Should we risk using anger to arouse America?

Summary:  Anger can be a political tool, motivating both an organization’s cadre and its mass audience. Too risky or the other available tool? Today we examine both sides of the issue, and end with a question for readers.

Danger: Angry American

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“As for those American soldiers asking, “Was our sacrifice in Fallujah worth it?,” one is at a loss about how to reply to the thought that comes to mind this week: No, it really wasn’t. It is time to get angry.”

— “What the War in Iraq Wrought“, Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, 15 January 2014

I remain convinced that motivating Americans is the key to starting a reform movement, both to obtaining the key people necessary to build an organization — and to spur public interest and then involvement.  Appeals to logic and theory are insufficient. Anger is the key to arouse passion, and passion unlocks resources — people’s  time and money.

America, especially the construction of New America on the ruins of the old, provides a plethora of sparks to arouse anger. Jon Anderson mentions one. The bank bailouts rightly aroused anger that led to the Tea Party Movement. The ongoing diversion of Federal, State, and local tax dollars to the 1% provides another.

Readers objected in the comments that anger has an irrational component, easily exploited by unscrupulous leaders. Worse, it often precludes effective decision-making, the balancing of resources, goals, risk, and moral considerations. Too often it leads to futile, senseless violence.

These are all valid points. Consider the dark side of this quote I’ve often cited:

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Angry Kirk
The dark side of our hero. From “The Enemy Within”

“Telemachus, now is the time to be angry.”
— Odysseus to his son, when the time came to deal with the Suitors. From the movie The Odyssey (1997)

That’s a fun line. A powerful line. What followed warns us about unleashing rage.

Odysseus returns home after 20 years of war and travel, to find 108 men have been living in his house, suitors for his wife (thought to be a widow, living high at his expense. Seeing the living Odysseus, their legendary King, justly enraged, one of the suitors made a proper offer (from the book). Eurymachus:

“We will make everything good among ourselves, and pay you in full for all that we have eaten and drunk. Each of us shall pay you a fine worth 20 oxen, and we will keep on giving you gold and bronze till your heart is softened.”

Odysseus responds by the senseless slaughter of all 108 suitors. Of course, their relatives then come to kill him in revenge. Only divine intervention prevents repeated cycles of murder. Anger at work.

The Dangerous Path

The sharp instrument of anger often cuts the hand that wields it. Yet we can ransack the nation’s philosophy and theology classes and find few of the many people needed to undertake the long, difficult, often irksome tasks of reforming America. People to accept its weighty responsibility and the personal risks. Especially given the low odds of success. History shows that instead we should seek people burning with anger at what America has become.

How to manage this anger? American history provides lessons for us, examples of both failure and success.  Consider the many times people (non-State actors) have used violence: Native Americans, the anarchists, the radical leftists, many unions — all unsuccessfully. Successful political movements have abjured violence: the abolitionists (mostly), the suffragettes, the temperance movement, and the civil rights movement (especially in the Martin Luther King era, in the face of violence against them).

It’s easy to decide which to imitate.  Anger works, but only when channeled.

On the other hand, what’s the alternative to evoking anger — accepting the risks to gain its benefits?

Don’t bother looking for safe path to reform. We are far beyond the point of easy solutions. Choose among the dangers to find a way that however perilous might lead to a reformed America.

Question for Readers

How to reform America is the most requested subject in the comments. This is the 35th post discussing the mechanics of reform.

Here is a question for you (post your answer in the comments: on how many other websites have you seen this question raised by readers?  How many websites have discussions about the nuts and bolts of reforming America (not single issue or partisan politics) — beyond the usual “we must get everybody to think as one about ____”.  Naked Capitalism? Angry Bear? Huffington Post? Instapundit?

Let’s benchmark these posts against those of others working on this problem.

For More Information

(a)  Recommended: “When Martin Luther King gave up his guns“, Mark Engler and Paul Engler, Waging Non-Violence, 15 January 2014 — Origin of MLK’s strategy of confrontational non-violent protest.

