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Channels of Rage
On the vile and corrosive replacement myth, those who push it and why they do, and what it really replaces.
A bit of business before beginning: I’m considering publishing a book of essays, and I’m running a crowdfunding experiment until the end of November to see if there’s interest enough to do that. If you want the details, click this link. (If you do not want the details, click this link.)
It was a busy but mostly fun couple weeks. I’ll tell you about it sometime maybe.
I’m back, just as I warned.
Where did we leave off? Ah yes! I was talking about appropriate anger. The idea here is that all human beings’ lives carry an immeasurable and indestructible worth, but human societies seem increasingly captured by a lie that insists that human beings must be regularly measured to determine if their life is still deserved. One common yardstick used to measure the value of human life is the profit motive, which cares nothing for the good of society; it cares only for growth. Just as unregulated water seeks the most efficient path to its own level, so unregulated profit seeks the most efficient path to the most profit possible, and will run through society the same way a burst water main on the top floor will run through the walls of a house. The most efficient path to profit happens to involve monetizing basic human need—healthcare and water and shelter—which of course ties profit to the immeasurable value of life, upon which an unregulated profit motive can set whatever price it likes, and does, and thus annihilates human beings by the thousands and millions every year, every month, every week.
And so the great lie—that life must be earned—makes products of our lives. It consumes humans for the benefit of wealth, enforces a false insecurity upon us all, divides us into those who deserve life and those who don’t. In this way, the great lie forms the basis of supremacy—the idea that some people matter and the rest do not—which makes our human systems vulnerable to takeover by the most malicious types of supremacist. For example, the white conservative evangelical Christian Nationalists who are now broadcasting their clear intent to establish a fascist authoritarian rule in my country, the United States.
And I believe the appropriate response to all of this corruption is anger, which I’m defining very specifically as something that is observant, clearly seeing the lie as a lie, and the lie’s corruptions as corrupt; as something that is restorative, seeking not to exchange wrong for wrong, but to exchange great supremacist lies for greater truths about intrinsic human value; and as something that is expectant, which believes that change is not only possible but necessary, and filled with a great conviction that it is the responsibility of all of us to see this restorative change come about.
This appropriate thing I’m calling anger is, I believe, the thing that demolishes supremacist (that is, corrupt and abusive) systems.
So it strikes me that, if you are a person who benefits from supremacist power and hopes to preserve and expand its influence, anger caused by supremacist abuse has to be channeled somewhere unproductive and inappropriate, where it won’t threaten supremacist power.
That’s what I want to talk about today.
Let me tell a few stories about something I’ll call rage.
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This week a young woman took to the airwaves. Her name is Riley Gaines, a onetime college swimmer who once upon a time wound up swimming in competition against a transgender woman named Lia Thomas. Gaines tied with Thomas for fifth in the event, which means that without Thomas’ presence, she would have come in … fourth, I suppose, so I suppose Gaines missed out on all the accolades and prizes that are typically lavished upon fourth-place finishers in athletic competitions1. The loss of these gains got Riley Gaines riled, it seems, and now she goes around and tells her story, making it clear that she believes the existence of trans people represents unacceptable aggression and implied violence against her, suggesting that because of her victimization, trans people probably should not be permitted to exist quite so much. The various outlets who host her, who also want to make the case that trans people shouldn’t exist quite so much, find that Gaines really helps them make that case while letting them look as if they’re just disinterested parties asking questions, so they invite her back again and again, and this arrangement seems to work out well for both parties.
But this week when Gaines took to the air she revealed that she is a freedom fighter for the rights of people who already have rights against the existence of all sorts of people. She suggested that “the majority of people … can acknowledge” that “gay Nutcracker and Black Disabled Santa has gone way too far,” which I guess is a way to say that gay and Black and disabled people simply shouldn’t be present around Christmastime in the same way as, you know, normal people, and as for gay Black disabled people, forget about it. Gaines framed the existence of these types of people, who do exist, as something malicious and sinister and unnatural, that they are pushing on the normal people.
