It’s OK To Be Angry. How Else Will We Change the World?

Yves here. I am a big believer in anger. It’s been disconcerting, if revealing, to see the degree to which even fairly mild forms of conflict are increasingly treated as deviant behavior. One staple is the small city public meeting where a citizen gets up to complain about something in public comments. Even if his tone remains measured, straight talk is often depicted by the chair as angry or disrespectful….as if any criticism is out of line and public officials were superior to their constituents.

In other words, the prohibitions against anger have increased as inequality and class disparities have risen. Only those in a superior or equal position are allowed to be angry, but even then, they risk a hostile response from their uncouth underlings…some of whom may be ticking time bombs thanks to oppressive work environments or other societal stressors.

In addition, I am told that young people have been brought up to be conflict averse. Some of this is the weird new normal of being made responsible for other people’s feelings. My friends in therapy used to tell me that not taking on the burden of the emotional reactions of others was a sign of good boundaries….what happened to that? Now the fad of policing “microagressions” requires treating everyone around you as if they are fragile and neurotic. The Japanese can pull this off because they have a vague language and regard talking much as rude. But chatty, extroverted Americans?

It has hit the point that friends my age who work with college debaters have noticed that when the engage with other people their age and have what they regard as normal give-and-take around hot topics of the day, the students are clearly uncomfortable with what they see as too much conflict.

Another possible side effect of the increased US prohibitions against anger is our high level of depression. While not all depression is unexpressed anger channeled internally, some is. And our level of anti-depressant use confirms we are a mighty depressed population.

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

I wrote this on Twitter yesterday:

I thought there was some risk in saying this. The anti-angry brigade is everywhere right now.

I am often told that it is now unacceptable to be angry within work environments. Those who might be upset by anger are always right according to those who say this – even when they are not. As a result bullies are actively enabled and get away with whatever they want, because anger is the natural reaction to being abused.

And anger is also unacceptable in politics, apparently. This has been one of the reactions to the death of Sir David Amess. Apparently, we are meant to be nicer to politicians, even when they have a consistent voting pattern of seeking to undermine the wellbeing of those who are dependent on the state. However nice Sir David was wrong I can still be angry about his voting record.

We can be angry when we see something that is wrong. We should be. And we should show it. All that we must not be is two things. The first is violent, of course. And the second is to think that the person with whom we are angry is inherently evil, because I do not believe that simply because thinking in that way suggests that there is no power to argument, and there is. It is my belief that a person can be persuaded to change their mind. Otherwise, why do I spend so much time trying to persuade people that they are wrong and that there are better options?

I spent some time talking to an old friend yesterday who wondered where I get the ideas from to write this blog each morning. The answer is simple. I wake up every day angry that we still face a world full of fear when I believe that fear is wholly unnecessary. Whether the fear is of hunger, disease, or the right to worship, or to be the person someone feels that they are, it is necessary. We can do better on all such issues, and more. Why shouldn’t we be angry that we aren’t? That is what motivates me every morning. And if that makes me an angry person, so be it. What else changes the world?

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  1. Questa Nota

    Anger is in some ways like water in a hydraulic system. If you don’t provide for some overflow tank or pressure relief valve then leaks, bursts and floods are bound to happen. Those anger happenings can manifest as anxiety or various other symptoms, through acting out in numerous ways including a few vices, or in eventual system shutdown. Biology, especially of the human kind, can’t be ignored for long.

    1. Samuel Conner

      There’s an alternative to “hydraulic rupture”, which is arguably even worse: you can stop caring. I imagine the elites would like that, too.

      1. Oh

        I think that’s the problem with the people in our country. They’ve stopped caring. They throw their hands up and say “I can’t change things”. The crooked politicians love that and therefore do not keep their promises.

        1. flora

          “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
          – Milan Kundera

    2. Sound of the Suburbs

      Democracy is supposed to be the pressure relief valve.
      Before that things just exploded in revolutions.

      They seem to have forgotten the purpose of democracy, which was never to give people what they really want, but to give them enough to keep them passive.

    3. Daniel LaRusso

      nothing good comes from anger. It is a poison ask HHDL

      It’s common for people to think it is what “drives” them when they see injustice. This is compeletely wrong.

  2. BeliTsari

    There’s a famous sequence in The Maltese Falcon, where Sam pretends to get angry, for effect. He’s aware that he’s shaking afterwards, which is one of very few cutaways. My coworkers ALL referred to intentionally feigning amyglada triggering exasperation as, “pulling a Sam Spade?” You’re not supposed to laugh, while still in the mark’s presence. Incredible, how offen this works, nowadays?

  3. Eclair

    ” I wake up every day angry that we still face a world full of fear when I believe that fear is wholly unnecessary.”

    Yves, I am so thankful for your anger, as well as for the manner in which you chose to express it. We need more angry people, lots more, and as Questa Nota remarks, we need more effective channels to make use of the enormous forces generated by that collective anger. Gotta stop kicking cats, belittling our kids and employees, and being rude to flight attendants and cashiers.

    1. Carla

      @Eclair — actually, those were the words of Richard Murphy, author of the post. Yves’ comments precede the text.

      1. Eclair

        Whoops, trying to read too much too fast! Thanks, Carla.

        And, thank you, Richard Murphy. But this does not negate my ‘thanks’ to Yves, who makes the words of so many available to us.

