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Monday, March 19, 2018

The Age of Rage

The poster child for rage.

Rage is anger on steroids.  You don't just frown and grumble. You don't just shout a profanity. No, you fume as the heat builds in your face and pressure mounts in your chest until you think your head will explode and your heart burst. You don't just want to slam your fist or stomp your want to take up a club and smash EVERYTHING!

While verbally explosive at times, I am a very non-violent person physically. However, lately I have been almost perpetually angry with frequent flashes of suppressed rage. It has gotten so bad that I started talking to others about it. First Rosa, and then this weekend, before we sat down to dinner, I talked with my daughter and Son-in-Law (a professional psycho-therapist) about it. I really was beginning to worry that I was losing it. What was my surprise to learn that this feeling was widespread!? At first I was relieved to learn that I wasn't alone....but then worried that ......I wasn't alone. How good is it that such feelings are rampant?

The Red Hulk, Thaddeus Ross, who becomes not only stronger....but literally hotter with increased anger.

I was not surprised to learn that rage often stems from feeling powerless to correct an injustice. (That's my issue for certain.) And it occurred to me that perhaps THIS is where things like school shootings come from? Put in that context the tearfully rhetorical question of "who would DO such a thing?" becomes much easier to answer: someone full of rage.

If the Hulk is the King of Rage, Carrie must be the Queen.

Today's political climate has only exacerbated the root causes of rage. There used to be plenty of injustices and runs of bad luck in normal daily life to induce rage.....hell, just think of "road rage" alone! But now? Now, it seems like a lot of people would happily tear out the throat of just about anyone else from the 'other tribe'. And every day brings some new "I've never seen anything like this in my entire life"-level outrage.

Sorry ladies, but if your idea of Wolverine is the handsome Hugh Jackman, you should know that the character he portrays looks and acts more like this.

I have always been a kind of multi-point kind of person.....meaning, I'm not the type to let any ONE thing get to me. But if you start stacking things up? Then I don't handle it so well. And the worse thing is that once I feel the stacking begin, the size of the "blocks" doesn't matter nearly as much as how many are being piled up. So, if we start with one substantial bad thing, I can usually keep it in perspective, but start compounding that with a bunch of lesser things and by the time we get to the Nth 'block', I can lose it over something as minor as a package not arriving on time. Now normally such a trivial thing would never prompt that.....but under this 'pile up' it can.

I also find certain environmental factors can contribute to the problem. The fact that it's mid-March and still cold means that every 'outdoor person' I know has had enough of Winter. 'Cabin Fever' is a definite contributor. I think even my 'playful' O-lessness played a part. (Rosa gave me an O yesterday and I found I already felt better afterwards.....and yet I was as complicit and willing in that denial period as she was). So there are a LOT of things that can factor into all this.

For me it can be a lack of sunlight......but for this guy, it's too much moonlight!

So, I did learn that my strategy of 'distraction' is in fact a viable solution. I find that keeping busy with my multiple projects keeps my mind off of things that would otherwise fuel a rage. "Projects" are like my 'addiction'. I thought that perhaps such avoidance was bad, but I learned it's not at all. So I guess I will just continue to keep myself busy, get out in the sunshine as often as the weather permits, avoid watching too much news, and if all else fails, maybe just have a drink......or ask Rosa for an O!


  1. It is indeed an interesting phenomenon that rage is going up, but objectively society is not really in worse shape than it has been in the past. The stock market is up. Unemployment is at an historic low. While there are still problems with intolerance, racism and other things that divide us into little tribes, I think it would be pretty hard to argue that those things are not better today than they were 20 or 30 or 40 years ago when the amount of rage was palpably less? Or, was it? I was pretty young during the 1960s, but while we talk about the nastiness of politics these days, how about the riots in Chicago in 1968 at the Democratic National Convention? Historically, opposing parties came to blows on the floor of the Senate or fought duels over partisan politics.

    You know my personal bent on this is that there is more rage precisely because we don't have as many external threats. Our reptilian brains are programmed to perceive threats everywhere and every threat is seen as existential. When there are fewer external threats to defend against, our minds make them up. I've noticed it in my own life. When I am super busy and bearing a lot of real responsibility, I am generally pretty happy. Things start going haywire when I have too much time to think and ruminate about my own life.

    Regarding your strategy of "distractions," I listened to an interesting TED Talk this weekend. It led off with some modern data on addiction. Thirty years ago, experiments on rats who were given two water bottles--one laced with cocaine or heroin and the other just water--would consistently choose the drugged bottle. The conclusion they drew was that addiction happens because of chemical changes in the brain. But, it occurred to someone a few years ago that these experiments were done on rats who were isolated and kept in solitary cages. What if the experiment was re-run on rats who were kept in cages with other rats and who had toys and lots of opportunities to interact socially, play with themselves and others, etc. The outcome -- not a single rat in the social environment expressed a preference for the drug-laced water. There is a pretty powerful lesson in there about interactions and distractions.

    1. Maybe that's the thing. You mention these 'objective' pluses but I think rage is more subjective and personal.

      Me? Mine is mostly focused on a series of things where I did everything I was "supposed to do" and yet got ROYALLY SCREWED by people in a position to get away with it. Even as I sought legal recourse I was told that while I was 'right', proving it would be even more costly and not even guaranteed. The result is a financial nightmare NOT of my own making.

