Anger is an addiction. Righteous indignation is a disease. This is how I came to see my own online behavior as I got into comment slapfights and fell for endless streams of rage-inciting clickbait. Rage is a poison in the brain, an infectious one that poisons the air around you, like smoking. Isn’t it about time we all quit?
Imagine a dude bashing himself in the head with a laptop. You ask him why he’s doing that, and he says, “Because people on the other end are idiots!”
You point out, “But you’re the one smacking yourself in the head. If you keep doing that, you’re going to turn yourself into a jibbering idiot.”
He replies, “But I need to smack myself in the head. I keep trying to get information, and other people keep being wrong, so I need to smack myself to get their wrongness out of my head. There’s no other way, so I’m going to keep beating myself until other people stop being wrong.” And he turns his brain to jelly.
Do you see how ridiculous this is? Maybe you do, but you still don’t stop. Fine, we all get like that sometimes. Every one of us has to make a concerted effort to not keep poking at our sores. It’s there. It’s being sore. It’s maddening. And you don’t like it, so you keep poking it, but the only thing you’re accomplishing is making yourself more sore. You rub yourself so raw that even the tiniest grain of sand feels like a hot knife in the wound.
The real idiot on the internet is the person who twists into such paroxysms of rage that he wastes whole days being angry at other people for making him mad. The only way I’ve found to combat this unhealthy tendency is to recognize that they are not the ones making you mad. You are.
I know why people do it. Being mad at other people feels better than being mad at yourself, but it’s not helping. The more you read about injustices that you’re powerless to stop, the more impotent you feel. The more impotent you feel, the less you do anything, and you can write off your failure to do anything as something you can’t change.
I’m here to tell you it’s bullshit. Willpower really is like a muscle, and it can be trained. It takes willpower to stop damaging yourself, and that includes psychic damage. Sometimes you have to let yourself be mad at yourself, and then vow to change your behavior so you have less to be mad at yourself for.
I’m not saying anger never has a place. There’s plenty injustice in this world to be mad about. But it’s up to you to recognize whether that anger is calling you to action or paralyzing you in your seat. When it’s the latter, you need to back off, especially if you find yourself flying off the handle about little shit – stupid shit. Stand up, take a walk, and get some perspective. I’ve had times where I’ve backed off an argument to realize, “Oh crap, I’m the one being the asshole here.” It happens to the best of us. Self-awareness is the first step.
The next step to quitting your anger like a bad drug habit is not just removing yourself from “the enemy,” but also recognizing the people “on your side” who love frothing at the mouth. These people are like fellow alcoholics. You don’t have to stop being friends, but stop drinking from their fount of rage-ohol.
Ask yourself, “Do I really need to join this circle-jerk to make myself feel better?” or “Do I really need to tell this idiot how wrong he is?” How much better would you feel if you actually got something done today instead? Maybe it’s time to take a step back from the internet until you do. I know how hard that is, trust me. I still struggle against the pull of clickbait, especially when I should be writing instead.
I tell you though, winning that struggle is a billion times more satisfying than winning yet another goddamned stupid argument on the internet. Because in the end, you can either say, “I sure showed that moron.” or “Hey, I wrote a book!” Which one of those is the greater victory?by