(b)  Posts about anger:

  1. Now is the time for America to get angry, 24 March 2009
  2. Re-envisioning the FM website, becoming soldiers in the war for American’s future, 21 December 2009
  3. Vital reading for America: two stories that might help arouse us to action, 17 January 2013
  4. The Idiocies of “Oversight” and “Accountability”, 9 February 2013
  5. In “Network”, Howard Beale asks us to get mad and do something. He’s still waiting., 19 October 2013
  6. A simple thing you can do to start the reform of America: get angry, 11 December 2013
  7. How can we arouse a passion to reform America in the hearts of our neighbors?, 20 December 2013

(c)  Posts about solutions to reform America:

  1. Learning skepticism, an essential skill for citizenship in 21st century America, 1 December 2012
  2. Remembering is the first step to learning. Living in the now is ignorance., 29 October 2013
  3. Swear allegiance to the truth as a step to reforming America, 24 November 2013

(d)  Steps to reforming America:

  1. The sure route to reforming America
  2. A third try: The First Step to reforming America
  3. The second step to reforming America
  4. The third step to reforming America, with music
  5. How to recruit people to the cause of reforming America
  6. Swear allegiance to the truth as a step to reforming America

(e)  Other posts about reforming America:

  1. Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008
  2. How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, 21 April 2009
  3. The project to reform America: a matter for science or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
  4. Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010
  5. Should we despair, giving up on America?, 5 May 2012
  6. We are alone in the defense of the Republic, 5 July 2012
  7. Thoreau reminds us about one of the few tools we have to control the government, 24 June 2013
  8. The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy, 27 June 2013
  9. Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 July 2013
  10. Understand our problem before you prescribe a cure for America. We’ve gone mad., 17 September 2013
  11. In “Network”, Howard Beale asks us to get mad and do something. He’s still waiting., 19 October 2013
  12. The missing but essential key to building a better America, 21 November 2013
  13. How can we arouse a passion to reform America in the hearts of our neighbors?, 20 December 2013
  14. Is grassroots organizing a snare or magic bullet for the reform of America?, 26 December 2013

(f)  Posts about using music as a tool to revitalize America:

  1. A great artist died today. We can gain inspiration from his words., 26 June 2009 — About the Man in the Mirror
  2. The New America needs a new national anthem! Here’s my nomination., 24 November 2012
  3. Listen to hear the state of America (and its cure) explained in song, 8 February 2013
  4. The third step to reforming America, with music, 3 September 2013

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42 thoughts on “Should we risk using anger to arouse America?

  1. “I have a Dream” speach is about giving hope, not anger and it is why it is the most famous one by MLK. It is about rising hope that your actions will change things in the future, not today, not for you but for your kids and grandkids.
    Give hope that only your actions today will produce change and do not expect to see the change for yourself is the way to chanell the anger allready present and it is channelled toward the “other”
    At the present in Greece, Golden Down, a growing nazy party is helping poor to survive, organizes the food drives, medical help for free to those that need it. It is at the present also the attempt of Occupy movement to do exactly that. Helping homeowners have a home, helping with repairing the comunities ravaged by Sandy storm.
    Only way is for people to organize, find someone who is in worse condition then themselves and help. This builds the purpose orientation in people that are angry and it grows as suffering grows. This vakes up hopes that it will produce change but not for themselves but for future generations, their kids.

    Expecting a change for yourself, right away, today is what careens the anger toward the violence and selfdestruction.
    Just search youtube for free energy and you would not believe how many people are working on it and some are succeding at getting some results. They all tell the same story when asked; I wanted to make a better world, help the world. They sacrifice their work for someone else, for tomorrow, not for themselves. (some do, but rarely)
    What was Nikola Tesla saying when he was inventing the principles on which modern life is based? I want to help the world be free. Nikola Tesla still represent the major figure in search for free energy, his work still spurrs the hope for free energy search.
    I used to make presentations about Nikola Tesla in my college days whenever i had the chance, just to let people know about his invetions shaping our world and few selfsacrificing quotes.

    That may be the last glimmer of hope that is left after everything else fails, and free energy would be a magic bullet in home inventor’s mind but it still shows the way.
    Find someone in worse position then you and help them, then you will learn how to change the world. Do not expect help for yourself, today or soon, only for your kids.

    1. Jordan,

      I don’t believe much of that is accurate. I will give three specific examples.

      (1) ““I have a Dream” speach is about giving hope, not anger and it is why it is the most famous one by MLK.”

      Selective reading of speeches does not accurately assess the nature of a political movement. In fact reading the literature of the time shows that the African-Americans who powered the civil rights movement were angry. For good reason.

      (2) “It is about rising hope that your actions will change things in the future, not today, not for you but for your kids and grandkids.”

