The sadness of those who rage at the world

I have always thought it sad that mass movements almost always define themselves by what they are ‘against’. A point underscoring one of the unfortunate truths of the human emotional condition, where anger and revenge – every time – are more attractive than kindness and good.

From http://public-domain.zorger.comIt seems to be a human failing. I first saw it at university where the undergrad community defined and validated themselves by what they were against – in effect, allowing the very world they raged at to define their frameworks. But this also meant they never broke clear of what they apparently hated. And so they raged against authoritarianism by demanding blind obedience to their struggle to break authoritarian control. They raged against racism by defining racists as inferior beings who had to be discriminated against. And so it went on. Those who did not join them were, by definition, part of what they defined as wrong – an insidious and un-arguable mechanism for enforcement.

What they were actually raging at, of course, was their own powerlessness. I suppose most of them grew up and learned how to let go. But the experience underscores the way that even intelligent people are drawn into lowest common denominator behaviour by the emotions of joining a movement, en masse, that speaks to their sense of validation.

All of this, looking back, was a reflection of a very common aspect of the human condition. There is nothing new about the way mass movements draw from emotion and not reason – an emotional mix where anger and revenge are the stronger powers. Unfortunately.

Napoleon Bonaparte confronted it on the streets of Paris in the 1790s. His answer was to deliver the protestors a ‘whiff of grape’ – cannon-loads of musket balls fired into the crowds at short range. Not a good answer.

And now? As I look around the world – look at the troubles erupting in a multitude of places – I can’t help thinking that humanity hasn’t learned. The big lesson – to let go, and so open the door to kindness, seems elusive. Sigh.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014


18 thoughts on “The sadness of those who rage at the world

    1. It’s a part of the human condition that has always been with us. What worries me is that it seems somehow more prevalent these days. Possibly because the scale of humanity is always expanding. Possibly because we hear more news than before. Maybe all of these things. It would worry me to think that humanity as a whole is losing moral compass.

      1. Hi Matthew: Great writing. Religion, controlling the masses with fear of damnation and “death” if you don’t join along, has always been a great promoter of “kill the non-believers” for heresy. In actually, religious dogma as always promoted death in the name of God, in one way or another, but the motivation of these leaders is always about power and control of others. And, less I forgot, money. It’s always about power, money, and sex (perverted usually).

  1. It is easier to motivate a mob with emotion than it is to build a movement with intelligence. Have you ever tried to reason with a mob? Doesn’t turn out well. I get, from your post, that you are saddened by this fact as much as I am. It is almost enough to make you give up on the human race at times. Fortunately, I am still trying to find a way to reason with the mob without losing my head in the process. If just one person leaves the mob and finds peace in reason, then it is all worth it.

    1. It concerns me that mobs – or movements that behave like mobs in other ways than just physical gathering – seem to emerge at the expense of kindness and reason. A part of the wider human condition, but it seems somehow more prevalent these days.

    1. I probably should, though I’ve given up on my freelance journalism jag of late – too hard to keep chasing the papers for the pittance they pay their contributors! 🙂

  2. Matthew. When you conclude that humanity hasn´t learned the lesson, could it be instead that your assumption is incorrect, that to let go isn´t the way, isn´t the lesson?

    The problem about letting go is that it borders on complacency, and that is no way to progress. It is the way of submission.

    Anger and aggression are, I think, fundamental drives in human nature. When they find no outlet they devolve into frustration. And, sure, people, especially outgoing people, can be manipulated. But the opposite, that is doing nothing, keep smiling, be happy, make for a good run over.

    This is a long and complex topic you have opened, and I don´t expect we get to any depth as it is presented now, but let me just mention unrestricted capitalism, yawn -another endless topic.

    Capitalism produces and help make people passive and content. Full stomach and colour tv, what more do you want. But while doing so, it exploits the natural resources of the earth, petrochemicals f.ex., without taking responsibility and cleaning up after their production, and so the world becomes a dirty place to live, and less inhabitable at that. Why? Complacency of course.

    Of course you can always argue that everyone need to be better educated, better informed, and rightly so, but the minority that in many ways rule the world does not do so by following the rules. Very often they follow urges and ambitions as number 1 and rules thereafter. And, moreover, the rules are often put down in such a way as to protect the ones that are in charge.

    Don´t forget that our societies are developed in close association with organized religion. Reason has its limitations there.

    I do not mean to advocate for violence or revolution but I am just pointing out that there are situations where civil disobedience is what will happen in one way or another. The fact that you cannot express yourself well or play by the rules does not necessarily mean that you are wrong.

  3. It seems that this is a lesson that we can’t learn culturally, only individually, and it takes time to find our way into it. I have often wondered if finding compassion is the “thing” we call purpose, that gives meaning to our lives.

    1. I think compassion is a vital purpose and goal. It’s something so often lacking in conduct of the kind I lament in my post. The problem, I suspect, is that anger becomes the more rewarding emotion. And that’s a pity, albiet probably one of the darker truths of the human condition.

      1. Perhaps… part of me wonders if this is a normal state of being, or a symptom of mental health issues. Most of the highly anger-driven people I’ve known suffer from schizophrenia, so I don’t know if it is simply the way I’ve experienced people or if hate truly is a symptom of illness.

        1. It’s different at individual level. In social groups the problem is that shared anger gives an emotional reward that for the individual helps validate them and reinforce a sense of place. The psychology of this mass behaviour is a fascinating field to me, not least because the evoked behaviour of the group may differ from what any individual accepts. But they go along with it anyway.

          1. Yes… I see. I suppose I am coloured by my own personal experiences of seeing groups like that in a toxic work place, and once in a community that was a ‘mental illness cluster,’ meaning very high rates of (largely untreated) mental health issues in the population. But both those experiences were probably a bit different than what you’ve described, if only in structure, if not in the damage they cause to people’s lives. I’m also fascinated by this topic. I think it can be a rather complex thing to try to understand. I suppose they all have their roots in beliefs, and an inflexibility that refuses to reconsider those beliefs.

  4. Oh my gosh is this true! Sad to say, but over the last few years I’ve found FB is becoming an excellent outlet for cyber mobs. The internet, and media in general, have provided mobs with a far bigger stage than was possible in the past. A mob makes for a great visual and spreading a mob’s slogan is as easy as a tap on your phone. The ability to spread visually stunning and completely false information around the globe is now easy in a way we’d have thought impossible not so long ago.

    1. I agree. And it’s a worry. I guess the internet and its various services has become a mirror for the human condition. And it’s sad when you think of the wasted potential. Funnily enough, Arthur C Clarke warned of it happening this way in the early 1960s when he first began speculating on the social outcomes of cheap and ubiquitous world communication.

  5. I loved your comment about Napoleon Bonaparte. I suppose to his mind it was a perfectly logical solution!
    One has to remember when you throw God out of your life, you’re left with all the bad things–anger, jealousy, fear, and so on.

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