    2. lance ringquist

      we have been ‘WAY’ to nice to the politicians that have wrought this onto us. why be nice and polite to handmaidens to the fascists.

      if you want to de-radicalize your people away from demagogues, the politicians who did this to us, must be exposed and demonized for what they did to us.

      many of these cretins are still alive and need to be exposed to the sunlight, to drive them back under their rocks on a trail of slime.

      civil society is speaking out again: Robert Scheer, from nafta to the repeal of glass-steagle, bill clintons Wall Street Corruption Runs Deeper Than You Can Fathom

      we simply cannot recover till bill clintons disastrous polices have been reversed.

      “bill clinton made swindling, fraud, manipulation and theft legal, and we cannot recover till his polices have been reversed,

      Scheer: Yeah, and we have to think about that Title III of a bill that Bill Clinton signed into law that said, “No regulatory agency, and no existing law will govern and control the marketing of these collateralized debt obligations, these mortgage-backed securities,” which ended up being one of the great Ponzi schemes and scams of world economic history, and if the Mafia had done it, they’d all be thrown in jail and never allowed out for even a walk in the yard.

  4. flora

    Thanks for this post. There’s a lot for Main Street to be angry about. The powerful tut-tutting the financially and economically mistreated as if the mistreated are people who don’t know how to behave sounds like an abusive relationship, to me.

    This is the latest example of what I think is a bad school policy blowing up in the board’s face, with angry parents at a board meeting, and the board acting like the parents have no right to be angry, instead of agreeing to at least reassess the policy. We’ll see how well that works out.

    The old “Silence, Whippersnapper! I, the Great and Powerful Oz, have spoken!” didn’t work out too well in the Emerald City. In fact, it was Dorothy finally getting angry with the old humbug that got good results. /;)

    1. Aumua

      I’m angry, but not about the things those people are: critical race theory and mask mandates? Nah, and their anger isn’t really genuine either. They are being deliberately goaded into making scenes at these meetings. I guess there is a difference to be made between real anger and outrage culture. I’m personally more angry at the ones propagating the outrage, but I’m even more likely to despair at the hopelessness of any truth ever coming to light in such an environment as we have today in this country.

  5. The Rev Kev

    It’s OK to be angry as it is a great motivator to get things done. And the thing is that those opposing you may get angry too but that is OK because you can still negotiate a settlement with them. The trouble is when anger is ignored and those people are side-lined with their anger being regarded as not justified and thus being capable of being ignored. But when that happens, that anger then moves over into the territory of revenge and you can’t negotiate with revenge.

    Two examples of what I mean. At the end of the American revolution there was a lot of anger between the English and the Americans but they still negotiated an agreement to wind down the war. Sure, it got chaotic but it still worked out. In the French revolution, the anger of the people had shifted into revenge after being pushed to the brink leading to a massacre of their opponents. They were pushed too far.

    1. lance ringquist

      once you radicalize your people, its hard to get them back. the upper midwest for the most part, was democratic till nafta billy clinton came along.

      and with the poor performance of nafta joe biden, which was predicted, the upper midwest might be lost for generations to come.

  6. Joe Well

    This isn’t just the PMC’ing of the US? Wasn’t the suppression of displays of emotion always an upper middle class value?

    1. CloverBee

      Yes! The upper middle class prizes social grace and polite interactions over everything else. You can say the nastiest, most spiteful things to someone, as long as you do it politely. When the person on the receiving end gets angry, they are the low-class trash. Everyone is comfortable as long as everyone is polite!

      The only acceptable expressions of anger are 1) at your “evil” political opponents or 2) professional sporting events.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      Pretty much. Every time someone voluntarily leaves my place of work we’re regaled with a goodbye email from a manager telling how the person always had a smile on their face and never complained about anything and was so great to work with because of that.

      Makes it really hard to feel comfortable about expressing any discontent with bad management decisions, despite the fact we’re also told we are fee to be are true selves at work and can always contact mgmt. with problems. HR liberalsim at its finest. Pretty sure very few non-managers actually believe it.

  7. Michael Fiorillo

    Yes, too many on the liberal/left expect us to challenge, if not replace, the most powerful Overclass in human history without expressing the anger that is a primary motivation for doing so. It’s part of the moral vanity that is its hallmark.

    I first encountered this mindset in the antediluvian mists of 2014, while active in an opposition caucus of the UFT (NYC teachers), which literally called itself the Social Justice caucus of the union (big mistake number one). During a debate and vote over tactics that became heated (partially because members of the International Socialist Organization brought in ringers for the vote, which was known but unproven at the time), a young teacher shut down debate because she felt “unsafe.” Her reason? Someone had used the word “bullshit” to describe her argument. Yesiree, we’re going to expropriate the expropriators, but we can’t say … that word.

    The group later endured a major split, which fundamentally broke down along the lines of its identity: was it a recruiting pool for cadre (as the ISO saw it) and “social justice activists,” or was it a trade union organization dedicated to improving the work lives of its members (whatever their politics), repulsing the charter school/privatization agenda, and reviving a sclerotic and undemocratic union? When the caucus attracted some “right-wing” members (i.e. white working class native New Yorkers distant from the typical Left pedigree and vocabulary), I took it as an exciting thing that suggested an ability to reach the rank and file; the other faction saw it as a threat, and responded with literal membership purges.

    Two other points: while this caucus was almost entirely white, the Idenitarian faction that insisted on All Antiracism, All The Time, was 100% so; the small number of non-white members were all on the “trade unionist” side of issues. Oh, and among those Identitarians who waged what was a very needless, destructive and unscrupulous factional struggle, virtually none of them stayed in the classroom. They all went on to “better things.” You may take from that what you will.

