For other uses, see Anger (disambiguation).
"Angry" redirects here. For other uses, see Angry (disambiguation).
"Wrath" redirects here. For other uses, see Wrath (disambiguation).
Anger or wrath is an intense emotional response. It is an emotion that involves a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat. Anger can occur when a person feels their personal boundaries are being or are going to be violated. Some have a learned tendency to react to anger through retaliation as a way of coping. Raymond Novaco of University of California Irvine, who since 1975 has published a plethora of literature on the subject, stratified anger into three modalities: cognitive (appraisals), somatic-affective (tension and agitations), and behavioral (withdrawal and antagonism). William DeFoore, an anger-management writer, described anger as a pressure cooker: we can only apply pressure against our anger for a certain amount of time until it explodes.
Anger is an emotional reaction that impacts the body. A person experiencing anger will also experience physical conditions, such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and increased levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Some view anger as an emotion which triggers part of the fight or flight brain response. Anger is used as a protective mechanism to cover up fear, hurt or sadness. Anger becomes the predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically when a person makes the conscious choice to take action to immediately stop the threatening behavior of another outside force. The English term originally comes from the term anger of Old Norse language. Anger can have many physical and mental consequences.
The external expression of anger can be found in facial expressions, body language, physiological responses, and at times public acts of aggression. Some animals, for example, make loud sounds, attempt to look physically larger, bare their teeth, and stare. The behaviors associated with anger are designed to warn aggressors to stop their threatening behavior. Rarely does a physical altercation occur without the prior expression of anger by at least one of the participants. While most of those who experience anger explain its arousal as a result of "what has happened to them," psychologists point out that an angry person can very well be mistaken because anger causes a loss in self-monitoring capacity and objective observability.
Modern psychologists view anger as a primary, natural, and mature emotion experienced by virtually all humans at times, and as something that has functional value for survival. Anger is seen as a supportive mechanism to show a person that something is wrong and requires changing. Anger can mobilize psychological resources for corrective action. Uncontrolled anger can, however, negatively affect personal or social well-being and impact negatively on those around them. It is equally challenging to be around an angry person and the impact can also cause psychological/emotional trauma if not dealt with. While many philosophers and writers have warned against the spontaneous and uncontrolled fits of anger, there has been disagreement over the intrinsic value of anger. The issue of dealing with anger has been written about since the times of the earliest philosophers, but modern psychologists, in contrast to earlier writers, have also pointed out the possible harmful effects of suppressing anger.Displays of anger can be used as a manipulation strategy for social influence.
Psychology and sociology
Three types of anger are recognized by psychologists:
- Hasty and sudden anger is connected to the impulse for self-preservation. It is shared by human and other animals, and it occurs when the animal is tormented or trapped. This form of anger is episodic.
- Settled and deliberate anger is a reaction to perceived deliberate harm or unfair treatment by others. This form of anger is episodic.
- Dispositional anger is related more to character traits than to instincts or cognitions. Irritability, sullenness, and churlishness are examples of the last form of anger.
Anger can potentially mobilize psychological resources and boost determination toward correction of wrong behaviors, promotion of social justice, communication of negative sentiment, and redress of grievances. It can also facilitate patience. In contrast, anger can be destructive when it does not find its appropriate outlet in expression. Anger, in its strong form, impairs one's ability to process information and to exert cognitive control over their behavior. An angry person may lose his/her objectivity, empathy, prudence or thoughtfulness and may cause harm to themselves or others. There is a sharp distinction between anger and aggression (verbal or physical, direct or indirect) even though they mutually influence each other. While anger can activate aggression or increase its probability or intensity, it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for aggression.
Extension of the Stimuli of the Fighting Reactions. At the beginning of life the human infant struggles indiscriminately against any restraining force, whether it be another human being or a blanket which confines his movements. There is no inherited susceptibility to social stimuli, as distinct from other stimulation, in anger. At a later date the child learns that certain actions, such as striking, scolding, and screaming, are effective toward persons, but not toward things. In adults, although the infantile response is still sometimes seen, the fighting reaction becomes fairly well limited to stimuli whose hurting or restraining influence can be thrown off by physical violence.
Differences between related concepts
The words annoyance and rage are often imagined to be at opposite ends of an emotional continuum: mild irritation and annoyance at the low end and fury or murderous rage at the high end. Rage problems are conceptualized as "the inability to process emotions or life's experiences" either because the capacity to regulate emotion (Schore, 1994) has never been sufficiently developed or because it has been temporarily lost due to more recent trauma. Rage is understood as raw, undifferentiated emotions, that spill out when another life event that cannot be processed, no matter how trivial, puts more stress on the organism than it can bear.
