I got into a fight with Siri yesterday. I don’t mean our typical exchange, where I ask Siri what seems like a simple question like, how many teaspoons in a cup, and Siri responds with information about weather in Topeka, or the phase of the moon, and then I repeat my request slower and with more precise enunciation and Siri tells me something even more irrelevant, and then I throw some swear words at Siri and call up my search engine and look up what I need myself on the internet.
No, it wasn’t this usual fight. I mean, I started bickering with Siri like Siri was my sibling and we were playing one of those long summer Monopoly games. I mean bickering where I was snarling and not letting go and expecting some kind of resolution.
It started the usual way; I wanted to pick up bagels for a meeting and I knew there was a Bruegger’s nearby so I said, “Address of Brueggers on Nicollet Avenue.” Siri told me to turn off my privacy settings. And I said, “Look. On. The. Internet. Brueggers Address. Nicollet Avenue.” And Siri told me, again to turn off my privacy settings. And I said (looking back, this is where I began to go off the rails): Look, I don’t need to turn off my privacy settings. I don’t need directions. Just GIVE ME THE ADDRESS OF BRUEGGERS ON NICOLLET AVENUE. And, I don’t have to tell you what Siri said back. (Hint: It was about my privacy settings.)
So then I just got furious. SIRI, I said really loudly into my phone’s mic. THEY TALK ABOUT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE BUT YOU ARE REALLY STUPID!!! Siri responded, blandly, “I don’t talk like that.” And I was chastised. By Siri. Because actually, I don’t talk like that either. I work really really hard not to talk like that. It’s part of being a minister. I don’t get to talk like that. (OK, my nearest and dearest could tell you tales, but everyone loses it from time to time…and I really don’t call people names like stupid, even when I’ve lost touch with myself altogether and am saying other ridiculous things…) And then, predictably, Siri called up websites about artificial intelligence.
This whole exchange made me realize how very very angry I am. About this tax bill. About a trillion dollars being given to billionaires and corporations and then repaid with the lives of vulnerable people. If I weren’t a minister I would throw in ten F bombs right here. A %*&((* trillion dollars! If you stack 100 dollar bills, a million dollars will be about 3 ½ feet high. A trillion dollars will be #@* 32,000 MILES high. That is the size of the hole that greedy %**(%$*#s are digging and planning to fill with the bodies of poor and working people, elderly and sick people, disposable people in their eyes and precious in mine.
I’m angry. And it’s holy anger. As feminist ethicist Beverly Harrison wrote, “Anger is not the opposite of love. It is better understood as a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relations to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mode of connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of caring.”
A fight with Siri let me see that this vivid form of caring needs to be respected enough to pay attention to how and when I express it. All over social media I am watching other angry people fight with one another about petty things. I get it, I really do. I want to jump in with some snark myself. And some of the things aren’t petty; it’s just that the points of disagreement do not indicate a need to fight but could, in better times, yield helpful and clarifying conversation.
Harrison goes on, “Where anger rises, there the energy to act is present.” And I see that this is why my anger is spewing out at Siri. I feel powerless to stop the &$##(* Congress and Administration from the evil they are concocting day after day. I have gone to a neighboring Republican’s district (all of my elected folks are good) and told the smarmy aide about how this tax bill will hurt real people. This young white man smiled at me and said smugly, “I sleep like a baby!” I’m watching videos of people having die-ins at the US Capitol and I am proud and happy to see them, but I’m not there. I have this energy but I’m not acting with it in enough ways to keep me steady.
I say this as a cautionary tale, in case you are angry too. Siri can handle it; I’m not worried about Siri. But other relationships, with people with flesh and bones, are much more fragile. I need to use the energy of my anger to act, and not to stay in the same conversations with the same people, picking on each other about tiny differences. I need to share this vivid form of caring with the people who are actually hurting me and attacking the people I love. I need to stay connected to as many people as possible so that our power is greatest when we use our anger to act.