    1. Keith Newman

      @Michael F.
      Thanks. Very interesting account. I wonder how unions are dealing with the kind of sabotage you describe by those who want purity to some standard they have established above actually improving people’s working conditions. A decade ago and more I was involved in keeping matters focused on class issues in a union context but I believe it may be more difficult to do today.

      1. Michael Fiorillo


        I’m sure that political dynamics, or at least some of the players, are somewhat different now: ISO dissolved as the result of a leadership sexual assault coverup, and DSA has risen to prominence. Actually, many of the ISOers I knew are now on the local Labor Committee of DSA. Smart people and hard workers, but totally unscrupulous…

        Anyway, the players may have changed somewhat, but I’m sure the “safe spaces” (when was the class war ever safe?) and Racializing Everything mentality still holds too much sway.

  8. sporble

    Perhaps showing anger is another thing on the list of “unwoke behaviors” – and those who show it are then labelled unwoke, thus losing their relevance and becoming ignorable. I’m reminded of the NY Post article about the man who was horribly shamed and abused for speaking up for his 15yo daughter, who was (allegedly? truly?) raped at her school.

    Then again, if the anger is levelled in certain ways, maybe it becomes acceptable. According to the MSM, anger towards Trump seems to be righteous.

    Caveat: I’ve been living in Berlin for 25 yrs, so my views should perhaps be taken with an entire shaker of “Salz”.

      1. Keith Newman

        @Lambert at 11:43
        Indeed. I remember getting quite annoyed and beginning to raise my voice a bit during a meeting with a vice-principal in my son’s school after he had been obviously unjustly and stupidly accused of a minor transgression of a rule. It was as though I had begun shouting obscenities. Quite remarkable really. I still remember it clearly 20 years later.

      2. JBird4049

        Can’t be angry, can’t be sad, can’t be anything, but a polite, happy smiling, a88 kisser, just like in retail, or else you get fired.

  9. lordkoos

    I follow quite a few young socialist types on twitter, and they seem to have no problem expressing anger, but otherwise I am not around a lot of people in their 20s. There seems to be a fair amount of rage expressed by people on the political right (or perhaps that’s just an impression created by the media), but I think more liberal types feel it’s uncouth to show anger. WASP-y northern European culture traditionally frowns on expressing strong feelings of any kind and confrontation is avoided.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield

      About that reticence to display feelings, this post reminded me of the ‘70s classic, football star Rosey Grier’s It’s All Right to Cry.”

      A real time capsule this. I do miss the 70s!

      Context: Marlo Thomas produced Free to Be…You and Me, a children’s entertainment protect, with a book and songs distributed on an LP and I believe there was later an ABC special. Lots of big names were involved, including Alan Alda, Harry Belafonte, Jack Cassidy, Carrol Channing, Roberta Flack, Grier, Michael Jackson, Shirley Jones, Diana Ross, and Cicely Tyson. It was the vehicle through which many American kids first learned about (or developed their understanding of) feminism and gender equality.

      But this Grier performance is the one I most remember.

  10. GlassHammer

    “I am often told that it is now unacceptable to be angry within work environments.”

    From what I can tell it isn’t unacceptable to display anger but it is unacceptable to “be critical” of work and co-workers now.

    As a result anger can be sent outward (blame regulations, suppliers, customers, other teams, etc…) but not inwards (not at your team, your process, your company, etc…).

    Defusing anger outward also pushes the criticism outward and makes it unlikely that anything can be challenged and ultimately changed.

    The upside is you get a very set/stable environment the downside is that the inability to make frequent minor changes from criticizing something means a more major and disruptive change occurs later on with a deterioration of the underlying processes. (Basically people don’t hold their anger till proved right because it’s too mentally and physically exhausting but…. they will stop giving their best effort on most things resulting in most things being more broken than before.)

    1. flora

      This is an important point: the PMC class is happy to recognize and validate anger… as long as they get to direct its focus and expression, regardless of its real source. If they can’t direct the anger, why then, it’s bad. / ;)

  11. Anarcissie

    I am surprised to learn that we don’t have enough anger about. A few days ago I inadvertently displayed a video of Rachel Maddow for about ten seconds, and I thought it was one of the most hate-filled verbal exhibitions of rage I had ever seen, ranking with some of the violent rhetorical flights of a certain mid-century European gentleman whose name I won’t mention, since you can guess who I mean. Apparently she’s quite popular, harking back to the hate radio ranters of yesteryear’s Right. The social media are awash with mindless fury. The configuration of the state bespeaks — and indeed, enacts — the desire to kill anyone, anywhere, any time they get in the way. Phooey. (My contribution.)

    1. flora

      RM’s faux fury is always in support of the official liberal narrative. That’s approved of, even encouraged. See cancel culture. / ;)

    2. marym

      So much of the anger from PMC liberals and petit bourgeois conservatives is directed at the working class. When it is directed at the elites it’s those on those they see as the “other” side, not their own; and centered on identity grievances, not universal issues of economic or social justice.

  12. nothing but the truth

    There is a lot of anger out there. Anger is not good for mental health.

    My understanding the great resignation is that it is a mass scale mental health crisis.

    The shutdown gave people a moment to breathe and they realized how stressed out they had been. They don’t want to go back to the same thing. It seems they are willing to accept a lower living standard to get to a lower level of stress.

