I think I watch too much cable network news.
It’s not just because I have a thing for Rachel Maddow.
I read somewhere that people who watch a lot of cable news tend to see the world as much more dangerous and threatening than it really is. I also read that regular cable news viewers tend to be fairly angry people.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ll confess I’m a fairly angry person.
That just might be a case of the chicken and the egg.
I mean, I might be an angry person without Fox News.
Aside from the hypertension and occasional tension headache, being an angry person isn’t as bad as some tell me that it should be. In fact, I’d say so far as being a philosopher goes, being an angry person is a positive boon.
Schopenhauer seems like a pretty angry person.
Hegel probably wasn’t a ball of glad tidings, either.
And Nietzsche – if he wasn’t an angry guy did a pretty good job of writing like one.
Being angry often gets a bad rap. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (3-65 CE) called anger “the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions”. We’re often told that anger isn’t a good thing. Anger is unproductive, even dangerous. Anger is frequently associated with irrationality and an inability to maintain self-control (and if you’re an irate driver who throws some lady’s bichon frisee into oncoming traffic, anger is the cause of “road rage”). We’re told that to feel anger is irrational and leads to rash actions and bad behavior.
And if you ask Master Yoda, hate and suffering.
So much of philosophy favors the intellect over emotions. There’s a good reason why this is so. Namely, when we feel intense emotions like anger, we tend to suspend our logical decision making. It’s not that philosophers think emotions are wrong or that we shouldn’t feel them (even Master Yoda doesn’t say that), philosophers believe that we should trust our rational judgment. When we trust our rational decision-making processes, philosophers say, we are more likely to act in a way that is productive and beneficial to everybody.
I think everyone will agree that using logic and reason is a good thing. But, sometimes rational judgments fail to give us the oomph we need to get something done. We can lay out all the rational arguments in the world but logic often leaves us without motivation.
If history is any kind of teacher, we know that two emotions get people going: fear and anger. Fear often works out pretty swell, but sometimes fear has unintended consequences.
Fear can be paralyzing.
Fearful people retreat.
Fearful people sometimes pick flight instead of fight.
Sometimes being angry is a good thing.
The Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote anger is “inherent in our very frame and constitution.”
Being angry is just as natural as dandelions and Shetland ponies.
There’s plenty to get angry about: the media, politicians, TV political pundits, people who pollute the environment, corporate CEOs who give themselves pay raises while their companies go out of business (yes, Hostess, I‘m talking about you), conservatives, liberals, reality television., terrorists, broken shoe laces, anyone who drives a Toyota Prius, people who are famous because they’re famous…
So don’t feel bad for wanting to bludgeon that guy driving the silver Toyota Prius who cut you off on the freeway this morning. You were only fulfilling your inherent nature.
No, wait – put down the baseball bat.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everybody should be angry at everything, or that uncontrolled and indiscriminate anger is a good thing. I’m not advocating rage. Rage is destructive.
I am suggesting, however, that Seneca is incorrect. Anger is neither “hideous” nor “frenzied”, nor is angry people insane or consumed by a blinding emotion.
It’s possible to be reasonably angry.
Anger, if properly exercised, can be a constructive motivator to action.
Anger not only gets people riled up –
anger motivates people to do things.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that anger isn’t a bad thing. According to Aristotle, anger is the mean between two extremes.
(for info on Aristote’s Golden Mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mean_(philosophy))
If one lacks anger, he is apathetic. If an individual is too angry, one is filled with rage. Not enough anger, you’re “The Dude”; too much you’re the Incredible Hulk. The key to being properly angry Aristotle says is knowing when and why to get angry. Aristotle writes:
He then who is angry on the right occasions and with the right persons, and also in the right manner, and at the right season, and for the right length of time…
Aristotle is no stoic. He doesn’t believe that angry people are crazy. Aristotle says, “Those who are not angered by what ought to anger them seem to be foolish.”
Well, then. If Aristotle is right, there are a lot of no-too-foolish people out there.
Our problem isn’t that we’re angry; it’s that we haven’t channeled our anger into the desire to change things for the better; to master anger getting angry at the things we should be angry about; to get angry at the right things for the right reason – to master the art of Aristotelian anger.
If you’re wondering what Aristotelian anger looks like, here’s something to get you started:
But hey, if I’m wrong. Don’t get angry at me.
Seneca thought angry people are insane. As a stoic philosopher, Seneca believed that any worry, fear, or anger we feel over situations beyond our control (e.g. someone else’s driving) is ultimately unproductive and disruptive to our philosophical well being. Stoics believed that life’s troubles (in particular) should be met with calmed indifference. Given this point of view, anyone who is angered over a seemingly trivial matter would seem out of one’s mind.
At this time, I am developing a theory of Angryism. Angryism is a theory based on the belief not only that most people spend a significant amount of time being angry, but that anger can be a proper basis of behavior.
1. David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature. 2000, 2005 . Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bk. 3. Pt. 3. Sec. 7
2. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004. Trans. F.H. Peters, MA. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. 86-7.