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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

More on rage

Yesterday Dan raised a persistent question about why there would seem to be more rage in a society that is objectively better off than it was during times of less rage? At first I kept responding in terms of whether rage was triggered by these changes or was more personal......but either way, Dan's question remained valid: "Why more now?"

After a bit of thinking, I tried to think of the people I knew in the past and now who were the victims of injustice and who, while understandably angry, managed to cope without full-on rage. In every case, the answer was similar if not exactly the same: these people ALL believed that some external force.....either their god or karma......would eventually ensure justice for those who inflicted intentional cruelties and then managed to escape any consequences.

My own mother was one of these people and was a staunch believer in a combination of the two. For her, there was NO DOUBT that a person's actions were going to catch up with them............ here or in the afterlife. I remember her telling this to me, my brother, Rosa, and anyone who seemed angry over an injustice they were powerless to correct. She believed it with every fiber of her being. And she was no shy, wallflower. If she could exact her own retribution, she would.....but when it was fruitless? Well, karma would get them. And if karma didn't? Well, that was what God would take care of in the end:

God's vacation spot for those who escaped justice on earth.

Historically, this notion of Divine Retribution, preached from the pulpit to the poor, powerless, and oppressed, guaranteed justice. It is one of the many criticisms of Christianity that such teaching helps keep the throngs of oppressed people from revolting against the privileged classes. 

"If you won't fight for yourselves.....follow my breasts!"

So I ran the 'retribution tape' through my own head and pretended I believed it to be true..........and I realized if I was able to convince myself of such a thing, I felt better. Why waste my time and ruin my day with frustrated rage when the justice I sought would happen in time? All I had to do was continue with my own life and trust that everything would be made right eventually. Wow. What a strategy!

"Relax, children........I got this!"

The problem is......I DON'T believe this will happen. And it seems that an ever-increasing number of Americans have the same problem. (click for article on decline of religion in US)  So, I can't help but wonder if THAT'S the answer to Dan's question. The statistic I read in another article pointed out an interesting fact that in the context of this 'rage theory' is either more evidence, or a bizarre coincidence: it seems like the increase of rage in society is not gradual. It feels like it went up a tiny bit in decades past and now is increasingly more frequent. Oddly the decline in religious follows that same pattern: a very gradual decline from the 60's through the 70's and 80's, picking up speed a bit in the 90's, and rampant among "Millennials" now. (link)

I find that very interesting. It certainly is consistent with the correlation between rage and the feeling of being powerless. With a solid belief system in place, you may be powerless, but you have this all-powerful force that you can rely on. But.....stop believing in that force? And all you have is your rage.


  1. There's obviously no way to prove whatever view anyone takes on this, as correlation doesn't equal causation. But, here are some thoughts/observations/queries:

    -- Like your mother, I'm not an atheist. Unlike your mother, I don't really think about people who do bad things to me burning in hell. So, the fact that you experience rage and I don't does not seem to be something that I can attribute to my rejection of pure determinism or materialism.
    -- I do loosely believe in karma, but more in the form of the fairly common sense notion of "what goes around comes around." But, I see enough seeming counter-examples that I can't say it gives me much real faith that bad things end up happening to bad people, or at least that bad things *always* happen to bad people. So, again, my own lack of rage doesn't seem to be tied to belief that some greater force will punish the wrongdoers.
    -- Moreover, if you are a pure materialist with a deterministic bent, is there really any reason for getting mad at anything that happens? You can get mad at your car for getting a flat-tire and leaving you stranded or at the refrigerator motor for failing and spoiling all your food, but is it rational to do so?
    -- You could be right that rage correlates with peoples' loss of faith that there is a god out there tallying up good and bad acts and making sure there is payback for the bad. So, the victims feel a greater sense of injustice. But, it also could be that one reason we see more bad acts driven by rage is that those people committing them no longer feel like *they* will burn in hell for committing them. This seems to me to be a more likely explanation, since a hell of a lot of the rage out there seems to be among the Christian right-wingers who elected Trump, and they very much DO believe in a vengeful god. But, their cherished belief that Hillary will burn in hell for not being nice to the women Bill fucked doesn't seem to calm their rage one little bit.
    -- It's true that the Millennials are the most non-religious generation in history. But, it's also true that they are one of the most pampered generations in history. So, does their rage come from lack of a sense that god's justice will pay back those who hurt them, or is it that they perceive *everything* that makes them feel uncomfortable or challenged as unjust? I think previous generations had a sense that the world is a hard place and bad things happen to good people and that's just the way it is. Those events were personalized, and it took more make people see them as personal. Now, if someone forgets a Millennial's name when they encounter each other in the elevator, it is a "micro-aggression." If you go around looking for things to get pissed off about, then you probably tend to be pissed off a lot.

