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home : opinions : opinions September 26, 2017

6/20/2017 12:26:00 PM
Might as well face it, we're addicted to rage
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Jeremy Christian, who fatally slashed two men on a Portland MAX train and wounded another last month, is a rage junkie. He is full of bilious anger toward anyone who is not him. When three men intervened as he spewed his wrath and anti-Muslim abuse at a pair of teenaged girls, he turned that rage on them and left them in a welter of blood.

James T. Hodgkinson, who opened fire on Republican congressmen and staffers at an early morning baseball practice last Wednesday, was a rage junkie. As a column in the Los Angeles Times notes, "There seemed to be little about America that James T. Hodgkinson agreed with. He had a hero, Bernie Sanders. But his enemies seemed to be endless."

Americans are becoming a nation of rage junkies. Most, of course, will never act out their rage in such spectacularly destructive fashion, but rage can also work insidiously, eroding and corroding souls and the ties that bind a society together.

Rage is powerful and addictive. Rage arouses and stimulates - it makes us feel more alert, more powerful, more alive. Nothing like a big hit of righteous wrath to make you feel better about yourself - at least for a moment.

It supplies that delicious shot of dopamine that our brains crave. But like any powerful drug, the effects wear off, leaving us feeling less than we did before - and needing another, heavier hit to get high.

Rage addiction is nothing new, of course - it's been wired into us since we first climbed down out of the trees on the African savannah. But we have some new and novel tools at our fingertips with which to feed the addiction - and with which others can exploit it for fun and profit.

In a National Review column recently, Ben Shapiro notes that:

"...something new has happened to American politics in the last few years: Politicians have realized that the simplest path to power is to humor everyone's anger. If you take someone's anger from them, you've emotionally castrated them. More important, you run the risk of driving them into the arms of someone who will feed their anger - an anger that will now turn on you for the sin of having discounted that anger in the first place.

"This is deeply unhealthy."

You think? And it's worse than that. There are people getting very rich off of stoking the fire, and they're using sophisticated neuro-psychological prompts to elicit our addictive behaviors.

Talk radio and cable infotainment networks build their entire business model around feeding anger. And more than a few people spend hours each day punching the button over and over, sharing memes and screeds on social media- just one more hit. Just one more.

Whatever you hate, whatever really hacks you off, you can share it in a second and maybe get a hit of validation as a chaser. Appalled by Trump? Rent the guy space in your head all day long while you shoot out dozens of screeds and call it "resistance." (Ironically, if anything brings Trump down, it will be his inability to control his raging Twitter finger.)

Scorn the "libtards"? Share that killer demeaning meme. Oh, that really got 'em.

Feels good. Do it again.

That's not discourse; it's not discussion; it's not debate. It's just pushing buttons - our own and other peoples'.

The horrible results of addictive rage are obvious when they manifest themselves in acts of vicious violence. But the vastly more common and more insidious effects of constant rage are not less horrible for being less self-evident. A friend likens it to "slapping a saw." The saw is impervious to our rage - and the teeth will inevitably tear us up.

This is not to say that all anger is misplaced. The world is - as it has ever been - full of folly, greed, venality and outright evil. Anger at such things is legitimate and justified. It is, in fact, necessary. Anger channeled into effective action can effect significant change.

What gets harder and harder to distinguish is what is effective action and what is slapping a saw? Are we doing something useful with our anger or simply looking for a quick hit of emotional payoff, hitting the button repeatedly like a crack-addled monkey - tearing ourselves up as a result, to no good end at all?

Ultimately, we are what we do, not what we feel or what we say. An artist friend tells me that "we are responsible for building the world we want to live in." Seems like picking up the toolbox is the antidote to rage.

Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Article comment by: David Grady

Your Addicted to Rage commentary is, no surprise, excellent. Thanks for writing and publishing it.

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