I might have titled this piece ‘Rage’, but not wishing its thrust to be confused with Rage
, the all-night music video program broadcast on the ABC
on Friday nights and Saturdays, I have stuck with the less emotive word ‘anger’. You all know what ‘anger’ means.
It is with some trepidation that I write this piece. Like most ordinary people, I prefer a peaceful life, light on the emotive elements that it can throw at us. Yet, unavoidably, all of us live in a world redolent with anger. It’s everywhere. It seems sad that it is so.
Even a cursory glimpse back in time reminds us that anger has always been a striking feature of human interaction. Julius Sumner Miller would have asked: Why is it so?
In this attempt to explain the nature of anger, I won’t be assailing you with a heavy metaphysical treatise; instead I will point you towards longstanding features of this phenomenon among members of our species, homo sapiens
If you pushed me for a simple answer to the genesis of anger, I would target ‘selfishness’ as the prime cause. At the church I attended in my youth, the most frequent topic of the sermon was ‘selfishness’, which the preacher regarded as possibly the most egregious sin of all.
From the very beginning, we have focussed on our own needs. As babies we scream for milk when we’re thirsty. We cry when we’re uncomfortable with soiled nappies, when we have a bellyache, or when our bedding needs tidying. As we grow, we seek human attention, gentle soothing, and a warm embrace. We reveal that we are more than eating and excreting machines; we need human interaction, even love. And if we don’t get what we want, we become angry and ‘scream blue murder’.
Our needs seldom diminish. Instead, with every passing year we seem to need more. While there are generous souls who devote their lives to others, most focus on themselves, forever seeking what they need, and want. They learn how to put a gloss on what they want so as not to appear to be too selfish, too focussed on their own desires. The hide their self-centredness.
To visualise the magnitude of this, multiply it millions of times - across families, the community, the nation, and indeed the world in which we live.
Yet anger has its inevitable consequences. When people are angry they seek redress for the wrongs that have made them angry. Looking back in history we see this classically demonstrated at the time of the French Revolution during which there was widespread discontent with the monarchy which at that time controlled the economy. The poor economic policies of King Louis XVI resulted in crippling poverty among the masses. Yet he and his wife Marie Antoinette showed callous disregard for their plight. ‘Let them eat cake’ was her haughty response for which she eventually paid with her head on the guillotine. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables
is the popular stage representation of this historic time.
We experience anger every day: when a rude person pushes us away to take the last seat on the bus, or edges into a queue, or grabs the last sausage at Bunnings. This variety of anger harms us. We feel the consequences. We feel ‘hot and bothered’.
Yet there are laudable angry responses. Those with a finely-tuned social conscience justifiably feel anger at injustice, unfairness and inequality. Homelessness, chronic unemployment, insecure work, uncongenial or dangerous work conditions, worker exploitation, pay theft, bullying, intimidation, and sexual harassment all deserve an angry response and corrective action. Here, anger is appropriate, indeed necessary.
To this sorry catalogue add flagrant corporate greed, executive self-interest, wilful exploitation of clients, even criminal behaviour, all perpetrated by the pillars of society that once we learned to trust, but now despise because of their culture of self-interest and the corruption that follows. Banks, financial advisers, stock brokers, corporate lawyers, lobbyists, narrow-interest advocates, and an array of strong-arm trade union leaders make up a motley collection of self-interested individuals and groups primarily out for themselves, all using client concern as a deceitful charade. They all make us angry.
Domestic violence, child abuse, school bullying, paedophilia, elder neglect and exploitation, and now social media bullying, cyber abuse and crime all join the long list of offensive behaviours that cause pain, distress, loneliness, and anger.
So let’s give anger its just due. Those of us who write political pieces do so because we are angry. Angry at the unfair deal life inflicts on so many, angry at the indifference to their plight that society and so many politicians exhibit, angry at their reluctance to address these needs, angry at their self-centred preoccupation with their own political needs and wants ahead of the needs of those who interests they are elected to represent.
We see anger as the driver of our actions. Expect us to be angry.
Long live anger.