      That’s totally false. Most political movements — including the suffrigette, union, and civil rights movements — sought immediate reforms. The successful ones got them, which had effects during the lives of the people of that generation — and even larger effects on future generations.

      (3) “Only way is for people to organize, find someone who is in worse condition then themselves and help.”

      Largely false. Political movements are mostly staffed with people seeking to help themselves, their families, and others like themselves. They are not staffed mostly by people seeking to help others “in worse condition them themselves”.

    2. “Political movements are mostly staffed with people seeking to help themselves, their families, and others like themselves. ”
      So, could you connect what you said here and failure of those political movements? Failure in presented goals, but the succes in what they were actualy for?

    3. Jordan

      “So, could you connect what you said here and failure of those political movements?”

      No, because such involvement does not distinguish between successful and unsuccessful movements.

      Involvement of the people most affected — not others seeking philanthropically to help those worse off — is usually vital to success.

      The ability to make immediate changes, benefiting not just future generations but the present, is also usually vital to success.

      History suggests you have these things backwards.

      If you believe otherwise, give examples.

  2. The Civil Rights Movement was mostly non-violent, but there were a number of advocates of violence as a means of self-defense and retaliation.

    Malcolm X said in his famous speech, “It’ll be Molotov cocktails this month, hand grenades next month, and something else next month. It’ll be ballots, or it’ll be bullets. It’ll be liberty, or it will be death.”

    I’ve considered that having both non-violent and violent elements, a sort of ‘carrot and stick’ approach, might have contributed to the movement’s success.

    1. Todd,

      That’s an important point. There were those warning of violence from the early days of the civil rights movement, and violence increased in the late 1960s.

      You quote from Malcom X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet“, 3 April 1964 in Cleveland, Ohio. This shows the anger, and warns (not advocates) violence:

      Now in speaking like this, it doesn’t mean that we’re anti-white, but it does mean we’re anti-exploitation, we’re anti-degradation, we’re anti-oppression. And if the white man doesn’t want us to be anti-him, let him stop oppressing and exploiting and degrading us.

      … If we don’t do something real soon, I think you’ll have to agree that we’re going to be forced either to use the ballot or the bullet. It’s one or the other in 1964. It isn’t that time is running out — time has run out!

      … No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So, I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver — no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.

      These 22 million victims are waking up. Their eyes are coming open. They’re beginning to see what they used to only look at. They’re becoming politically mature.

      … And now you’re facing a situation where the young Negro’s coming up. They don’t want to hear that “turn the-other-cheek” stuff, no. In Jacksonville, those were teenagers, they were throwing Molotov cocktails. Negroes have never done that before. But it shows you there’s a new deal coming in. There’s new thinking coming in. There’s new strategy coming in. It’ll be Molotov cocktails this month, hand grenades next month, and something else next month. It’ll be ballots, or it’ll be bullets. It’ll be liberty, or it will be death. The only difference about this kind of death — it’ll be reciprocal.

      (2) “I’ve considered that having both non-violent and violent elements, a sort of ‘carrot and stick’ approach, might have contributed to the movement’s success.”

      That’s a common approach. It almost always fails. It failed in the civil rights movement, where their use of violence not only discredited the movement but justified the government’s oppression. It failed with the IRA. Not only does it usually decrease the odds of success, it grossly increases the cost of reform.

      There are many reasons for this. One less well-understood is that it opens the movement to those who like violence. Who seek opportunities to legitimize the violence they love. These are people to be screened out, at almost any cost.

    2. Use of violence as an undesirable alternative to proper negotiation and enfranchisement might also be described as a ‘good cop – bad cop’ tactic.

      Editor says “That’s a common approach. It almost always fails. It failed in the civil rights movement… It failed with the IRA.”
      I can tell where you’re going with this – that violence is a bad thing and is to be avoided. I agree, of course, but I’m unconvinced as it relates generally to the possible effectiveness of political movements.

    3. Todd,

      “I can tell where you’re going with this – that violence is a bad thing and is to be avoided. I agree, of course, but I’m unconvinced as it relates generally to the possible effectiveness of political movements.”

      Of course you are. People seldom learn from history, and prefer to repeat the same bloody mistakes.

      Hence people who believe in violence must be rigorously excluded. It must be an immediate disqualifier for any responsible position. Such beliefs are infectious; people are the carriers.