    1. Could be. It's interesting how one's personal experience plays such a role in this. For example, you don't relate to my late mother's view, yet share some of her beliefs......BUT you have also said that you can't recall ever feeling fucked over without recourse. So one of the triggers for rage is not part of your experience. I wonder if it was, would your view remain the same? Maybe. You seem to operate differently than a lot of people I know.

      As an aside, I do want to point out something you have brought up in several discussions and that is how my feelings seem to contradict my beliefs. You seem somehow surprised by that, as if a person should believe what they like, and like what they believe, but the answer is simply different: my emotional desires do not coincide with what I believe to be true. I'm an atheist who would very much 'like' there to be a benevolent god out there. I'm a determinist who believes a person has to pretend they ARE making their own decisions in order for anything to have meaning. So what my brain tells me is most likely true is not what I would have liked to have concluded personally.

      Back to your points though. Yes, it could be that the absence of the threat of damnation has freed up some nastiness, but even when people did 'believe' they rationalized their evil as justified. I think that may still be the case. A crazy zealot is probably MORE likely to do something extreme in the name of their god.....or at least it sure seems that way historically speaking. But it could be otherwise.

      Rosa said she sort of copes with anger through an irrational belief that eventually karma will get the person somehow.....even though she sort of knows that is not always the case. But Rosa is a person who admittedly plays coping games in her own mind and is pretty good at it. I'm not.

      I also wonder if there's some regional influence at work? I can't help but smile at the dueling caricatures of a West Coast person saying, "hey, don't worry about it, dude. Surf's up, just ride the waves." And an East Coast person saying, "you wronged me, so I'm gonna get you, and then I'm going after your whole family!" ;-)

    2. I didn't quite say I've never been fucked over without recourse. Rather, I said I couldn't think of an example where someone did it *out of spite.* I've had plenty of people try to fuck me over, but usually out of their own self-interest or because we were professional adversaries. The "all is fair in love and war" kind of thing . . . Or, they were just dysfunctional people doing the kind of things dysfunctional people do.

      It is true that I probably don't react to people trying to fuck me over in the same way a lot of people do. But, believe me, it's not West Coast brotherly love kind of thing. Kind of the opposite. I'm one of the most tit-for-tat people you will ever meet. Not because that's necessarily who I am as a person, but because there is a lot of data that shows it is the dispute resolution strategy that works the best. If someone treat me well, I treat them well. If someone is a dick to me, I return the favor in spades. It's simple, elegant, and it works.

      To some extent, my fairly cold reaction to people who try to fuck me is a result of the fact that I actually grew up in pretty difficult circumstances, where it was pretty easy to blame things beyond my control and to react to the emotion around me. But, I kind of went in the opposite direction over time. My reaction to drama is to get much colder, and my reaction to feeling events are controlling me is to do whatever the hell it takes to influence them. It actually has caused problems at work when dealing with high-drama people. The more they ratchet up the drama, the colder and more analytical I become.

      As I said, I tend not to get into a rage about things outside my control because I tend to assume most things are, if not within my control, at least something I can influence. So, while you feel out of control and, hence, go into a rage, I feel too much in control and, hence, I feel anxiety. I feel anxious about doing the wrong thing in situations I can control, because there aren't that many situations that feel totally outside my ability to influence.

      The upside of that is is, I don't feel helpless or out of control. The downside is, it is burdensome as hell to feel like you can influence everything and, therefore, are responsible for everything. To pull the whole topic back to our more usual themes, I suspect one reason I am into Domestic Discipline is precisely because I feel in control all the fucking time, which is incredibly wearing. I have felt that way since I was a kid because, instead of reacting to things around me by feeling powerless, I've always felt like if I work harder, try harder, push harder, fight harder . . . I can change things AND if I fail to change things I am at fault because I obviously didn't work hard enough, try hard enough . . . as evidenced by the fact that I didn't change things.

      The issue I was pointing out regarding determinism wasn't so much that there is a contradiction between your beliefs and your feelings (probably true for every single one of us), but that in a purely deterministic world, I'm not sure what's left of concepts like "justice" and "injustice" and other normative terms. I don't think that is necessarily true when you remove the concept of god, but I do think those normative terms become very problematic in a purely deterministic world and, then, also does getting mad about injustice.