Anger, when viewed as a protective response or instinct to a perceived threat, is considered as positive. The negative expression of this state is known as aggression. Acting on this misplaced state is rage due to possible potential errors in perception and judgment.
|Expressions of anger used negatively||Reasoning|
|Over-protective instinct and hostility||To avoid conceived loss or fear that something will be taken away.|
|Entitlement and frustration||To prevent a change in functioning.|
|Intimidation and rationalization||To meet one's own needs.|
One simple dichotomy of anger expression is passive anger versus aggressive anger versus assertive anger. These three types of anger have some characteristic symptoms:
Passive anger can be expressed in the following ways:
- Dispassion, such as giving someone the cold shoulder or a fake smile, looking unconcerned or "sitting on the fence" while others sort things out, dampening feelings with substance abuse, overreacting, oversleeping, not responding to another's anger, frigidity, indulging in sexual practices that depress spontaneity and make objects of participants, giving inordinate amounts of time to machines, objects or intellectual pursuits, talking of frustrations but showing no feeling.
- Evasiveness, such as turning one's back in a crisis, avoiding conflict, not arguing back, becoming phobic.
- Defeatism, such as setting yourself and others up for failure, choosing unreliable people to depend on, being accident prone, underachieving, sexual impotence, expressing frustration at insignificant things but ignoring serious ones.
- Obsessive behavior, such as needing to be inordinately clean and tidy, making a habit of constantly checking things, over-dieting or overeating, demanding that all jobs be done perfectly.
- Psychological manipulation, such as provoking people to aggression and then patronizing them, provoking aggression but staying on the sidelines, emotional blackmail, false tearfulness, feigning illness, sabotagingrelationships, using sexual provocation, using a third party to convey negative feelings, withholding money or resources.
- Secretive behavior, such as stockpiling resentments that are expressed behind people's backs, giving the silent treatment or under the breath mutterings, avoiding eye contact, putting people down, gossiping, anonymous complaints, poison pen letters, stealing, and conning.
- Self-blame, such as apologizing too often, being overly critical, inviting criticism.
The symptoms of aggressive anger are:
- Bullying, such as threatening people directly, persecuting, insulting, pushing or shoving, using power to oppress, shouting, driving someone off the road, playing on people's weaknesses.
- Destructiveness, such as destroying objects as in vandalism, harming animals, child abuse, destroying a relationship, reckless driving, substance abuse.
- Grandiosity, such as showing off, expressing mistrust, not delegating, being a sore loser, wanting center stage all the time, not listening, talking over people's heads, expecting kiss and make-up sessions to solve problems.
- Hurtfulness, such as violence, including sexual abuse and rape, verbal abuse, biased or vulgar jokes, breaking confidence, using foul language, ignoring people's feelings, willfully discriminating, blaming, punishing people for unwarranted deeds, labeling others.
- Manic behavior, such as speaking too fast, walking too fast, driving too fast, reckless spending.
- Selfishness, such as ignoring others' needs, not responding to requests for help, queue jumping.
- Threats, such as frightening people by saying how one could harm them, their property or their prospects, finger pointing, fist shaking, wearing clothes or symbols associated with violent behaviour, tailgating, excessively blowing a car horn, slamming doors.
- Unjust blaming, such as accusing other people for one's own mistakes, blaming people for your own feelings, making general accusations.
- Unpredictability, such as explosive rages over minor frustrations, attacking indiscriminately, dispensing unjust punishment, inflicting harm on others for the sake of it, using alcohol and drugs, illogical arguments.
- Vengeance, such as being over-punitive. This differs from retributive justice, as vengeance is personal, and possibly unlimited in scale.
- Blame, such as after a particular individual commits an action that’s possibly frowned upon, the particular person will resort to scolding. This is in fact, common in discipline terms.
- Punishment, the angry person will give a temporary punishment to an individual like further limiting a child’s will to do anything they want like playing video games, no reading, etc, after they did something to cause trouble.
- Sternness, such as calling out a person on their behaviour, with their voices raised with utter disapproval/disappointment.
Six dimensions of anger expression
Anger expression can take on many more styles than passive or aggressive. Ephrem Fernandez has identified six bipolar dimensions of anger expression. They relate to the direction of anger, its locus, reaction, modality, impulsivity, and objective. Coordinates on each of these dimensions can be connected to generate a profile of a person's anger expression style. Among the many profiles that are theoretically possible in this system, are the familiar profile of the person with explosive anger, profile of the person with repressive anger, profile of the passive aggressive person, and the profile of constructive anger expression.
People feel angry when they sense that they or someone they care about has been offended, when they are certain about the nature and cause of the angering event, when they are convinced someone else is responsible, and when they feel they can still influence the situation or cope with it. For instance, if a person's car is damaged, they will feel angry if someone else did it (e.g. another driver rear-ended it), but will feel sadness instead if it was caused by situational forces (e.g. a hailstorm) or guilt and shame if they were personally responsible (e.g. he crashed into a wall out of momentary carelessness). Psychotherapist Michael C. Graham defines anger in terms of our expectations and assumptions about the world. Graham states anger almost always results when we are caught up "... expecting the world to be different than it is".