      Martin Luther King did not do so, and after his death his movement spiraled down into bloody race riots, crime, and terrorism. Their communities were stained — and physically devastated — the movement to a large extent discredited.

      A roughly similar dynamic affected both sides in a Northern Ireland.

      Caution when organizing, however harsh, can limit the odds of repeating this commonplace history.

      This is a small example of the thought necessary to build an effective organization. Not going to be easy, perhaps impossible.

  3. Just a side-comment– I like how you finally went a bit deeper into the Odysseus quote– it’s a good quote at an interesting point in the story. From an ancient Greek point of view, however, his slaughter of the suitors and those of his handmaidens who had liased with them was not senseless, but justice. So many men who had contemptuously robbed and mocked Odysseus for so long would never have actually paid him back or done anything to make amends– on the contrary, they would have continued mocking him and spreading their mockery far and wide.

    According to Greek values at that time, a man’s honor should be more precious to him than life itself. So from an Ancient Greek perspective, there would have been absolutely no upside to any kind of compromise in that particular situation, and forgiveness would never have been an option for a proud hero like Odysseus. So what he did was 100% correct.

    Now you might be right that the relatively clean resolution is not realistic, but that’s not uncommon for action stories then or today– larger-than-life heroes get to do the right thing without suffering the consequences.

    1. Matt,

      I am no expert on classic Greek culture, but was taught that the ending of The Odyssey marked the transition from that honor-based culture to one of laws and justice. That was the point of the cycle of reprisals starting at the end — and stopped by Devine intervention.

  4. What I find to be a good rule of thumb is a quote usually attributed to Aesop: “It is with our passions as it is with fire and water…they are good servants but bad masters.”

    When humans allow any emotion (passion) to control them without the influence of reason — no matter what that emotion might be or how positive or understandable it might be — and often provokes them to do things which are irrational and not beneficial to them. When they allow reason to control them without the influence of emotion, they become dispassionate and detached from other people — and when this is taken to an extreme, it can lead to indifference to the needs of others and a tendency to invoke the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law (which frequently results in injustice since the real world is rarely ever as cut-and-dried or as absolute as that).

    As with so many other things in life, the best approach is to find a healthy and appropriate balance between emotion and reason so that the passions can used as an incentive for thoughtful and effective action. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans do not seem to be very good at either finding or maintaining that balance and instead appear to fall prey to one extreme or the other — usually to the emotional side. What makes this worse is the fact that our culture at all levels increasingly caters to and encourages us to indulge in reactive emotions (fear, anger, greed, lust, excitement, etc..) instead of encouraging active reasoning and critical thinking. This is true to such an extent now that on just about any issue you can name, many of the people on both sides of the issue are so fierce in their adamant refusal to give any quarter to the opposing view or to budge on even the slightest point that they will resort to absurdly threadbare arguments in the desperate attempt to defend their position at any cost — and like Dr. Suess’s North-Going Zax and South-Going Zax, their mutual refusal to make the slightest concession makes it impossible for either one to get anywhere and makes things that much more difficult for everyone else..

    1. Bluestocking,

      Nicely said.

      Anger provides energy, but not wisdom.

      Space precluded more detail on the other, equally important IMO, problem with anger: it allows people who see violence as the end (not the means) to become leaders. These are rotten apples who can quickly destroy a movement from within.

  5. I’m going to throw in the idea that the right people need to get angry in order for change to occur. Most of the 99% have no real assets or influence so making them angry is relatively easy but has virtually no payoff in the current situation. They are easily divided against each other and are too busy worrying about more important things such as their jobs, their kids, and American Idol.

    History teaches us that the key people who need to get angry and stay focused are people who are just below the 1%, say the 2-20% segment. They’ve still got considerable resources, connections, experience in organization, are seen as leaders, and have skills that can be used to make the 1% less comfortable.

    Both the American and French Revolutions were founded by angry wealthy people who saw that they were wealthy but not as wealthy as they could or should be because of unfair laws that permanently limited their wealth and influence and left them no recourse but armed insurrection.

    It will be hard to motivate the 2-20% because they are comfortable, the 1% are perceived to take reasonably good care of them (the reality as FM’s post yesterday shows, is that the 1% feed off them). A lot of them also believe that they might join the 1% under the right circumstances. We will not have serious change in this country until the 2-20% understand in their emotional core that the 1% has permanently and intentionally stacked the deck against them.

