If there’s one thing the world isn’t short of, it’s angry people. Of course, the internet is a great place to find some impotent rage, but only because it’s a quick and easy means of expression for the pent-up anger that exists in real life. It doesn’t make us more angry, any more than watching violent films makes people more violent; it just gives shape to the anger that we already feel.
Anger about what? Well, everything, really. People will get het up about just about anything, including some amazingly trivial stuff. Music (Justin Bieber, grrr, I hate that man I’ve never met!), TV (Grrrr, that [insert name of show here], here’s a five thousand word essay on why it’s wrong and you are a bad person for liking it!), literature (the same, except we’re now talking whole angry blogs tens of thousands of words long, especially if the novel in question involves some teenage vampires, or a boy wizard)…like I said, just about anything. And when you get to politics or current affairs, you’re talking about people getting angry enough to go out on the streets and demonstrate, riot or blow each other up, not just write angrily.
Of course, I’m not exactly innocent in all this myself. I’ve delivered my share of ridiculously long posts bashing trivial things, usually because I didn’t like them. I’ve tried not to be a purveyor of mindless vitriol, but I don’t know that I’ve always succeeded. The thing is, the wish to rage at things seems to be something none of us can escape, however good our intentions.
A lot of it comes down to the need to control things in our world, which was fine when “our world” was a village of a few hundred people all of whom we knew by name, but isn’t so great when the power of communication is making “our world” and “the whole world” increasingly identical . We are all flooded with more and more information about things we realise we can’t possibly control, but somehow we feel we should try, and the result is ever-increasing anger when, inevitably, we fail.
We can’t control the weather. We can’t control whether we get stuck in traffic on the way to work. We can’t control how the world economy behaves and what impact that has on our jobs. We can’t, except in fairly limited and temporary ways, control our children. We can’t, individually, control our country’s politics and how that affects us, still less what happens in other countries (Newsflash for all haters of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or both – even if you are a US citizen, you really don’t get a massive say in whether either of them gets to be President, and if you aren’t, you get none).
The ancient philosopher Epictetus commented that “Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation and, in a word, whatever are not our own actions.” If you think of it like that, it only underlines how little control we can have over all sorts of things that are relevant to us. We can accept that, or we can spend our lives raging about the fact that feminism didn’t just collapse when you comprehensively showed its bad logic to the world with your hilarious image macro.
And anger, in spite of what the old punk song claims, often isn’t an energy. It’s more of an indulgence, an emotion that drains you, unbalances your judgement and leaves you less able to cope with the problems you have to face. And, unfortunately, for some people, that indulgence then becomes an addiction, and they become the stereotypical internet Mr/Ms Angry.