Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Can human anger ever be positive?

The notion of 'righteous anger' - of wrathfulness in the service of a Greater Good - is worth considering. If it ever right to lose one's temper - even if in doing so, one believes it will alter another person's behaviour for the better?

Hitler was often prone to hysterical ranting, especially when things weren't going his way. Stalin, on the other hand, rarely lost his composure.

Television, film and theatrical drama are all full of angry people, shouting furiously at one another. It makes for strong entertainment. Rarely are we invited to laugh at the angry - and yet, that's the best way of diffusing the tension. John Cleese (in particular as Basil Faulty) and Warren Mitchell (as Alf Garnett) Here's Basil Fawlty, showing how funny anger aimed at an inanimate object can appear (below):

And here's Alf Garnett going into one, though against a human adversary, Spike Milligan (below):

Interestingly, in both scenes we have the 'counting to three'; the anger never spills over into violence with Alf Garnett; from the first series (1966) through to the last (1992) we know that verbally aggressive as Alf is, he is essentially non-violent.

Losing one's temper to the point where further speech becomes incoherent is the point where anger ceases to have any useful vector; at this point one has lost the argument.

The reptile brain has taken over, the primitive has triumphed over sophistication.

This time last year:
A telling Metro vignette

This time two years ago:
How I almost saved the life of Barack Obama

This time four years ago:
Ansel Adams, Count Basie, Sir John Betjeman

This time six years ago:
The hissing of the summer lawns


Sigismundo said...

Some people are so thick-skinned that the only way to get through to them is to get really, snortingly, obnoxiously angry with them.

So, I completely disagree that 'losing one's temper to the point of incoherence' is necessarily a bad thing, at least not in all circumstances.

There are cultures, of course, such as the Chinese, where losing your temper with someone, even if they deserve it, is a complete no-no, as not only will you lose your argument, but the recipient 'loses face' and so will become your lifelong enemy for ever after.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Sigismundo -

It was exactly this comment I was hoping for! Many thanks for the cross-cultural perspective.

DC said...

I agree with Sigismundo that sometimes it's the only way to reach certain people. The only thing is the older I get the more I dislike doing it since I realize the toll it takes on me in the end.

As for the Asian anger taboo thing, I wish I understood it better. I can't recall ever seeing anyone express unrestrained anger in Thailand or Japan, but China? Not so hard to find. There have been a number of news items recently of people losing it in airports there. My favorite is when some people got sufficiently irritated about a flight delay in Guangzhou that they marched out onto a taxiway to block aircraft movement:


There was a similar incident at Shanghai Pudong. There have been moments I'd secretly loved to see something like that at O'Hare or Heathrow one time - heh heh.

Seriously though, can it be productive? I'm guessing older Poles know better than many what it's like to feel helpless against environmental destruction. Wouldn't it be great if potential polluters in China began to decide it wasn't worth the potential rage of ordinary Chinese people? Maybe a little demonstration of such anger could help them along in their thinking? If the Party wants to prevent such chaos they should be working towards policing and well-publicized prosecution of industrial polluters.

Some more airport fun:



Sigismundo said...

I must say, unlike @DC, I quite like 'losing it' on occasions. It provides a sort of release for pent up frustrations. I often feel better afterwards.

In my experience of SE Asia (mainly, Thailand/Malaysia/Indonesia/Vietnam) whenever I or my young lady partner have got angry it has usually complicated the problem rather than solved it. A measured approach, with half-smiles, and lots of polite pigeon English, always does the job much better and more efficiently, for all parties concerned.

Having said that, the one time I did visit Guangzhou, we got vociferously angry with the local touts several times: it was the only way to get rid of the pesky blighters. The phrases "go away", and "please f*** off" just didn't do the trick.