    1. Pluto,

      I do not believe that is at all correct, historically.

      Yes, involvement of people with education, connections, and resources is vital to success. There are few counter examples. Without such people one usually gets, as you point out, futile peasants protests.

      But their participation is necessary but not sufficient. They are a multiplier of mass involvement. But the mass participation provides the force necessary for success.

      The Revolution won because it appealed to the mass of colonial Americans AND had good leaders.

    2. I agree with you on all counts but my original point still stands. There will be no changes as long as the 2-20% segment feels comfortable and engaged.

  6. Still nobody pointing to nuts and bolts discussions on other websites about how to reform America (other than websites of partisan and single-issue movements).

    That is probably very significant, and one reason there is so little political activity to reform America — other than in the two plutocrat-dominated political parties.

    Websites of the Left and Right focus instead on the much more fun analysis — and mocking opponents.

    1. Of the sites you listed, I do read naked capitalism regularly. Its focus seems to be explaining the nuts and bolts of dysfunction, sometimes to the point of information-overload. This isn’t the same as proposing nuts-and-bolts of a solution, so in that sense it does not qualify, but I find it valuable just the same.

    2. Asdf,

      I did not say analysis has no value.

      Repeated comments here have said that analysis is not enough, and criticized me for not providing solutions. That was a valid point.

      I have done so, and note that this criticism does not appear to appear elsewhere.

  7. As for the main question, about anger. If you have the chance to do so, yes.

    As mentioned in some of the comments, both the labor movement and the civil rights movement wouldn’t have happened without the threat of violence. I’d say both unions and civil rights for African Americans were successful examples of movements within the US which had a significant violent element. The non-violent half did the negotiating and got the credit, as it should.

    Then there is outside of the US. A lot of the “progressive” movements from the mid 19th century, including ones here, didn’t happen in a vacuum, but in a world where violent revolutions happened regularly… the French revolution and its aftershocks, anarchism as you reminded us, and especially, in the 20th century, actual communism in Russia, China (still there), Spain (short lived but attractive), just to name a few. I don’t think any of these came to power without use of force. 20th century Germany is sort-of an example of what NOT to do. I’m also trying to exclude the dozens of “sponsored” revolutions… In the US most people are sort-of insulated from knowledge of this history but I don’t think this was always the case.

    1. reason I’m mentioning the international ones is the concept that if those who benefit from {injustice X} face the possibility of some kind of payback, they’re more likely to allow reforms.

    2. Asdf,

      Since the failure rate for violent insurgencies is over 90%, and the costs — especially in blood — largely born by the insurgents, their families, and their neighbors, that looks like really awful advice.

      It is the equivalent of the love of war (lots of benefits for society) which contributed so much to the start of WWI.

    3. Asdf,

      “say both unions and civil rights for African Americans were successful examples of movements within the US which had a significant violent element. The non-violent half did the negotiating and got the credit, as it should.”

      We cannot prove counterfacturals, but I strongly disagree with both of those assertions. They lack, IMO, any significant factual basis.

      The greatest single triumph of the civil rights movement was the great legislation of 1964 — which predated any significant violence by the movement — but occurred against a background of violence against them, to which their disciplined peaceful response gave them the often decisive moral high ground.

      Violence ramped up in the late 1960s, which lost them much of their support– and terminally polarized the party politics, which condition remains today. That violence was, IMO, highly counterproductive.

      This is even clearer for the union movement, which gained an established position through its role in the New Deal – by political organization. Their long history of violence was one of almost u broken defeat.

      You mention several revolutions. Those have RADICALLY different dynamics than internal reform movements. You might as well cite episodes from WW2. Nukes! It’s the only way to be sure.

    4. Just to make clear, I don’t think violent revolution is the way to go either. I certainly wouldn’t want to see one in the US.

      But I do think it is the backdrop against which peaceful reform and progress has been made in the past, and a real motivating factor for compromises when it comes to sharing power. I have a hard time seeing purely moral arguments having an effect all by themselves, no matter how obviously right they are.

      I admit I don’t know enough details about the details of either the civil rights or the unions’ history to say in what way the violent or militant elements contributed or set things back. But they were there. As the level of confrontation was slowly cranked up over time, even at the early stages, it was a possibility that I don’t think escaped anyone’s mind.