Usually, those who experience anger explain its arousal as a result of "what has happened to them" and in most cases the described provocations occur immediately before the anger experience. Such explanations confirm the illusion that anger has a discrete external cause. The angry person usually finds the cause of their anger in an intentional, personal, and controllable aspect of another person's behavior. This explanation, however, is based on the intuitions of the angry person who experiences a loss in self-monitoring capacity and objective observability as a result of their emotion. Anger can be of multicausal origin, some of which may be remote events, but people rarely find more than one cause for their anger. According to Novaco, "Anger experiences are embedded or nested within an environmental-temporal context. Disturbances that may not have involved anger at the outset leave residues that are not readily recognized but that operate as a lingering backdrop for focal provocations (of anger)." According to Encyclopædia Britannica, an internal infection can cause pain which in turn can activate anger.
Anger makes people think more optimistically. Dangers seem smaller, actions seem less risky, ventures seem more likely to succeed, and unfortunate events seem less likely. Angry people are more likely to make risky decisions, and make more optimistic risk assessments. In one study, test subjects primed to feel angry felt less likely to suffer heart disease, and more likely to receive a pay raise, compared to fearful people. This tendency can manifest in retrospective thinking as well: in a 2005 study, angry subjects said they thought the risks of terrorism in the year following 9/11 in retrospect were low, compared to what the fearful and neutral subjects thought.
In inter-group relationships, anger makes people think in more negative and prejudiced terms about outsiders. Anger makes people less trusting, and slower to attribute good qualities to outsiders.
When a group is in conflict with a rival group, it will feel more anger if it is the politically stronger group and less anger when it is the weaker.
Unlike other negative emotions like sadness and fear, angry people are more likely to demonstrate correspondence bias – the tendency to blame a person's behavior more on his nature than on his circumstances. They tend to rely more on stereotypes, and pay less attention to details and more attention to the superficial. In this regard, anger is unlike other "negative" emotions such as sadness and fear, which promote analytical thinking.
An angry person tends to anticipate other events that might cause them anger. They will tend to rate anger-causing events (e.g. being sold a faulty car) as more likely than sad events (e.g. a good friend moving away).
A person who is angry tends to place more blame on another person for their misery. This can create a feedback, as this extra blame can make the angry person angrier still, so they in turn place yet more blame on the other person.
When people are in a certain emotional state, they tend to pay more attention to, or remember, things that are charged with the same emotion; so it is with anger. For instance, if you are trying to persuade someone that a tax increase is necessary, if the person is currently feeling angry you would do better to use an argument that elicits anger ("more criminals will escape justice") than, say, an argument that elicits sadness ("there will be fewer welfare benefits for disabled children"). Also, unlike other negative emotions, which focus attention on all negative events, anger only focuses attention on anger-causing events.
Anger can make a person more desiring of an object to which his anger is tied. In a 2010 Dutch study, test subjects were primed to feel anger or fear by being shown an image of an angry or fearful face, and then were shown an image of a random object. When subjects were made to feel angry, they expressed more desire to possess that object than subjects who had been primed to feel fear.
As with any emotion, the display of anger can be feigned or exaggerated. Studies by Hochschild and Sutton have shown that the show of anger is likely to be an effective manipulation strategy in order to change and design attitudes. Anger is a distinct strategy of social influence and its use (i.e. belligerent behaviors) as a goal achievement mechanism proves to be a successful strategy.
Larissa Tiedens, known for her studies of anger, claimed that expression of feelings would cause a powerful influence not only on the perception of the expresser but also on their power position in the society. She studied the correlation between anger expression and social influence perception. Previous researchers, such as Keating, 1985 have found that people with angry face expression were perceived as powerful and as in a high social position. Similarly, Tiedens et al. have revealed that people who compared scenarios involving an angry and a sad character, attributed a higher social status to the angry character. Tiedens examined in her study whether anger expression promotes status attribution. In other words, whether anger contributes to perceptions or legitimization of others' behaviors. Her findings clearly indicated that participants who were exposed to either an angry or a sad person were inclined to express support for the angry person rather than for a sad one. In addition, it was found that a reason for that decision originates from the fact that the person expressing anger was perceived as an ability owner, and was attributed a certain social status accordingly.
Showing anger during a negotiation may increase the ability of the anger expresser to succeed in negotiation. A study by Tiedens et al. indicated that the anger expressers were perceived as stubborn, dominant and powerful. In addition, it was found that people were inclined to easily give up to those who were perceived by them as powerful and stubborn, rather than soft and submissive. Based on these findings Sinaceur and Tiedens have found that people conceded more to the angry side rather than for the non-angry one.
A question raised by Van Kleef et al. based on these findings was whether expression of emotion influences others, since it is known that people use emotional information to conclude about others' limits and match their demands in negotiation accordingly. Van Kleef et al. wanted to explore whether people give up more easily to an angry opponent or to a happy opponent. Findings revealed that participants tended to be more flexible toward an angry opponent compared with a happy opponent. These results strengthen the argument that participants analyze the opponent's emotion to conclude about their limits and carry out their decisions accordingly.
Main article: Anger management
According to Leland R. Beaumont, each instance of anger demands making a choice. A person can respond with hostile action, including overt violence, or they can respond with hostile inaction, such as withdrawing or stonewalling. Other options include initiating a dominance contest; harboring resentment; or working to better understand and constructively resolve the issue.