  13. Adam1

    I think being angry because you’re being financially screwed, and you know you’re being royally screwed, but you just can’t produce a specific culprit or specific date of being screwed means you’re a dimwit conspiracy theorist that and if there is more than one of you in your neighborhood then we’ve got a problem with anger in the community. It’s only OK to be angry if you have a bad guy and a victim. Bad financial outcomes for an individual or a community is just the market doing it’s divine work – nothing to be angry about unless you have mental issues. (sarcasm if it’s not clear)

  14. Arizona Slim

    Yves is on to something.

    I owe my mental and physical health to the fact that I get angry and then I write about it. There are days when I can write 10 pages of bile without pausing to take a break. Other days? Well, I can vent my frustrations in just a page or two.

    Want to partake in this type of therapy? All you need is a good pile of scratch paper.

    Heck, I even open the junk mail, another annoyance, just to see if some of those sheets have blank backs. If they do, they get added to the scratch paper stash.

  15. notabanker

    EQ – Emotional Intelligence, aka, how sociopathy can be a learned trait. Popular consultant gig for HR Corporates, must have training for those climbing the ladder.

    1. Eustachedesaintpierre

      LOL – about 17 years ago my wife got me a book on EI in a desperate attempt to stop me going toe to toe with my then boss who after the first instance was always backed up by his flunkeys. I read it & put it into action which lasted all of a couple of days or so prior to me telling him to stick his job as the Irish say up his hole. It initially worked out OK as due to him not having a replacement he was forced to use me on a freelance basis, until the GFC when the giftware market collapsed when He didn’t renew my yearly contract which I suppose afforded him much pleasure, but non, je ne regrette rein.

      Perhaps connected to the above I found this the other day on research into large scale social change, of which the tipping point was I believe measured at something around 40% – this reckons on only 25 %.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        That study is interesting – previously I’ve seen lower estimates, something like 20-22% of a population needs to refuse to co-operate to generate major change. I think this is in the context of national movements that have brought down corrupt or authoritarian governments.

        Its also of course the paradoxical reason why sometimes mass movements have brought down autocrats, which has led to democratic elections which the former autocrats have handily won.

  16. jr

    Here is an anecdote regarding anger or at least firmness playing out before my eyes and ears. My fashion-industry partner is in a meeting with her boss and subordinate. One of the topics is another team member who is driving everyone nuts with her passive/aggressive power plays. This sociopath fobs off work onto other teams while her own team has grown in number for reasons no one can explain, amongst other indignities. This has been going on for years.

    Nobody with power will just tell her to shut up and sit down. It’s always a dance, always psychological tip-toeing. Now they are shuffling around people for the zillionth time because no one wants to work with this jerk.

    It’s not that the boss is a pushover, she most certainly is not that. I’ve seen this before in the fashion world with other bosses and other jerks. It’s a PMC social norms thing, as the commenter above noted you can direct anger outwards but when it’s an in-group thing everyone has to appear perfectly reasoned and composed at all costs. The upshot is that a skilled manipulator like the jerk can get away with wasting time, resources, and emotional energy for years.

  17. David

    Sorry, but I have to disagree. Mr Murphy isn’t really talking about anger, he’s talking about feeling negative thoughts and expressing strong opinions, which is quite different. Far from discouraging expressions of anger, our society revels in them: any form of angry discourse is acceptable, and even encouraged, against people who won’t get vaccinated, people who voted for Brexit or Trump, and any leader of a foreign country that western governments dislike. Nobody has ever been fired for expressing homicidal anger against Assad, but people risk being fired for not being angry enough about discrimination against transexuals.

    Anger is the most useless and destructive of emotions, and it leads to hatred and violence in its turn. For everyone like Mr Murphy who is angry at the political views of the late David Amess MP, or for that matter other people angry at other politicians, there are thousands who are angry enough to issue death threats against MPs and some who seem prepared to carry them out. Here in France, whenever there’s a report about ill-treatment of Palestinians in Israel, some people are sufficiently angry that they go to and desecrate Jewish tombs. And some people are even angrier, Amedy Coulibably, the first of the 2015-16 terrorists, was on his way to shoot up a Jewish school when he was stooped by an unarmed police-woman whom he shot dead. Teachers in France are frequently subject to threats of violence from parents of immigrant families who are angry about their views on subjects like evolution or the rights of women. And it’s no good saying “that’s not my kind of anger” because there is only one kind. And all anger is really the product of a feeling of helplessness: you can’t directly reach your target so you take it out on others. The strong take it out on the weak, the weak take it out on the weaker, the weaker find what targets they can. Parents take out their anger on children, men (mostly) take their anger out on women.

    Consider what this means in everyday life. You hear a politician on the radio saying something that makes you furious. On your way to work you are muttering to yourself all the time, replaying his or her words, imagining what you would say in reply. If you are on a train, you’re frantically searching the internet to see how others have reacted. At work you tackle all your co-workers on the subject “did you hear …?” and probably get into a few violent arguments. You waste time looking at Twitter and making angry comments on news sites. You get home and snap at your spouse and children. You go to bed stressed and full of anger hormones, and you have achieved … what?

    There is an alternative: thousands of years of wisdom literature in every tradition in the world say the same thing. Distinguish between what you can and can’t change, and act only on the second. Rather than join in the latest angry Twitter pile-in on some unfortunate minor celebrity who is alleged to have used slightly the wrong word, go and read, oh I don’t know, Marcus Aurelius or something. Keep your energy for things you can actually influence.

