Why does society seem so consumed by fury? Is it just the crazy world we live in, or is it what historians call “a cycle of anger”?
Whatever the reasons are, be it one or many of the ills of our society, displeasure is on the rise on a universal level. Most of us point our fingers at one culprit — the coronavirus.
We knew that our lifestyles would change drastically with the pandemic and we are angry about that — but are there other underlying reasons for our anger?
Anger is not a new phenomenon.
Being angry is not altogether a bad thing, although most of us, intelligent, well-bred sophisticates try not to show it. Anger is a valid and useful emotion, if its results are positive, like righting a wrong, enforcing justice, improving yourself, etc. It is a valid and useful emotion; evolutionary hardwired, psychological and automatic, such as fear, grief, happiness, surprise, etc. It is what you do with it that matters.
Can we dismiss this general anger that has polluted the air of our planet on the pandemic alone?
As soon as we find a group raging about anything, we are only too happy to join in. We need an outlet for our hidden, silent, “well-bred” emotion. We are angry at drivers on the road; we are angry at ill-behaved, ill-mannered, ill-dressed folk we see everywhere. We are angry at politicians for sure; even at religion, people are either too religious or not religious enough. And, we are angry at our economy.
Are we simply in an angry mood, or this is “the age of anger”, as psychologists have named it?
“Anger is remarkable, not in and of itself but when it becomes so widespread, that it feels like the dominant cultural art force,” wrote David Andress, professor of History at Portsmouth, author of Cultural Dementia. He presents a fascinating account on how the “slash-and-burn” rage of the “present political climate is made possible only by wilfully forgetting the past”. He counsels against what could become an indolent understanding of history. “If everything is a wave and waves just happen what is there to discover?” However, he does allow this negativity to fall on the lap of economics, unless you are very rich.
Economics is about scarcity and insecurity — and who among us has not felt the sting of both? That alone can turn us to anger.
Another renowned psychologist, Aaron Blalick, author of The Psychology of Social Network, says: “I think for sure anger is more expressed. What you see of it is a consequence of emotional contagion, which I think social media is partly responsible for.”.
Alas. We have found another culprit causing this anger. Twitter, Facebook and their surrogates help ignite anger by joining 50,000 others complaining about this or that. They jump on the bandwagon, driving an army to rise in support.
Social media has given us an outlet to transmit anger in all areas of life.
A new Nostradamus exists among us, who predicts the future pretty accurately. American-Russian scientist and historian Peter Turchin, of the University of Connecticut, has been preaching this wave of anger since the turn of the century. He has developed a discipline known as “cliodynamics”, which posts historical events by a series of mathematical measures, such as equality vs elite overproduction, the opposite of equality.
Confused? We are. Turchin, the most studied historian of the moment, explains. When there are too many rich people in position of power, it results in buying themselves into more power through politics and elections. He has been warning for a decade that a few social and political trends pushed our age of discord. In 2010 he predicted unrest in the world, becoming serious by 2020 and it would not let up. We shall experience “a period of growing instability”, a statement which he supports with statistical data, analyses and past historic trends.
In many ways history shows a spike of rage every 50 years or so — 1870, 1920, 1970, etc. Is this our time?
Stagnation always corresponds with unrest.
Stagnation in living standards for the majority has barely improved in a generation, while the number of millionaires has increased faster than any other time in history.
So does that leave economics at the heart and soul of this anger? Perhaps in the US, EU, Britain, etc, but that does not explain the anger of a jilted lover.
There are many social forces that make us angry — if insulted, underpaid, or unjustly accused. Remember the so-called Arab Spring? Did that not warrant our anger? We can see how infectious anger can be.
It is best to express anger than let it fester and harm you emotionally and physically. Like many stimulants it has addictive qualities. You become habituated to it and you start looking for things to make you angry.
Get angry. Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy human emotion, but do not let it get out of hand.
Control it before it controls you.
Remember, anger is not aggression. Anger is normal. Aggression is an action exercised by free will.
Unprocessed anger pollutes the social sphere. It is good to vent your anger but never allow it to make you hostile. Hostile people lead unhealthy lives.
Try to express your anger when you are calm. Do not hold a grudge.
Best of all, use humour to release tension as most Egyptians do.
“It’s my rule never to lose me temper till it be detrimental to keep it.”
Sean O’Casey (1880-1964)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.