Monday, 6 October 2008

Anger - the Reasons I Have It

I have just been watching a two-part programme called 'Losing It' which comedian, writer and yachtsman, Griff Rhys Jones produced for the BBC. It looked at anger and its implications. As many commentators have noted (including myself back in May 2007 and June 2008) the World, especially the UK is becoming an angrier place. We have a 'rage' for everything from the life-threatening 'road rage' to the less dangerous 'trolley rage' in supermarkets. As I have noted, we are tutored in how to behave by what we see on television with sportsmen (and some sportswomen) having fights on the pitch and ordinary people raging at airline check-in desks for us to study. The widespread abuse of alcohol and drugs in the UK just adds to this tendency, especially among the young, not only men but also women. To some degree part of this stems from the fact that in the UK most of us are powerless to change anything in our lives and are constantly reminded of the fact. Politics is so sewn up that we (nor Gordon Brown) can do anything about rising costs or getting a decent school for our children or proper care for our elderly relatives. Consequently we explode at those people we can 'control', the person cutting us up in the car or looking at us in a strange way and it gives us, for a moment, a sense that we can assert some control. Ironically, in that moment we actually lose control but it does make us feel better.

Rhys Jones did note, however, that in making the angry person feel better, it makes those around them feel much worse in particular vulnerable, even if they have no fear that they will be hit or shouted at, it is just the 'electricity' around an angry person that makes them feel uncomfortable. Anger is often a cry to help, which is why we often get angry around people we are close to and love, because we feel we have permission to show our vulnerable side in their presence in a way we would not with strangers. Becoming visibly angry is showing a vulnerable side as it is when you have no rational thought and sometimes even lose physical control. However, often those close to us cannot accept the burden of that vulnerability not being let out bit-by-bit but in an intense way in a short period of time. There are many forms of anger, but for most people, they stem from feeling weak and unable to affect outcome. In this way, we are, as Rhys Jones showed, like toddlers who have tantrums. Toddlers are aware of their vunerability and their inability to alter the people or environment around them and so all they have left is their anger which they have in the most physical and vocal way possible.

To some extent, modern society, stripping so many of us of any control of our lives, infantilises us. People are unable financially to stand on themselves until into their 30s and 40s, and are often economically dependent on their parents for much of their lives, so is it unsurprising that as a result we cling to childish behaviour so much longer? I am almost 41 and without my parents I would still be living in scummy rented accommodation. I do think people do get more angry than in the past, but that is partly because in our youth we are told the big lie that we can 'have it all'. In the past people were told from childhood onwards that so much would be denied to them. Of course, most things are still denied to us, but we are lied to constantly both as children and as adults, by the media, so it makes it harder to accept the truth when it hits us. The other thing, is that we have lost a sense of shame. People flaunt so much of what would have been private once, this is in terms of sexuality, in how we dress, etc., also in terms of our wealth and possessions, but in particular in terms of our emotions. Though British people do not behave to the extreme that Americans do (remember the tennis player John McEnroe's televised tantrums in the 1970s, though mirrored by British comedy versions, notably from John Cleese), but nowadays we are encouraged to express all our emotions whether joyful, sad or angry in public in a way that would have been strongly discouraged in the past. As I have noted before, there is almost a reward for this, as we see those who make the most fuss, winning what they want, so are tempted to follow their lead.

I also think we have a greater sense of pride and take slights more strongly than we would have done in the past. This was noticeable in the programme when Rhys Jones was interviewing Chanelle Hayes who had had a tantrum on the Channel 4 'reality' programme 'Big Brother'. He was talking about the televised trantrum with her, and she said it was a rare occurrence for her, but then began getting upset with Rhys Jones in the course of the short interview because he would not let her drone on with her self-justifying, and clearly untrue monologue, and then she took offence at what she felt was a slur on her character, when Rhys Jones was simply trying to ask her questions about the incident. As there is so little for us to be proud about, we defend even those little crumbs or put up a front of indignation as if we had a lot more to defend than is actually the case.

An interview with George Galloway, an MP who I have met, was interesting. He has 'indignation' rather than anger and clearly distinguished between losing one's temper and having this indignation against wrong. Of course he linked this to big issues not imagined slurs and petty things. However, most of us have lost any connection with the big issues. We know we can do nothing about them so lack the channels in which to put our indignation, say on temperance, religion, Communism, Fascism, unemployment, the poll tax, etc., that our ancestors would have done.

As I have noted before, I do have a temper. The programme showed that I am in the prime category for it on a number of grounds, bar having a raised level of testosterone. In some ways I am de facto in the camp of parents of young children, who are the people most prone to anger, due to the six year old living in my house. Anger is a natural part of not only human nature but also animals such as apes, so it is never going to be eliminated unless we adopt a 'Brave New World' approach and castrate and sedate all men. However, some individuals are more prone to it turning into a more aggressive form than others and I tick many of those boxes.

