Squirrel!

Those of you with kids might remember that line from the Pixar movie Up a few years back.  Dug (the dog) has a hard time keeping his train of thought with his unbridled enthusiasm, as well as with his ever-alertness to the possibility of squirrels nearby.  I think Americans have a collective case of Dug-ism (Dug-ness?  Dug-tion?).

Because of the near-ubiquity of high-speed online access everywhere we go – not just on our computers but now our phones and watches and Lord knows what else, we are ever in search of something interesting to distract us from whatever our lives require of us.  Attention spans shrink, concentration becomes harder and harder, the urge to check Facebook for no obvious reason every 30 minutes or so grows.  And because there is no real point to such interruptions, we manufacture or are easily manipulated by attention-grabbing tidbits.  Things that make no sense if we were to stop and think about them for more than 15-seconds.  But since 15-seconds is about as long as we want to spend on anything, these tidbits are just right.

So a lion gets killed in a country most Americans would have difficulty finding on a map, let alone spelling.  Our instant, collective outrage and impotence can be channeled and released in unrealistic rage against the man accused of the crime, against the crime itself, against hunting in general, against white privilege, against any number of amorphous causes.  We slather our Facebook pages with our righteous infantile outrage because we are unable to express our outrage against the things in our life that actually deserve them.  We are bound and gagged with political correctness and the threat of lawsuits or shaming for actually engaging in any real conversation on any real topic of any real importance to any of us.  We live in constant fear of our families and our communities and our workplaces and our coworkers and our government and the media and whomever holds the reigns in these places.

So we must be given outlets.  The building pressure must have release or the inevitable explosion might shake the glorious new world order insisted upon with increasingly coarseness and decreasing gentleness.  The solution is to direct our frustration and angst and fear and anger and all of the other pent up emotions we can’t direct towards more appropriate targets.  Direct all of that safely away.  Towards events in a land that might as well be Mt. Olympus for all the relevance it has to the average American’s world.  Towards events that are meaningless in the larger scope of things.  With no context or background or anything else that might make our carefully calculated outrage purposeful.

Towards what end is our outrage?  We can crush the perpetrator!  Destroy his livelihood!  Send him into hiding, the puny little vermin!  Threaten extradition for an action that may or may not actually have been illegal.  For something that happens all the time in that mythical land of Zimbabwe, wherever that is.  Ignore the perspectives of people who actually have to live with real threat of animals that vie with humans for the privileged spot at the top of the food chain.  Ignore the political and economic and social realities that made  the action possible.  We simply scream when we’re allowed to.  Stamp our atrophied feet as far as our chains will allow.  Shake our fists exactly the way we’re told to shake them.

We feel better afterwards.  We can go back to the confines of our cubicle or the kitchen, our spleens vented, the pressure gauge out of the red zone.  For another 30 minutes or so.  Until the next permissible outrage.  Go back to work until the next squirrel.

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