December 22, 2018


The Real Roots of American Rage: The untold story of how anger became the dominant emotion in our politics and personal lives--and what we can do about it. (CHARLES DUHIGG, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019, The Atlantic)

Averill's expectations were modest. He assumed that most Greenfield residents would say they only infrequently lost their temper. He expected respondents to confess that they were embarrassed afterward, and that, in retrospect, their paroxysms had only made things worse. In fact, he figured most people would toss the questionnaire in the trash.

Then the survey from the aggrieved wife arrived. Other replies soon began flooding his mailbox, so many that Averill had trouble reading them all. "It was the best-performing survey I've ever conducted," he told me. "Some people even attached thank-you notes. They were so pleased to talk about being angry." The replies contained unanticipated responses: The betrayed wife, it turned out, wasn't all that upset about the mistress--she had harbored suspicions for years, and to be frank, if another woman was willing to put up with her husband, more power (and sympathy) to her. But how dare he show her the new car first?

Other respondents described more mundane arguments, over who ought to take out the trash, or curfews for teenagers, or snappish tones at the dinner table. People were eager to talk about their daily indignations, in part because they felt angry so frequently. "Most people report becoming mildly to moderately angry anywhere from several times a day to several times a week," Averill later wrote, summing up his research in American Psychologist.

Most surprising of all, these angry episodes typically took the form of short and restrained conversations. They rarely became blowout fights. And contrary to Averill's hypothesis, they didn't make bad situations worse. Instead, they tended to make bad situations much, much better. They resolved, rather than exacerbated, tensions. When an angry teenager shouted about his curfew, his parents agreed to modifications--as long as the teen promised to improve his grades. Even the enraged wife's confrontation with her unfaithful husband led to a productive conversation: He could keep the mistress, as long as she was out of sight and as long as the wife always took priority.

In the vast majority of cases, expressing anger resulted in all parties becoming more willing to listen, more inclined to speak honestly, more accommodating of each other's complaints. People reported that they tended to be much happier after yelling at an offending party. They felt relieved, more optimistic about the future, more energized. "The ratio of beneficial to harmful consequences was about 3 to 1 for angry persons," Averill wrote. Even the targets of those outbursts agreed that the shouting and recriminations had helped. They served as signals for the wrongdoers to listen more carefully and change their ways. More than two-thirds of the recipients of anger "said they came to realize their own faults," Averill wrote. Their "relationship with the angry person was reportedly strengthened more often than it was weakened, and the targets more often gained rather than lost respect for the angry person."

Anger, Averill concluded, is one of the densest forms of communication. It conveys more information, more quickly, than almost any other type of emotion. And it does an excellent job of forcing us to listen to and confront problems we might otherwise avoid.

Subsequent studies have found other benefits as well. We're more likely to perceive people who express anger as competent, powerful, and the kinds of leaders who will overcome challenges. Anger motivates us to undertake difficult tasks. We're often more creative when we're angry, because our outrage helps us see solutions we've overlooked. "When we look at the brains of people who are expressing anger, they look very similar to people who are experiencing happiness," says Dacher Keltner, the director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab. "When we become angry, we feel like we're taking control, like we're getting power over something." Watching angry people--as viewers of reality television know--is highly entertaining, so expressing anger is a surefire method for capturing the attention of an otherwise indifferent crowd.

In the years after his survey, Averill watched as anger studies became the focus of academic specialties and prestigious journals. In 1992 alone, social scientists published almost 25,000 studies of anger.

Then, in early 2016, Averill was watching newscasts about the presidential primaries. The election season had barely started, and the Republican field was still crowded. Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, giving the Republican rebuttal to President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address, took a subtle jab at one of her party's candidates--a clownish figure the establishment hoped to marginalize.

"During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation," Haley told voters. "Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That's just not true."

Soon afterward, reporters swarmed Donald Trump to ask how he felt about such a public renunciation. "Well, I think she's right, I am angry," Trump told CNN. "I'm angry, and a lot of other people are angry, too, at how incompetently our country is being run." Trump continued: "As far as I am concerned, anger is okay. Anger and energy is what this country needs."

As Averill watched, he felt a shock of recognition. Everyone believed Trump would be out of the race soon. But Averill wasn't so sure. "He understands anger," he thought to himself, "and it's going to make voters feel wonderful." [...]

Trump made the most of this animosity during his campaign, as Averill predicted he would; he has mastered the levers of emotional manipulation better than any of his political opponents. But our predicament predates the current president. In 2001, just 8 percent of Americans told Pew they were angry at the federal government; by 2013, that number had more than tripled. [...]

But moral outrage must be closely managed, or it can do more harm than good. Ganz, who eventually became a lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School, has spent years teaching people how to use their anger to effect change. Stoking the emotion is easy. Learning how to channel it to useful ends, he told me, is harder. For anger to be productive, at some point, it must stop. Victory often demands compromise. "You have to know how to arouse passions to fuel the fight, and then how to cool everyone down so they'll accept the deal on the table," Ganz said.

Donald uses Trumpbot anger to distract them from his corruption, not to achieve anything.

Posted by at December 22, 2018 9:36 AM