According to R. Novaco, there are a multitude of steps that were researched in attempting to deal with this emotion. In order to manage anger the problems involved in the anger should be discussed, Novaco suggests. The situations leading to anger should be explored by the person. The person is then tried to be imagery-based relieved of his or her recent angry experiences.
Conventional therapies for anger involve restructuring thoughts and beliefs to bring about a reduction in anger. These therapies often come within the schools of CBT (or Cognitive Behavioural Therapies) like modern systems such as REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy). Research shows that people who suffer from excessive anger often harbor and act on dysfunctional attributions, assumptions and evaluations in specific situations. It has been shown that with therapy by a trained professional, individuals can bring their anger to more manageable levels. The therapy is followed by the so-called "stress inoculation" in which the clients are taught "relaxation skills to control their arousal and various cognitive controls to exercise on their attention, thoughts, images, and feelings. They are taught to see the provocation and the anger itself as occurring in a series of stages, each of which can be dealt with."
The Skills-deficit model states that poor social skills is what renders a person incapable of expressing anger in an appropriate manner. Social skills training has been found to be an effective method for reducing exaggerated anger by offering alternative coping skills to the angry individual. Research has found that persons who are prepared for aversive events find them less threatening, and excitatory reactions are significantly reduced. In a 1981 study, that used modeling, behavior rehearsal, and videotaped feedback to increase anger control skills, showed increases in anger control among aggressive youth in the study. Research conducted with youthful offenders using a social skills training program (aggression replacement training), found significant reductions in anger, and increases in anger control. Research has also found that antisocial personalities are more likely to learn avoidance tasks when the consequences involved obtaining or losing tangible rewards. Learning among antisocial personalities also occurred better when they were involved with high intensity stimulation. Social Learning Theory states that positive stimulation was not compatible with hostile or aggressive reactions. Anger research has also studied the effects of reducing anger among adults with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), with a social skills program approach that used a low fear and high arousal group setting. This research found that low fear messages were less provocative to the ASPD population, and high positive arousal stimulated their ability to concentrate, and subsequently learn new skills for anger reduction.
Cognitive behavioral affective therapy
A new integrative approach to anger treatment has been formulated by Ephrem Fernandez (2010) Termed CBAT, for cognitive behavioral affective therapy, this treatment goes beyond conventional relaxation and reappraisal by adding cognitive and behavioral techniques and supplementing them with affective techniques to deal with the feeling of anger. The techniques are sequenced contingently in three phases of treatment: prevention, intervention, and postvention. In this way, people can be trained to deal with the onset of anger, its progression, and the residual features of anger.
Modern psychologists point out that suppression of anger may have harmful effects. The suppressed anger may find another outlet, such as a physical symptom, or become more extreme. John W. Fiero cites Los Angeles riots of 1992 as an example of sudden, explosive release of suppressed anger. The anger was then displaced as violence against those who had nothing to do with the matter. Another example of widespread deflection of anger from its actual cause toward scapegoating, Fiero says, was the blaming of Jews for the economic ills of Germany by the Nazis.
However, psychologists have also criticized the "catharsis theory" of aggression, which suggests that "unleashing" pent-up anger reduces aggression.
Dual thresholds model
Anger expression might have negative outcomes for individuals and organizations as well, such as decrease of productivity and increase of job stress, however it could also have positive outcomes, such as increased work motivation, improved relationships, increased mutual understanding etc. (for ex. Tiedens, 2000). A Dual Thresholds Model of Anger in organizations by Geddes and Callister, (2007) provides an explanation on the valence of anger expression outcomes. The model suggests that organizational norms establish emotion thresholds that may be crossed when employees feel anger. The first "expression threshold" is crossed when an organizational member conveys felt anger to individuals at work who are associated with or able to address the anger-provoking situation. The second "impropriety threshold" is crossed if or when organizational members go too far while expressing anger such that observers and other company personnel find their actions socially and/or culturally inappropriate.
The higher probability of negative outcomes from workplace anger likely will occur in either of two situations. The first is when organizational members suppress rather than express their anger—that is, they fail to cross the "expression threshold". In this instance personnel who might be able to address or resolve the anger-provoking condition or event remain unaware of the problem, allowing it to continue, along with the affected individual's anger. The second is when organizational members cross both thresholds—"double cross"— displaying anger that is perceived as deviant. In such cases the angry person is seen as the problem—increasing chances of organizational sanctions against him or her while diverting attention away from the initial anger-provoking incident. In contrast, a higher probability of positive outcomes from workplace anger expression likely will occur when one's expressed anger stays in the space between the expression and impropriety thresholds. Here, one expresses anger in a way fellow organizational members find acceptable, prompting exchanges and discussions that may help resolve concerns to the satisfaction of all parties involved. This space between the thresholds varies among different organizations and also can be changed in organization itself: when the change is directed to support anger displays; the space between the thresholds will be expanded and when the change is directed to suppressing such displays; the space will be reduced.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(August 2017)
In neuroimaging studies of anger, the most consistently activated region of the brain was the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. This region is associated with approach motivation and positive affective processes.
A good explanation on where anger and ego originate in the brain has also been investigated in this article.
