It’s OK To Be Angry. How Else Will We Change the World?

Yves here. I am a big believer in anger. It’s been disconcerting, if revealing, to see the degree to which even fairly mild forms of conflict are increasingly treated as deviant behavior. One staple is the small city public meeting where a citizen gets up to complain about something in public comments. Even if his tone remains measured, straight talk is often depicted by the chair as angry or disrespectful….as if any criticism is out of line and public officials were superior to their constituents.

In other words, the prohibitions against anger have increased as inequality and class disparities have risen. Only those in a superior or equal position are allowed to be angry, but even then, they risk a hostile response from their uncouth underlings…some of whom may be ticking time bombs thanks to oppressive work environments or other societal stressors.

In addition, I am told that young people have been brought up to be conflict averse. Some of this is the weird new normal of being made responsible for other people’s feelings. My friends in therapy used to tell me that not taking on the burden of the emotional reactions of others was a sign of good boundaries….what happened to that? Now the fad of policing “microagressions” requires treating everyone around you as if they are fragile and neurotic. The Japanese can pull this off because they have a vague language and regard talking much as rude. But chatty, extroverted Americans?

It has hit the point that friends my age who work with college debaters have noticed that when the engage with other people their age and have what they regard as normal give-and-take around hot topics of the day, the students are clearly uncomfortable with what they see as too much conflict.

Another possible side effect of the increased US prohibitions against anger is our high level of depression. While not all depression is unexpressed anger channeled internally, some is. And our level of anti-depressant use confirms we are a mighty depressed population.

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

I wrote this on Twitter yesterday:

I thought there was some risk in saying this. The anti-angry brigade is everywhere right now.

I am often told that it is now unacceptable to be angry within work environments. Those who might be upset by anger are always right according to those who say this – even when they are not. As a result bullies are actively enabled and get away with whatever they want, because anger is the natural reaction to being abused.

And anger is also unacceptable in politics, apparently. This has been one of the reactions to the death of Sir David Amess. Apparently, we are meant to be nicer to politicians, even when they have a consistent voting pattern of seeking to undermine the wellbeing of those who are dependent on the state. However nice Sir David was wrong I can still be angry about his voting record.

We can be angry when we see something that is wrong. We should be. And we should show it. All that we must not be is two things. The first is violent, of course. And the second is to think that the person with whom we are angry is inherently evil, because I do not believe that simply because thinking in that way suggests that there is no power to argument, and there is. It is my belief that a person can be persuaded to change their mind. Otherwise, why do I spend so much time trying to persuade people that they are wrong and that there are better options?

I spent some time talking to an old friend yesterday who wondered where I get the ideas from to write this blog each morning. The answer is simple. I wake up every day angry that we still face a world full of fear when I believe that fear is wholly unnecessary. Whether the fear is of hunger, disease, or the right to worship, or to be the person someone feels that they are, it is necessary. We can do better on all such issues, and more. Why shouldn’t we be angry that we aren’t? That is what motivates me every morning. And if that makes me an angry person, so be it. What else changes the world?

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