Much like cocaine or methamphetamine, anger provides a dopamine rush that feels terrific and distracts us from petty anxieties or persistent ennui. It’s also a good way to bond with your fellow partisans. So readers cruise both regular and social media looking for reasons to get angry. I’m afraid we oblige them to an unhealthy degree.
In Mesa, Ariz., for a Trump rally earlier this month, I was surrounded by a crowd that booed and jeered the media on Trump’s cue — then turned around and pleasantly did its best to help me get back into the reporters’ pen, through a packed scrum with barely room to breathe. The same people who had been catcalling the liars in the “fake news” just moments before commiserated over the crowd and heat and urged their neighbors to let me through.
We’re accustomed to the idea that people often fail to live up to their ideals in their personal lives — talking a good game about antiracism while angling to keep their kids in majority-White schools. But the same can be true of our less lovely emotions. In abstract, we might be angry or fearful, while in particular being friendly and decent to the person in front of us.
So my most optimistic scenario is that remote work will help bring us back together, by reversing some of the economic forces that have been pulling us apart, sorting us by education and politics into the booming coastal megacities and the places that feel they’ve been left behind — or worry they soon will be. Maybe when we’re standing next to each other, we’ll be surprised to find that we get along just fine.