Neuroscience has shown that emotions are generated by multiple structures in the brain. The rapid, minimal, and evaluative processing of the emotional significance of the sensory data is done when the data passes through the amygdala in its travel from the sensory organs along certain neural pathways towards the limbicforebrain. Emotion caused by discrimination of stimulus features, thoughts, or memories however occurs when its information is relayed from the thalamus to the neocortex. Based on some statistical analysis, some scholars have suggested that the tendency for anger may be genetic. Distinguishing between genetic and environmental factors however requires further research and actual measurement of specific genes and environments.
The external expression of anger can be found in physiological responses, facial expressions, body language, and at times in public acts of aggression. The rib cage tenses and breathing through the nose becomes faster, deeper, and irregular. Anger activates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. The catecholamine activation is more strongly norepinephrine than epinephrine. Heart rate and blood pressure increase. Blood flows to the hands. Perspiration increases (particularly when the anger is intense). The face flushes. The nostrils flare. The jaw tenses. The brow muscles move inward and downward, fixing a hard stare on the target. The arms are raised and a squared-off stance is adopted. The body is mobilized for immediate action, often manifesting as a subjective sense of strength, self-assurance, and potency. This may encourage the impulse to strike out.
Ancient Greek philosophers, describing and commenting on the uncontrolled anger, particularly toward slaves, in their society generally showed a hostile attitude towards anger. Galen and Seneca regarded anger as a kind of madness. They all rejected the spontaneous, uncontrolled fits of anger and agreed on both the possibility and value of controlling anger. There were however disagreements regarding the value of anger. For Seneca, anger was "worthless even for war." Seneca believed that the disciplined Roman army was regularly able to beat the Germans, who were known for their fury. He argued that "... in sporting contests, it is a mistake to become angry".
Aristotle on the other hand, ascribed some value to anger that has arisen from perceived injustice because it is useful for preventing injustice. Furthermore, the opposite of anger is a kind of insensibility, Aristotle stated. The difference in people's temperaments was generally viewed as a result of the different mix of qualities or humors people contained. Seneca held that "red-haired and red-faced people are hot-tempered because of excessive hot and dry humors." Ancient philosophers rarely refer to women's anger at all, according to Simon Kemp and K. T. Strongman perhaps because their works were not intended for women. Some of them that discuss it, such as Seneca, considered women to be more prone to anger than men.
Seneca addresses the question of mastering anger in three parts: 1. how to avoid becoming angry in the first place 2. how to cease being angry and 3. how to deal with anger in others. Seneca suggests, to avoid becoming angry in the first place, that the many faults of anger should be repeatedly remembered. One should avoid being too busy or deal with anger-provoking people. Unnecessary hunger or thirst should be avoided and soothing music be listened to. To cease being angry, Seneca suggests "one to check speech and impulses and be aware of particular sources of personal irritation. In dealing with other people, one should not be too inquisitive: It is not always soothing to hear and see everything. When someone appears to slight you, you should be at first reluctant to believe this, and should wait to hear the full story. You should also put yourself in the place of the other person, trying to understand his motives and any extenuating factors, such as age or illness." Seneca further advises daily self-inquisition about one's bad habit. To deal with anger in others, Seneca suggests that the best reaction is to simply keep calm. A certain kind of deception, Seneca says, is necessary in dealing with angry people.
Galen repeats Seneca's points but adds a new one: finding a guide and teacher can help the person in controlling their passions. Galen also gives some hints for finding a good teacher. Both Seneca and Galen (and later philosophers) agree that the process of controlling anger should start in childhood on grounds of malleability. Seneca warns that this education should not blunt the spirit of the children nor should they be humiliated or treated severely. At the same time, they should not be pampered. Children, Seneca says, should learn not to beat their playmates and not to become angry with them. Seneca also advises that children's requests should not be granted when they are angry.
See also: The four humours
During the period of the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, philosophers elaborated on the existing conception of anger, many of whom did not make major contributions to the concept. For example, many medieval philosophers such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas agreed with ancient philosophers that animals cannot become angry. On the other hand, al-Ghazali (also known as "Algazel" in Europe), who often disagreed with Aristotle and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) on many issues, argued that animals do possess anger as one of the three "powers" in their Qalb ("heart"), the other two being appetite and impulse. He also argued that animal will is "conditioned by anger and appetite" in contrast to human will which is "conditioned by the intellect." A common medieval belief was that those prone to anger had an excess of yellow bile or choler (hence the word "choleric"). This belief was related to Seneca's belief that "red-haired and red-faced people are hot-tempered because of excessive hot and dry humors."
- By gender
Wrath was sinful because of the social problems it caused, sometimes even homicide. It served to ignore those who are present, contradicts those who are absent, produces insults, and responds harshly to insults that are received. Aristotle felt that anger or wrath was a natural outburst of self- defense in situations where people felt they had been wronged. Aquinas felt that if anger was justified, it was not a sin. For example, "He that is angry without cause, shall be in danger; but he that is angry with cause, shall not be in danger: for without anger, teaching will be useless, judgments unstable, crimes unchecked. Therefore to be angry is not always an evil."
