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The anger trapBY: Dan Rottenberg 09.28.2010
Robert Zaller says Americans have good reason to be angry. If I could just find my pitchfork….
My anger and meDAN ROTTENBERG
“Americans are angry and bewildered about their lives, and with good reason…. Maybe the masses should be grabbing their pitchforks….”
“I didn’t know you had one,” my wife replied.
“You know— the pitchfork I got for my bar mitzvah. It was in that neat kit with my switchblade, my .44 Magnum and my land mine.”
“I threw out most of your toys when you turned 25 and the synapses in your brain finally grew together,” my wife said. “Besides, why would you want a pitchfork in Center City?”
“Robert Zaller says I need one. He says Americans are angry, and with good reason.”
“But you’ve always argued that anger is the enemy of reason. Have you forgotten that quotation hanging on your office wall, from Henry J. Raymond, the founder of the New York Times: ‘There are very few things in the world which it is worthwhile to get angry about, and they are just the things that anger will not improve’?”
“I know. But Henry Raymond never went to graduate school. Robert Zaller is a professor who holds advanced degrees.”
“What about Thomas Carlyle, who said, ‘In any controversy, the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth and have begun striving for ourselves’?”
“Carlyle never got past college either. Are you going to help me find my pitchfork or not?”
“What about the aphorist Frank Tyger, who said, ‘A man’s wisdom is lowest when his anger is highest’?”
“Frank Tyger is most likely a fictitious character,” I advised her. “Robert Zaller, on the other hand, is the real deal. He writes essays for Broad Street Review and cashes our checks. If he says anger is a useful emotion, I must heed him.”
“But what possible good has anger ever done anyone?”
“Think of all the great works of art, literature, architecture, philosophy and music created by angry people.”
“Well, Vincent Van Gogh… Ayn Rand…. Ike Turner…. Bobby Knight…. The list is endless.”
“I’m not impressed.”
“Without the rape of the Sabine women, would we have that glorious painting by Cortona? Without angry lynch mobs, would we have The Ox-Bow Incident? And think of the myriad advances in science, technology, medicine, law, history and statecraft that have been fueled by anger. Why, even as we speak, some angry young geek is inadvertently creating a new software application that no one ever dreamed of, simply by kicking his computer.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“Well, we owe much of our understanding of antiquity to the destruction of Pompeii. Because the entire city was buried, it was preserved intact for many centuries.”
“But Pompeii was destroyed by a volcano!”
“Yes, but it was a very angry volcano.”
“But your own therapist says anger has nothing to do with any matter at hand— that it’s all early childhood issues bubbling to the surface many years later. That’s why many affluent people are marching in Tea Party protests while many poor people are content.”
“Yes, but Antonin Scalia has pointed out that executions serve an important communal cathartic role. And he’s on the Supreme Court. My therapist isn’t.”
“OK— you think anger is a useful tool. But why pitchforks? That sounds like a page right out of Patrick Buchanan. I thought Robert Zaller was a lefty.”
“He is. But don’t you remember what Ed Janosik, my political science professor at Penn, used to say— that folks on the far right and the far left are actually temperamentally closer to each other than they are to those in the center?”
“So the righties and the lefties are united in their anger?”
“Something like that.”
“Then why are you angry, Dan?”
“Because it feels good. And it beats thinking. And besides, I’m bigger than you are. So if you don’t mollify my anger and find my pitchfork, I’m gonna slap you around— you and that infuriatingly cool cucumber in the White House.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. Can’t we middle-aged guys have any fun?”♦
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