    5. asdf,

      “I have a hard time seeing purely moral arguments having an effect all by themselves, no matter how obviously right they are.”

      That’s a false dilemma. In fact change has come through normal political processes — without violence, or the threat of it. Moral arguements are powerful, in fact they’re often the decisive high ground (even in wars, such the American Revolution and the Civil War).

      Unions and Black Americans both gained from participation as key voters — in the New Deal and Great Society coalitions. I don’t know much about how suffragette and temperance movements, but doubt that either group threatened terrifying violence.

    6. Violence causes elites to feel defensive and forget about the resons such violence started. This makes them respond under vindication of their actions against violent actors.
      Non-violence is trying to send a message that it is elites actions caousing the suffering, initiating realisation that it realy is, that their selfcentered decisions caused suffering of demonstrators.
      How are you going to react if i keep repeating “You are hurting me, you are hurting me!” as peacfull demonstrations do?
      Compare it to your reaction if i keep repeating”I am going to kill you, i am going to kill you!” which is what violent demonstrations do?

      Just as what happened with me and FM writers when i tried to point to mistakes without saying that such mistakes lead to a lot of hurt. FM got angry and defensive without being able to see my point of view. They took it as attacks instead of pointing to a mistake and banned me from commenting.
      How do you percieve someone else actions is how elites percive our actions, those are separate entities that can not see POV of others. Why elites become so separate is another topic, but they act as we all would do in their situation. Defensive if someone is threatening us, and we will feel full vindication and rightousness with complete rationalization for it.

    7. Jordan,

      (1) “Violence causes elites to feel defensive and forget about the resons such violence started.”

      That is certainly true. On the other hand, governments have a LONG history of fierce (often even violent) opposition to peaceful protest. The Amritsar massacre of peaceful protesters by the British in India (1919; see Wikipedia). The response of US governments at all levels to the civil rights protestors (including attempts to blackmail Martin Luther King, or force him to suicide).

      I’d like to see analysis on this, but I suspect the effectiveness of peaceful protest is not on the ruling elites — who often or even usually will happily crush peaceful protesters (thanks for making it easy!), but on the effect of the larger population. Violence against peaceful protestors shifts public support.

      This is part of the larger point about the power of the moral high ground, often decisive even in wars.

      (2) “i tried to point to mistakes without saying that such mistakes lead to a lot of hurt. FM got angry and defensive”

      This is your usual schicht. You make lots of mistakes. When they are pointed out (even simple factual errors), you almost never acknowledge them — but whine about being attacked. Color me unimpressed.

  8. There is too much emphasis on the one dimension of wealth. Probably most of the technical intellegencia are not 1 percenters
    There is a tension between the experts and the money men.

  9. Fabius stated:

    “I remain convinced that motivating Americans is the key to starting a reform movement, both obtaining the key people necessary to build an organization and to spur public interest and then involvement. Appeals to logic and theory are insufficient.”

    I am in complete agreement with this sentiment and you are to be applauded for continuing to explore the nature of our passions as a necessary channel for helping to unlock motivation.

    More specifically you state that “the sharp instrument of anger often cuts the hand that yields it” and you note that Odysseus responds– by the senseless slaughter of 108 suitors– which in turn causes their relatives to come to try and kill him in revenge.

    This reminds me of the possible insights contained in (Proverbs 16:32): “He who is slow to anger is better than the strong man, and a master of his passions is better than a conqueror of a city.”

    Strength in this passage seems linked to the capacity to subdue one’s personal inclination to anger and being a master of passion is especially good when it comes from a conqueror of a city who may be confronted with the people who rebelled against him and then decides not to kill them.

    The narrative of Odysseus possibly indicates that strength pursued in a single-minded manner often boomerangs and become counterproductive because it causes his enemies (the relatives of those slain) to beef up their strength (because of their own fear and awe) thereby causing a greater expenditure of strength on his part in a never ending spiral– until everyone faces destruction.

    A possible message from Proverbs is that genuine strength is not a matter of triumph over others but rather a function of a mastery over our impulses. In addition the passage might also be implying that softness and compassion are best coming from someone who is strong in terms of this type of mastery.

    I believe you are on to something when you state that “anger works best only when channeled or managed” because this politics thing demands patient and perseverance and not wasting precious energy in duplicating the logic of our adversaries—which is likely to only end in our own burn-out and perhaps self-destruction.

