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Anger and its malcontents

I don’t get angry too often. There are SO many things to get pissed off about in this life, from the stupidity of urban design to the banal emptiness of most work we do, to the transparent venality of the kleptocratic class running the corporations and the government. But I always find anger takes more out of me than it gives me, so in general I’ve tended to deal with things that anger me with other reactions than overt rage.

There’s a new post at Ken MacLeod’s blog “The Early Days of a Better Nation” on Progressive Rage. I love MacLeod’s science fiction and am just reading his latest “Learning the World,” which at the beginning splits the story between a large travelling space colony looking for a new habitable planetary home and an earth-like planet that is just noticing something unusual in the sky… but the human-like inhabitants are more like birds than humans… fascinating already. (His 4 volume “libertarian communist” series presents inspiring, politically exciting speculations about where the world is heading… The Cassini Division, The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal, and the The Sky Road). Anyway, MacLeod is a thoughtful guy who is engaging the real world of politics and history on his blog. (A tip of the hat to the folks at Crooked Timber for linking to it already and reminding me about it after I’d noticed it but failed to read it at first.)

“If anti-semitism is, in an important aspect, a rage against the machine, against progress, is there an opposite rage: a rage against reaction, a fury at the recalcitrance of the concrete and the stubbornness of tradition? A rage against what is sacred and refuses to be profaned, against what is solid and doesn’t melt into air, against ways of life that resist commodification, against use-value that refuses to become exchange-value? And might that rage too need a fantasy object?”

Perhaps a symbol or ‘fantasy object’ would serve some psychological or even political purpose. But I never like the manipulativeness that such symbols seem to routinely promote. Rather, is there not a way to take the enormous rage in this culture, currently turned in on itself in the forms of racism and misogyny (and even among pwogwessives in the form of endless backbiting over relative ‘privilege’), and reconceptualize it as a passion for a radically better life? Of course there’s shitloads to be mad about, but we’re awfully good at raging and getting nowhere already. I’d be curious if anger and disappointment and rage could turn into something proactive, something that takes the huge energy fueling all that rage and pushes us towards taking life itself by the throat and creating right away what we actually want.

What does that mean exactly? How would such a process unfold? Not by some central director, that’s for sure. I think it’s not impossible to imagine a growing assertion of human conviviality against the banal stupidity and barbarism of this life. We cooperate in myriad ways all day long every day… why not expand that realm, talk about it as a self-aware alternative to the barbaric norms we’re supposed to uphold, and repudiate the small-minded fools who keep parroting that this is the best of all possible worlds? More rhetoric to be sure, but I’d like to at least propose a kind of ju-jitsu approach to our own (perfectly legitimate) anger, that turns it upside down and inside out, takes the energy of it for something beyond a self-referential howl (not that there aren’t often times when a good howl is just the thing!)…

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