    1. martell

      I was wondering when someone would bring up the Stoics, who are well known for viewing some emotions, such as anger, as destructive. What is less well known is that they favored other emotions, the eupatheia. Joy, for instance, was one of the emotions they favored, arguing that it necessarily figured in a life well lived. Thus, the widespread view that Stoicism recommends being unemotional is in fact a widespread misconception.

      As for the Stoic case against anger, it’s rooted in their view that human emotions are intelligent or even, in a sense, rational insofar as they involve judgments about how things are, especially whether things are good or bad. Thus, anger on my part would involve the judgment that someone else has done something bad to me or mine and that it would be good for me to do something bad to him or her as pay back. This means that anger is, according to these philosophers, always about revenge. Also, it is always a mistake, since the judgment it involves must be false. For the Stoic view is that what is good for me is my virtue, full stop. What is bad for me is my vice, period. It is therefore impossible for others to bring bad things into my life. I cannot be harmed by them in any important sense of ‘harm.’ It is likewise impossible for me to bring anything bad into their lives. They alone can do that (and, indeed, have already done so if my anger was provoked by acts of injustice on their parts – vice is its own punishment on this view). If errors in judgment make for an unsound mind, then anger is, according to Stoics, a little bit of insanity. We should take care not to let even a little bit in, since, rational beings that we are, we reason about future cases on the basis of past judgments, and so the error spreads. Anger, as it were, snowballs, sometimes quite rapidly. Seneca tells several memorable stories illustrating this feature of anger in De Ira.

      Stoics were aware of the counter argument made above: anger is functional insofar as it motivates us to confront injustice and anyone who wishes to live well must be so motivated (else others will walk all over him or her). The Stoic response was to point out that standing up to those who commit injustices does not, strictly speaking, require anger. Indeed, they would say that the best law enforcement officers are not angry in the course of bringing wrongdoers to justice. Anger would be an impediment to doing that job well, for anger both flares up and wanes. Burning at its brightest, it encourages excesses, thus leading to more injustices in the course of combatting injustices.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Stoics didn’t like harshing one’s mellow over slaves spilling wine or breaking crockery. However, they also recommended medicating onself (being mildly drunk all the time) to keep one’s cool. Ahem

        Every social species exhibits altruistic punishment, members incurring personal cost for no personal gain to combat violation of norms.

        And at least in my case, anger is the signal that some boundary has been violated, mine or someone else’s. And I need the anger to push through the societal inhibitions against calling someone out in real time. The one time I interceded in a domestic violence situation, my anger was important: it told the perp if he didn’t back down, there would be consequences. He turned to deal with me (armed with a bludgeon, which I was forced to use defensively) and stop threatening the woman. Our screaming at each other led some men to come by and attempt to reason with him. The cops finally arrived as they were trying to get through to him that his woman was not his property.

        If I, not a cop, had tried the Stoic calm reasoning approach, he would have said “Fuck off, none of your business” and kept after the woman.

        1. martell

          I wasn’t aware that Stoics recommend being mildly drunk all the time. To the best of my knowledge Epictetus never mentions this, nor does Seneca, nor does Marcus. But there were Stoics for something like five hundred years, so it is possible that some of them said such a thing, especially if they were among the old Stoics or among those of late antiquity. Both, it seems to me, were given to saying strange things. In any case, do you have a reference to support that claim? Just curious.

          I did not mean to suggest that the Stoics are correct. Rather, there’s a case to be made in their favor, a case having to do with an account of human welfare as well as contentious psychological claims (especially claims having to do with the tendency for anger to get out of hand). These views were controversial even among the ancient Greeks. Aristotelians,for instance, would have objected to both Stoic accounts of welfare and Stoic psychology. The Aristotelians, furthermore, would have agreed with you: the inclination to anger, well trained, is highly functional for human well being, since we, each of us, have to live with others of our kind and, sooner or later, they will wrong us. That is how it goes. Anger can be, they insisted, practically indispensable for dealing with this problem.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I was exaggerating for effect but I did read a scholarly analysis which given the state of Google I cannot locate. But it did say that the Stoics view of the use of alcohol and painkiller in moderation encompassed regular “moderate” use to buffer reactions to daily annoyances like breakage-prone slaves. It acknowledged that achieving a degree of detachment was key and if a little medication helped, that was preferable to getting upset.

      2. WhatdoIknow

        As Sartre would say, one of the principal functions of our emotions in our life is to further bad faith.
        Bad faith being a way of denying the deeper reality of our existential condition, that is, the reality of being free and responsible agents.
        From this perspective, no one can make you angry without your implicit consent which it is itself a choice we may or may not make.
        In other words, we typically like to think that other people make us angry, but that is mostly because we are trying to hide from ourselves the terrible reality that we actually are free and responsible for the quality of our emotional life and have the power to make choices. We are not like a gun to be triggered without our consent.
        Then, as my grandma would say, anger is like a mosquito bite, cant resist scratching it yet regret it instantly.

    2. FluffytheObeseCat

      I also have to disagree, based on my experience in flyover America. However…..

