ANGER IN PERSPECTIVE
ANGER IN PERSPECTIVE
Anger in current America appears to have transitioned from something felt to something expressed, perhaps the release of a population-wide id. Provocations predate recorded history, maybe beginning with losing a spear to a mammoth that got equally angry and charged that hungry human. Belligerence in some of its forms may be a useful part of evolutionary biology. That adrenally mediated flight or fight response often emerges as fight. Our religions and political structures know which buttons to push to create rebellion, conquests, castes, and to play hope against hopelessness as anger-driven motivations to take action.
In our decade, when public expression of anger has expanded, real threats seem few by historical standards. We are not about to be invaded, our utilities and health needs have never been more reliable. Yet perceptions of scarcity and injustice, whether major or trivial, still push those buttons. Our ready platforms of communications have given everyone an audience. The most heartbreaking nebbish with little going his way uses that chance to shout risk-free, which he or she regularly does, as long as it remains risk-free.
Of the conceptual provocations, a sense of slavery rises to the top. We correctly feel defenseless against our employers, our health insurers, the machers at our places of worship, those in the political cliques that we cannot penetrate. Expressing rage or fury doesn’t really change that but it offers something for that newly released epinephrine, cortisol, and for some of us testosterone, to do. We have futility to deal with, that cashier who cannot make change correctly when you give the extra 7 cents to avoid getting coins in return, your kid’s teacher who programmed her phone to speed-dial her complaints about him to you, or the gas pump that doesn’t acknowledge your credit card. Those rarely merit fury or rage but still generate a hostile comment the next time you feel like tweeting something. Feeling manipulated or leveraged intrudes without recourse other than expression.
What tears off my mask of pleasantness? Witnessing or learning of a subservient individual being trampled gets a response, usually measured, not fury but not silent acceptance either. Taking great pains to achieve professional accomplishment, I do not respond amiably to others less capable trotting out their titles. Sarcasm works better than rage.
Where does America’s hostility index trend? It has always cycled and probably will again. In every age there have been opportunists stoking public fury from Yellow Journalism of another era to demagogues through history. We seem at a crest, maybe even a justified crest. But what goes up, must come down. Our workplaces have become our centers of engagement. Public hostility violates the corporate environment. As we ingrained in that culture, and our postings get more scrutinized, the public expression of anger should ease off, even if the provocations stay constant.