
And why have we taken our 12-year-olds out of the playgrounds and turned them into computer programmers? What a thing to do to a child!
Today the family sits around the TV, at best. At worst, we sit alone in our rooms with our cellphones and chat lines.
Fifty years ago everyone made music together, singing along to someone’s piano or guitar.
Now, our children are blotting out the sound of the world with their iPods.
We’re all locked in our cars in traffic, or drowning in bills and registration forms.
We keep sighing and signing, while being eaten alive by the biggest industry in the modern world: computer-generated bureaucracy. No wonder we’re all flying into rages.
And that’s why I can only smile and feel pity for that enraged man in his car, driving so urgently to nowhere.