The concept of wrath contributed to a definition of gender and power. Many medieval authors in 1200 agreed the differences between men and women were based on complexion, shape, and disposition. Complexion involved the balance of the four fundamental qualities of heat, coldness, moistness, and dryness. When various combinations of these qualities are made they define groups of certain people as well as individuals. Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen all agreed on that, in terms of biology and sexual differentiation, heat was the most important of the qualities because it determined shape and disposition. Disposition included a balance of the previous four qualities, the four elements and the four humors. For example, the element of fire shared the qualities of heat and dryness: fire dominated in yellow bile or choler, meaning a choleric person was more or hot and dry than others. Hot and dry individuals were active, dominant, and aggressive. The opposite was true with the element of water. Water, is cold and moist, related closely to phlegm: people with more phlegmatic personalities were passive and submissive. While these trait clusters varied from individual to individual most authors in the Middle Ages assumed certain clusters of traits characterized men more than women and vice versa.
Scholars posted that females were seen by authors in the Middle Ages to be more phlegmatic (cold and wet) than males, meaning females were more sedentary and passive than males. Women's passive nature appeared "natural" due to their lack of power when compared to men. Aristotle identified traits he believed women shared: female, feminine, passive, focused on matter, inactive, and inferior. Thus medieval women were supposed to act submissively toward men and relinquish control to their husbands. However Hildegard of Bingen believed women were fully capable of anger. While most women were phlegmatic, individual women under certain circumstances could also be choleric.
Medieval scholars believed most men were choleric, or hot and dry. Thus they were dominant and aggressive. (Barton) Aristotle also identified characteristics of men: male, masculine, active, focused on form, potent, outstanding, and superior. Men were aware of the power they held. Given their choleric "nature", men exhibited hot temperatures and were quick to anger.Peter of Albano once said, "The male's spirit, is lively, given to violent impulse; [it is] slow getting angry and slower being calmed." Medieval ideas of gender assumed men were more rational than women. Masculinity involved a wide range of possible behaviors, and men were not angry all the time. Every man's humoral balance was different, some men were strong, other weak, also some more prone to wrath then others.
Maimonides considered being given to uncontrollable passions as a kind of illness. Like Galen, Maimonides suggested seeking out a philosopher for curing this illness just as one seeks out a physician for curing bodily illnesses. Roger Bacon elaborates Seneca's advices. Many medieval writers discuss at length the evils of anger and the virtues of temperance. In a discussion of confession, John Mirk, an English 14th-century Augustinian writer, tells priests how to advise the penitent by considering the spiritual and social consequences of anger:
In The Canon of Medicine, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) modified the theory of temperaments and argued that anger heralded the transition of melancholia to mania, and explained that humidity inside the head can contribute to such mood disorders.
On the other hand, Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi classified anger (along with aggression) as a type of neurosis, while al-Ghazali (Algazel) argued that anger takes form in rage, indignation and revenge, and that "the powers of the soul become balanced if it keeps anger under control."
The modern understanding of anger may not be greatly advanced over that of Aristotle.Immanuel Kant rejects revenge as vicious. Regarding the latter, David Hume argues that because "anger and hatred are passions inherent in our very frame and constitution, the lack of them is sometimes evidence of weakness and imbecility." Two main differences between the modern understanding and ancient understanding of anger can be detected, Kemp and Strongman state: one is that early philosophers were not concerned with possible harmful effects of the suppression of anger; the other is that, recently, studies of anger take the issue of gender differences into account. The latter does not seem to have been of much concern to earlier philosophers.
The American psychologist Albert Ellis has suggested that anger, rage, and fury partly have roots in the philosophical meanings and assumptions through which human beings interpret transgression. According to Ellis, these emotions are often associated and related to the leaning humans have to absolutistically depreciating and damning other peoples' humanity when their personal rules and domain are transgressed.
Main article: Anger in Judaism
In Judaism, anger is a negative trait. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob condemned the anger that had arisen in his sons Simon and Levi: "Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel."
Restraining oneself from anger is seen as noble and desirable, as Ethics of the Fathers states:
"Ben Zoma said: Who is strong? He who subdues his evil inclination, as it is stated, 'He who is slow to anger is better than a strong man, and he who masters his passions is better than one who conquers a city' (Proverbs 16:32)."
Maimonides rules that one who becomes angry is as though that person had worshipped idols. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains that the parallel between anger and idol worship is that by becoming angry, one shows a disregard of Divine Providence – whatever had caused the anger was ultimately ordained from Above – and that through coming to anger one thereby denies the hand of God in one's life.
In its section dealing with ethical traits a person should adopt, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch states: "Anger is also a very evil trait and it should be avoided at all costs. You should train yourself not to become angry even if you have a good reason to be angry."
In modern writings, Rabbi Harold Kushner finds no grounds for anger toward God because "our misfortunes are none of His doing." In contrast to Kushner's reading of the Bible, David Blumenthal finds an "abusing God" whose "sometimes evil" actions evoke vigorous protest, but without severing the protester's relationship with God.
Both Catholic and Protestant writers have addressed anger.
