Monday, September 5, 2011


Angry can be an ugly word.  For those who consider themselves raised above the swamp of unchecked human emotion it can be a humiliating label.  It is as damaging to one's intellectual character as a sprig of hemlock waved beneath the Socratic nose, as disempowering as kryptonite or as damning as a crucifix held before the bloody fangs of Count Dracula.  It devalues and discredits the bearer and renders their opinion worthless.      

Angry has a life of its own.  It lives in the dark caverns of the soul, it bubbles below the crust of civil social demeanor, and its sulfuric odor pollutes the very essence of rational thought.  

During the 2004 Presidential election, there was no word that so effectively crippled the critics of the incumbent as the word angry.  "I don't know why, but you liberals are so angry."   It was such a polite, psychologically telling observation; synonymous with "the world is a good place, why can't you see that?" 

When someone is termed "angry," it is implied that it is they who need fixing, not the issue at hand.  Sure, anger and its associated adrenaline rush might be a great defense mechanism for the primitive, but it has no place in the high-stakes boxing ring of politics.  You may pummel a man's face with athletically placed punches but where is the honor in turning your opponent's ear into a Mike Tyson TV dinner?  For that matter, in today's vocabulary of  Western warfare we prefer the term sortie to the san-glamorous expression dog-fight with its overtones of aggression and rage.

Angry young men are losers.  Sure there is a touch of the romantic associated with standing tall for an ideal, but there is really no sense getting upset when innocence is crushed.  The "fall" is part of growing up.  Martha Stewart may be a crook, but don't get "angry" if she continues to make millions hawking picnic recipes on national television.   It’s not like our quintessential Connecticut housewife pulled a nylon over her head and stuck a .38 caliber revolver in a cashiers face.  

By definition, angry is hungering for a fight.  It is a junkyard dog snarling and snapping at anyone who passes the  fence.  It is a beast so habitual in its fire-eyed wrath that it attacks without discretion.   Neither careful reflection nor thoughtful deliberation are required to ignite it's high octane vapor.  Do not trust what is angry!

So you can imagine how shocked I was when one of my recent essays received the comment:  "You seem to think we are doomed.  You seem very angry."  

The doomed bit I can live with. Lots of writers are known for their despondent moods, the bouts with alcohol and pills, their cynical, cup-half-empty world view.  It adds to the mystique, lends a more credible edge to insight.  But angry?  What kind of comment is that?  Am I a pimple-faced teenager scripting heart-broken love notes?  A Montana pipe bomber formulating some insane "new-world" manifesto within the confines of a snow bound cabin?  

Come on, I earned a literature degree from a major east-coast University.  I can footnote with the best of them.  When I throw a scoring hook, the sound of crunching cartilage should come from my opponent's nose, not my gloved and padded knuckles.  Follow that blow up the arm that delivered it and you will find a tattooed reference page, a bibliography of cold cruel fact.  Training has taught my professional tendons never to waste precious energy on anything disassociated from the eventual knock-out.  These muscles "don't get angry, they get even." 

So now, picture a quaint northern European village.  It is a beautiful spring day.  The sun is shining.   The red maples have cast down their maroon blosums and fresh green leaves flutter like Tibetan prayer flags in the gentle morning breeze.   A pretty blue-eyed mother steps from the doorway of her impeccably neat row house, bends ever so slightly at the knee and retrieves the milk bottle left there earlier by the delivery man.  With swan like grace, she straightens up, unconsciously caressing the smooth neck of the cool, moisture beaded glass as she inhales deeply from the perfumed pool of life surrounding her.  The year is 1939.

Tranquility is suddenly shattered as a young man on a bicycle rounds the corner at the end of the block.  He is shouting and she can see him tossing bundled papers at the stoops along the sun-dappled street.  As he comes closer, she hears urgency and concern in his voice.  His face is red and wet with perspiration.  Now almost abreast of her she understands his hoarsely broadcast German.  "Where are the Jews?"  he yells, "Where have they taken the Jews?"  A folded paper skids across the granite pavers beneath her feet as the cyclist races on, his voice fading behind him like the clanging ornaments of a vanishing wedding carriage.

"The Jews...oh that again," she thinks as she lifts the lid of the waste can and drops the banded leaflet in.  "It is too beautiful a morning to be spoiled by such an angry young man." 

Alright, maybe in some of my essays I'm that lad on the bike.  I can't help it, I read a lot.  I've got all these facts and figures rattling around in my head and even though figures lie and liars figure there is plenty of well documented evidence that big money purchases political decisions that directly affect our lives.   As a matter of fact, the more one digs into things, the more corrupt our nation's political landscape appears.  There are people who find such an observation enlightening and others who find it disturbing.  

I have a feeling the varied responses are linked to the old dam syndrome Jared Diamond describes in "Collapse."   When polling citizen concern, it was discovered that folks a few towns downstream from a poorly maintained dam are quite concerned with the possibility that it might break and flood their homes.  The closer one gets to the dam however, the less the villagers express anxiety about a potential disaster.  So certain is their demise should the dam fail that they deny the possibility altogether.  I imagine a visiting civil engineer might be termed an angry man should he try to make the "ground zero" inhabitants believe otherwise. 

There are those who argue that depression is the flip side of anger.  There may be truth in that observation.  Certainly trauma and stress left unresolved have a nasty way of coming back to haunt the victim.  It may color their outlook and prevent them from experiencing a healthy, clear eyed perception of the world around them.  But is this true of the messenger bearing bad news?  Do we discount the story he carries as Machiavellian trickery motivated by some deep-seated psychic dysfunction?

Our representative democracy functions from both the bottom up and the top down.  Elections are a real pain in the ass for everyone.  At the polls the votes of the uninformed, misinformed, manipulated and misled cancel out the decisions made from in depth research and thoughtful observation.

With globalization, trillion dollar budgets, wars, environmental degradation and the ever present threat of nuclear annihilation, politics can appear overwhelming.  What difference can a single voice make?  And do the informed have the right to become angry when they see injustice assault the innocent? Who knows what impact our lone cyclist had that spring morning in 1939.  What we do know is he wasn't just an angry young man.  His emotions expressed anger in order to draw the spotlight to an unconscionable situation and to stimulate action.  Self preservation and political perseverance may sometimes require participants to get angry.  It is not a flaw of the personality but a strength to be embraced. 

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