What is the role of anger is human psychology and society? Self-definition. Throughout our lives, we have both an inner definition of ourselves and the definitions others put on us. We run into thousands of people during the course of our lives. It is inevitable that, at some points, whether intentionally or not, with malice or with simple stupidity, we will be misdefined by others.
It is at this point that our perspective comes into conflict with the perspective of another. There are two versions of us, the version of our own self-definition and the version of another’s definition of us. Many times, this difference of perspective is harmless- everyone views everything from their own perspective all the time. It is when these version of reality are in conflict that we require anger, assertion, aggression, and even hate to maintain our own self-definition.
However, what about when the definition of another is harmful? When others see us as weak, helpless, evil, dishonest, cruel, stupid, etc? Do these wrongful definitions not cause anger? And is this anger not justified in many cases? Is a rape victim not justified in feeling anger at the rapist’s definition of her as not worthy of regard, as helpless, as victim? Is a black person not justified in their anger at being assumed to be less capable? Few things in life make a person angrier faster than a false accusation against them. I would argue that this shows that anger is deeply linked to our views of ourselves and how we think others percieve us.
We know the damage that can be done when someone is forced to accept a defintion of themselves which is harmful. The battered woman whose self-definition has been snuffed out through abuse struggles to define herself as a capable human being. The black person struggles to overcome the expectations of society and prove to themselves that they are as capable as any.
And the force behind all these actions is anger. Anger is the aggressive assertion of one’s own self-definition. This doesn’t have to mean physical aggression, or even verbal aggression. It can be a positive force as much as a negative force. Anger can be calm and quiet just as it can be loud and violent. Anger is the assertation of ourselves, and our push to force the world to accept us as we are.
Our modern culture denigrates anger. One is supposed to turn the other cheek, to forgive. Society has become terrified of anger, and associates it solely with those who would force their definition on others. But without anger, we have no defense. Before a fight for freedom, for liberation, before a fight for self-respect, there must come the voice that challenges the another’s claim to define us.
Wars of physcial violence or wars of the will alone, all of us will at some point face a conflict. And we cannot keep our feet in any conflict if we can be forced to see from the perspective of those who would abuse us. A battle joined means that the war of propaganda has lost, for the propaganda which prevents the war is a thousand times more powerful than the greatest military force on Earth. This is why the abusive husband must teach his wife that she is worthless, why the rulers must teach the ruled that they deserve to starve and suffer, why war-mongerers must teach the populace that they must go fight and die for the profit of some corporation.
Propaganda is defining things in a way which favors the creator of the propaganda. And the only defence against becoming enslaved in our minds, unable to even think of the idea of liberation is to have a strong self-definition and the anger to defend it. This applies personally as much as it applies to nations. A child brought up under strict parents must someday create their own definition of themselves and fight for it. This fight might be calm and quiet, but it is still a fight of self-definition.
I know my readers are surprised now. How can anger be calm and quiet? Yet look at the old saying “revenge is a dish best served cold”. Anger might be the calm statement of a purpose, and if that is respected, it goes no further. But anger is a thing of the will protecting the self. When the self is abused and the anger is not destroyed by forcing the self to accept definition by others, the anger escalates, willing protection for the self and translating that will into action, whether violence, plotting, cold cunning, or seeking aid from others.
The propaganda against anger attempts to disarm us before the world, to leave us helpless when others take away our honor (or the belief within ourselves and amongst our nearest associates that we are worthy of honor). This benefits those who would use us and abuse us, but is not good for us. I am a woman. I see how society attempts to deny me my anger. If I speak my mind, I am a bitch. If I raise my voice, I am angry and hysterical. If I show any emotion at all, my reasoned arguments are not taken seriously, for I am only an angry woman. It is all an excuse to keep my pay lower than a man’s, to keep me in impractical clothing, to keep me in conformity with the ritualized submission we call femininity.
I see how women, who are denied our just anger more than any other group, are handicapped by the lack of it. I see women who advocate for “Yes means yes” legislation, because they are too afraid of their own anger even to use it to simply say “NO”. I see women who get angry at pro-Planned Parenthood protestors, because the voices raised in their defence are frightening to them.
It is easy to roll our eyes at the delicate flowers who can’t handle any confrontation, but they are the end result of the cultural compaign against anger, assertiveness, and aggression. It is anger which started the labour movement, which has backed every revolution in history. It is anger that won women the right to vote, that won the gains of the Civil Rights movement, that won us the weekend, the eight-hour-day, overtime, laws against sexual harassment… pretty much everything we ever won, ever, at any time, has been won through anger.
This doesn’t mean that we should strive for rage, or let anger get outside its bounds. We should definitely consider that validity of our anger before we act upon it. For example, it is foolish to react with anger to constructive criticism. Our self-definitions can be flawed, and to defend them without thought and reflection is foolishness. Anger should only be allowed to defend our self-definition once we have considered the matter and are reasonably certain that our version of reality is valid and that the version another is trying to push is harmful to us.
There is much truth to the idea that anger can be pointless, destructive, and is best avoided. To learn to control one’s anger is definitely a good thing, and something we should all strive for. Anger should always be used in tandem with careful reflection, to ensure that we do not overstep the bounds of self-defence and become tyrants who insist that our view is the only view. However, this also means we should reflect carefully on how our actions affect others. There is a saying “what is a joke to a cat is death to a mouse” and it is sometimes easy to cause a lot of trouble for someone with a small action of our part.
Can we really justify much anger at those who react with anger to our ruining their lives? Can we say that it is okay that someone’s child is dead because the murder was caused by carelessness or prejudice? Can we say that someone else has a responsibility to forgive us when we hurt them, whether it is through malice or carelessness? This is one problem I see with the cult of forgiveness and positivity I see here in America- that forgiveness stops being a gift given by those who were hurt to the community or to the aggressor in hopes of a return to peace and a better life for all. Forgiveness becomes as expectation, and further harm is continually justified. When forgiveness need no longer be sought from the wronged, and now can be sought from a higher power or a god it removes all responsibility to act well.
We should all strive to act well and to not spread suffering and misery to all. Anger, rage, and even hate, are the consequences of bad action. Sometimes anger is justified, sometimes not. Sometimes it can be very hard to know the difference. But in the end, we need anger, for it is the only way in which people can hold each other responsible and create a world in which sociopaths don’t hold sway over all. And as such, the sociopaths in charge love to propagandize against anger. Don’t let them rule your mind. Make your own decisions about your anger on a case-by-case basis. Strive to recognize when it is getting out of hand and to rein it in, and strive to recognize when you need your whole will to be focused on the defence of your own self-worth.