Gaines’ media hit isn’t remarkable in any way, really, but I think it’s a neat way to demonstrate that supremacy believes that it owns the exclusive right to decide to what degree other people exist, and also a neat way to demonstrate that supremacy will always cast the people they’re threatening and victimizing as a threat that is victimizing them, and also a neat way to demonstrate that supremacy never chooses just one target; like any bully, it always seeks to expand the margins of acceptable violence. Anyway, Gaines’ supremacy is very normal and mainstream, and has made her very popular with Republicans and other supremacist groups, who also believe that the existence of different types of people represents an unacceptable threat and implied violence to them, so even though she lost out on all that sweet money that comes with fourth-place finishes, she should be able to go on to make a pretty good living saying cruel things about other people for the entertainment of people who like to hear cruel things said. A lot of people do.
And that makes me think of how, in 2017, Nazis invaded and occupied an American city called Charlottesville, where they chanted “Jews will not replace us.” This is a reference to a vile myth called Replacement Theory, a grotesque lie which insists that the world is run by a cabal of Jewish people, and it forms the foundation for the alternate reality that white supremacy advances, into which American conservatives are increasingly fleeing. Now it just so happens that here in actual reality, Jewish people are not only not running the world, but are actually one of the most traditionally and systematically threatened and marginalized and brutalized groups of human beings to be found. Nazis, like any supremacists, have never been known for their adherence to reality, so their break from it here should perhaps not be surprising, but it really is extraordinary how predictably Nazi ideology can be counted on to posit the most threatened people, who Nazis themselves intend the greatest harm, as the greatest threat to them.
The vile replacement myth insists that this cabal of Jewish people running the world are maliciously replacing white people with people who are not white, which is why it is called Replacement Theory. This myth is vile not only because it is racist, but also because it is murderous, having been used to justify violence and mass murder against Jewish people for centuries. This includes the Shoah, when over six million Jewish people (and millions of others whose existences were deemed to have “gone way too far”) were murdered by other human beings deliberately doing monstrous things. These human beings entered into an aggrieved supremacist spirit, created a mechanized bureaucratic death machine, and then fed it Replacement Theory and other vile supremacist lies in order to make genocide a normal thing to do.
The replacement myth is also used to justify murder against many other types of people not deemed white people, because the vile replacement myth converts the very existence of other people into an existential threat against white people, a threat which justifies any sort of violence white people wish to enact. (“White people” is another myth that is popular with Nazis and other supremacists, but let’s move on for now.)
In 2018 a man went into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered a lot of Jewish people with his guns. This was an example of that modern American tradition, a “gun massacre,” which is a mass murder with a gun. Gun massacres are something that American conservatives believe is every conservative’s constitutional right, and which Republicans and other fascists have been utilizing for some time now as a sort of outsourced ad hoc weapon of civil war, so this horrific gun massacre didn’t change our gun laws any more than any other gun massacre has. The motive of the synagogue shooter was the vile replacement myth. He’d heard it on radio and TV and social media, from the usual folks.
In 2022 a man went into a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and he made the most of his Republican-given right to kill whatever people he thought needed killing as efficiently as gun technology can make it happen. It was a predominantly Black neighborhood. The people he murdered were Black. The man’s motive was the vile replacement myth. He’d heard it on radio and TV and social media, from the usual folks.
And there have been many other mass murders using guns as well, and also mass murders in other ways not involving brain-melted civilians with guns—through policies of police brutality, of imprisonment, of neglect, and so on and so forth.
People who believe the vile replacement myth have a tendency to murder people. And those who promote and publish the vile replacement myth inspire people to murder people, and then cast the victims of the murder as the cause of the murder, all of which is what makes it so vile. And Replacement Theory is very popular these days, in increasingly mainstream places.
Let’s take Elon Musk, since apparently we must. This week Musk—who has become one of the world’s richest people mostly by demolishing things of value, making claims he can’t back up, and not paying his bills—took to his social media platform to reply “you have said the actual truth” to somebody espousing exactly the vile replacement myth. It’s the latest incident in Musk’s ongoing promotion of white supremacist and Nazi ideology, and probably the most unignorable one, or at least it isn’t being ignored by advertisers, who have pulled their ads. Musk may be confused by this, since they didn’t pull their ads after many other horrible things he’s said recently, but he may also be counting on them coming back, as they have after other times he’s said horrible things.
