Why anger does not help [2010]

by Dominic Blackwell

Anger has become very fashionable lately.

A lot of the coverage of the recent US elections focussed on how angry people were and how the Tea Party was an expression of the fury of the ordainary American. Then yesterday as a student protest in London degenerated into a riot in Westminster, a lot of the interviews with students seemed to vaguely suggest that this reflected widespread anger and would help get a point across or something.

Of course the media love anger. With hours of news bulletins to fill and an audience not paying a huge amount of attention there is an ‘easy win’ when there is a fight, verbal or physical. And I think a lot of people advocating various causes get sucked into this. If there is confrontation they think people are talking about their cause and therefore they have succeeded.

Also this fits with another media obsession — passion. Surely angry people must be ‘passionate’ about the things they believe and by the lazy assumptions commonplace in the news media, this must be a good thing although exactly how or why is never explained.

But step back a bit and see what really happens here. Think in your real life — how many times have you got angry and achieved anything lasting. You might do something after having got angry. Anger might alert you to some injustice or some flaw in your life which you want to do something about. However to acutually achieve anything you have to stop shouting and breaking things and think about the situation you are in.

If you want to achieve something anger is not the way to go. They say revenge is a dish best served cold for a reason. Real change comes from steady concerted effort. With the student protests, everyone is looking back to the Poll Tax riots in the 1980s. But while the riots were certainly telegenic, surely the real change was brought about by the carefully orchestrated peaceful civil disobedience which clogged up the court system and made the tax effectively unenforceable.

Many times in human history people have got angry at a regime, had a violent revolution and then found that the new regime looks rather like the last one. Look at the Terror after the French Revolution and the behaviour of Cromwell after the beheading of Charles I. Smashing the system takes anger and violence and gets you more of the same. Changing the system takes planning, patience, intelligence and hard work. It looks less exciting on TV. But you actually get things done.

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