Wrath is one of the Seven Deadly Sins in Catholicism; and yet the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (canons 1772 and 1773) that anger is among the passions, and that "in the passions, as movements of the sensitive appetite, there is neither good nor evil." The neutral act of anger becomes the sin of wrath when it's directed against an innocent person, when it's unduly unbending or long-lasting, or when it desires excessive punishment. "If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin." (CCC 2302) Hatred is the sin of desiring that someone else may suffer misfortune or evil, and is a mortal sin when one desires grave harm. (CCC 2302-03)
Medieval Christianity vigorously denounced wrath as one of the seven cardinal, or deadly sins, but some Christian writers at times regarded the anger caused by injustice as having some value.Saint Basil viewed anger as a "reprehensible temporary madness." Joseph F. Delany in the Catholic Encyclopedia
2 July 2004
John F Schumaker takes on the philosophers of greed.
CHINESE philosopher Lao Tzu wrote 2,500 years ago: ‘There is no calamity greater than lavish desires, no greater guilt than discontentment and no greater disaster than greed.' If he's right, we've concocted a mighty sick world for ourselves. The infamous ‘greedy Eighties' turned out to be a mere dress rehearsal for one of the most spectacular greed surges in history, with jaw-dropping degrees of stockmarket folly, corporate skullduggery, decadence, excess and high-octane narcissism. But, just as with the ‘lessons of the Eighties', the ‘lessons of the late Nineties' fall on deaf ears. The overriding lesson seems to be that greed is sweet for the economy.
As human beings continue to be reshaped by consumer culture into restless, dissatisfied, and alldesiring economic pawns, greed is being redefined as a virtue and a legitimate guiding principle for economic prosperity and general happiness. In the process, it is steadily eating away at the cornerstones of civilized society and undermining the visions, values and collective aspirations that made us strong.
However in his essay ‘The Virtue of Greed', Walter Williams, an economics professor at George Mason University, maintains that without greed, our current economic and social structures would implode. He echoes the view of many economists in saying ‘greed produces preferable economic outcomes most times and under most conditions'. Many economic rationalists agree that greed's proven superiority as the psychological launchpad for economic activity is due to its being the only consistent human motivation. Most alternatives have revolved around altruism, and failed. Even the respected economist Lester Thurlow, in an essay entitled ‘Market Crash Born of Greed', holds that ‘altruism does not seem to be congruent with the way human beings are constructed. No one has been able to construct a society where communal altruism dominates individual greed.'
When we salute all-consuming America as the standout ‘growth engine' of the world, we are in many ways paying tribute to the economic wonders of greed. William Dodson's essay ‘A Culture of Greed' chronicles America's pre-eminence as a greed economy. He writes that the US enjoys a relative absence of constraints, including tax and labour constraints that would otherwise burden corporations with a sense of social responsibility, plus various system advantages and historical traditions, that together allow greed to flourish and be milked for purposes of profit and growth.
Jay Phelan, an economist, biologist, and co-author of Mean Genes, feels that greed could be our ultimate undoing as a species. Yet he theorizes that evolution programmed us to be greedy since greed locks us into discontent, which in turn keeps us motivated and itchy for change. In the past at least, this favoured survival. Conversely, he believes, it would be disastrous if humans lacked greed to the extent that they could achieve a genuine state of happiness or contentment. In Phelan's view, this is because happy people tend not to do much, or crave much – poison for a modern consumer economy.
Recent years have seen the publication of a wide range of studies casting doubt on whether economic models aimed at increasing personal wealth and consumption are actually conducive to human happiness. In fact, the large-scale General Survey of the United States found that, from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, the percentage of people who are ‘very happy' actually dropped from 34 per cent to 30 per cent, despite higher incomes, more possessions and improved living standards.
Such findings are being hailed by social critics as proof that the greed economy is toxic to well-being, and that it is hastening our slide into a collective state of ‘unhappy consciousness', as sociologists call it. But they may be missing the main point if, indeed, greed and unhappiness are the fire in the belly of a consumer economy. There is little doubt that the cultural sanctification of greed is creating a deep existential void that cannot be filled – whatever the degree of material indulgence, personal achievement or private gratification. Despite that, this ‘Empty Self' of modern life, with its insatiability and alienation, may actually be what is necessary to power greed economics.
The eminent sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes in an insightful essay, ‘The Self in a Consumer Society', that greed itself is changing in order to better serve consumer capitalism. In the past, says Bauman, greed was not constant because people's desires were still attached to needs and objects, as well as a credible social world, which meant they tended to pause from time to time in satisfaction or reflection. Over time, however, consumer culture has upped ‘consumptive capacity' by honing its members to be immune to satisfaction, and thus immediately ready to desire the next thing that comes along. Of this, Bauman says that desire no longer desires satisfaction. In the modern age, ‘desire desires desire', which is the basis for our new ‘constant greed'.
Research is starting to show that we have come to see ourselves as incorrigibly greedy by nature. According to one survey, nearly 90 per cent of people agree with the statement ‘Humans always want more, it is part of human nature'. But in truth, a society's culture determines the extent to which our propensity for greed is activated or suppressed.
