Understanding Our Anger

Though I will never understand everything about the anger displayed in groups – the rage now surrounding us – I have some knowledge of how it developed. Early man discovered he needed allies against nature, beasts, and other humans. He sought the talents of partners in finding or building shelter, getting food, and providing comfort for fear and loneliness. Those who made their way alone were not likely to survive and, by definition, didn’t create offspring.

Allegiance to the small collective – call it loyalty – both was required by the group and increased your chances of outlasting isolated fellow-men. The band was more likely to thrive and your genes stood a better chance of reaching the next generation and beyond.

We became tribal creatures. Believing rumors of potential conspiracies by groups of competitors for scare resources was safer than thinking strangers meant well. Those who were different – other – were often enough enemies for us; we therefore become wary of all others. Not least, those who looked different and came from elsewhere: the people with odd customs, strange habits, who uttered unintelligible sounds. Rage enabled the fight to survive, to overcome our fear and take on threats. Thus supported and encouraged, everything became possible. Buoyed up by the group, small man became larger than himself.

Such qualities did not disappear from our nature. We now see them displayed even in so-called first world, “civilized” society. We vilify our political enemies. We are capable, as fMRIs (functional magnetic resonance images of our brain) show, of reacting to our fellow humans as we do to furniture. Untermenschen: less than human.

Yes, it is desperately important to vote, take the political action you can, voice your opinions, and make even small financial contributions to defend our democratic republic. Yes, some “others” are carried away. They yell and deceive and might want you out of the country. But not all do. Most, indeed, are rather like the rest of us: struggling with the life project, hoping our children will live in a better world, wishing for peace and security. If we lump them – all of them in the same trash bin, assume they are all irrational or crazy, are we then superior to them – really? If we succumb to our version of the same self-righteous anger, are we then superior to them – really? Do not assume all of our allies are pure. Our “team” is never the sole repository of virtue.

You will learn little from those who echo you. We might learn something from people who don’t, at least on occasion.

We would do well to search for solutions, some amount of compromise with those “others” who are open to it, and vigorously defend against the far smaller group of opportunists and the fully self-interested who only want what they want. Better policies than those now in place must address widely experienced concerns, not just those of your tribe. The country needs a better light bulb, otherwise replacing the present installation will leave us still in the dark.

Our genes won’t change any time soon.

Work for a better world, but do not become the thing you hate.

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The first image is a Cartoon Representation of the Molecular Structure of Protein Registered with 1pi1 Code. It was created by Jawahar Swaminathan and MSD staff at the European Bioinformation Institute. The fMRI image below it is the work of Washington Irving. Both were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

19 thoughts on “Understanding Our Anger

  1. Much needed. Shared on Facebook.. the place we all know people are so open to thinking critically lol!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the words you choose to publish on your blog, but I also like your photo choices, Dr. S. Yes, we need to be more open, and more willing to care for those outside our tightly knit groups with similar mindsets and embrace those with different mindsets. I’m still trying to understand my anger. Am I choosing a particular political stance because I am angry at how the other political stances have affected me, or should I, rather, understand how the other political stances have benefited others and learn to not make that all about me and my group? After speaking with many people with opposing views, and after getting angry and more confused than I thought I could ever be, I came to realize that there are risks and benefits with any political stance, and every human being matters (not just me or or those like me). I get angry at the darned people who abused me, but I have also found a place in my heart for forgiveness, better understanding, and knowledge about how they might have wound up making that choice to begin with. I’ve read literature on transgenerational trauma, the victim-offender overlap, criminals, victims, aggression, externalizing, risks, and all the variables they are surrounded with. I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re still trying to figure it all out, and while we are in the process of that, we’re trying to make this world a better place, or perhaps a stable place, or perhaps a safe place, or perhaps a most sustainable place, or perhaps a more humane place. We don’t know all the answers, and we do the best we can. When the end is nigh and your memories are vividly echoed in your mind, what matters most then? Those who you’re survived by? Those in the world? Things you’ve done? Things you wished you could have done? The afterlife? Everything? The fear of the unknown? Our anger seems like it is born out of fear, and our fear born out of our need to survive (if we’re speaking in evolutionary terms), and our need to survive born out of how well our senses are able to take in information and process them in the brain – hormones, cognition, emotions, and all executive functioning possible. Outside of the individual is the ecological – the modal personality of a people, a land, a community, or a subculture. Like sibling rivals, are differing groups really that competitive for resources, really that much in turmoil about the need to differentiate when one feels they have lost their sense of autonomy, independence, conservation of resources, or individuation? Or are we all not humans – the same species occupying the same land? Has the world, then, “gone mad?”

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    • Times of scarce resources are dangerous for everyone; even those who make out best. One must be careful of too many political conversations and too much exposure to political commentary. Thank you again, PP, and take good care of yourself.

