Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Anger Mismanagement

A woman was recently caught on CCTV picking up an apparently healthy cat which didn’t belong to her and putting it into a wheelie bin, where it remained trapped for fifteen hours before it was fortunately found by its owners. That footage was put on the Internet, and outrage against the woman’s behaviour spread in no time. Death threats were made. The local police had to consider giving her protection in case her location became known.

Rage is so easily triggered these days. But often it explodes without any sense of proportionality. There are people who almost foam at the mouth when they hear about the small minority of poor people who try to cheat the benefits system. Yet they barely whimper about rich people manipulating tax arrangements to take billions more pounds out of the public purse (£50 billion more on one cautious estimate). Similarly, there are people who are incensed with thoughtless young people vandalising their neighbourhoods, and want the entire police force out to rein them in, though their fury is not summoned when the broader fate of their neighbourhoods is sealed by corporate bosses who moved their business out of the areas, knowing full well that would devastate the communities for years, if not decades to come. And there’s the vengeful rage directed at any drunk driver for getting only a few years in jail for killing one person, but nothing remotely comparable expressed against business directors who knowingly, through deadly pollution or life-shortening products, bring about the untimely deaths of thousands of innocent people.

In fact, when we look more closely, the corporate elites who cause the most harm to the population are the ones least exposed to angry recriminations. Aided by the media, litigation and lobbying tools they have at their disposal, they can sit back while others whose offences are much smaller than theirs are served up for public ire to consume. Furthermore, where the daily reporting of crime and misdemeanor is not enough, the corporate interest-driven media line up scapegoats who, though they are actually more victims than perpetrators of human cruelty, are vilified for the sole purpose of being made into lightning conductors for the thunderous temper of other people. The public, instead of seeing, for example, refugees seeking to escape persecution, workers resorting to strikes to save their livelihood, or public servants taking the blame for everything, as fellow sufferers plunged into fear and uncertainty by a system which looks after the plutocratic few, are goaded into bitter resentment against them.

It does not end there. The deliberate deflection of anger away from corporate manipulators takes its most formidable form when the public are tricked into venting their spleen at the people who are most genuine about helping them get a fairer deal in society. America has shown most dramatically how this works in practice. John Kerry, a true war hero, was portrayed as unpatriotic as opposed to his rival for the Presidential race, G W Bush, who avoided being drafted for the war. The more Obama wants to help his fellow Americans with healthcare reform and economic recovery, the more he is attacked for being ‘Un-American’ (in some cases, literally). Even social reform-minded Republicans are now subject to anger offensive to dislodge them in congressional primaries in favour of candidates who “really connect” with ordinary people (i.e., the candidates most dedicated to protecting the corporate status quo and committed to bringing their righteous wrath upon the likes of gay people, Muslims, feminist advocates, Latino immigrants, and of course, liberal politicians).

Sometimes, in the face of oppression and injustice, anger may have a place to fuel resistance. But we need to direct it, not at innocent scapegoats, but the real culprits.

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