      The regional thing could be at play, but only because my raising is very attenuated from my current reality. Those angry, red-neck, Trump voters are way more my people than those I spend my days with now.

    3. Thank you for being so candid about yourself and your background. It did explain things better.

      Interesting also about the tit-for-tat thing. It is definitely another area where we differ. I won't do that. Even my son has on occasion said things like , "if that person did that to you and you have the chance to do something back, why don't you?" And I explained that it went against what I want for myself. Now I'm not saying I won't fight back in a dispute, but I'm talking now about little cruel attacks that could be countered by other acts of cruelty from me. I won't do it. (It drives Rosa crazy and she says it's something she admires about me and hates about me ....because she feels this point of honor encourages malicious enemies to target me because they know I probably won't act maliciously in return.)

      As for control? It seems to me that you've managed to get yourself to a place where you have a lot more control over things than most people.....and I see how that can make DD attractive to you. For me though DD doesn't come from there.

      As for your observations on determinism? Again, I argue this with my Son-in-Law often and I maintain that while determinism seems most accurate.....the moral implications cannot follow. He once said that determinism raised the question of culpability and I countered that it didn't matter. As a society we have to proceed as it it did and in the end, if we remove a criminal-who-can't-help-it from society, 'blame' is irrelevant. The important thing is that if someone is 'programmed' that way, they need to be removed....fault or not. It's like exterminating a rat while acknowledging that the rat is not intentionally destroying one's property but just being a rat and doing what rats do.

      Great exchange (once again). Thanks.

    4. I'm with your Son-in Law on the determinism issue. I agree that the "blame" element becomes irrelevant, but so does the "need to be removed" and the "have to proceed." If it's all just predetermined anyway, then we don't "need to" or "have to" do anything. But, my bigger issue with determinism it that it may have seemed like a viable model in a very Newtonian world, but I just don't see how it makes much sense in a world of quantum mechanics in which randomness prevails and where an event may or may not happen depending on whether someone is watching it.

      On tit-for-tat, don't get me wrong. There is all sorts of stuff I don't care enough about to respond at all. But, on things that do matter, tit-for-tat ends up encouraging more cooperative behavior in the long run. And, I'm kind of with Rosa. There are a lot of people out there who will roll you if they think they can.

    5. I get it, but I guess I have an outdated outlook on a lot of things. I'm an odd combination of things.....but I come by my quirks honestly. ;-)

    6. Aren't we all my man? Aren't we all. :-) As Lee Marvin said in Paint Your Wagon, "I'm an ex-citizen of nowhere, and sometimes I get might homesick."

    7. And, btw, anyone who would love us only without our quirks is someone not worth having -- or talking to. So, thanks for hosting a place where quirks are welcome.

    8. Thanks, Dan! I will continue for as long as it seems pertinent.....even if it's just you and me talking. What others decide is up to them.

      Paint Your Wagon? I love that movie and even have the soundtrack on vinyl! Most people never even heard of the film let alone quote from it. (I love the song: 'The Best Things in Life are Dirty'!)

    9. I stumbled on it years and years ago. I never thought of that song in that light, but now you have inspired me!

    10. "I was born under a wandrin'star" is pretty cool too. Lee Marvin singing? Clint? Who'd a' thought?

  2. Meant to say, Those events were not personalized, and it took more to make people see them as personal.

  3. Rage has never brought me any closer to my goals.

    I choose to calm myself down, and then work on how I will handle things. It's a rare thing that I will extract revenge at the moment, choosing instead to keep a calm demeanor by reminding myself that "Revenge is a dish best served cold."

    Other times, I just watch the wheels

    1. Thanks for the input and link. It's interesting that you calm yourself down so you can more clearly plot revenge. What do you do in a situation where there really is no way to get justice or get back at the person in a different way?

    2. Inconveniencing people is my go-to revenge. Remember, I wait a long time between the offense and the revenge.

      Many years ago, a family member was constantly berating me for things, and kept pushing my buttons. I knew that if I reacted, things would only get worse for me, so every once in awhile, I'd sneak out the back door late at night and let air out of her tires. She eventually bought new tires, thinking there was a problem with them. See? Inconvenience!

      If that won't work for whatever reason, I just work harder at being happy. Nothing is more frustrating to your enemies than proving that you're more "together" than they give you credit for.

    3. "Living well is the best revenge" is a motto I have lived by and taught my kids. Still, t doesn't help with certain rages I get into.

    4. To Merry, nice! Remind me to never piss you off!