    A key question for any future political movement is whether a cultural message calling for greater mastery over our impulses could become an important motivating factor in our contemporary cultural environment–which seems, in a multitude of ways, to endorse the dynamic of impulse release rather than impulse control.

    Such a cultural message would be the opposite of what was articulated in the 1960s and perhaps less susceptible to cooptation– as well as a necessary foundation for genuine political/economic/financial and cultural reform.

  10. I simply wanted to point out that money is only one resourse (although probably the most important) cultural or technical knowledge are not monopolized by the 1 percent. Thus the situation may be more hopefull.

    1. Socialbill,

      That’s a powerful point, and well worth remembering. It’s easy to be despondent over the disparity between their wealth and ours, and despair about the odds of wining. But numbers, and our skills, more than overcome this. If we mobilize, work together, and develop competent leaders.

      Thank you for the reminder.

  11. “Should we risk using anger to arouse America?”

    What a splendid question, Fabius, et al.

    My quick answer would be [and at the considerable risk of being accused of equivocation], “Perhaps.”

    While I ponder this matter further… you may well enjoy the following article, which chronicles a burgeoning if nascent political reform movement in India: “The World Should Be Watching India’s ‘Common Man’ Coup“, Nathan Schneider, Waging Nonviolence, 16 January 2014.

  12. Concerning The Odyssey, it’s worth noting that Odysseus went further than killing all the suitors. After the slaughter, he and his son then slowly murdered all the servants who had gone along with the suitors by strangling them with nautical rope strung across the main courtyard in a scene reminicsent of the Third Reich’s piano-wire hangings. Since the suitors were slaves with no choice in whether they went along with the suitors (if they hadn’t complied, they’d have been killed), the violence at the end of The Odyssey proves particularly cruel.

    On this the women came down in a body, weeping and wailing bitterly. First they carried the dead bodies out, and propped them up against one another in the gatehouse. Ulysses ordered them about and made them do their work quickly, so they had to carry the bodies out. When they had done this, they cleaned all the tables and seats with sponges and water, while Telemachus and the two others shovelled up the blood and dirt from the ground, and the women carried it all away and put it out of doors. Then when they had made the whole place quite clean and orderly, they took the women out and hemmed them in the narrow space between the wall of the domed room and that of the yard, so that they could not get away: and Telemachus said to the other two, “I shall not let these women die a clean death, for they were insolent to me and my mother, and used to sleep with the suitors.”

    So saying, he made a ship’s cable fast to one of the bearing-posts that supported the roof of the domed room, and secured it all around the building, at a good height, lest any of the women’s feet should touch the ground; and as thrushes or doves beat against a net that has been set for them in a thicket just as they were getting to their nest, and a terrible fate awaits them, even so did the women have to put their heads in nooses one after the other and die most miserably. Their feet moved convulsively for a while, but not for very long. [The Odyssey, part 22]

    The actual point at which the cycle of retribution gets broken in Greek mythology appears at the end of the Orestes trilogy by Aeschylus, In the three-play cycle, Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra murders her husband for taking a woman while he was away at the Trojan wars. Agamemnon’s son Orestes then murders his mother in revenge. The furies then pursue Orestes while the chorus explains that the cycle of violence has not ended, but will continue.

    At the end of the final play, Apollo establishes the jury system to end the cycle of violence.

    This provides a potent lesson for modern-day America. In their infinite wisdom, the president and congress of the United States have now wiped out the judicial system established some 2500 years ago, substituting high-sounding words like “extraordinary rendition” and “enhanced interrrogation” and “targeted killing” and “extrajudicial murder” and “drone attacks” and “NSA surveillance” and “black sites.”

    These exotic terms boil down to the plain old-fashioned kidnapping and murder and torture of the kind practiced by Clytemnestra and Orestes before the establishment of the jury system. The undoing of 2500 years of civilization and our return as Americans to the barbarism of outright murder at the whim of the chieftain ought to be a topic of heated discussion in this country.

    Instead, it is barely even discussed.

    1. Thomas,

      I remembered Odysseus killing one of the maids, but forgot the wholesale slaughter. Too awful to remember. But a salutatory reminder of why violence has to be kept in the bottle except in the most extreme need.

      I was thinking of Athena’s intervention at the end of The Odyssey, stopping the cycle of revenge killing. As you note, Aeschylus tells about the end of the process of social evolution that Homer describes the beginning.

