Sunday, July 27, 2008

On Anger ...

I have been thinking a lot lately about anger. Quite a few people have noticed how common expressions of anger are in the blogosphere. And I have been wondering why some people feel the need so often to express their views splenetically. Politics excites a lot of people to anger, even though their participation in the political process probably consists of just going to a polling place in November and casting one of more than 100 million votes. (Hey, if you're so hot and bothered over it, get involved. Run for office. Work in a campaign. I did once. That was enough.) Then there are the angry exchanges over literary criticism or schools of poetry or types of fiction. What is that all about?

I used to get angry a lot, but I realized something about anger one day that pretty much cured me of it in a snap. What I realized was that I got angry because (a) I was hurt and (b) couldn’t really do anything about it. The anger was an expression of impotence. The one thing I could do about what had hurt me was rant about it. No sooner had I realized that than I asked myself, “Why bother?” It didn’t do any good. And it felt awful. There is nothing pleasant about feeling angry. Of course, there’s nothing pleasant about feeling hurt, either, but if you face up to the discomfort, it fades after a while. Anger just prolongs it, like picking at a scab.

Now, of course, I am talking of actual causes of anger in one’s real life. Why people should feel angry because someone voices an opinion they don’t agree with, or why they would think that expressing their disagreement in a truculent manner would in any way strengthen their position — well, that is beyond me. I can’t imagine feeling hurt over an opinion I disagreed with, so that can’t be a factor. No, I think the rationale — if one may call it such — is to suggest that the opinion being objected to is not merely intellectually incorrect, but morally wrong. By extension, the person holding said opinion is not merely mistaken, but culpably so.

One problem with this is that it is rude. No one has the right to presume that another is acting or speaking in bad faith. That someone else’s view of something makes you mad may tell us a lot about you, but does not by any means constitute an argument.


  1. Aristotle says somewhere that anger is the emotion closest to reason. I wonder what he meant... Certainly to reason yourself out of anger is an enviable achievement, Frank. Personally I'm subject to fits of brief, fast-burning rage which are certainly not amenable to reason - but this is only in the personal sphere, and you're so right in what you say about anger in the blogosphere and in debate generally.

  2. I've found in my experience that anger is a form of displacement. They can't get angry at the thing that is hurting them, so they focus on other targets.

    I noticed the connections most among atheists who express anger at god, or at the church he was brought up in, either of which seems illogical. If you don't believe in God, who are you being mad at? And holding anger against something that happened in the past seems like a waste of today's energy.

    Still, fighting against anger is never-ending. When I approach the street full of bars late Saturday night, on my way home from work, I have to remind myself that running over the drunks, embolded by liquor to step is front of you, is not good for me in the long run, no matter how satisfying it may feel in the short.

  3. Anonymous8:45 PM

    It seems to me, given the complexity of your conundrumming construct, you're on the money and off the hook (since, I don't think I've ever read an angry post of yours, ever, a fact I was considering earlier today). Good on you. Better on us. Best for all concerned.

    Anger's projection, mostly, IMO (or, as Bill Peschel notes, displacement); but, it doesn't work, not for the one doing the deed nor the target on the receiving end of the darts or barbs (and, we know this from thinking, after reading someone's drivelspew, how idiotic they seem, generally speaking).

    If, as I believe, depression is anger turned against the self — and, erm, I think therefore I am depressed, right? — then, it stands to reason that many commentarians blithely vent on blogs rather than internalise negative emotions (so, natch, by extension, fail to scrutinise their own responses to what are, essentially, e-theoria in Cyberia); as well, in the Blogospheria, it is easier to raverant at a screen than at an individual human being.

    (I often think, when I read views expressed splenetically, Would this commentarian have the guts to say this at a dinner party or in someone's salon or parlour or living-room? I try to use that as my own rule of thumb-to-thumbing it when I reply, too.)

    There are elements of shame and humiliation in hurt, Frank, elements and aspects of which I think bear further scrutiny (since, IMO, they're very different balls of worms. One is internal; the other, external; but, both hurt, no two sways about it).

    Nige refers to Aristotle's take on anger; it's germane to this discussion. He did believe anger was necessary because it provided a complement to pleasure; but, it's a little more complicated than a reductionist statement like that makes it. In some instances, anger is justified; it's a question of degree and kind, I guess.

    Anger is an emotion; reason is a faculty; but, together, they're a reckoning force if deployed properly. If I hear of a paedophile damaging a child, I experience distress, hopelessness, and "virtuous" anger, the kind Aristotle would have endorsed. If it leads to a good action and result, is anger a virtue in some instances?

    Are rage and anger the same beast on the continuum, I wonder? When I think back to Fitz of rage, they're invariably of the Nige variety; and, thank the lard, pass quickly, like a compressed explosion of a star going nova, I guess.

    In my experience, we only see the past; additionally, when we go on the anger attack, most often, we always attack ourselves first. I try to remember that; but, I also think that some anger is justified; and, if properly controlled or contained, can effect change for the better.

    If, for example, it motivates one to do something positive, is it still a negative emotion? Would our lives be richer without the experience of anger? I don't advocate its wanton ill-thought no-holds-barred expression; but, I think, in certain egregiosities, it is justified.

    (Otherwise, at our age, Frank, why bother, as you rightly opine?)