      The market? I've lost a fucking ton of money! (on top of the other financial issues) Today alone makes me want to cry! I got fucked on my taxes too.

      Ruminating is one thing, but not being able to have medical procedures done because of lousy insurance and limited money. Not being able to get small stupid things done because of money. And all because other people have done things to me I have no power over. It's one thing to idly ruminate over perceived inconveniences, but to constantly walk past something I can't afford to have fixed, have constant pains that I would love to have corrected, these are constant reminders of how fucked over I've been. Add to this those stupid little things that just go wrong as part of life and.........rage.

      And while this is MY rage, I think other people's rages are similarly triggered.

    2. I agree that most people's rage is probably driven by subjective factors, but it happens within a larger context. It's hard to account for why the *general* level of rage seems to be so high when in *general* things are not worse, for example, than 8 or 9 years ago when it looked like we were at risk of going into a depression, we were in two wars, etc.

    3. But maybe that's it? perhaps there is no 'general' rage? Our contentment is driven by very individual and personal factors.

      8-9 years ago, Rosa had moved in with me after an ugly, prolonged divorce. I had my own place. I was doing well at work. I felt well physically. My stocks were affected, but retirement was a ways off yet, and I wasn't personally affected by those wars in any way. My world was looking pretty fact better than it had in a long time. So the larger context had no real bearing on my personal feelings of contentment.

      Now if those wars meant one of my kids had to go fight in one, or if the market hurt me badly just as I ready to retire? then 'yes' those things would have affected me more profoundly.

    4. Maybe, though if it's true as you observed that rage is rampant, then what accounts for that? Yours seems to be linked to very personal factors in your life, so then why is there rampant rage all over the place.

      I do think the observation that rage comes from feeling powerless to correct an injustice is very interesting, and it allows for a lot of nuance. Does the rage come from the feelings of powerlessness, the level at which we perceive an "injustice" versus just the normal things that happen in a chaotic world that particularly you as an atheist probably see as not inherently just or unjust. I'm not even sure what "just" and "unjust" mean in a thoroughly mechanistic universe.

      It sounds like a lot of your rage is coming from the "powerlessness" piece of the equation. Bad things were happening to you personally, and you were unable to stop them. I think maybe the generally "rampant" rage may come from that PLUS a generally lowering of the threshold at which we see things as not just accidents or misfortunes or bad luck but, rather, as injustices.

      I have a bad temper, but I don't really have that chronic sense of rage that you are describing. I think it's because I seldom feel powerless. If anything, I tend to blame myself when things go wrong to me or to others. So, I don't feel rage because I am not in control but, rather, anxious because I am. And, in those few examples I can think of where I have gone into a rage, it has almost always been over something bad that happened to *someone else.* And, often it was something like an illness or injury for which no one else was to blame. So, in that respect I think you are right about the role of powerlessness. When bad things happen to me, I tend to attribute them to me. When something bad happens to someone else, I may go into a rage precisely because I feel like it is a situation I cannot fix or even influence.

    5. Good points and good distinctions. I am curious though, have you never had a situation where you did everything you could and someone just intentionally screwed you out of spite....and then got away with it? It's a very different feeling than when you look at something as either random bad luck or the consequence of a bad personal decision. (both of which I am also familiar with LOL)

    6. I just had a further speculation on your question of 'what's different now?', but I think it could be enough for a follow-up post. Stay tuned. ;-)

    7. I honestly can't think of an example in my adult life in which someone "intentionally screwed me out of spite." I can think of a few where someone did something for their own selfish purposes and I got screwed in the process, but what they did wasn't really out of spite or even necessarily directed at me. And, knowing myself as I do, if they got away with it I probably would blame myself for letting them at least as much as I would blame them for succeeding. Random bad luck is something I can't really control, but most other things I can at least influence or at least control my reaction to it.

      I had a thought this morning that kind of bears on this in a somewhat tangential way. Last night, 60 Minutes had a segment with some of the kids from Parkland. They were very, very action oriented and determined to actually fix the things that led to their school shooting. They also talked about the death threats they have all received, and there has been milder invective directed their way as a result of their activism. It occurred to me that many are faulting them precisely because, unlike some of the victims of past shootings, they aren't just talking or fading away quietly after a week or two. We've reached this weird point culturally in which we honor victimhood, but we get very unsettled and nervous by anyone who doesn't really accept that title and, instead, battles back. I wonder if that is part of what is going on with the societal rage. A lot of people feel helpless, but it's a kind of voluntary helplessness in which it is more socially acceptable to rage blindly than to act.

  2. I definitely get the stacking. Like a downward spiral!

    I cannot wait for it to be actually spring around here. I'm not sure what it's like in NJ right now (I used to live there), but here in PA there is still some snow on the ground. And it was snowing Friday. And we're supposed to get another Nor'Easter this week? Enoughhh!

    1. Yes. Agreed.

      It's chilly where I am but most of the snow is gone. I am not seeking 70 degree days, but low 50s would be nice.