A Book Review
Is my anger justified? Anyone who’s ever been angry believes it is. But anger can be terribly destructive and must be managed, say those who are not angry at the moment. Who’s right? Is anger worth keeping?
Ethical philosopher, Myisha Cherry recently wrote a book that describes the difference between righteous anger and the other kind. It’s titled, The Case for Rage: Why Anger Is Essential to Anti-Racist Struggle. Dr Cherry comes out in favor of certain kinds of rage against racism. I’d like to see if my rage can be justified when it’s against something else that pisses me off: my cable provider.
I have been known to get very frustrated with my cable provider and have vented my spleen from time to time on the unfortunate customer service operators who answer my calls. I’m not proud of myself afterwards and, although I believe my cause is righteous, I’m ashamed of the way I acted. I needn’t be ashamed, suggests Dr Cherry, if I purge my rage of certain impurities.
The first thing to go is narcissism. I’m upset with the cable company because their service is poor, their advertising is misleading, and they make me pay for Fox News, which I would not watch. Imagine how I would feel if my demands were met; if they answered promptly when I called, gave me the rate they advertised, and removed Fox News from my bill, but they changed nothing for anyone else. If that was enough to make me stop complaining, then my rage was narcissistic. I’ve just shown that I don’t care about anyone else’s poor service, high rates, or that they must pay for partisan news channels. My rage is self-serving.
On the other hand, if I continue my crusade to make sure everyone’s calls get answered promptly, their advertising is honest, and no news channel spreads nonsense, then my rage is worthy, according to Dr Cherry. I’ve proved to be more interested in Justice than in making things easier for me.
The next thing to look out for is Wipe Rage. That’s her name for it. Do I want to have anyone fired? Wipe the cable company off the face of the earth? Do I want to exterminate them, as the Nazis tried to do with the Jews? Do I want them eliminated so they can’t hurt anyone ever again?
I do think companies who treat their customers as poorly as the cable company treats me should go out of business. There must be a threat of failure, so they would take customer service more seriously. That’s the law of the marketplace when there is true competition. Competition that the cable company is exempt from, thanks to a cushy arrangement with politicians. But, no, I don’t want all cable company employees to lose their jobs. I want them to be better at them.
Wipe Rage thinks there can only be one winner and one loser. If the cable company wins, then I lose. For me to win, they must lose. People with Wipe Rage fail to see that justice means everyone wins. When anyone is better, we all are.
Once Narcissistic and Wipe Rage are eradicated from my anger, I need to consider whether I’m guilty of Ressentiment. Notice I didn’t say resentment, I used a fancy French word. It comes from Friedrich Nietzsche. Ressentiment is a durable, intense, abstract, and petty-minded hatred that inflates my grievance towards to cable company into a grand narrative of good versus evil. It redirects my own feelings of inferiority towards an enemy. It justifies an escape from culpability.
Look at what the cable company has reduced me to, says ressentiment. I must grovel, like a courtier, just to be heard by their representatives. I am lied to and promised something they have no intention of delivering. I’m forced to support an odious news organization that spreads false information and inflames partisan politics. It’s their fault I lose my temper when I get someone on the phone. Look at what they made me do.
To remove ressentiment from my anger, I would have to admit that the cable company has something I want. They do something I can’t do on my own, access thousands of hours of entertainment pleasure. If it tricks me into signing a contract, it only does so because I think I’m getting a good deal over them. I would take responsibility for the way I chose to act with customer service.
The next kind of rage to remove is the Rogue variety. This is the kind of rage that’s directed at scapegoats, rather than the person or institution that caused the injustice. You could say that my going off on customer service operators is Rogue Rage. They aren’t responsible for the policies of the cable company. They’re hired by the cable company to be scapegoats so the executives can sit back in their offices and not have to listen to me. This gives me one more thing to be angry about. It’s something customer service operators should be angry about, too. We have a common cause.
Once I cut out the bad parts of my anger towards the cable company: the narcissism, the impulse to eradicate, the ressentiment, and the scapegoating, what have I got left? Dr Cherry says I have Lordean Rage. She gave it that name in honor of the Black poet and activist Audre Lorde who in an essay, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, argued that to effectively address racial injustice, we must first acknowledge the anger it gives rise to and harness it as a tool. Lordean Rage is directed at change, motivates productive action, builds an opposition, and lends an inclusive and liberating perspective.
Clearly rage can be good for something if it alerts me that there’s injustice afoot. If it gets me up in the morning, fired up to take constructive action, I can thank it for inspiring me. Rage has been known to bring people together to cooperate with each other against a common enemy. It tells us that we do not have to settle with the way things are and can do something about it.
Not everyone would be convinced of the righteousness of Lordean Rage. There are some who say there should never be any rage. We should talk with civility. Speak softly, they say, so you can be heard. Here’s the problem though. A loud voice is how humans express urgency, resolve, and significance. Declarative sentences are clear. When I call a spade a spade, I’m calling names. Sometimes the medium of anger is the message and when we say things nicer, the message is lost. The problem isn’t with anger, says Dr Cherry, but with people who refuse to hear the cries of the oppressed.
Some may object that rage should not be directed towards something as trivial as my cable company when there’s so much more to be angry about. They would say I’m able to be angry about the cable company because I have so many privileges. I beg to differ. It’s the providence of old white guys to rail against petty inconveniences. Anyone with Lordean Rage would understand. What I find, when I purge my anger of the impurities of Ressentiment and Narcissistic, Wipe, and Rogue Rage is that I’m left with being angry about the same thing the ani-racist is angry about when she has purged her rage of the same elements. We’re both angry about being powerless. Anger is all we have left. We should treasure it, then, direct it frugally towards effective change, and not waste it by spending it foolishly on ressentiment, narcissism, wiping them out, or against people who are not the problem.
What is the true problem, which is worthy of our rage? Everywhere we look, there’s a gap between what is and what ought to be. We were not consulted about any of it. We should have been, but I hope it’s not too late. I’m not sure where the idea came from, that things could be better, but it’s a holy one. Black lives should matter. Corrupt Capitalism should matter. The idea of justice matters. Therefore, our rage matters.
We fill the gap between what is and what ought to be with rage. We could fill it with acceptance, but that often feels like giving away too much. When we fill it with rage, of the refined variety, we show our commitment to a vision of a better world. One we may be worthy of, because we argued for it.