The first is that I am male and that we cannot shake off the need of anger and violence that meant our descendants survived when many others died out over the millenia. Though women are catching up in the anger stakes, partly because they sense their powerlessness, especially in trying to achieve things for their families. For me anger is not purely mental, it is physical too. I feel as if there is a bug jabbing into the base of my neck and another at the base of my spine and those two bugs are not sated and certainly not dismissed until I have shouted myself hoarse and my heart is thumping so heavily I can feel it against my chest cavity and my stomach is sour and I feel pain down there. This is not good for my health, but surely it is better than having this seething inside me over a sustained period, shouting, swearing, revving the car engine may have consequences, but they relieve the uncomfortable symptoms and when the bugs are jabbing at you that is all you can think of.

The other thing is that I care. If I did not give a damn about how people behave or how our society was run then there would be so much less to get angry about. I think there is a right way that the World should work and that people should behave. In some ways I am seeking to police what I see as unacceptable behaviour. This wish to police is at the root of road rage in particular. I drive with a very moral sense of what is the correct behaviour I want to see and will hoot or bellow at those who I feel are behaving inappropriately. I have set myself up as a guardian of the wider community. Partly this is because there are no other outlets for this attitude in modern society.

This is why there are people always willing to be police informants. Whilst it is not as visible this attitude is what drives people to write letters to the tax office or benefit office, 'shopping' (i.e. highlighting them to the authorities) people they feel are flouting the regulations, or in particular, exploiting the state to their advantage. For me I simply blog and as I have noted before that is the contemporary form of letter writing to authorities, with the added bonus that it can come to the attention of people who feel the same and can sympathise. Message boards, online conferencing, are excellent outlets for this mind set, though even here 'flaming', the electronic form of bellowing at people can become an issue.

I have an attention to detail which is another indicator of someone liable to get angry. This is because we can get offended by minor things being 'wrong' or out of place. I certainly get angered by behaviour which I feel is unfair as if the World must be in perfect balance in terms of justice (some people would say this is because I am a Libran, if you believe that) and at present I feel that the unjust, the greedy, the mean, the bullies, the torturers, the selfish, all have the upper hand to a greater extent than before, so there is even more to fight for than would 'normally' be the case. My attention to detail means there is anger on so many issues that can trigger me off. Also, I am not satisfied by a quick outburst. As I am a reflective person (over 200 blog postings this year alone) I mull over the things that make me angry, literally keeping my anger 'simmering' so it is far closer to the surface when I encounter the next issue to irritate me, than if I could finish off one issue before moving on to another.

The other element which I had not really thought about before was having low self-esteem. I suppose this relates to what I have said about feeling so powerless to achieve anything in contemporary Britain. However, it goes beyond that to say, not only can you not achieve anything in the future, but everything you have done in the past was also valueless. In our 'dog-eat-dog' business world, of course people say that to you. The worst bullying I suffered at work was based on saying that I could take no solo credit for anything I had produced in that job. I am a good team player and will often downplay my role, so to hear that was very hard and really sapped my self-esteem to the extent I felt there was no point in producing anything, and, of course, that was what the bully wanted as he had effectively removed a rival for promotion.

Of course, being someone with suicidal tendencies, as outlined here, I do have low self-esteem, so again that is likely to make me angry. It is, as I say, that when you hit rock bottom, all you have left is your anger, it is the last scrap of self-dignity that you have. It is the one thing that you can fire off which draws some attention and brings some value to you, if only, because you disrupt the lives, even for a short period, of the people moving around you. It literally gets your voice heard even if your words are not heard. Anger is something that needs no other interaction, you can do it alone. This is why it is difficult for others around you, especially those close to you, to cope with, because it unsettles them as it is a very selfish activity. Of course, other people behave equally as selfishly, but because they do it calmly it does not face the condemnation that anger does, thought it is as equally corrosive to relationships and society and is likely to be sustained than over in a short time.

Having watched 'Losing It', I feel I am more normal than I thought I was. I find there were particular character traits which make me more prone to anger and likely to sustain that over a longer period. I see no solutions. I am as powerless to alter my context as any other ordinary person in the UK today. The fact that I will lose my job and my house next year simply adds to that sense. It also reduces my self-esteem, because time after time, I have been shown that no matter how hard I work or how I behave I still can achieve nothing, certainly in terms of the stability I am yearning at this age, and I am simply buffeted from job to job and from house to house with no control over what happens next. I could stop paying attention to detail, but that is an element of my work, so would make me slapdash and less effective as an employee. I think having been this way for four decades, it would be difficult to shake off. So, I will stick with anger, it is the only little bit of pride I have left. After I have lost everything, I know I can still get angry and have my voice heard even if just for half-an-hour. Here is me shouting and it feels a little better.

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