      You remind us of something that cannot be too often repeated: our grasp of civilization is tenuous. It can all go away in a generation.

  13. The Necessity of Anger

    The purpose of all (Monotheistic) Prophets is the perfection of character.
    http://sunnah.com/urn/417040
    “I was sent to perfect good character.”

    Al-Ghazali in his work “Revival of the Religious Sciences”
    Book 22 On Disciplining the Soul
    (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/254520.Al_Ghazali_on_Disciplining_the_Soul_and_on_Breaking_the_Two_Desires page 17)
    defines good character as following
    “A trait of character, then,
    is a firmly established condition [hay’a] of the soul,
    from which actions proceed easily
    without any need for thinking or forethought.”

    Using ‘Plato’s trichotomy of the soul’ he describes
    the soul, character, of consisting of 3+1 main parts
    * The rational faculty, when sound giving fruit to Wisdom
    (Decision/Action aligned with Truth)
    * The irascible faculty, when sound giving fruit to Courage
    (between cowardice and recklessness)
    * The appetitive faculty, when sound giving fruit to Temperance
    (between avarice and indifference)

    * The faculty of equilibrium, having no extremes but rather one opposite
    when sound it brings Justice (balance of all, especially the 3 above faculties)
    its opposite being tyranny.

    Thus (controlled) anger bringing forth courage is a vital part of good character,
    and thus a vital part of the purpose of life itself.

    Sahih al-Bukhari 6114 http://sunnah.com/bukhari/78/141
    “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength,
    but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.”

  14. There are three, and no doubt many more, texts that I believe go a great distance in providing a conceptual structure with which to contain and examine the content and experience of the current national situation:

    The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe

    Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, by Jonathan Lear (small excerpt with the author here)

    Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society, Eleanor Wilner

    To some extent, all three, though dealing with concrete, historical, examples, are couched in the archetypal; though I don’t see that as necessarily a problem. In terms of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, I would say that the kingdom is in decline, disarray, the old heroes having become calcified, fundamentalist, and power hungry ogres—think Smaug and all Western dragons who most covet the two things of least use to them: gold and virgins—waiting for a new hero to be called forth who will restore a new vitality (paradigm) to the kingdom…until it all starts over again.

    Given that it is the individual hero who makes the journey of redemption and self-discovery on behalf of the collective, if unwittingly, I’m not certain that trying to stir the silent majority, the masses, the holders and keepers of “common sense”—the sense of the common, the lowest common denominator—the reasonable, the sheeple, the status quo, those most disposed to NOT rocking the boat, whatever, is the most productive route, if it is even possible. It is only when a tipping point of vanguard individuals (Al Qaeda anyone?), often working alone, is reached that the majority then follows and accepts. They are never the first to the line. Carl Jung believed that there was hope for the whole of humanity but only if enough individuals undertook the work of personal exploration and transformation.

    If these suppositions are correct, it will be individuals and small groups of individuals working together as individuals (our country was a compromise as none of the founding fathers agree 100% on what it should be), who will create transformational change in this country, not the masses, at least not initially. At least that’s what I would bet on.

    1. The Libertarian,

      Thanks for that information, and the references!

      “If these suppositions are correct, it will be individuals and small groups of individuals working together as individuals (our country was a compromise as none of the founding fathers agree 100% on what it should be), who will create transformational change in this country, not the masses, at least not initially.”

      I agree. Everything starts first with small groups. Successful movements are those with viable messages, strong organization, good leaders, and the right time & place — and they grow!

  15. To answer FM’s question, in my search across the internet I can only recall two places that mention reform in any meaningful sense, here at the FM website and The Scholars Stage by T. Greer.

    As for anger and perhaps our passions being utilized more broadly, they can animate us but not solely guide us. However, rationality alone is cold and sterile. We need synthesis. To quote FM channeling Allan Bloom,

    “Reason in politics leads to the inhumanity of bureaucracy. Weber found it impossible to prefer rational politics to the politics of irrational commitment; he believed that reason and science themselves were value commitments like any other, incapable of asserting their own goodness.”

    We need to direct our fury, one way I do this is by exhorting friends and family to read the FM website. Often, I’ll simply read some powerful excerpts to them to gauge their passion. Sometimes all you need to do is show them the horrific forging of the New America and simply ask, “Would our ancestors be ashamed of how cowardly we are?”

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