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Jon Stewart and anger management

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Anger is inescapable in life. But a utilitarian prefers not to dwell on it. Utilitarians seek happiness, and angry people are generally unhappy. Often, anger is how unhappiness spreads — an unhappy person seeks a scapegoat for his/her unhappiness and then takes it out on someone else. As Marc Maron once said, it all somehow ends up in the Middle East.

Cable “news” and the Internet conduct anger as efficiently as copper wire conducts electricity. Lies and vitriol spread quickly, and it’s easy to forget that a plurality of people in this country ignore all of it.

Utilitarians, though, sometimes have to keep an eye on such things. We can’t completely ignore our role as watchdogs in a democracy. On a personal level, ignorance may be bliss; on a macro level, ignorance breeds hostility and erodes happiness.

This is where The Daily Show comes in handy. Jon Stewart and his staff effectively hold up society’s hostility and hysteria for the ridicule it deserves. We may get a little worked up over the latest howler from a politician or “news” network, but it’s healthier to laugh about it. The Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear should give us some healthy amusement — unless you’re a media pundit trying to ascertain its impact on the elections.

The best response, if you find some of your work targeted, is to laugh along with him. When Stewart caught Keith Olbermann going overboard, Olbermann fessed up and apologized with good humor. I don’t watch Olbermann, so I can’t vouch for any impact his epiphany had on his future work, but I’d have to think he at least stopped to think about it.

Stewart’s humor is the least mean-spirited response someone like Glenn Beck could possibly deserve. Stewart encourages us to see the humor, helping us take Beck’s anger-mongering less seriously and providing consolation that we can always find others who aren’t intent on yelling, screaming and manipulating our way through life.

And when a Fox anchor asks whether NPR is a “jihadist” organization, what other response would you rather have?

Maybe we’re laughing to keep from crying. But we’re also laughing to keep from lashing out. Either way, Stewart is a utilitarian’s best friend.

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