Judith Ann Johnson's groundbreaking 1999 doctoral dissertation drew the connections between maximal greed and the cultural combination of capitalism, materialism, hyper-competition and discrimination. It is the presence of all these factors that makes greed what she calls an overarching ‘map of Western consciousness'.
Another of Johnson's key findings is that greed operates best at very low levels of wisdom, awareness and understanding. It may be that the relentless dumbing down of consumer society is a valuable cultural strategy that paves the way to ever more efficient greed economics.
One specific way that greed sparks the modern economy is by suppressing savings rates via unending craving for all things consumable, which translates into frivolous spending and a hearty appetite for credit. There is an economic formula, made famous by financial legend and greed guru Leon Levy, that states: ‘For every 1 per cent rise in savings, corporate profits fall by 11 per cent.' This means, for example, if greed-inspired overspending in the US would ease to the extent that savings rose to a modest 5 per cent from the current subzero mark, corporate profits would fall by 50 per cent or more.
Greed is the backbone of the prevailing ‘philosophy of more' that supports the profitable ‘big is beautiful' trend (as with ‘mini-mansions', four-wheel drive SUVs, and so on) as well as the worldwide ‘investment-driven' property boom/ bubble. The gluttonous aspect of greed-mindedness carries further short-term advantages by way of increased tendencies toward overconsumption, waste, premature disposal and replacement, needless upgrading and general disregard for conservation.
Greed drives entrepreneurial investment. It also facilitates the manufacture and commercial exploitation of false needs. It is no wonder that greed enthusiasts insist that nothing can beat greed when it comes to the economy, and that we should not give up on it as the epicentre of economic and social life, or fixate on burst stock-market bubbles, or sticky- fingered Enrons and Worldcoms.
Peter Catsimpiris, co-founder of the pro-capitalist Laissez Faire League, even scolds us in his essay ‘In Defense of Greed' for stunting our children's greed potential with commands such as ‘Give some to the other children'. To unleash the power of greed, he says, we should teach them that greed is the great hope of humanity from which can spring boundless prosperity, progress and innovation.
But others point out how greed, and its ‘dying with the most toys' cultural hero system, is infusing children around the globe with selfdestructive degrees of materialism, avarice and self-preoccupation. The commercialization of childhood is being led by greedy corporations that put profits before social responsibility and children's health. Over the past two decades, for example, aggressive advertising by the soft-drink industry has seen high-sugar soft-drink consumption double in children aged 6 to 11, a major contributor to the worsening epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes. Today, with greed still their main moral compass, these companies market an ever-expanding array of caffeinated drinks to children that have health experts worrying about a new wave of youth addiction.
The globalization of greed is being facilitated by agencies such as the World Trade Organization, whose mission it is to eliminate obstacles to the proliferation of transnational corporate activity, but which in effect merely pumps up corporate profit sheets at the expense of workers' rights, local environments and communities.
The notion that individual greed can serve the common good has wormed its way into political philosophies, even some with long-standing socialistic leanings. The ultimate expression of this illogic can be seen in the current US administration of George W Bush, which pins most of its hopes on a government-by-greed strategy. But, as antigreed psychologist Julian Edney argues, there is a fundamental flaw in this method as evidenced most conspicuously in the ever-widening gap between rich and poor: ‘Greed demolishes equity. Simply, you cannot have both unrestrained greed and equality.'
In the end, unchecked greed erodes freedom, undermines the social fabric and is an undemocratic force
According to Edney, the celebration of greed has spawned a ‘schizophrenic haze' that numbs society to the tragic and dangerous consequences of the present ‘apartheid economy'. In the end, unchecked greed erodes freedom, undermines the social fabric and is an undemocratic force.
More and more mental-health professionals are saying that greed is not nearly as good for people as it is for economies, with some warning that greed is beginning to overwhelm conscience, reason, compassion, love, family bonds and community. Moreover, existing levels of constant greed are causing clinical depression and despair in many people.
The term ‘pleonexia' is being used to diagnose pathological greed that can contribute to a host of ills, including stress, burnout, gambling addictions, compulsive shopping, ‘affluenza' and loss of moral grounding.
American psychologist and greed treatment specialist David Farrugia, sees greed as a mistaken, empty and shortsighted goal that contains many seeds of destruction, in particular those that destroy families and marriages. Beyond that, in his article ‘Selfishness, Greed, and Counseling', a chronic orientation toward greed has been shown to result in inflexibility, anxiety and diminished reality testing, all of which tarnish a person's overall experience of life.
Extremes of greed may even make a greed economy sick. For instance, Leon Levy feels that the greed factor in the US has actually gone too far in subduing savings and raising debt, and that consumption and the economy generally will be seriously hampered for some time to come.
Unchecked greed can also be so harmful to the environment that it comes back to haunt the economy. In fact, the single largest hitch with greed culture and greed economics is the long-term crushing effects these have on the planet. That is a monumental problem that none of today's greed enthusiasts have been able to solve.
John F Schumaker is an American-born clinical psychologist now living in Christchurch, New Zealand. His latest book is The Age of Insanity.
This article is from the July 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Get a free trial now »