And the replacement myth is being used all over the place right now by leading media figures and influencers on the right, people like Charlie Kirk, people like Tucker Carlson, and many others who have spent their energies and careers targeting gay people and Black people and immigrants and trans people and others for harm and marginalization and exclusion2. I suspect Riley Gaines, who believes that Black disabled gay people are being pushed on us by them, could go all the way and break it out if she wanted to try out some new material, without suffering much blowback from her cruelty-seeking audience.
That’s what’s happening.
So here’s a follow-up question: What the hell is happening??!
I say it’s appropriate anger, being channeled into rage.
Here’s a story that I think gets at the place where anger meets rage.
There was a fellow who not too long ago sang a song attempting to harness some appropriate anger about corruption and abuse in our government. The fellow’s name was Oliver Anthony, and it still is. The name of his song was (and is) “Rich Men North of Richmond,” and it made Anthony a big deal for a couple of weeks.
Some disambiguation is probably in order. “North of Richmond” is where Washington DC is located. DC is my nation’s capital, and it is indeed where mostly rich mostly men do indeed often gather to carve up the civic turkey and give almost all of it to themselves and their already wealthy friends. It’s not the only thing that happens in my nation’s capital, but boy howdy it sure does happen. It’s also where Christian Nationalists and like-minded fascist religious creeps have collected a lot of their power together into a big sweaty ball, in order to control the lives and bodies of everyone else, and it’s where they purchase judges in order to make decisions that make it easier and easier for greedy wealth and fascist Christian religious creeps to consume us and millions of our fellow human beings.
I agree with Anthony that it’s appropriate to be angry at the Rich Men North of Richmond.
On the subject of these Rich Men, Anthony came in hot. Check out verse one:
I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day
Overtime hourse for bullshit pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away
Hot damn, son! And listen to the chorus!
Livin' in the new world
With an old soul
These rich men north of Richmond
Lord knows they all just wanna have total control
Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do
And they don't think you know, but I know that you do
'Cause your dollar ain't shit and it's taxed to no end
'Cause of rich men north of Richmond
Yow! That’s some anger all right3.
A couple weeks after Oliver Anthony put out the song, he found himself downright consterned because as it turns out, many Rich Men North of Richmond absolutely loved his song, and praised it at the first Republican Presidential Debate4 and other right-wing outlets as a proof-text that they should be able to go on doing what they were already doing.
So why did the Rich Men love Anthony’s song?
For a hint, let’s check out Verse 2:
I wish politicians would look out for miners
And not just minors on an island somewhere
Lord, we got folks in the street, ain't got nothin' to eat
And the obese milkin' welfare
Well, God, if you're five-foot-three and you're three-hundred pounds
Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of Fudge Rounds
So now we have Anthony’s diagnosis of the real problem: foreign aid5 and fat people. People who haven’t earned life, taking scant resources from others who have earned life. And other people, Rich Men who have earned life (they are rich, after all), are helping people who don’t deserve it, specifically for the malicious purpose of hurting those who do. You might say they are taking what should be coming to regular folk, and replacing the recipient with somebody whose existence goes a little too far.
In the world of Anthony’s song, you can’t take care of both domestic miners and foreign minors. You can’t have social services for people who are food insecure and also those who are only in danger of falling into food insecurity, or at the very least you have to cut the fat people out until they starve down to skinny. Somebody has to starve in Anthony’s world; the issue is it’s the wrong people starving, because of Rich Men. Corollary: there are right people to starve, and Rich Men should be seeing to it that those people starve instead.
And I could be wrong, but I feel as if “foreigners and fat people” might be a bit of a synecdoche, standing in for other broader categories of undeserving people—people whose existence represents an unacceptable threat, because they are taking the resources from those who are more deserving (one might even say replacing them).
Thus the consternation of Oliver Anthony, a man who can’t understand why the Rich Men he is so angry at found his message so resonant, unable to see that it is because he, like so many others, directed his appropriate anger into inappropriate channels of rage, carved by the same Rich Men he thinks he’s opposing.
