Have you ever thought how pleasant life would be if there were no complaints? Sometimes it seems that is the main topic of conversation. The economy, the political paralysis, taxes, climate change, the decaying infrastructure, astronomically expensive health care, violence, foreign policy, illegal immigration . . . the list is endless. If we didn’t have things about which to complain maybe we could find time for meaningful conversation and improved personal relationships.
Complaints do have an important function: they get things changed . . . on rare occasions. The old saying “the squeaking wheel gets the grease” has some validity. More often than not, the items on the complaint list persist and there are no simple fixes for any of them. If such was available, then remedies would have been applied long ago.
When nothing happens after pervasive complaining, another set of emotions is waiting in the wings: apathy. Rather than continue the useless griping, we tend to give up. It’s hopeless; it will never be different; just get used to it. These are all the mantra of the monotonous problems. The fruits of apathy can be bitter. Rarely does meaningful change take place when no one really cares anymore. Sooner, rather than later, dissatisfaction edges apathy to the sidelines. That may be a good thing because, if it gains enough momentum, then things will change.
That’s when danger can become coupled to dissatisfaction. Ideas that may have merit tend to polarize the population, and seeds of discontent can rapidly blossom into surprisingly alarming activity.
Here’s an example: the vast majority of citizens feel something must be done about handgun violence, but nothing is happening because of the second amendment concerns. The political stranglehold the NRA has on Congress negates any meaningful change and the problem becomes even more polarized and a thousand people are killed each month by handguns. If the problem was with seat belts can you imagine the sweeping recalls? Of course there are some who still insist that wearing any seat belt is a violation of their first amendment rights.
Complaints are important; dissatisfaction can lead to action, but sometimes the results are quite different from the expected. Take a look at Brexit: a slight majority of voters in the UK voted to leave the European Union. The “leavers” and the “remainers” are quite polarized, but in less than a week many of the former realized they had no idea what the consequences were. Even Boris Johnson, a great proponent of Brexit and the presumed next Prime Minister, bailed out, as did David Cameron, the incumbent. Boris “wasn’t up to it,” and the PM, having announced previously he wasn’t a quitter, decided to jump ship and let someone else sort out the messy mechanics of leaving the EU.
In this country, very few paid any attention to the referendum until just before the vote. The nearly 1,000 point fall in the stock market with similar declines worldwide caught every one’s attention. The situation is extraordinarily complex and few are the economists who can state with certainty what the outcome will be, even in the short term, to say nothing of the not too distant future.
George Will, with typical certitude, takes the view the remainers are truly unrighteous as well as ignorant. All this is an example of how complaints led to apathy, followed by dissatisfaction, and dangerous activity: the harbinger of unanticipated and possibly cataclysmic change.
We are on the cusp of an equally disturbing referendum. The level of citizenry complaints has led to major dissatisfaction, which is being dangerously fueled by furious rhetoric, thanks to egos gone berserk.
One can only hope and (for those who seem to believe in such) pray that we will not let these campaigns cascade into a calamity that will make Brexit look like a stroll by Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon.