More on the Use and Misuse of Anger

Yves here. Our discussion of anger and the rising prohibitions against expressing it (at least interpersonally) in the US and particularly among the young led a reader to send a e-mail that he’s agreed to let us feature as a post.

Needless to say, the finger-wagging over getting heated in public, and particularly in institutional settings, stands in sharp contrast with Internet vitriol. Are people simply finding new outlets? Or is this something darker, as in sadistic pleasure in getting nasty towards presumed actual individuals, whether they know who they are or not? One of the things that is both obvious and deeply disturbing about the Democratic Party’s revolving cast of contempt targets is that the gang leaders clearly enjoy the idea that they are (hopefully) inflicting pain, just as girl bullies view reducing their victim to tears as a badge of honor rather than shame.

Some of the readers in our last thread recommended the Stoic approach. But what does that do for, say, a persistently enraged newborn (like moi back in the day?)

Animals use anger as part of a threat display (think of videos of cats chasing off bears). They can’t control their register like humans. But even for someone who is trying to use anger tactically, as a show rather than a reaction, how many can actually divorce their feelings from their supposed play acting?

By Erasmus, who has been in and around academia

The topic of anger is huge and very important. I read long ago that anger is the result of unfulfilled expectations. Whether those expectations are justified and reasonable is a different matter, but various people have written and thought deeply about anger, including Greeks and Romans in antiquity.

Anger is dangerous (to the ancients) because it can be full of passion, which can dominate a person and ruin everything, override reason, lead to disorder and violence and madness, etc. Philosophical stoicism (not the same as the popular simplistic definition) is one way to handle it, though I find it unappealing. Depression can be internalized anger (not always, but definitely worth reflection) – anger at oneself, at external circumstances, other people, systems, etc).

I am very angry about various things. It is easy to say, well, you can change yourself, but come on, realistically there are limits to that. Many people are angry, but they don’t necessarily understand the systems oppressing them, in which responsibility is diffused and obfuscated on purpose, and contrived complexity hides much corruption. They understand they are screwed though.

Anger that becomes rage can be toxic. Establishment media propaganda sets forth approved targets for the blame cannons (e.g., the unvaccinated, the Jan 6 supporters, “domestic terrorists,” those who criticize “woke” ideology, etc), but nothing will change when people obediently focus on that and on the Dem-Rep slugfest (with discreet collusion to serve the plutocratic and corporate interests).

Some people retreat into drugs, booze, pot, drug prescription stupor, conspiracy theories, video/music/show/movie entertainment, overeating, compulsive shopping, gaming, gambling, etc. Some of that is very angry and violent, but it is vicarious (you watch/listen/absorb/participate within the framework). People feel powerless and irrelevant, look around and assume there is nothing they can do, that nothing will make any difference.

If no one gets angry, nothing will change, but what matters is what one does in response to the situation, and whether it works. Anger is not necessarily constructive – it depends on how you react to the cause (is the cause even identified accurately?). We are responsible about how we respond in situations – but that is difficult when it involves serious abuse or violation if one has little power or recourse.

Neoliberalism cultivates the passive response and isolation as if we are merely individual consumers, because solidarity and effective action can counter managerial bullshit.

Obviously it is madness to have lax policies on guns and militarization of police.

The young people, and I speak here from many years of direct experience working with them and teaching them, are full of anxiety (fear) and insecurity. It is acceptable to get angry, but only about certain things (like if you needed approval on some form by a deadline and the office failed to provide it).

They are merely trying to navigate the world as they find it, and they did not create the current mess. They have been surveilled and indoctrinated their entire lives by parents, schools, phones. Many of them have been addled with prescription drugs for years. They have short attention spans and don’t concentrate well, and peer pressure to conform and avoid painful humiliation/ostracism/rejection is magnified by cell phones and social media.

At this point they do not know what life was like prior to Sept 11, 2001 and prior to cell phones. They sometimes flake out on commitments, but in fairness, they have not necessarily been treated well either.

It is true that criticism is not generally handled well, although it depends on the social/economic class of the person (more privileged = more sensitive, fragile). It depends on personality and acculturation too.

They know the job market is difficult, and they are oppressed by student loan debt and pressure to achieve in a very flawed system. Many of them get special dispensation through the campus “disability services office” and get comfortable circumstances to take a test with double time, not in the classroom, deadline extensions, etc. Universities indulge this, and it is very patronizing.

Students haven’t learned how to study or manage a long-term project or handle deadlines because the schools have not educated them. (I don’t blame the teachers, who are not in charge of running the schools or imposing policy. Teachers put up with a lot of crap.)

The Midwest and West coast disapprove of anger, there is not the same cultural response to it but neither handle it well. The south is hypocritical about it, and only certain people are allowed to experience it. I find in the Mmidwest you are not supposed to rebel against authority, and I think that is ridiculous when “authority” is so often wrong, stupid and/or corrupt.

Italians, Jews, African and African-American, Latin cultures, etc do not respond to anger in the same way as WASP-y Anglo-influenced US elite cultures. None of these are monolithic, and authoritarianism can crop up almost anywhere. If it is tolerated and indulged and tacitly accepted, it will only grow.

There is so much corruption – NJ, NY, PA, DE, VA, MD, DC, TX, FL, CA obviously are rotten with it. How do we change that? How should we clean up the huge messes across professions and industries and sectors, when small efforts are sabotaged and undermined by threats or propaganda or ineptitude or apathy? At this point, many of the competent and responsible people have been driven out, so you have the irresponsible, grifting, self-serving, opportunistic careerists failing upward and in charge to the detriment of the rest of us. Where is the honest assessment? Honesty is the first order of business.

People everywhere also deflect responsibility from themselves – anything can be rationalized, even if your job or role carries explicit responsibility for certain functions. There are sanctioned channels for people to direct their anger, and Orwell’s “two minutes hate” in Nineteen Eighty-Four is an example under totalitarianism. Participating in that will never resolve the big problems. It is well known that people need to vent and entertainment is usually a means to channel that energy, with its violence and contrived plots.

The US Northeast (like NYC) with Jewish, Italian and other immigrant heritages has more argumentative, lively, confrontational, direct communication and venting in the cultures and communication styles, but it all depends on context and social level, and it varies.

Glenn Greenwald has consistently advocated for freedom of speech and the right to discuss to try to figure out what is true and valid – how else can we figure it out? We must be allowed to disagree, to dissent, to argue (we can be civilized about it, though we have lost that skill and habit), and to think independently. This is what is under persistent attack on various fronts by various vested interests. There is righteous anger at injustice and abuse, but this society does not punish the biggest criminals at the top of our hierarchies, and systemic problems are not resolved; they just fester and ruin everything over time. Anger does not automatically bring positive, warranted changes.

Also, people often resist reason and evidence when it invalidates their beliefs. (Oh, how I have tried to persuade …) There is pressure to “be grateful” and “be kind” and not make trouble, not have the wrong attitude, yet people are also being fleeced by predatory looting and grifting by the FIRE sector, big pharma/health industry rent extraction, fun practices like civil asset forfeiture, skewed and dysfunctional and mismanaged governments, corporate surveillance, incompetent governance. So many choices for one’s anger! I have found that the most adept bullshitters at deflecting responsibility are at the top of a given hierarchy.

The origin of feminism is women being angry at injustice and mistreatment. The abolition and civil rights movements channeled anger at injustice and mistreatment. Labor movements fight injustice and mistreatment. So anger can find productive outlets. Are we up to that now?

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  1. Terry Flynn

    I’m simply going to note that expressing anger *at the time you feel it* rather than bottling things up and ultimately experiencing a far worse state of affairs is something the psychiatrists talk about to people with certain conditions such as avoidant personality disorder.

    Bottling things up helps others act as “enablers” of toxic work environments. You’re typically not taught to be aware of this until it’s too late.

    1. vlade

      Well, it depends on _how_ you express the anger at the time you feel it, and IMO, without practice (if you can call it), most peoples expression of immediate anger ranges from counterproductive to outright dangerous (see road rage for good examples). That’s even more true in a society where a gun is a right (this was exactly the argument my mother used to put up against anyone getting a gun – when you’re raging at someone with a knife, they have a reasonable chance. With a guy, never mind an automatic one.. )

      1. Terry Flynn

        Yes agreed. I was thinking about far less extreme examples such as employer bullying of an employee….

        Never let it get to having to be a whistle blower, despite what the posters in all those GP waiting rooms say. Nobody comes out unscathed.

        1. ambrit

          “Nobody comes out unscathed.”
          That is an observation that I have consistently seen denied by many, especially the upwardly aspirational.
          Short version; those with the best chances of instituting change are conditioned to expect an ‘easy’ life, if one “plays by the rules.” Meritocrats always retire to a cottage by a lake, Wokesters always end up in a diverse community of interesting people who all share the same values, economic opportunists always send their children to top Universities, thus ensuring the continuance of the “Rule By the Best,” etc. etc. Almost none of these peoples have experienced serious, life threatening struggles.
          As both my Mom and Phyllis, my Wife, have told me, time and again: “Who ever told you it would be easy?”
          Rant off.
          Stay safe.

          1. Terry Flynn

            Thanks. I now work in the local hospital helping address the lack of admin staff who tirelessly work that cancer patients get their correspondence etc from consultants. I had to take today off to get to the specialist pharmacy across the city for one medication (2 buses each way). They (despite saying on phone yesterday when I booked today off) didn’t have half of it.

            I kinda expected this so did the calm angry thing explaining that no, taking another day off wasn’t possible as I’m still learning my job and cancer patients won’t get their desperately awaited full written explanations that expand on consultations.

            Customers overheard. Pharmacist VERY quickly appeared. Rest of meds to be delivered to mum Monday. I was wearing my NHS lanyard just to lay it on thick. I could have waited till Monday. I just dislike it when they flat out lie to you.

            1. Terry Flynn

              Part 2. Travel home on bus 2 from city centre and firstly decide to pop into my old barber (out of curiosity as to whether he kept the PPE protocols he very assiduously introduced after first lockdown).

              He hadn’t. He was unmasked and thankfully no customers. I kinda liked chatting in the past – he grew up under Bulgarian communism and had a healthy distrust of MSM, saying stuff I knew from this site. What worried me was that he also got a load of David Icke stuff in there as gospel too.

              Well now he’s well and truly gone full David Icke. I put up with his nonsense for 5 minutes before declaring “Yeah isn’t it amazing what you learn on the internet. Earlier I used the latest skill I learnt from it – cutting my own hair! See ya!” Think he realised he just lost one of his best customers. I used my anger subtly and like a scalpel.

              1. vlade

                Well, yes and no.

                It’s very likely you just transferred your anger to him, and he might have transferred that to the next customer, or his wife/kids etc. if they happened to call at that unfortunate time.

                That doesn’t mean I say you’d not have acted on your anger – but simply leaving (w/o even saying you’d not be coming back) would have been sufficient IMO. But it’s hard, it so very hard NOT to pass on your anger on others, but IMO anger just creates more anger.

                I see it now very often, as my young daughter has a serious anger problem – but when let her anger take me, and then reflect it on someone else (which happens way more often than I’d like), it doesn’t solve anything except for me feeling better for a short while.

                When I, to use David’s words, let the anger to pass through me, not to control me, I get much better results.

                1. Terry Flynn

                  Thanks. Always respect what you have to say even when you disagree. I must confess I identjfied with Yves when she admitted to a dichotomy in how she is perceived, depending on context.