      “ Far from discouraging expressions of anger, our society revels in them: any form of angry discourse is acceptable, and even encouraged, against people who won’t get vaccinated, people who voted for Brexit or Trump, and any leader of a foreign country that western governments dislike. Nobody has ever been fired for expressing homicidal anger against Assad”

      I wish I knew what you were talking about. I live in a society where almost no one knows who Assad is. Over 9 out of ten people in a Washoe County School board meeting would stare at me in dull confusion if I mentioned his name. The most vocal and common expressions of rage I run across here come from people expressing fury or searing contempt in response to mask mandates, vaccines, etc. And “critical race theory”, by which they mean teaching kids anything other than the blanched propaganda they were indoctrinated with in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

      I’ve spent enough time working in the Bay Area recently to know that there are subcultures within the U.S. where the anti-vax are scoffed at, however they appear to me to be physically restricted and scattered. The cultural norm where I live is – as it has been for decades – to bend over backwards on behalf of every meaty, swaggering heel who rails with flag-wrapped rage about how it’s an insult! to ask aught of them on behalf of the greater community, or, worse yet, the nation as a whole.

      Driving young fathers off of school boards* on account of sexual orientation is what happens here. Literally spitting in their faces is what the self-anointed Real Americans(tm) do, at length, without any real fear of a smack down. And this is a “purple” area.

      This performative rage spills over into day to day life. Over the last 18 months I’ve been sneered at or glared at for wearing a mask on a half dozen occasions in public settings (Alway by overweight people, who are too old to be cavalier about their own viability, in a county where masks are required indoors per governors mandate).


    3. Jeremy Grimm

      “Distinguish between what you can and can’t change, and act only on the second.”
      That is good advice — but I may interpret the advice differently than you seem to.

      My son is angry because he did not grow to be taller. This is something my son cannot change. I could become angry because there is no way known to travel to the stars, or because Winter is coming. These are things I cannot change.

      I am angry, very angry, increasingly angry about the changes to the u.s. government, about the endless warfare on peoples abroad and our own poor and weak. I am angry about the u.s. government becoming a commodity relatively cheap for purchase by Cartels and the extremely wealthy. I am angry at the looming Collapse and Chaos toward which the Power Elite are driving the world economy and Civilization, and this beautiful blue planet. These are things which can be changed. Of course, I cannot change them by myself. I could change things by joining my anger with the anger of others. Executed as a coherent mass action, positive change can be accomplished. It has been accomplished in the past in the u.s. But if mass action is thwarted, and efforts at coherence are crushed, diverted, or pissed away through control devices like “the latest angry Twitter pile-in” there will still be mass action but it will arise spontaneously and it will bring about destruction, collapse, and chaotic change.

      I suppose this raises the distinction between anger and rage. Anger can be directed. It can be controlled and used to strive past pain, fatigue, and discouragement. But anger thwarted too long becomes rage and splays the coherence of anger. It is rage that blinds action and randomly scatters its impacts — not anger.

      No matter how much I beat them, I cannot cure my slaves of breaking my cups or spilling my wine. So I will drink up and find ample comfort in my full cellars.

  18. antidlc

    OK, I’m going to throw something out there.

    One of the best things we can do is try to educate people,. NC has done an outstanding job. I think David Sirota is going some great work.

    As one who has been angry for awhile, (especially with what we call our health care system), I have been thinking a lot about what can be done.

    We will never have enough money to beat the system. We do have our keyboards.

    I remember Wendell Potter writing something about his time at Cigna where he had to handle a huge PR crisis.

    The Sarkisyans decided to try to shame CIGNA into covering the transplant and enlisted the support of the California Nurses Association and friends in the Los Angeles Armenian community. They were able to generate media interest in the case far beyond anything I had ever experienced before. That call from the LA TV reporter was the first of hundreds my staff and I would ultimately receive over the next few days.

    The pressure worked. CIGNA agreed to cover the transplant at an estimated cost of $250,000 on December 20, 2007. Grigor and Hilda and their friends and families were overjoyed.

    Companies hate negative PR.

    I also remember how IBM employees took to the internet to express their outrage at IBM’s attempt to screw them on their pensions. They went to the media — were quoted in newspapers, and even got on national news. Ellen Schultz of the WSJ covered the whole thing. It was a PR nightmare for IBM. IBM eventually backed off and allowed their older workers a choice between the older plan and the new one.

    Facing outrage from employees over cash-balance conversions and their own desire to retain the pension investment pot, many employers, including IBM, have offered relief for older workers. In some cases, older employees are grandfathered in the traditional pension or allowed to choose which pension is better.

    We will never have the money these corporations have. But we can generate negative PR IF WE HAVE ENOUGH PEOPLE JOINING IN. Companies hate negative PR.

    My suggestion: we have a bunch of people sign up to be keyword warriors. We get hashtags trending on twitter to expose these guys. We get enough tweets and re-tweets that it forces the corporations to take notice and creates lots of negative PR.

    Maybe a dumb idea. I don’t know. But I’m sick and tired and don’t want to take it anymore.

    We have a planet that is dying. We have millions going without healthcare. We have a pandemic that will continue to cause deaths and long-term consequences. Housing prices are out of sight. Rents are out of sight. The list goes on.

    I’m tired. I’m angry. Enough.

    That’s all I got.

  19. festoonic

    Reading the philosopher John Gray — who I learned about, like so many other useful things, right here at NC — disabused me of the notion of human progress. This allows me to begin learning to give up hope that things will somehow magically “get better” when they plainly will not.

    I try, and regularly fail, to focus on the sphere in which I operate, to love and appreciate friends, family, community, art, music, and the natural world while it lasts. I fail so often because anger is second nature to me and there is so much to be angry about. It stems from an idealism probably better suited to a 13-year-old than a senior citizen. Anger also feels empowering even when it’s not.

