Anger Management

Volume 8, Issue 97; 07 Jul 2005; last modified 08 Oct 2010

I don't find anger conducive to writing and I have not written in more than two weeks. That's apparently not a coincidence.

Sticks and stones may break your bones when there's anger to impart. Spiteful words can hurt your feelings, but silence breaks your heart. Anger is as a stone cast into a wasp's nest.


The continuance and frequent fits of anger produce in the soul a propensity to be angry; which oftentimes ends in choler, bitterness, and moronity, when the mind becomes ulcerated, peevish, and querulous, and is wounded by the least occurrence.

Henry Ward Beecher

Anger ventilated often hurries towards forgiveness; anger concealed often hardens into revenge.

Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.

Thomas Carlyle

I was ranting yesterday. Deb and I were driving along in the car and I was releasing a tirade about something now completely forgotten when Deb observed that I sounded angry and I'd sounded angry a lot recently.

Nail on the head. Hole in one. Home run. Nothing but net from the three-point line. She is absolutely right, though I was only vaguely aware of it myself.

On an immediate and personal level, I've been angry and frustrated about some things at work (thankfully, those seem to have worked themselves out). More broadly, the number and range of things to be angry about seems to grow every day: the trend towards the erosion of our civil rights, the environment, education, the assault of superstition on the sciences, the erosion of the separation of church and state, judicial nominees, increasing governmental secrecy and unwillingness to inform the public about the most basic motivations behind public policy, the assault of the neo-cons on the arts, the disinformation campaign being conducted by the major oil companies to obscure the realities of global warming, bombs (anywhere), anything related to the U.S. patent office, etc. ad nauseum.

Bill Moyers' essay There Is No Tomorrow offers a more apt summary of the current sorry state of affairs than I'm likely to be able to provide. I first read it as an Op Ed piece in Free Inquiry, but it comes from his remarks on receiving Harvard Medical School's Global Environment Citizen Award. (I think it was first published in the Star Tribune, but they don't keep a public archive; use your favorite search engine if you don't like the link above.)

That there are people who believe the things that Moyers describes is not surprising, that they should come to be a political force in the twenty first century in the United States is gut-wrenchingly disturbing. It's dangerous (to humanity) and when that danger doesn't scare the shit out of me, it makes me angry.

It struck me that a sense of “belief”, irrational belief in things for which there is no supporting evidence, was part and parcel of a number of the things that most incited my fury, and I spent a couple of days angrily contemplating belief. This resulted in a list of twenty-five things I do not believe.

I do not believe:

  1. the number 13 is unlucky

  2. the future can be predicted by the stars, tea leaves, or anything else (except waiting)

  3. in the healing powers of crystals or magnets

  4. in homeopathy

  5. that lottery tickets are a sound investment

  6. in life after death

  7. the Bush administration (on so many levels)

  8. marriage has anything to do with the xor of the participant's X and Y chromosomes

  9. driving to the airport is particularly safe

  10. flying in airplanes is particularly dangerous

  11. that "The War on X" ever advances the cause of ameliorating problem "X"

  12. large corporations can be trusted

  13. flag burning is a crime

  14. tax cuts for the relatively rich (of which class, I am a member) or truly wealthy are responsible or reasonable

  15. in Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster or chupacabras or flying saucers (much as I'd like to)

  16. that the planet is really capable of sustaining its current population

  17. in the death penalty

  18. in the right to life

  19. that gas prices are too high in the United States

  20. in the return of prohibition

  21. that "abstinence-only" is a responsible approach to sex education

  22. we are taking adequate steps to preserve the planet's fragile ecosystem

  23. in privatizing infrastructure (roads, rail, airlines, communication systems, social security, medical care, etc.)

  24. genetically modifying plants so that their seeds are sterile is a defensible practice

  25. in God or Allah or the Great Green Arkleseizure for that matter

The catch is, to the extent that some of these things are simply a matter of belief, my view is no more or less right than anyone else's. If it comforts you to believe that there is reason or purpose to the Universe or that the earth is fixed and that the heavens rotate around us (seriously, there are people who believe this), by what authority can I assert that you should believe otherwise? But those beliefs do not merit influence on public policy. I'm reminded of a quotation by Stephen J. Gould:

In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.


All belief is irrational by definition. Any idea can have some amount of rational basis, but to believe it you need to be irrational.

The big problem with politics all around the world is that every single party is based on beliefs and priciples, which obstruct rational decision making.

Sadly, to be a "man of principle" is still considered to be a positive property.

—Posted by Sjoerd Visscher on 08 Jul 2005 @ 03:39 UTC #

This comment mischaracterizes the nature of typical beliefs. We all have beliefs, and most of our beliefs are trivial, unavoidable, rational, and true. I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. For that matter, I believe it rose today, though Tropical Storm Cindy has occluded it, from my point of view, behind wall-to-wall clouds. Someone might be supplying light above the clouds, but I don't believe it. I believe most of the time that there is money in my wallet, though a few times I have been grievously mistaken.

It is only a few highly select beliefs that are merely a matter of opinion, where evidence plays no part whatsoever. Beliefs about life after death and the existence of various gods fit in here, and I for one neither accept nor reject them. But this regime of thought is not confined to metaphysics. I believe (as a consequence of the law of the excluded middle) that there either is life on Jupiter or there isn't. But with no evidence, I neither believe that there is, nor do I believe that there isn't.