                  On one hand the last big 15-year or so course run by most of the top global choice modelers found that the highest attendee course evaluation score went to me….. By miles…. And way beyond any statistical uncertainty. I know instinctively what people have difficulty with and think up 3 different ways to explain it.

                  On other hand I have reputation for not suffering people “p*$$ing about” and can be extremely terse or downright rude. When someone tries to lecture me on something I have almost 3 decades of knowledge and experience in with stuff I know is trash (plus my dad has morbid fascination with what the Ickes of this world are claiming now – 5G chips in vaccine etc) I get angry. I have learnt to try to just withdraw. But sometimes I feel I must explain calmly to a retailer just why they are insulting customers. Yes, maybe he will transfer anger to family but I doubt it…… I know his wife and 2 uni age kids…. Can’t imagine them as victims. But I take your general point.

                  One final addendum. I’ve seen in pre-covid times this guy launch into diatribes to a customer. I have felt the “discomfort” emanating from the customer. The barber just can’t “read people” and know when to STFU. I know he’s no bigot. Yet he has a singular talent in sounding so. And with Hungary and Poland in the news for bigotry and I see a fellow homo almost squirming in the chair and who obviously will never return, I can’t help but think “you’re not helping yourself and arguing you know better is spectacularly dumb”.

                  I also admit my irritation was larger because I sorted out his Google business details – he was entirely Facebook oriented and thus increasingly likely to miss the younger demographic who don’t use it. I helped and just got a lecture saying my 30 years of knowledge education and experience was trash. I’m sorry, but it’s time to tell such people where they’re going wrong.

                  1. vlade

                    I guess I’m now very much influenced by the experiences with my daughter.

                    So I look at anger as – what will it achieve? (when I can keep rational). If the only extra outcome of showing anger is that I get to feel good for a while, I try (with variable levels of success) to avoid it – except in some situation – if anyone would put a camera in a room when I’m working on my own, assuming no-one can hear me, it’s often a raging torrent of invectives aimed at various people, items, processes and what have you. But only a few people ever got to see this live, and most of them were very scared afterwards, especially since it’s so much of an opposite to my normal, quite calm and rational persona.

                    Don’t take me wrong, I can get internally still quite angry at things, especially in situations where I know I’m right (which, dealing with 9 year old is quite often). But what’s my goal there? If it’s to persuade the person, because I care for them or the cause I’m trying to bring them to, a biting remark will not help, even if it makes me feel good at the time.

                    If it’s to achieve something else, will the anger help or hinder?

                    Mind you, I’m not saying I do it all the time, or even majority of the time, but it’s what I try to do these days. And, at least with my daughter, I found that not getting angry gets much better results than getting angry (or, I’d put more precisely – showing anger vs not showing anger).

              2. Terry Flynn

                One final observation. The barber talked over me EVERY single time I tried to explain my own clinical issues that are pertinent to COVID. I have a congenital heart defect which my doctors here in Nottingham strongly suspect was NOT corrected during the surgery in 2005 (which itself was 20 years later than it should have been done and which therefore means my heart is much much “older” than my physiological age).

                I even showed him my (auto-immune assumed by dermatologist) bald patches that appeared soon after the virus I am 99% sure was COVID in early 2020 and which went through all of us working in Dad’s factory one by one – suspicious also because he retooled to produce PPE and we had members of the public regularly enter to buy masks.

                People who show no interest or actively dismiss your health issues and talk over you with some crap that you’re “weak in spirit”? My psychiatrist never diagnosed a 3rd party (so was following the rules to the letter). However, he knew how to get me to understand the people I dealt with – the funniest was “would you like to borrow my book on white collar psychopaths?”

                Someone who won’t even allow you to make your point about your health? That person isn’t worth knowing and I am GLAD he knows I won’t patronise his establishment again. His behaviour was rude and disgusting. Other comment in moderation. If skynet doesn’t OK it I’ll move over elsewhere to give a full account of today. It was characterised by:
                (1) People who actively lied about stuff, and
                (2) People who showed zero empathy and clearly weren’t interested in my well-being (talking over me and claiming I’m weak) but who didn’t realise I could replace them and learn their skills in a remarkably quick time.

                1. Terry Flynn

                  Ok having read the entire thread something occurs to me as a possible alternative strategy I might have tried with my barber. Humour was discussed and famously Spielberg treated a stupid executive demand for a particular different title for “Back to the Future” as a joke – he sent a reply saying something to the effect that “you’re on form – great joke”. The exec backed down.

                  Zemeckis could never have got away with fighting the execubots in naming his movie. Maybe I should have told my barber “you tell great jokes”…… But sadly I know he genuinely thinks David Icke is a messiah so it wouldn’t have worked.

                  However it’s something I might use more often in future to defuse things and avoid anger. If someone thinks you’re hilarious you might think differently……

                  1. ambrit

                    I have sometimes tried to use the ‘Court Jester’ strategy in dealing with rude and offensive people. However, with that strategy, I learned early not to expect immediate “gratification” of my desire to see rectification in the offending party. Sometimes, the “pay off” has happened a year later. Sometimes, I does not happen at all. It is a difficult feat to accept those personal defeats. Then, there are the people with no sense of humour at all. They can be dangerous without malice.
                    I am not assertive, and thus will ‘suck up’ in situations that will send Phyllis ballistic. In a curious sense, the combination of Phyl and I are very functional in dealing with social “problems.” We will often defer to the other in situations of potential conflict. It’s a learned behaviour, and an acquired taste.
                    I can’t fault you for your response to the barber. However, I would differentiate between ‘occasional’ acquaintances and ‘frequent’ encounterees. It’s just my Beta minus personality in (in)action.
                    I have also noticed the ‘suppression tactic’ of treating assertiveness as anger. One can be prompted and potentiated by the other.
                    Oh well. Stay safe!

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      It also depends on how heated the expression of anger is.

      I wish I could come up with a better cinematic example, but here is one where the instigator has grounds (although her looks change the equation by disarming her interlocutor):

      This is arguably the sort of tactical show of anger I mentioned above, although Erin Brockovich is meant to be pissed too:

      1. Terry Flynn

        Yes undeed. It’s kind of hard to judge whether my expression of anger was “too much” or not because I did get my complaint registered and counted (though I didn’t know at the time) as a legit “strike” counting toward the Australian “two strikes and you’re out” employment law concerning identification of the person as a bully with status as perp confirmed following a whistle blower case.

  2. vlade

    Thank you for posting the mail, and thanks to Erasmus for formulating it. I started doing something very similar on the post, but this is much much better than what I was able to come up with (and thus dropped).

    I’d like to extend the point on the debate, which at times was called argument too. But in a society now “an argument” has distinctly negative connotations, and any disagreements (never mind anger) are suppressed. Problems become “issues”, as if relabeling changed the reality.

    I know many people you cannot have any discussion (never mind an argument) with, because anything negative is construed as a personal attack on the person which has to be immediately defended from.

    For me, the point of discussion/argument is not just about the arguments, but also why does the other person have their point of view, because unless I’m arguing for an argument’s sake, I’d be trying to persuade, while allowing for a possibility for myself to be persuaded – and I don’t believe you can do either unless you know why the other person believes as they do.

    Clearly, insecurity is a large source of this, but so is too much of self-confidence, but of the wrong type. For me, the best self-confidence is that that allows me to accept my errors and mistakes, and learn from them.

    TBH, this is one reason why I value NC so much, because it’s one of the few sites where mistakes are admitted, and taken into account.

    1. Sawdust

      Part of it seems to be an assumption that if someone is wrong about one thing, then their mental process is flawed and everything else they believe must be wrong too. With that mindset, getting into any kind of disagreement suddenly means that there’s a 50% chance that you’re wrong about everything. And of course it’s almost impossible to get out of this position if it’s a social norm.

    2. fresno dan

      October 21, 2021 at 7:27 am

      For me, the point of discussion/argument is not just about the arguments, but also why does the other person have their point of view, because unless I’m arguing for an argument’s sake, I’d be trying to persuade, while allowing for a possibility for myself to be persuaded – and I don’t believe you can do either unless you know why the other person believes as they do.
      Very, very well said. But how many people in the public square now a days, could admit they are wrong, and be persuaded of another viewpoint? Most of what passes for arguments in our MSM and social media is more akin to proselytizing. Or even worse, just ot making a buck.

      My view is our arguments are so poor, because our controversies are so poor. Too many ginned up controversies (e.g., debt ceiling) that are just designed to obfuscate reality. What is projected on the cave wall, difficult enough to be a true outline of reality, is purposefully manipulated by the rich for their own benefit. The evolution of the media (need I note that our MSM and social media reflect THE FREE MARKET and the consequences of such reliance on money to decide values is why we are where we are) to reflect tribes means that CERTAIN inconsistencies are ignored by one tribe, while exxagerated by the other tribe – and that real problems can be ignored. Of course, the fact that the dems and repubs actually agree on most things (Iraq war, years, and years, and years in Afghanistan, droning people, inequality, etcetera) is just Kabuki threatre to mask the idea that nothing can be done to solve problems.

  3. jimmy cc

    if you are angry., hit a heavy bag.

    we aren’t going to feel our way out of this.

    planned actions are the answer. acting on feelings isnt.

  4. Karen

    Can someone please share a link to one or more earlier discussions of this issue here at NC? Much appreciated!

      1. Karen

        Thank you! I figured the discussion had occurred in the comments, so not easily searchable. Glad to see NC has a full-throated analysis of anger ;-)

  5. David

    Let me recall two fundamental differences which may help the discussion.
    There is a difference between feeling anger, and expressing anger.
    There is a difference between bottling up angry feelings on the one hand, and allowing them to dissipate on the other.

    All of us have angry feelings from time to time. The question is what we do about them. The wisdom literature I referred to in the last discussion doesn’t advocate repressing or hiding anger at all, and it’s doubtful if that is a good idea anyway. It advocates understanding that anger, like any other emotion or feeling, is something that comes and goes, and is not part of you. You are not “angry” you are the one who is conscious of anger, as you might be conscious of the heat, the cold or an itch in your nose. Some wisdom teachings, like advaita verdanta, advocate asking “who is angry?”, after which, through various questions, it becomes apparent that there is no “I” being angry, indeed no “I” at all other than a succession of passing thoughts, feelings and perceptions. Even if you don’t go that far, it’s healthy to realise that anger is something that happens to you and, unless you reinforce it, it’s something that will dissipate naturally. Nobody and nothing “makes you angry.” You make yourself angry.
    I’d go so far as to say that anger has never accomplished anything positive except by accident, and indeed it’s inherently impossible for it to do so. Anger simply demands an outlet against the nearest available target. At the start of WW1, when the British government was trying to mobilise opinion behind entry into the war, it publicised exaggerated accounts of alleged German atrocities in Belgium. This made many British people sufficiently angry that they wrecked shops and restaurants owned by people with German names. My grandmother, then at school, recalls being chased down the street and pelted with stones by angry locals because her school uniform happened to be the same colours as the German imperial flag. And so on.

    1. Susan the other

      Resentment, distrust, disgust, getting even, feeling ignored or neglected; confusion and rage … all and more of these biological reactions are our protectionist emotions; they are not anger. Anger is much closer to fear and panic. When things get so deep you sort of explode out, like methane. Miscommunication could be another non-anger problem. Even being annoyed – usually because time is short. Anger is spontaneous mostly, something sets it off. Then there’s sociopathy – meanness; pure greed; self hatred; the desire to hurt or kill; to ruin and crush. A somewhat sanitized sociopathy is performed on a daily basis by the United States Congress (for instance). Civilized sociopathy is practiced at the negotiating table. It is the willingness to go to war for our “national interests.” And so on. But anger is just a natural fight or flight reflex to get out of danger or prevent it. Anger is good. We should all be as clear and blunt as necessary just to get our point across. And nobody should be terribly offended.

  6. A.

    I have to say, I think the discussion around anger is rather impoverished without a side excursion into fear, which ought to be the anger’s objective. It is fear that elicits change, not anger; anger is useless unless it elicits fear in its target (Yves alludes to this when she refers to her mother’s fright). This is widely observed in the real world, in the many protest movements that are expressions of anger and lead to nowhere because the targets know they are better served by simply turning the other cheek and let the angry slap them all day long, safe in the knowledge that they are untouchable and anger itself does nothing to change this.

  7. DanB

    I’m teaching at a small private college near Boston. This semester I’ve had about a half dozen students inform me that they will be absent from class because they are having “mental health” issues; and I suspect one or two of the three who’ve dropped out did so for similar reasons. I’m a sociologist so I talk to them (my classes) about using the sociological imagination, which allows them to gain an historical perspective on their situation as students in the neoliberal era. It also informs them that their intensely felt personal pain and confusion is widely shared -misery loves company. But anger is taboo on this campus, unless it’s turned inwards.

  8. JWP

    Both attention spans and fear of failure plague young people and our ability to express anger (college student here).
    As noted, attention spans are short, this holds true in college and to some extent it is because a lot of us feel we are learning nothing of purpose in many classes. That it is a chore to do work because it is irrelevant. Much of the undergraduate education is far removed from the professional work of graduate school and a job that it feels performative and therefore debates in class, assignments, and others merely are boxes to check to get a grade and not fail. The anger comes at why we are paying so much money for seemingly pointless education, so it becomes about getting a grade and getting out. Weeks of time wasted just for a letter. To the short attention span, assignments and boring class are wasted time.

    Failure is always an option but its much like the Third Wave, where everyone fears if they do not follow in line with a professor, school, or bosses views, they will fail, and more importantly, failure is unacceptable and a bad thing. This is mostly true in wealthier groups, as a linked article a few days ago pointed out. But since all groups in college are told this directly or indirectly from the school, parents, or peers, it permeated to all.

    This leads to the bottled up anger in a world where anger or dissent is seen as being “mean” or “too negative” where anyone who is labeled as such will not have friends or success, so it just sits and turns inward as Yves said yesterday, leads to and increases depression in many cases.

    One undercooked outlet is through humor. It is widely accepted and appreciated. One could spend months hours soundly debating and receive no praise or recognition, but a well formulated cutting joke can take it’s place in seconds, mostly due to the short attention span lending itself to humor. Much small talk in college quickly turns into joke complaining about professors, school climate, parking ticket scam on campus, and how pointless a lot of college is. There is something to be said for someone like Mike Gravel or Tulsi or even Trump on occasion who relied on humor and outright embarrassment to gain traction for issues that are normally argued with so many logical fallacies they get nowhere. It seems to be a very effective and fun outlet for anger.

    1. Karen

      Ha, that’s so true! When my bright daughter decided to pursue a degree in the “comedic arts” rather than the myriad practical alternatives available to her, I was delighted. More power to her!

    2. Wukchumni

      Humor me on this one, but laughter never fails.

      In business I always tried to tidy things up in the midst of a transaction by inserting levity @ the end in the guise of a joke, and now in the age of merely reading jokes online, a joke teller in person has even more gravitas going for them now, being a relative rarity in the scheme of things.

      It is dead easy to be angry online, I see it all the time with even implied physical threats against public figures, where does that get you, really?

    3. Karen

      Ha, so true! When my daughter elected to study the “comedic arts” rather than myriad PMC alternatives, I was delighted.

      I recall reading a quote by Churchill (would love if someone in this esteemed group could help me locate the source) to the effect that all humor is recognition the disparity between the world as it is and the world as we believe/wish it to be. I haven’t found a contrary example yet.

      The pen is mightier than the sword. More power to the incisive!

  9. David Jones

    Maybe without anger nothing would get changed.The anger of the suffragettes,the American colonists,French and Russian revolutionaries evoked beneficial (?) change while Hitler’s anger and that of his followers speaks for itself.

    Still feel though that Marx had it down right in the dictum paraphrased “the important thing is not to understand the world but to change it” i.e to act.

    All the liberal navel gazing in the world (and I speak as a Guardian reader of over 45 years ) ain’t worth a hill of beans.

    1. flora

      Or as the second wave feminists in the 60s and 70s said,”Polite ladies never change society.” / ;)

    2. David

      I believe the Islamic State would agree with you. Most of them seem to be pretty angry. People who are angry generally lash out at the first thing they see, and their acts are generally counter-productive. The distinction is not between anger and inaction, but between emotional action (anger) and deliberate action.

      1. flora

        I find it somewhat funny that as this years strikes by workers wanting economic fairness and wage justice start to threaten mega-corps profit margin, we are at the same time being treated to MSM articles and ponderings about “anger”; Unlike last year’s summer upheavals that caused massive property damage but didn’t threaten corporate profits. Last summer the big corps even hoisted large banners in support of that anger. (Anger and a sense of humor are a good balance for me. ) / ;)

      2. flora

        David, you’re talking about self-control and managing one’s emotions, not being overwhelmed by them except in the most extreme situations – death of a spouse, for example. Self-control is expected in most adults, and exists in almost every adult I’ve ever met. The premise underlying the idea that certain races or religions just can’t control their emotions, that women can’t control their emotions, is… well you know exactly what that is. / ;)

        1. David

          I don’t think I said that … I’ve seen, for example, men take out their anger on women, adults of both sexes take out their anger on children and each other, and so on. I’ve seen drunken European football fans rampaging around in anger at the defeat of their team. The issue is not self-control as such, it is the recognition that, whilst giving way to grief, fear, but also happiness or the overwhelming urge to laugh may be regulated slightly differently in different societies, giving way to anger is almost always negative and self-defeating, if not downright dangerous. I was talking about something different, which is the ability to cultivate a frame of mind that lets negative emotions pass through you without hurting you. That seems to me something to value. It’s the difference between seeing some negative thing by done by the US government on the TV and either (a) getting angry and rushing out to attack the first American tourist you see and (b) reflecting on what, if at all, you can usefully do to show your displeasure. You can’t make such decisions under the stress of anger.

          1. flora

            I think I understand what you’re saying. I think you assume all anger is “blinding anger”, (there are several different degrees of anger). Blinding anger is physical as much as mental. My experience is blinding anger is relatively rare, and everyone I know has experienced it a few times but take themselves off to safely physically exercise the “fight” adrenaline out of their systems: a long walk, a hard bicycle ride, etc. (Yes, there are people who don’t do that, with sometimes tragic results.) Not all anger is blinding anger. In fact, most anger is not blinding anger, imo. Anger, like any emotion, is not an either-or, not either a blinding anger or calm.

            1. flora

              Adding, and going on too long (apologies) with pedantry (even more apologies…)

              There are very rare, extremely rare, life-or-death occurrences when blind anger can confer a survival advantage. Also, think of the “Epic of Gilgamesh.” (This is the pedantic bit). Gilgamesh and his “wild man friend” Enkidu are in many ways simply two sides of the same man. My 2 cents. I’ll stop now.

    3. Lambert Strether

      > Maybe without anger nothing would get changed.The anger of the suffragettes

      I think the key distinction is between anger at injustice and anger at ego damage. Unless it’s possible to extend the experience that gave rise to ego damage to others in a similar situation, to think beyond one’s self, I think cultivating an attitude of Buddhist non-attachment is best. As for the expressed anger of the suffragettes or the abolitionists or the Wobblies, we need a lot more of that.

      Also, as a WASP’s WASP, I can say that my people place a very, very high premium on emotional control. Therefore, my first theory on encountering anger is that it’s tactical, a conscious surrender of control. Of course, that’s not universally so.

      1. vlade

        It’s a complex thing, IMO.

        Because the injustice can be what many Afghans felt, or what many incels feel or whatever. In one case, there were real injustices, but is the angry response of “kill all infidels” the right one? In the other, it’s just running into a fact that the world is fundamentally unjust – but is that type of injustice something we actually do want to do something about?

        I’d say we need the right causes to get angry about first (as if there was a lack of them). And there, we need to recognise that anger can be a tool, something to keep us going and so very useful, but it’s a very, very dangerous tool. It’s like a flamethrower – hard to aim, and with a lot of potential for collateral damage, dangerous to the user and the target. But sometimes it’s the best thing.

        1. Lambert Strether

          > is the angry response of “kill all infidels” the right one

          Good point; it doesn’t always bring empathy to “think beyond one’s self.” Chimpanzees, for example, no doubt have an intimate understanding of the enemy chimpanzees they seek to kill, so even empathy is not enough. So I’m not sure how to sort “right cause.” Nazis and the KKK are pretty easy cases, I would say, at least using a collective instrument, but… the Hamptons? Is there a bright line to draw other than consequences, even though the line necessarily appears only post hoc? What about deindustrialization or (for some elites) outright depopulation? What if the latter saves “the planet”? (I don’t think it will or needs to, but what if?)

  10. Eclair

    “They (young people) are merely trying to navigate the world as they find it, and they did not create the current mess. They have been surveilled and indoctrinated their entire lives by parents, schools, phones. Many of them have been addled with prescription drugs for years. They have short attention spans and don’t concentrate well, and peer pressure to conform and avoid painful humiliation/ostracism/rejection is magnified by cell phones and social media.”

    Kids on drugs, diagnosed with ADHD, manifested by disruptive behavior in kindergarten, i.e., unable to sit at a desk for extended periods of time, or inability to concentrate on reading texts for extended periods of time, in college. Give ’em a pill.

    I began to notice how many of my friends had male grandchildren who were on medication for ADHD. This week I discovered that my just graduated from college grandson has been on a ‘low dose’ of a drug to increase his concentration for the past two years. And, my college-age granddaughter is probably about to go on medication (along with her anti-depressants) for the same ‘problem.’

    Maybe I self-select for weirdly neurologically-wired people. Or are the kids ok, but it is our society that is sick?
    Turns out that being raised on constant stimulation by TV screens, computer games, cell-phone texts and Insta-gram has caused our kids’ brains to become short-circuited? Plus, the looming threat of climate disaster that underlies all our lives limits their abilities to concentrate on less vital matters.

  11. Questa Nota

    If you need an outlet, try writing your Congresscritter or state or local subspecies.
    Use the method of some of your fellow readers, where you vent and scrawl, then discard and start over. Redraft, wordsmith, craft away, then send.
    Some of the Critters have websites.
    Here is an article explaining some topics about wealth shielding that should spawn further venting.

  12. .Tom

    I’m glad you mentioned sadism, Yves. I’ve been wondering for a while why this seems never to be mentioned in the widespread discussions of our new cultural dynamics.

  13. lance ringquist

    you have to stay focused, if you strike out in anger, you lose, but if you keep shining the sunlight in, you slowly win. i was expelled from the democrat party in the 1990’s sorta, i was told that my greasy hands were no longer welcomed, professionals now run the party, and they were going to sell to the world unfettered by my types.

    so every election since 1994 the democrat parties wins, and there are only a few wins, the margins become so razor thin like today, that the democrat party is on the verge of becoming a small regional party.

    as hudson says they need to be destroyed.

    if you do not link the names of the monsters to the polices they implemented that are destroying america and the world, you get this,

    you get the most progressive president since FDR, nafta joe biden who was neck deep in creating this miss.

    so by not naming names, its not working to well is it?

  14. Matthew G. Saroff

    I need to quote my favorite Christian Theologian, (I am a Jew) the recently passed Right Reverend Shelby Spong: (full essay at link

    Understanding Religious Anger

    One of the things that always surprises me is the level of anger, often expressed in acts of overt rudeness, which seems to mark religious people. It appears so often that I have almost come to expect it, or at the very least not to be surprised by it. A recent episode simply made the connection between religion and anger newly indelible in my consciousness.


    Has religion in general and Christianity in particular degenerated to the level that it has become little more than a veil under which anger can be legitimatized? What happened to that biblical proclamation that the disciples of Jesus are to be known by their love? How does religious anger fit in with the Fourth Gospel’s interpretation of Jesus’ purpose to be that of bringing life more abundantly?

    It seems to me that much of the behavior of the religious right could be seen as a justification for public hostility.

  15. jr

    Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been doing my best to keep my friends and family up to date on the best practices for preventing infection that I’ve learned. I’ve met with an enormous amount of resistance. Even the most basic steps like proper masking, gargling with the right mouthwash, the simple act of strategically holding one’s breath for a few seconds, and eschewing unnecessary “close encounters” with others as much as possible have been poo-pooed. Responses such as “Well, how do you know that?” and “Well, I think that that isn’t really necessary.” are commonplace. My responses to those questions aren’t seriously considered. They are just blowing me, and COVID, off.

    A case in point: last night I was chatting with a friend who lives in Manhattan. She wanted to know if I would come into the city to walk her dog a few days a week as I had done in the past when I was her neighbor. I told her that unfortunately I didn’t feel comfortable with riding the train on a regular basis, as it is always a patch-work of masked, half-masked, and unmasked riders. She said she understood but was audibly annoyed.

    This is a woman who has already come down with COVID a few months back. She appears to have had a full recovery, thank goodness, but I was struck how even having suffered with the disease hasn’t sharpened her instincts about preventative steps. Her annoyance was directed at me because I was taking the best precautions I could, for myself as well as her!

    Now, I recently visited the FLCCC website and I see they are recommending 40mg of black cumin seeds a day. I was really excited to share this with people I care about because it’s inexpensive, readily available, and non-pharmaceutical. A one pound bag is around 18$.

    Here’s a condensed version of the exchange that followed:

    Her: “Well, how do you know it works?”

    Me: “It’s from this group of doctors and medical researchers who are working on the front lines of COVID. It’s true that they could be wrong, but it’s such an inexpensive step that I figure why not make it part of my protocol? What’s the worse that could happen? I’ve never heard of cumin poisoning.”

    Her: “They sound controversial!”

    Me: “They are, mostly because their advice is running counter to the mainstream narrative. There is a lot of evidence that that narrative is heavily influenced by Big Pharma and their lackeys in government whose stated goals are profit above all else. Also, there is a lot of evidence that that narrative is oftentimes misleading if not downright wrong. But again, what can it hurt to eat a tablespoon or so of black cumin seeds a day?”

    Her: “Well, I think I’m doing enough.”

    Me (starting to get annoyed myself): “The final judge of what “doing enough” is is going to be COVID. This is not some new drug or bizarre procedure, it’s literally eating a mouthful of seeds a day. Don’t you think it’s worth a shot? What’s the worse that can happen?”

    Her: “Well, I don’t know………..”

    I’ve encountered this line of “reasoning” about a million times. To my thinking, if you hear of something that presents literally no danger to do and voices of some authority are arguing for, you do it on the off chance it will help. There is nothing to lose and quite possibly a lot to gain.

    Now, Bog knows I can be overbearing when I think I’m right about something. Most especially if I think it’s in the best interest of someone I care about. So I’ve learned to tone it down a bit, to appeal to reason when someone is having trouble seeing what is plain to see. But I encounter resistance at every turn. Petulance, annoyance, and the dubious freedom of willfully ignoring the writing on the wall just to tick off the messenger.

    The recent discussion of anger here has led to me to think that a lot of this push-back is related to everyone being angry. People are overworked, inundated with problems they have no control over, constantly being shoved around by the world, billed and scammed to death, and that was before the nightmare of COVID. I’m willing to bet it fuels many in the the anti-vaccination crowd, it’s just one more imposition in a world of impositions. They enjoy a brief flash of freedom from this repression by ignoring common sense. Anger is clouding everyone’s judgement and it’s having a direct, negative impact on the public’s health. Not just from the stress etc. of anger itself but by T-boning notions of best practices during the pandemic.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > I’m willing to bet it fuels many in the the anti-vaccination crowd, it’s just one more imposition in a world of impositions. They enjoy a brief flash of freedom from this repression by ignoring common sense.

      I think vaccination started out as a public health measure. Because the public health establishment, the political class, and especially the PMC (looking at you, CDC) butchered non-pharmaceutical intervention so badly, and then over-sold pharmaceutical intervention so grossly, vaccination, for a significant number of the non-cray cray, is now no longer about public health, but about about the ability and the right of the public health establishment, the political class, and especially the PMC to coerce the rest of the population. Digital passports, for example, give me the chills. Having become politicized, I think all sides are moving into “do what you have to do” mode, which isn’t going to decrease the level of anger at all.