I dare hope Anthony will figure out where he went wrong. I see it as a promising sign that he is discomfited by the company he suddenly found himself keeping. People who find themselves in uncomfortable places come to new and deeper understanding all the time, especially if they are near the truth and seeking it. Maybe that will be his journey.
Or maybe he’ll keep trolling through our national budget for inappropriate expenditure, searching for people who haven’t deserved life and shouldn’t get life anymore, working with the system that’s consuming his family and friends, pointing out apt new victims for it to consume. Maybe he’ll learn there is money to be made announcing that certain people’s existence just goes too far. Angry people go that way all the time, too.
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It turns out that the Rich Men North of Richmond are just fine with you hating them, as long as you’re aligned with them on the notion that resources are limited, and that it is a moral calamity if any of the scant resources available go to anybody who might be undeserving. As long as you believe that, you’re still operating inside the great lie, which means you’re still aligned with them no matter how angry you get. You’ve taken your appropriate anger and put it into channels that will never threaten them, and they know that as long as they promise to steal life from people you find undeserving, you’ll probably never notice that they never get around to giving any of it to you. And—knock wood—you might one day become so enraged you get one of those guns that the Rich Men make sure are as easily accessible as possible and go off to solve the problem of other people in ways that will help make other people a bit more frightened and marginalized than they already were, which pretty clearly suits the Rich Men just fine.
Oliver Anthony thought he was singing “Rich Men North of Richmond,” but the Rich Men themselves took a listen and they heard that he was actually singing “Foreigners and Fat People,” and brother, that? That is their jam.
It’s known by many names. Again, I’m calling it rage.
Rage is what happens when anger surrenders to hate.
Like the thing I’m calling anger, rage has observable qualities.
Rage is misdirected. With a bully’s instinct, rage focuses upon the least powerful people, those most left behind and marginalized, those already seen as less deserving, and, on the basis of the pittance of life these marginalized people are still allowed to receive, casts them as undeserving beneficiaries of a vast subterranean conspiracy against more deserving parties. For example, we are now in at least decade five of people believing that the most powerful people in our politics are leftist college students (who are treated with nothing but contempt by both major political parties), and homeless mothers on welfare (whose crime is somehow simultaneously having too many babies and too many abortions). And of course, the vile replacement myth is still passed around in popularized public currency, telling people that the most historically threatened and brutalized people groups are the most powerful and the biggest threats.
Rage is unproductive and unimaginative. It can’t see outside of the rubric of lack into a rubric of plenty. It can’t imagine that there could ever possibly be enough to go around, and so rather than trying to replace a great and corrupt lie with greater truths about intrinsic human worth, it demands that we stay in the lie and manage it through increasingly strict questions of worth. We can’t spend money on schools when our veterans go homeless, but when it’s time to fund veteran programs, we balk, because how can we spend money on veterans when our infrastructure is crumbling? And, when it is time to invest in infrastructure, it’s wait, an infrastructure bill? Who is going to pay for that?
Rage is punitive. It has no answer to abuse but more abuse. It has no answer to violence but violence. It looks at a system that exists to consume people, notes that the system is consuming them, and then demands an even more predatory system, one that consumes somebody else first and worst. Rage’s response to harm is to demand more harm. The only idea it can muster to being punished is to manage punishment differently and more brutally. Its response to a manufactured lack is to demand more lack.
Rage is cowardly. Rage will never threaten abusive and corrupt supremacy, because rage agrees with abuse’s assumptions, and helps an abusive system select its next victims.
Rage accelerates abuse.
Rage makes a manufactured scarcity even more scarce.
Most insidious of all, rage allows those who are abused to participate in the abuse.
Consider again the vile replacement myth: a conspiracy that decides to cast the blame for wealth disparity and corrupted systems of power not on an ideology that seeks wealth accumulation for its own sake, but on the most historically marginalized and brutalized people groups—on Jewish people, and through them as proxies upon brown and Black people, and Muslim people, and immigrants, and eventually fat people, or disabled people, or sick people, or trans people, or gay people, or anybody else who might make a convenient target for rage.