    I fully know that the arc of what may be left of human history does not bend toward anything remotely like justice, but the idealistic kid in me won’t surrender altogether. Maybe, come the Jackpot, that energy will prove useful.

  20. WhatdoIknow

    Anger is a human emotion.
    As such you cant legislate it away or cancel it.
    So is sadness, hate, joy or love.
    We have banned hate already, I guess next in line will be sadness.
    When only love and happiness are left, we will be fulfilled by decree.
    The more you ban human emotions, the more people will repress them.
    Things you repress the most rule you the most.
    Eventually, the return of the repressed incarnated in a figure like Trump or Hitler will be claimed as a liberating hero. Ignore human nature at your own peril.

  21. Mason

    I don’t know about this. I’ve been trying to overhaul my mental health for the past year or so (starting to see real progress).

    I’m tired of being being angry over things I have very little control over and feel it will probably cause further problems down the line. It’s rational to be angry at some of these things and it’s okay to feel it for bursts but otherwise it just sucks up your time and throws the rest of your day off balance.

    Perhaps what I’m feeling is not the ‘right’ type of anger. It won’t lead to change, just bitterness and eventually a feeling of loss of power and victimization.

    I’m angry at how incompetent my city council is and how they happily deal-make with the big players while looking down at the small businesses.

    I’m angry at how the FED is rigging the economy to all but the most powerful.

    I’m angry at how $1,000,000 homes are being built by right and hysterical buyers happily go into debt for an impractically sized homes while jacking up prices for everyone else. Feeding a frenzy for speculators.

    I can’t be angry about this forever, it just ages me.

    It’s good to acknowledge the feelings, it’s right to be angry, just not forever. One day… this will come crashing down. Then people will start fighting back. I will fight back.

  22. Jokerstein

    Surprised nobody has mentioned Howard Beale yet (especially regular commentator Howard Beale IV)

  23. Susan the other

    I agree with RM. Fear should not be part of our social and political equation. Anger, in its infinite variations, is just an expression of frustration. Anger doesn’t foster violence until all hope is lost. And violence itself is a question of degree. Take war for example. The men and women who take us to war are not so much angry as they are fearful. Fearful of losing their comfortable lifestyle. Of losing control of the narrative. Of everything. War is the most destructive, inhumane, wasteful human action. Usually undertaken cold-bloodedly and by detailed calculation. Justifying everything from torture to starvation to nuclear bombs. But nobody says,”Oh tsk, tsk, tsk. It is so unproductive to go to war, it precludes all further discussion.” What a bunch of church-lady blablablah – my god, don’t get angry, you might actually make a few excellent points which could even shock people into making socially productive changes before things get even worse.

  24. Helena

    Thanks so much for this post.

    Years ago, I read The Country Life by Rachel Cusk. I didn’t realize until yesterday why I loved it so much and why that book spoke to me so deeply. Growing up, I was discouraged from expressing myself, and not taught the skills involved to bypass another person’s ego and reach their true self with the point of my distress. The impetus was anger, but I needed to find the words to express that anger lucidly and without it seeming like an attack. My family certainly had never learned these skills. Rachel’s protagonist, Stella, was me, and seeing myself was liberating. She was so freaking angry, and turned it in on herself as her only known option. Now I get angry, and it is an impetus for examination, and a solution, like this author, Mr. Murphy, who uses it as an impetus to write. Anger is useful, it tells us something needs to be done. There isn’t always anything I can do, but it isn’t about me or some enemy any more.

  25. John Medcalf

    Call me strange but is it a moral / legal / psychological / philosophical / some more …als prerequisite to killing the devil to be angry? I think not.

    Showing anger is OK but those that keep their cool usually come out ahead. Katie Porter comes to mind.

    Microaggressions are a wonderful tool. Microaggressions show the underlying mindset. Should people be cancelled for them? Not by me. Should the aggressor self reflect and apologize. By all means. Otherwise they have claimed and not revoked an unearned superiority over the aggressee.

    I have extreme respect for Yves and her cohorts and opinions. I beg to differ today because my responses are my heartfelt beliefs. I hope they are worth thinking about.

    1. Helena

      IMO, microaggressions are plays for dominance, a strategy, maybe not always conscious. It’s a good strategy to learn how to turn them against the perpetrator, cleverly. The more unconscious the perpetrator is, the easier it will be.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Huh? Katie Porter is DEFINITELY angry when she is interrogating executive assholes. She has a sharp edge in her voice. But she keeps it on a 1-2 on a scale of 10. She is going that route to demonstrate her superior social position as a Congresscritter to establish from the outset that she is in charge and won’t tolerate any guff.

  26. Stan

    The author is pretty specific about scoping his remarks to Britain, but the irony of the Anger-Stasi is universal, at least in the West.

    It is ironic that a country which failed so miserably at angrily punching above its weight against small, pre-destroyed regions in Southwest and Central Asia during the last 20 years is now trying to punch above its weight again, this time against Russia and China. Still, the only legit targets of anger in Britain are Russia and China — excepting poor Britons. Erhmmmm… I almost forgot. And Europe. Never mind.

    The US, the country most eager to angrily punch below its weight, has pivoted its anger towards Russia, China, and disenfranchised Americans (nothing new there). Oops, I again forgot about the narcissism of the small differences between Democrats and Republicans. Both sets of voters agree on financializing the US economy (destroying it), and multi-trillion buck offensive/unwinnable wars, but they hate each other too. What a ****-show.