—Posted by John Cowan on 08 Jul 2005 @ 05:25 UTC #

I respectfully disagree. So you worship Science and believe that this god 'Science' created the universe in the 'big bang'? Sounds alot like you think that your viewpoint should steer public policy.....especially what kids are learning in school. I personally spent the first 21 years of my life thinking the EXACT same way that you do. I found a better explaination. Jesus the Christ (just hearing His name used to make me cringe). Just because my evidence is mainly experiential and (arguably) not empirical, doesn't mean its not valid.

—Posted by Jason on 08 Jul 2005 @ 05:48 UTC #

I am with the opinion that the main cause of resentment and anger for most people simply comes from the act of believing in something (the same can also be said for 'not believing' in something – which is to say one 'believes' that some things are 'unbelievable').

I think it's more a question of HAVING beliefs vs. NOT HAVING beliefs.

Now the catch is, if you HAVE beliefs (or HAVE 'not beliefs'), you make yourself susceptible to manipulation (by the bureaucracy, other people, etc.). Whereas, NOT HAVING beliefs – if that is at all possible – well, no anger, no manipulation. But i just can't imagine...

—Posted by merkin on 08 Jul 2005 @ 07:37 UTC #

I'm reluctant to get into a protracted debate over the proper scope of matters of faith in society. But, yes, I think public policy should be guided by a study of empirical evidence. If for no other reason, then simply because that position does not require such policy to favor, or even acknowledge, any particular position on matters that are not subject to empirical analysis.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 08 Jul 2005 @ 08:43 UTC #

There is something very amusing about people attempting to apply logic and reason to explain why someone else's reliance on logic and reason is deeply flawed.

"You should believe me when I tell you that beliefs are arbitrary."


—Posted by James on 08 Jul 2005 @ 10:22 UTC #

Some cultural-difference-feedback. In the Netherlands, there is a pretty good separation between state and religion. It is also much less openly christian than the USA. Everyone can believe all he wants as everything is the same anyway. Except if you're christian, as that is just Not Done. Because if you're christian you tend to exclude the rest. Ah well, consistency...

I can't say I agree with the stereotypical 6x24-hours-creation Bush-voting guys and galls on your side of the big pont, but I'm equally amazed at the vehemence which comes ones way if one mentions that the possibility that hard-core-type evolution took place is soooo small that it would be regarded as zero in any other scientific field.... Man, just mentioning that gets you a reaction worthy of the Spanish Inquisition.

Anyway, good luck dealing with Bush and his evangelical agenda. Make sure Bush gets his rightful place in the history books that come out in 10 years time [evil grin]. But please do leave a bit of respectful room for people who don't believe 100% in the High Church of Evolution.



—Posted by Reinout van Rees on 09 Jul 2005 @ 10:50 UTC #

Sorry to hear about the anger, sounds not-good. Wish I could suggest something useful.

Regarding your beliefs - I share them, all bar three:

2. Humans (often with the aid of tools) are extremely good at predicting the future compared to other species. Can you imagine a cat bungee jumping? Voluntarily?

3. MRI scans can be useful.

6. Who's death? Who's life? *

15. I suck goats ;-)

* I probably agree. I also believe those apostrophes are required.

—Posted by Danny on 10 Jul 2005 @ 08:24 UTC #

Good at predicting the very near-term future, perhaps, but over what units of time? Seconds? Minutes? Electromagnetism is phenomenally useful, but an MRI doesn't actual heal anything. Fair point on life after death, though speaking only of my own, I still don't believe it. And on the whole chupacabra thing, Danny, that's just way more than I wanted to know :-)

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 10 Jul 2005 @ 03:45 UTC #

A few observations:

First, I thought I went out of my way to make it clear that I didn't hold my beliefs in greater respect than anone else's. I certainly don't expect anyone to modulate their own beliefs on the basis of mine.

Second, I didn't mention evolution. I even resisted taking a pot shot at the Kansas Board of Education. That said, one would have to willfully ignore an overwhelming preponderence of evidence to conclude that evolution is, in any reasonable, practical sense, unproven. There might be a better explanation, but it's going to have to do a better job of explaining and predicting an enormous number of real world observations before it can be taken seriously. A critical distinction between science and faith is that such an explanation, if it comes along, will displace the current explanation.

And finally, on the separation of church and state, are none of its opponents concerned about their own welfare, about protecting themselves from religious persecution? Suppose they're successful. Suppose the federal government mandates prayer in school, requires that religious texts be posted in public spaces, manipulates public policy to favor a particular religious dogma, and withholds financial aid from organizations and individuals that do not espouse the "right" religious beliefs. Does it not concern them that, as a consequence of simply electing a different few hundred men and women to the legislature, their own children could be required to recite the prayers of a faith antithetical to their own? That they could see their own access to public funds withdrawn, their rights abridged, their own religious beliefs mocked and blasphemed?

I don't support a clear separation of church and state out of some personal, anti-religious sentiment. I support it because it offers clear protection against religious discrimination for all, not only for myself (and, yes, I consider my own atheism a religious belief that should have equal protection). Eroding that separation is not in the long-term best interests of anyone.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 11 Jul 2005 @ 01:35 UTC #

found this to be useful reading whilst researching one day on the physical definition of anger....

—Posted by Jim Fuller on 01 Aug 2005 @ 01:39 UTC #