  16. martell

    Stoic views on anger are part of their ethics. Their ethics principally has to do with human flourishing, and they assume that this is a matter of achieving the proper goal of a human life. It would not have seemed plausible to them that this goal, whatever it is, could be achieved as a child. It was conceived as a goal built into human nature, so it was thought to be the natural end of a developmental process, including biological development. Thus, their ethics has to do with adults for the most part. Their advice on both the goal and how to achieve it assumes language acquisition on the part of the student and, with it, the capacity for relatively high level reasoning (compared to whatever ability there can be to reason prior to having language). They also assume that the student has been enculturated in such a way as to have adopted some of the roles made available by the student’s society and thereby to have adopted a set of norms that go along with those roles. It turns out that acting in accordance with nature (right action for Stoics) is largely a matter of acting in accordance with those role-relative norms. This means that they have next to nothing to say about how to deal with irate human infants, and, if they did say anything that’s been lost to history, it probably didn’t go much beyond the advice ordinarily given to people playing the role of parents for such cases. I suppose then that they would have recommended patience.

    Though the Stoic position on anger follows from their views on what constitutes human well being (which are themselves are based on their physics), it does have considerable appeal independently of those quite controversial views. There are, arguably, some emotions that all adult humans would do well to be without, such as envy. Perhaps hatred also falls into this category, especially if hatred involves the wish that the hated object be completely annihilated (as Aristotle seems to have thought). And so it could be that anger is among those emotions that have no place in a flourishing human life. It is also true that there is something odd about saying both that someone lived the best life for a human being and that this same person was constantly very angry. This seems odd, I suspect, partly because anger is a distressing emotion, like fear.

    But the Stoic position on anger is also unappealing due both to the fact that they are unrealistic about the prospects for a life free from anger and to the fact that anger often helps motivate the correct choice in response to injustices (Aristotle’s view). Perhaps then it would be helpful to consider a third school of ancient Greek philosophy, Epicureanism, since that philosophy can accommodate what each of the other two arguably gets right: anger is distressing and so at odds with human well being, and anger is sometimes functional and so necessary for human well being.

    Anger, the Epicureans would say, is natural and, as such, compatible with human happiness in principle. It is likely that we are naturally disposed to anger owing to the facts that we are social beings, that we, as such, will adopt some set of conventions for distributing good and bad things among us, and that it is inevitable that some of us will violate those conventions or attempt to do so. Anger is helpful for motivating actions that correct or prevent those violations. However, in civilized societies the stakes become very, very high for parties to pretty much any dispute. These societies involve great disparities in power and wealth. Thus, there’s much to lose as well as much to gain (seemingly always more, regardless of how much one already has). This means that there are stronger motives for injustice and more occasions for great anger. Rage is extremely distressing and so inimical to happiness. What to do then? Lower the stakes for oneself and others. That’s their answer. If you already have the good fortune to be reading this, they would say that you should understand that what you really need to flourish is probably easy to obtain: clean water, nutritious food, functional clothing and shelter, and friends. You should also live in a community that is relatively flat as far as hierarchy goes and that does not involve much more in the way of material goods than are required for good living (see above). If you don’t presently live in such a community, join one or make one. And that is what they in fact did. Epicureans founded communities of like minded individuals throughout the Greek and Roman world.

  17. Ana

    Anger can be a useful “engine” to make change. Allow a personal example. I was expelled from UCLA in the 1970’s. I was escorted off the campus on the first day of class by the Dean of Students and some burly security staff.

    I was told by the Dean that UCLA did not allow the “handicapped” to attend because they might want some sort of special treatment. Her words, not mine.

    I was angry enough to get my education elsewhere, become an attorney and be one of the people responsible for forcing all secondary education receiving federal funds to have Disabled Student Services Offices, free sign language interpreters, accessible bathrooms, disabled parking, alternate testing processes and finally via the ADA, that disability could never be used to deny a qualified person an education.

    My original educational goal was anthropology specializing in pre-industrial technology.

    By the way, the article takes a swipe at disabled student services. I don’t feel angry about the swipe, just sad that the author seems not to realize it’s often the only door that works for students who can’t do the standard issue one size fits nobody educational process.

    Ana in Sacramento

  18. ape

    A society doesn’t allow expressing anger if … everyone is very angry.
    Thus the anonymous attacks.

    The US is particularly repressed in expressing anger because so many in the US are on the verge of exploding.

    So maybe worry less about the symptom — anger — and worry more about why your society is so close to blowing up?

    Heinlein “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” Let’s take that and turn it around: a polite society is a bad thing, a failure of society — why should one be under so much strain about the consequences of every act? Why does the risk of the slightest disrespect turn into a life or death issue? The question isn’t personal — why does your society let people hang to the point that a disrespect could have such vast economic and social consequences? Why do y’all let people live in such fear?

  19. Matt

    Something happened in the world last week, in response to which I became very angry. It had no useful outlet for the anger and it was very distressing, and thankfully I was able to get a grip on it after a while and get on with my day.

    A week or so later I still have an undiminished sense of injustice about the event, and a steely determination to take actions within my power to affect this aspect of the world. But I am not experiencing the real-time, full-on effect of the emotion.

    Am I angry?

    I ask this because there seems to be a sense in the post and comments that these two situations are both “anger”, and that this (undifferentiated) anger is productive in driving change or effective action. I’m not so sure.

    I’m not arguing we should deny or suppress the real emotion of anger when it hits us but, in the world we inhabit, the things we want to do in realtime in response to our anger will typically not address the cause of the anger in the slightest.

    I therefore want to distinguish between the two and, while being accepting and understanding of the emotion we and others feel in the moment, focus on more productive avenues of seeking change.

    I’m interested in the words from Yves about play-acting in the introduction to the post. With any play acting of emotions, the most effective way to carry it off is to generate the actual emotion, and we learn this at a very early age. If we focus too much on the anger, think that the anger is our friend, want to generate and use the energy that comes from anger, we run the risk of continually channelling ourselves into one of our least productive states of mind.

    Does this chime with anybody else?


  20. jimmy cc

    i prefer the ‘it’s just business’ attitude.

    when a CEO fires 500 people, he isnt mad, its just business.

    if i can shift my tax burden to a higher income earner or use politics to strip the wealthy of some of thier power,

    i dont do it because I am mad, it’s just business.

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