You may not have given much thought to rage, at least not until watching it be unleashed last Wednesday. I have known rage, as all of us have if we are honest about it.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I was consumed with rage and expressed it on the streets of Washington, D.C. and other places. More often than not during the Reagan years I felt the hot currents of rage again, even though they had receded into the lower levels of my consciousness by then. While I know that river still runs in some deep arroyo of my personality, it is more distant and less accessible than before. Surely that is in part, because I am a white, heterosexual male with all kinds of social capital and privilege that dissipates rage.
Rage has a particular quality to it. Rage is a shotgun blast that sprays outward in a cloud of hostility hitting anything in its trajectory. It is a reactive explosion that comes from quitting reason and rationality altogether in a consummation of complete self-centeredness. The utter abandonment of higher thinking functions feels good in the moment. Think infantile temper-tantrum. It is a release of whatever has been pent up, usually sustained fear and anxiety.
Hate, on the other hand, is deliberate and focused. Hate fires with pinpoint accuracy to eliminate our capacities for compassion and empathy toward whoever or whatever is placed in our cross-hairs. Hate has the function of freeing us from the constraints of conscience, which is also why the architects of war-fervor intentionally whip up hatred of “the other.”
There is no doubt that rage and hate were significant attributes when we were living in the wild. To survive with wildness all around us we required wildness within us. But it is the polar opposite requirement for living in peaceful interdependence with 330 million people.
Imagine if commercial entities handed out megaphones to the neighborhood organizations of Geneva, and spent copious amounts of time and money convincing each neighborhood that the others were dishonest ogres out to take everything good from them? Soon Hildreth Hill would be attacking Lehigh Gardens, and Founders Square would destroy Historic South, with Castle Heights raiding East Lakeview. Rage and hatred, stirred up and encouraged with a profit motive, would make living well in community impossible.
The question in that scenario, is how leaders in Geneva would manage to suppress and control the commercial enterprises doing the damage. Once some people have found ways to make great quantities of money from promoting rage and hatred it would probably be necessary to redefine what are the acceptable limits on both free speech and a free market. If not, the rage and hatred will continue to be fed.
That, of course, is a macro question – something that we will struggle with nationally for some time to come. The micro question – for you and me – is what we will be doing with our own rage and hatred? If we assume that we are living in the wild again, then we will strap them on and keep them close. If we assume we are still living in a united country, and locally in an inter-dependent community, then we will need to employ reason, rationality, empathy, and compassion instead.