Anger is a common, dangerous emotion, a momentary draining of all goodwill and the ability to think. It’s at the root of all violence, and it always makes the violent person feel completely justified while they are raging.
At the same time anger is an important warning system that can tell us when to get out of a combustible situation.
Complicating this complex emotion even more: show anger and you are instantly seen as the aggressor, no matter how relentless the provocation may have been, no matter how reasonable and patient you may have been before getting angry.
The most pernicious anger, in a certain way, is the anger that is always repressed, denied, justified as not being anger at all.
There are people, my mother was one, who fly into a rage if you mention their anger. It’s not, in their mind, that they get mad, they are just outraged that you would unfairly accuse them of something that couldn’t be further from the truth. My friend Mark Friedman was a great example of this angry denial of anger. He would fold his arms across his chest and glare churlishly at any suggestion that his anger may have played any part in his most recent conflict. In my experience, anger deniers often seethe quietly at the suggestion that they are experiencing anger and may not be seeing things clearly because they’re angry. They tend not to scream or punch you.
Hey, we call it getting mad. “Don’t get mad, get even”. Anger is, actually, an evolutionarily important form of temporary madness. It plays an important survival role, but it can also disable certain functions. There is the famous experiment where researchers wired the insula, the part of the brain that lights up when you fall in love, have a creative idea, are in a flow state, and when you get angry. They have you answer some moderately nuanced questions and tally a baseline score. Then they make you angry and watch your insula light up. They ask similar questions and find that you are basically unable to answer or answering them “fuck you!”
This is the engine fueling the vast profitability of social media — keep the person angry, they keep clicking and the ad revenues keep cah-chinging.
It is the mechanism at work in MAGA-world, in someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene’s brain. She shows up at a meeting the other day, sits next to a Republican election expert who confirms that there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. She immediately, very pleasantly and confidently, tells him that thousands of dead people voted in Georgia in 2020, that there was widespread Democrat [sic] fraud, that Trump won Georgia by a huge margin, that this guy is no expert at all, basically that he can kiss her privileged white ass. The clip of her owning this RINO probably goes viral (Marjorie leaves the meeting immediately after creating this contrarian content, according to the election expert) and Marjorie is back in the gym, having herself filmed heroically doing pullups and pushups, for another social media/fundraising post.
If you are mad as hell, and believe Biden is a commie puppet on the payroll of his son’s laptop, you’ll receive a jolt of energy watching Marjorie angrily tell this RINO cuck so-called expert to suck it and then watching her powerfully work out in her crossfit outfit. That’s how anger fuels anger and keeps the loop of denial of anything but your anger going.
Anger removes cause and effect thinking, you simply can’t track back to follow an argument that does not conform to what your anger is telling you is right. Anger is an insistent bastard, if it is fed, and one of its main tricks is making all nuance disappear.
Here’s an aggravating example I‘ll try to describe dispassionately. There has long been a hellish standoff between the Israeli government and the Palestinians. You can call it many things, but none describe a good situation. The far-right government in charge of Israel now, like the far right everywhere, is fueled by anger and fear. The Israeli right is angry that the anti-semitic world is unfairly villainizing Israel for protecting herself and they fear that the countless enemies of Israel will destroy her if she is not strong, vigilant and aggressive in fighting all enemies.
Anti-semitism is on the rise worldwide and there are millions who hate both Jews and Zionists, so they are not crazy to feature these things. It is only their “solution” that is… well, that fuels the very things they fear and hate.
Many supporters of Israel, even ones who dislike this far-right cabal that has been in charge for a while, chafe at the word apartheid being used to describe things like the series of security checkpoints Palestinians must spend hours a day lining up at to enter and leave Israel, the two sets of roads, the inequitable distribution of water in the occupied territories and so on.
Without taking sides or a position, and refraining from calling the unholy Israeli coalition of ordinary authoritarians and religious extremists a bunch of fucking Nazis, I will describe a tactic used by supporters of Palestinian rights (and it is beyond denying that millions of otherwise innocent human beings live in atrocious poverty in crowded camps and cities). It is the same tactic that brought down the apartheid government of South Africa: Boycott, Divest, Sanction. Many liberals call for this pressure to be placed on Israel and there is heated debate about this tactic.
On the plus side it is nonviolent and it already worked to end brutal segregation in South Africa. On the minus side, it stigmatizes a fellow democracy and doesn’t guarantee a just resolution of an intractable crisis. Bernie Sanders, for example, has repeatedly stated that he does not support BDS against Israel.
Lobbyists for Israel have called for a law here in the US making it a felony for any company to support BDS. Under this proposed law, if you are a corporation, business or wealthy individual and you endorse BDS — even if not practicing it yourself — you are guilty of a felony punishable by a large fine and in some situations prison time. Bernie Sanders, for one, is against this law and has stated his opposition publicly. One obvious problem with the proposed anti-BDS law is that it criminalizes otherwise protected First Amendment expression.
But, Bernie Sanders, in the minds of many, because he opposes this extreme law, is an antisemite and self-hating Jew who supports BDS.
This math is so easy to do if you are angry. Nuance is impossible to see when you’re mad. There is no difference, when your insula is glowing from anger, between someone opposing a law that does violence to the First Amendment and someone who supports the worldwide strangulation of a great democracy and the end of protection of all Jews everywhere from annihilation.
Anger is a motherfucker and the most destructive emotional force we are up against. It can be fanned into flames that will burn everything you love. Any lie is good enough to support indignation and one lie builds on another. The angry mind can’t make distinctions, which is why a constant “FUCK YOU!” is a perfectly valid response to anything you don’t want to hear.