Anger, Part 1: Dangers
By A.D. Freudenheim

21 October 2001

"We are all just prisoners here, of our own device." - Hotel California, The Eagles

In a world we conceive of as chaotic and uncontrollable, one strong and understandable reaction may be to exert ever greater energies towards control over our environment and our society. It makes sense; most of us cannot tolerate extended periods of chaos, if we can tolerate any at all. Anger may trigger an even stronger desire for order - provoked by the chaos, in response to some other action, or coming from a particular frustration (whether new or latent).

Like most emotions, anger has several aspects: it can be a distracting emotion or a focusing one; we can allow ourselves to be swallowed up by it, or we can attempt to control it, channel it, and draw inspiration from its energy. Prior to the terrorist attacks against the United States six weeks ago, before the news media's already-limited attention span was devoured by the multiplicity of coverage opportunities with which the attacks presented them, Americans periodically heard stories about different kinds of rage. In these incidents, which are well beyond anger, something about the immediately uncontrollable world around a person provokes a reaction that is distinctly out of proportion to the situation; two notable examples are O.J. Simpson's alleged road rage attack, for which he has just gone on trial, and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck's alleged air rage episode, scheduled for trial in early November. There used to be, it seemed, a report of at least one "rage" episode a week, along with a steady stream of commentary about the necessity of finding a solution to the problem: stop serving alcohol on flights, install cameras at troublesome intersections, equip police officers with cameras to record episodes in which they are asked to interfere, etc. There is not much coverage of this now, though it seems unlikely that the problem has resolved itself.

Naturally, after the attacks of 11 September, there are other problems which appear more important. Although there has been a very slow effort to return to "normal" news coverage, in tandem with exhortations from various political leaders to seek normalcy in daily life, there is probably a lot of unresolved anger in the American citizenry - and in case we have been too self-absorbed to notice it, it is being channeled for us, on our behalf. In pushing forward with our new "war" against terrorism, our political leadership hopes to turn our anger into commitment and (as President Bush puts it) "resolve": to direct our energies at exacting a kind of retribution from the terrorist network Al Queda, along with anyone else who stands in our way.

There have also been a series of political struggles about whether and how to implement new security procedures to prevent such attacks in the future - and whether or how these changes warrant acceptable infringements on our civil liberties. Installing bullet-proof cabin doors on airplanes does not impose on anyone's civil rights, but what about increased "profiling" of travelers, particularly Arab-Americans? Should we trust Attorney General John Ashcroft with the kind of broad investigative powers that allow his officers to monitor phone conversations and e-mails, credit-card transactions and other details of our daily lives? Does anyone remember Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, or even FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who abused privileges like these in several decades of the twentieth century? Thankfully, an adept coalition of left- and right-wing legislators removed some of the more noxious items from Ashcroft's requested anti-terrorism legislation, but how long will that coalition hold together in the face of (threatened) further attacks?

Despite official pronouncements to the contrary, this war is not necessarily a positive channel for our anger. In victory, we may successfully prevent future attacks against ourselves or others, and there is merit in that, of course. But we must be mindful of the costs, and of the paths that we take to our final goal. If, in trying to secure our nation further, we restrict the liberties that make us as successful as we are, then we will have a new brand of anger with which to contend; the anger from within may turn out to be more dangerous than the anger we face from outside our borders.

Next Week ... Anger, Part 2: Opportunities
Whose anger? What anger?
And what can be done with it?
Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.