    I live in Brazil, where exists a primordial fear of any impolite interaction among civilians ( “civilian” politicians excepted ;-) It is an extremely brutal country, where violence is almost exclusively directed at itself. Of course, politness is obligatory.

    To be fair, I assume the same is true in Asia. I know a bit of China from study of history, language, and spending time there with spouse’s extended familiy. Its “social harmony” requires exagerated politness towards the party, police and the wealthy.

    Any rational human being should be angry at those contriving violent anger against The Other. Or just laugh at them.

      1. Stan

        “The Cowliphate”, “ME, the People…” Very funny! You deserve a big atta-boy from me, although my appreciation cannot disolve the bitter bile of the death threats. I’m serious and sincere about that.

        No doubt some of those hyper-sensitive welfare queens (like P.I. W.) want to kill. “Only ME, the People may express contempt for the entire species. Others must die.”

        Be prudent as you are funny. I know what it’s like to say f***-it, laugh at them — rather than be a coward towards so many blood-thirsty people — but seeing someone else do it makes me a little queasy.

        1. Bobby Gladd

          Thanks, Stan.

          The repeated emails with jpegs comprising AR-15s and ammo caches, and accompanying admonitions such as “we’ll be by soon, until then, sleep tight…” were charming.

          See also

          I have a severe attitude problem, and am outa [Fleeps] to give. I also do serious work elsewhere, but, hey, The Power of Photoshop Compels Me. Gramps gotta have fun.

          Also, I recently trolled one of these cutesy Armed-to-the-Hawaiian-Shirt Boogaloo Bois on Twitter: “Are you REALLY an undercover FBI informant? People are sayin’.”

          Pushing the envelope, I know. Fleep it. So much Stupid, so litttle time.

  27. fred mckay

    Disappointing article. Anger in the collapsing West is unrelated to the much larger world at large. Example the Greater Russian Civilization (350 mm), the Chinese Civilization (2 bn), the Moslem World are not sharing the USA experiernce. Linguistic failure ( a misplaced synecdoche) and deep psychiatric disorder (ideas of reference from the schiziphrenia world) are at play. The use of the word “World” is in itself part of the failure process.

  28. Adams

    If expressing anger is cathartic, Caitlin Johnstone (Consortium News, Substack) is probably one of the (mental) healthiest people on the planet. She focuses her anger ruthlessly and, IMO, usefully.

    I’m angry about a lot of small things, but the big one is that with my taxes I am supporting the deadliest (by far) machine of destruction ever created. I’m focused on some little things, homelessness mainly, and also mistreatment of poor immigrants at the southern border, and a few others where my efforts to help individual families may actually enable the continuation of a brutally stupid and destructive system. On the big thing I really don’t have a clue how to move the needle even a little bit. My anger continues to burn.

  29. Cary

    The suspension of the Brown Act in California “all public meetings have to be open to the public, there can be no closed door policy decisions, except when legal actions are discussed.” That’s been suspended by Eminence Grease, a.k.a. Gavin Newsom, because “Covid”, so no tiresome speakers at the podium. Bet they never restore the in person meetings. How about where you live?

    As to anger and the younger generation, here’s my anecdote:
    Confronted by a young woman shouting at me over some perceived misuse of language and historical revisionism, at least in her mind.

    “Do you believe in equality between men and women?” I asked. Somewhat surprised, she replied, “well of course”.
    “Good, because if you keep shouting at me, I’m going to treat you like a man and slap the shit out of you in front of all your friends.”
    She fled.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Agnotology, aka Making Shit Up, is a violation of site Policies.

      First, the Brown Act governs local government in CA. It has no nexus to Newsom. It is the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act that governs state bodies. They are highly parallel but not the same.

      Second, “public meetings” are still being held on line and members of the public are still making public comments.

  30. Bobby Gladd

    Interesting post and comments. Will have to give them all some serious study and reflection. There is indeed much to be justifiably angry about.

  31. Prairie Bear

    A thing in political campaigns, especially Presidential ones, that has driven me nuts for decades: MSM pundits talking about how this or that candidate is “too angry.” I would have thought one possibly good thing about Trump getting elected would have been the consignment of the “too angry” standard to the dustbin of history, but apparently not.

    1. Stan

      What was that guy’s name, Howard Dean?, who in a brief moment of reason, criticized the Insanely Stupid Iraq Invasion, then quickly went down in flames for the crime of saying “Yeehaw!”

  32. ChrisRUEcon

    Thanks for holding on to that anger, Yves! And to the rest of the commentariat as well! Always good to invoke the ancient Bishop Of Hippo on this:

    “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” – Augustine Of Hippo

    Without anger, there is no hope!

  33. Altandmain

    The main reason for this angry suppression is that the rich are getting worried.

    They know that they are effectively a parasite and don’t want to have the general public angry at them because of the wealth they have extracted for themselves.

    I don’t think that bosses at work should completely lose their tempers at their subordinates or vice versa if they can help it, but there is a lot of anger that is well justified at the rich. It is not like say, a subordinate at work trying their best and messed up. In this case the rich knowingly did what they did to the rest of the world out of greed. It was a deliberate intent to take wealth and harm society out of greed.

    There are also clearly grounds for criticising politicians. Many politicians are corrupt and never keep their promises. I suspect that this whole effort to suppress criticism is to try to avoid revealing their true nature.

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