Anger is the Emotion of Injustice

Anger is the Emotion of Injustice

by Susan Rosenthal

Anger is an instinctive, automatic response to unfairness. When we feel angry, there is something wrong in our lives, and anger provides the energy required to make it right.

All social animals have a built-in sense of fairness. Two dogs will fight when only one gets a bone. When treats are equally dispensed, both will be happy. The sense of fairness is most developed in primates. Capuchin monkeys will refuse to perform tasks when they see other monkeys getting better rewards for the same effort.

As the most social species, human beings have the keenest sense of fairness. We don’t need to be taught this; we feel it in our gut. Even young children will protest, “He got more than I did!” and “It’s not fair!”

Anger is commonly seen as a threat to social connections. However, the function of anger is to protect social connections by protesting unfair treatment. Anger screams, “Something is wrong!” and provides energy to restore fairness and social harmony.

When fairness cannot be obtained, anger can eat away at us, producing physical symptoms like high blood pressure and digestive problems, emotional symptoms like anxiety and depression, and social problems like domestic and workplace violence.

Early egalitarian societies understood that social harmony depends on every member having equal worth and equal rights. West Coast aboriginal tribes arranged parties where desired goods would be given away, exchanged and even destroyed to prevent the resentment that arises when some have more than they need and others go without.

Since the beginning of class divisions (about 10,000 years ago) inequality has provoked protest. The have-nots live with simmering resentment that periodically erupts in open rebellion. From the slave uprisings of the ancient world through the peasant revolts of the Middle Ages to the rebellions that rock the modern world, people have always fought for an equal say and an equal share.

Because inequality provokes anger, unequal societies require penal systems to crush rebels and intimidate everyone else. In America, unprecedented inequality has gone hand-in-hand with an unprecedented expansion of the prison system.

Anger doesn’t need to be “managed.” Anger isn’t the problem; the injustice that provokes it is the problem.

Anger tells us that something is wrong, but it can’t tell us how to fix it. For that, we need to understand how capitalism functions and how we can replace it with a truly fair society.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Liv Capozzi Says:

    February 18/07

    This made me think of a comment a psychologist made to me the other day when talking about female clients. He mentioned how women are often “pissy”.

    In a world that tells women that we are equals, yet where we rarely are able to see this equality in action, no wonder women are angry. I think of all the (many) negative words that are used to describe “angry” women, and it suddenly doesn’t seem so surprising that we have been fooled into believing that anger is an individual problem rather than a social problem.

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