When you come to the vile and antisemitic replacement myth, espoused by elderly supremacists like Donald Trump and by Nazi-sympathizing evangelical Christians like John Hagee and by spit-shined aging members of the Conservative Republican Youth like Tucker Carlson and Charlie Kirk, you have reached the pulsing murderous heart of rage, a centerpiece of all bigotries, a spirit that reacts to a world of abuse by demanding a world of even more abuse, which will allow infinite hurt to come to itself if only it can assure itself that others are being hurt more badly still, which takes a righteous anger and replaces it with a murderous and hateful rage.
But it doesn’t end there. If only it did.
“Rich Men North of Richmond” wasn’t just popular with the Rich Men. Like the vile replacement myth, it was a massive hit.
Channels of rage are popular. They are very popular.
A whole lot of people today hold worldviews that appear to boil down to “that’s why a lot of people had to die today, and a lot more are going to have to die tomorrow.”
Rage suffers abuse and then decides, not that abuse should end, but that the existence of somebody else, who is also already suffering from similar abuse, represents an unacceptable existential threat, one that deserves violence.
And then it defends its violence as not only necessary but good, casting those who imagine some response other than violence as hateful and dangerous.
What do we do about it? It’s hard to know. Some days it seems overwhelming, I admit. The desire for rage is so pervasive, it can be smothering. The rhetorical devices employed in service of rage are insidious and refractory and confusing, a funhouse mirror maze of hypocrisies and misdirection and lies.
Here’s what I’ve got:
First, learn to recognize the difference between anger and rage.
Then, enter the anger. Refuse to enter the rage.
That’s nice and pithy, but it sort of leaves the next question wide open:
I have an idea or two, but I’ve gone on long enough.
See you next couple of times.
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A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and is co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. He got arrested at the Mardi Gras for jumpin’ on the float.
Correction 1. It has been pointed out since initial publication that Gaines’ finish would have been 5th place regardless of the tie, so her damages appear to be confined to having to wait for her co-5th place trophy to be mailed to her. I’ll take people’s word for it; I believe this might enforce the point being made … but hey maybe 5th place rewards are far greater than I’d imagined.
Interestingly enough they’re doing it in the name of combating racism and antisemitism. We’ll get to that next time.
Though you might have already started to see the cracks in the foundation, because the truth about taxes and the dollar is this: the dollar is taxed at historical lows, and of course taxes can be put to the public good instead of the war machine and the militarized police state if we decide that’s what taxes should be put to, so somebody who is engaged in an observant anger might wonder why taxes are such a key part of Anthony’s diagnosis rather than decades of flat wage growth and the strangulation of the public commons by deregulated privatization. But read on …
In case you didn’t know, the debates are a pageant in which a bunch of people who are pretending that they are seeking the nomination of the Republican Party all get together to try to establish themselves as even more hateful and ignorant and sociopathic and fascist than the person who actually already has the nomination of the Republican Party all buttoned up—Donald Trump, a man who is the perfected embodiment of all of those unlovely qualities but also benefits from the fact that he is currently facing over 90 serious criminal charges related to national security and racketeering and sedition, and the fact that he already tried to end democratic rule in order to establish a christofascist ethno-state, and the fact that he has taken meetings with literal Nazis like Nick Fuentes, and replicated Hitler’s talking points about rounding up different types of humans he considers vermin and exterminating them. All of this makes him far more popular with voters who want that sort of thing than people who are just offering potentially empty promises to become fascist dictators. Trump’s got cred, in other words. The people who are pretending to run for president want cred, too, but Trump isn’t giving them any of his, so in their first debate they tried to draft off of the cred of Oliver Anthony—who we’ll see is a regular guy brave enough to stand up and announce that the real problem wasn’t that the Rich Men weren’t helping people, but that that the Rich Men were helping the wrong people.
Correction 2: it has been pointed out post-publication that Anthony was probably referring to Jeffery Epstein’s island, which unlike my other error actually probably does hurt the point I’m making, or at least it fucks up my “Foreign Aid and Fat People” line, which is a shame because it was a banger in my humble opinion. It also seems to hurt the point he’s making, since I don’t see any Rich Men North of Richmond caring much about either miners or minors, but either way I would say that bringing consequences to powerful abusers and assistance to the children and others they abuse on one hand, and taking care of American workers on the other, is not an either/or proposition, and positing it as one benefits those same abusers.