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Further Consideration: Coronavirus isn’t making us angry — a broken system is

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Whether to wear a mask in public has become a point of contention.

We are an angry bunch of people.

Dealing with our own personal frustrations and the added antagonism of the people to whom we are obligated, through blood or love, to help handle their ire, anger management is a proficiency at which many of us are sharpening our skills during these COVID-19 days — which is arguably better than sharpening our switchblades.

On top of the ill harmony in many of our hearts and homes, we’re also dealing with the slow boil irritation to loose cannon fury of people we don’t even know but are still affected by.

I, for one, have been perfecting the evil eye that I automatically beam out from behind my mask at the bare-faced people who cross my path. I’m not proud.

Granted, there’s a lot to be pissed off about these days. Stinky masks, canceled plans and melt-down level existential crises when we let ourselves think weeks, much less months, into the future.

So many of us feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us by a big old bully pandemic and we are looking for someone to at least blame, if not beat the tar out of.

Violence may seem extreme, but select people are clearly using it as a threat, if not a tool, as they go about their business of fast-food dining, shopping for essentials at big box stores, and assembling on sunny Sunday afternoons. On Mother’s Day in Raleigh, for example, a group of protesters stopped by a Subway sandwich shop where they had to juggle their rocket launchers and shot guns with Cold Cut Combos as they satisfied their appetites for food, if not confrontation.

In many ways it may seem that the culprit of all this displaced anger is the coronavirus and subsequent adjustments in our lives to accommodate the restrictions it imposes upon us. From getting on the nerves of our isolation-mates to worrying about our jobs and how our specific qualifications may fit into the new and unknown world waiting on us at the end of this debacle, we are high-strung people, to say the least.

In April, calls from phones with South Carolina area codes to the federal Disaster Distress Helpline requesting mental help surpassed the numbers registered during 2018’s Hurricane Florence, which forced nearly 500,000 people along the Palmetto State coast to evacuate.

But there’s more at play here than the first pandemic to hit our country in a century.

From our beginnings, Americans have bought into an ideology that, though ostensibly well-intentioned, was built on a foundation of fallacies, the greatest of which is that all Americans are considered equal. Abolitionist Thomas Day offered the greatest criticism of this sentiment in 1776 when he wrote of Thomas Jefferson, “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”

This column would be negligent if I didn’t note that when Day wasn’t criticizing the Declaration of Independence, he was developing a plan for the most efficient method of training the proper wife. So, there’s that.

I would be equally imprudent, however, if I failed to mention that at the same time Jefferson was crossing his fingers behind his back, Adam Smith was fomenting the ideology of capitalism (forms of which pre-date his birth), which would overthrow mercantilism by asserting the power of absolute advantage, leading to unsustainable economic policies that promote an erosion of human rights, the incentivization of imperialism and war, and the loss of political, economic and democratic power for the vast majority of the human population.

And remember that clever phrase about pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, often used by folks who adhere closely to the dogma above to bully and shame us into not asking for help? The first published account of this expression traces back to 1834 when it was facetiously used in recounting the fictional story of an 18th century German, Baron Munchausen, who stretched the truth so widely that in one of his stories he saves himself from drowning in a swamp by pulling himself out by his own hair.

If we believe we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, the joke is on us.

And if capitalism wasn’t rigged enough to make you angry from the get-go, maybe the declaration on capitalism by Pope Francis in Bolivia that, “This system is by now intolerable,” will help you pinpoint from whence some of your free-floating anger came?

Surely reading this sentence is not the first time you’ve realized that the American Dream is a cruel joke.

Does the reality that the rug has been being pulled out from under you in tiny increments since the day you were born, if it was even there at all, help?

We have been played, lied to, promised the moon, promised that any one of us could grow up to be president, could grow up to be more if we only followed the constructs people in power call rules, and we have every right to be angry.

The pandemic isn’t the bully, but it does expose the uncomfortable places we can place some of the blame for the anger furiously bubbling on the surface of our souls.

Cindi Boiter is a writer, editor and arts advocate. She is the founding editor of Jasper magazine and the Fall Lines literary journal and the executive director of The Jasper Project.

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