(Originally aired January 22, 2021)
We begin today with an interview from the Midday archive. It’s a conversation Tom had last month with a scholar from Loyola University Chicago about anger. If you haven't read her fascinating chronicle of emotional history, it might not have occurred to you that anger, or any emotion, could have a history.
Of the Seven Deadly Sins, Anger is number six, behind pride, greed, lust, envy, and gluttony. Sloth is the only sin, according to Pope Gregory and Thomas Aquinas, that is listed after anger on their famous hit parade.
So, maybe anger isn’t so bad in the general scheme of things? And how might its ranking have changed over the millennia? Dr. Barbara Rosenwein, a historian and professor emerita at Loyola University Chicago, has thought a great deal about these questions. In her latest book, Anger: The Conflicted History of an Emotion, Dr. Rosenwein observes that anger doesn’t come pre-loaded into the human psyche. It must be learned. Buddhists try to avoid anger altogether. The ancient Roman Stoics said we should actively resist it, because if we don’t, we lose our capacity for rational judgment...
Anger’s history changed as society changed. Back in the days of feudalism, peasants weren’t allowed to get angry, at least publicly. Anger is much discussed in the bible. It is, in some instances, a metaphor for power, and it is the basis for a lucrative industry teaching people how to manage their anger.
Particularly over the last four years, as the nation experienced a brutish president who relied on insults and personal attacks in place of reasoned argument, it seems that much public discourse all to easily devolves into a blizzard of angry epithets. That president was impeached for inciting an angry mob to storm the Capital, and video tape of that horrific event clearly shows the raw anger that animated many of the rioters.
Anger might be an understandable response in a lot of situations, but is it productive? Is it, in some cases, a necessary prerequisite to action? Or is anger simply a fog-inducing reflex that clouds our judgement to no productive end? Is anger a vice or a virtue?
Dr. Rosenwein joined us on Zoom from Illinois.
Audio for this program will be posted shortly.