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      • Thank you, Dr. S. True that regarding scarce resources! This is why I believe in the “conservation of resources theory,” which I understand to represent reasons why people experience traumatic stress, and how stress can be buffered with the conserving and/or gaining of resources, though conserving is perceived to be more protective than resource gains (at least in the infant stages of such research). I am definitely taking as much care of myself as I can. I’m not completely healed from trauma, but I’m managing it the best I can – sometimes well, sometime not so well. I try to stay away from politics, but sometimes it comes to me when I least expect it (like in friendly conversation, etc.). It’s scary how much power people have, and how that power can affect the lives of many – some in good ways, some in detrimental ways. I’m disabled, still, so I don’t have much, but what I have, I’m grateful for. There was a few times when I was homeless though, and I’m glad I still have the programs I’m on to sustain my housing. Without those programs, I’m literally homeless and penniless. I still haven’t been able to fully rehabilitate from disability, and I still may be disabled. I’m scared. But I’m trying to keep my head above water. I’m sure I’m not alone.

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      • Above water is good. You may yet become a long distance swimmer!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Dr. S.

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  3. Joseph Patrick Lori

    I just got off of Facebook before looking up your latest column, here. I tried to express the opinion that we need a Constitutional Amendment which says that no one may run for President unless one has at least ten years experience in one or both Houses of Congress. I believe that the job is too critical to the welfare of the entire world to be given to just anyone who tells the voters what they want to hear. This other guy replies by calling me a moron and reminding me that, back in the horse and buggy days, it was supposed to be a privilege to serve one term in office and then return to one’s regular job. I told him back to kiss my patootie and then reminded him about how Harry Truman once said that politics is a pro

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  4. Joseph Patrick Lori

    (I’m having problems with my keyboard). I reminded him about how Harry Truman once said that politics is a profession and that it takes a professional politician to understand how to do the job and that I could do as much name calling as he could. If he hadn’t seen fit to call me a moron, I wouldn’t have even bothered to reply

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    • Bugs Bunny used to use the appellation “Maroon” instead of moron. I try to be careful only to try to reason with those who are willing to listen, ask questions, and answer questions. Research now demonstrates that we tend to come to political positions in an instantaneous emotional and instinctive fashion, only then (in another split second) coming up with reasons to justify them. On both sides of the aisle. Socrates only had his dialogues with those who would stay with him and answer his questions in a civil manner. Perhaps we should return to ancient Greece, Joseph!

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  5. Dr. Stein, thanks for adding your voice against the angry rhetoric that now assails us daily and for your cautionary advice not to become to thing we hate. These times offer me many opportunities to practice tolerance.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am guilty as charged and I know it is based on fear because I see our country changing in a way I abhor and I was raised in a time when I crouched underneath my desk during drills as we all believed in our area we would be one of the first places hit with a nuclear bomb because we have a major naval base nearby. Coincidentally, the country that would be the perpetrator of this bombing is the same country that is monopolizing our news. I was not able to shake the fear of this potential bombing until I was 30 years old and with arms reduction it seemed the world was moving in another direction. I would like to grab our country by the shoulders and scream, “Don’t you get it?” I hang onto the news and I hang onto Twitter waiting for the latest “Breaking News” because it is a daily fast and furious ongoing event. I try to disengage and manage so minimally and then return to old habits. There is more to my fury though and all my other grievances are just as strong. I love diversity… different races, different cultures, different religions, kindness towards one another, the acceptance of one another, peacefulness….I do not want our country to lose this and I am terrified it is slipping away. I do not want to be tolerant…I want to fight, and fighting I am engaging in by protesting. If this is too much Dr. Stein, please delete it.

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    • Not too much, Nancy. The anger is motivating and some is necessary to fight. What I’m saying is to be careful of vilifying the political opposition in a blanket sort of way and of the anger not just aimed at positive action, but (inadvertantly and unintentionally) causing your own destruction.

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  7. I go about my daily activities as my usual self…no one would ever know my beliefs unless they are like minded and the topic emerges. It is within the privacy of my home where I am able to vent my frustration and anger. This is a thought provoking piece.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I deleted my Twitter feed a couple of months ago hoping this would help me with my political angst, and it did for a while, but I subscribed to The NY Times instead and started reading all their political articles, along with always having a left news/opinion channel frequently playing in my home. My anxiety only increased I found, and recently after such devastating news about our southern border and their children, along with words such as “authoritarian government,” “dire,” “loss of our civil rights,” “emergency,” etc…which left me in tears, we have stopped the news in our home and instead, are listening to podcasts and are reading books. It has been a week now and already I am starting to brighten, am sleeping better, and I now go about my business here in my little world and no longer view it as such a dark place. It may be crazy in Washington, but my little corner is still the same and I feel less threatened.

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    • drgeraldstein

      It might also be helpful to take some political action, however small. For example, participate in postcard writing or canvassing to get people registered to vote. This might give you a greater sense of control and reduce the sense of helplessness.

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  9. I recently joined The League of Women Voters and will be volunteering with them in helping register people to vote.

    Liked by 1 person

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