    I guess the trick is to properly manage it; and that, IMO, is not only essential (but also sardiculously hilarumpheous; but, there are whole courses in anger management and, man-oh-manna, I wonder how such things are graded . . ..) Rage, outrage, anger, vitriol, miffication, and vituperation all enter the question; each exits the heart of the matter; but, I think anyone who expresses ill-thought-through anger in Cyberia, in any context, says more about themselves than the contents of their so-called intensely passionate expressiveness.

    (G-r-r-r . . . eat post, Mr. Wilson. More encore!!1!)

  4. Hmn. Some of the comments seem to me to be confusing some psychological principles. Certainly anger is often displacement, but it's not always projection.

    Anger is often frustration. It's a very "guy thing" to get pissed off when frustrated, rather than burst into tears. Some of this cultural conditioning, and cultural assumptions about gender identities. (Cultural conditioning is not universal.)

    Fear and anger are so often twined together at root that they're hard to separate. It is possible to separate them, but if you look at anger closely you will almost always find some sort of fear tangled up in it. In my experience, anger can appear by itself when it's altruistic and righteous, and directed at a specific injustice. Social justice activism is powered by outrage, which is a soliton form of anger, as well. But MOST of the time, fear and anger are intertwined.

  5. Anonymous3:25 AM

    A 2005 Carnegie Mellon study concluded that a little bit of anger is good for you. Those who responded to stressful situations with short-term indignation were found to have a sense of control and optimism that those who responded in fear did not.

    I'd say that I'm more optimistic about the world than is perhaps proper. But at the end of the day, this does not necessarily mean I'm an unreasonable man.

  6. I've experienced this somewhat differently. As a kid, someone (usually someone bigger) would do something which upset me. I would think about all the things I would do to get back at them.

    But after some period of steaming about it I would suddenly realize that I would never do any of these things, that the whole exercise was a waste of energy, and at that moment the anger, or whatever it was, would evaporate.

  7. That pretty much describes what happened the day I realized I was angry because I was hurt and couldn't do anything about it.

  8. Anonymous5:18 PM

    Frank, I think you would get a lot from reading Eckhart Tolle.

    It is an almost universal spiritual concept that you have stumbled upon and Tolle does as good a job of any of contextualizing what you have concluded through reason.

  9. Anonymous5:48 PM

    Art, you're right. Transference might be what I meant; and, in my case, was thinking very specifically of interactions between the X-IT and myself recently, my "freshest" experience of anger. I would tell him something that I found hurtful and he would blame me for his behaviour, becoming angry in the process. Enuff about moi, however, and forget him altogethah :).

    Your sense that men and women experience anger, hurt, frustration, et so forthia differently's an ear-opener that makes sense when one thinks upon it. S'True. Makes me wonder if size is everythink, in some instances, too.

  10. Anonymous8:55 PM

    Ok, I hate to be the one to do this, but I'm gonna bring drag this conversation down a bit so that the plebeians can join in...

    The main thing that always annoyed me about Star Wars was this simpleton concept that Anger = Darkside. As cogito mentioned earlier, anger can be justified or unjustified, virtuous or wicked. This was no subtle or nuanced critique on George Lucas' part. He is very clear, at least in words, that any action taken out of anger is a path down the Darkside. There's no room for reason and no talk of justified anger (although clearly this is expressed by some characters, like when Obi-Wan cut Darth Sidious in half....I'm pulling out all the nerd-stops on this post).

    I've always assumed that the fundamental concepts of those movies were reflective of Lucas' core personality and it struck me as a very passive-aggressive tactic to assert that those who experience anger, for whatever reason, are less virtuous than others. If anyone here has seen him in interviews, he seems like a very subdued person who never outwardly expresses his anger, and someone who, in his own mind, uses that trait to justify his own moral superiority over those who do.

    But Aristotle was cool too...

  11. Hello Ben:
    I think you make a good point. Anger is natural and not in itself bad necessarily. Again, I should have been more precise and made it clear that I was talking about inappropriate anger. And I think that anger as a reflexive response to just about everything - or as a ploy to demonstrate one's "passionate authenticity" - is distinctly inappropriate. And I'm glad you brought up passive aggression, because it was my anger in response to passive aggression that got me to realize how futile anger can be.

  12. Anonymous1:51 PM

    Give me all your money now.

  13. Hello ewe:
    If you think that would get me angry, you are wrong. The would make me go cold-blooded. And if Ithought I had a chance of taking you out, I'd take it. If not, I'd give you the money. A guy once came at me with an open switchblade. All I had was my blackthorn walking stick. I said to him - yes, indeed I did! - "Go ahead, make my day." He folded the blade and walked off. You see, anger can get in the way of violence. You have to be prepared to enjoy a fight.

  14. Anonymous10:25 PM

    Heh! Go ahead, make my dinner!

    Ackshurlly, I'm jes' jestin' since there are 13 comments; and, that's my unluckiest number, hands down (or up, in this case). BTW, Ben, you're purty cool yerself; but, I've never seen a George Lucas flick so can't offer up my deux to you.

    But, good for you, Frank. I named my walking stick Wand-a-Rapper. And, yes, I am abso-deffo in the ketchup with KD Kamp, JSYK . . .