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Is the World Angrier Nowadays?

One of our colleagues was recently asked: Is the world angrier nowadays?

My answer is it depends when we are comparing ourselves to. If we are comparing to more distant points in time, most likely not. But if we are comparing ourselves to as recently as five to ten years ago, I would say yes. Here’s why.

Social progress – This may sound paradoxical, but as marginalized groups are better included in our society, the legitimate anger many of them have over individual and collective mistreatment can now be experienced and expressed with less fear of severe social consequences. I would expect this form of anger to eventually subside - as long as we continue to progress. It will most likely take a while. Since it’s been building up a long time, we should expect the discharge cycle to take a long time as well.

Social regress(ion) – Over the last ten to twenty years our news delivery model has become

increasingly polarized. It is now profitable to pander to the biases of the respective conservative and liberal news bubbles (yes, they both do it). We are continuously baited with news about how “bad” the other side is. There is less and less effort to create balanced and nuanced coverage that tries to show the perspectives of the other side. There is more and more de-humanization of those we disagree with. Not surprisingly, hatred, hostility and anger follow from such a model.

More cultural narcissism and entitlement – affluence, which has many beneficial features, also comes with a downside: more privilege and entitlement and narcissism (including opinion narcissism which takes the form of “how dare you disagree with me”). I associate narcissism with unrealistic duties people use to justify their anger. The narcissistic population is more easily offended and has a harder time creating a reasonable balance between self and other.

Covid-19 – The Covid pandemic has understandably created a massive amount of anger and

anxiety. At the core level, people don’t want to become very sick, or worse, die. Suddenly, there is an existential threat that is literally in the air. This affects anger at two levels. First, there is a great deal of social disagreement about what duties we have or do not have to protect the welfare of others: from Covid itself and from its many collateral effects including the ability of people to make their living. Covid has presented our society with some very difficult zero-sum trade-offs. Secondly, although anger and anxiety are two different emotions, heightened anxiety often acts as a “force amplified” for anger.

In the long run, I do believe we will get back on track with our long-term trend toward a more loving and just society. I challenge all of us to use our anger to protect ourselves when we need to, but at the same time show grace and forbearance when we are able.

Written by: Stanley Thiele, MA, LP, LMFT


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