The amygdala itches. Catecholamines dump into the brain. Heart rate increases. Hyperventilation occurs. Digestion stops. Pupils dilate. Eyes focus on the target. Muscles tense and the body trembles. Epinephrine dances with norepinephrine.
It gets you higher than heroin. It’s cheaper than speed. More abundant than aspirin. The“fight or flight reaction.”
Anger feels so damn good. But you can’t say that out loud. No one likes a Pissy Pete, after all.
The Anger Junkie examines his surroundings, looking for any source of stress. With a shrill and victorious growl, he pounces upon his prey and vomits bile onto its torso, the digestive process beginning before he even takes his first bite. His mouth dribbles corrosive spittle as he gobbles up his victim feet-first. His prey screams. He humps the dusty earth, giving himself over to the hate. But the high only lasts about twenty minutes before the maddening itch begins anew. He will drop his plaything, broken and already forgotten in the dirt, scanning the horizon once more.
You’ve known some of these people. They yell and rage about the traffic on the beltway so much that when the spittle starts flying and the veins start pumping, you just roll your eyes with irritation and try your best to be invisible while blocking them out.
They are the boy who cried, “Bullshit! I hate everything!”
And yes, that angry jerk at the office can really drop a crap in your Cheerios and ruin your whole day with his bad attitude, but he is only a minor annoyance, easily deflected. He can rant and sputter about traffic all he likes, but when he leaves the room everyone else gets to sigh and talk smack about him. Someone says, “Christ on a crutch, who took a crap in his Cheerios?” and the tension is broken with community disapproval.
But what if the Office Jerk figured out how to get his anger fix in a way that was not only justified, but praised? Getting pissed at traffic every day might make his peers call him a jerk, but getting pissed at a racist cop for beating a young black kid will make them call him a hero.
It is this realization that has lead to an anger epidemic in our culture. No longer hampered by the disapproval of his peers, the Anger Junkie can now express his fury in the broadest of strokes without having to worry about any nasty consequences. He is safe as long as his target is seen as some kind of social injustice, and anyone who dares to disagree with him is, by default, a monster.
But here a problem arises for the Anger Junkie. He may now have the opportunity to indulge his need without worrying about being ostracized, but the high that comes from those ferocious fight-or-flight neurotransmitters is fleeting at best. Depleted cells must constantly be recharged. A steady stream of outrage-inducing injustices must be found.
In olden days, this would be a much more difficult problem. Major social outrages can only occur so many times in one community, and finding fresh resources would require a major effort. But today, we have Facebook and Twitter, which will not only give the anger junkie a steady newsfeed of local offenses, but will suss out caches from the entire world.
I can see by the squint of your eye, dear reader, that you already know where I’m going with this. And your next question will probably be: But Josh, are you trying to say that social injustice doesn’t exist? Or that anger is an inappropriate response?
Hardly. I get angry all the time when I see something wrong happening. The argument here isn’t about the use of these fight-or-flight neurotransmitters, but about the abuse of them.
No one’s calling for a ban on these brain drugs, just harsher regulations.
Fine, you say, For the sake of argument, I’ll agree with you that there might be a problem with anger addiction in our society. But surely you can’t say that every person who gets upset about social injustice is merely an “Anger Junkie.” You yourself admitted to having bouts of anger when confronted with certain issues.
It’s true. And that’s where the real problem arises for us. How can we tell the difference between someone who is genuinely concerned about social issues and an Anger Junkie?
1. The Anger Junkie, when faced with the realization that their rage results from bad information or a miscommunication, will continue on undeterred.
Exhibit A: #CancelColbert.
Suey Park, a “hashtivist,” got her 15 minutes of fame when she began hollering for the head of Stephen Colbert, host of the satirical news show, The Colbert Report.
The perceived offense perpetrated by Colbert was a tweet released by the official Twitter account of The Colbert Report that said, “I’m willing to show the #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong-Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
Twitter activists began slamming offensive material immediately, with Park at the front of the line popularizing the hashtag #CancelColbert.
The tweet did indeed seem offensive, until the context was illuminated. The quote was taken from a segment on the show poking fun at Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, for creating a foundation to support Native Americans ironically called “The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.”
But even after finding out that the tweet was out-of-context and not an actual example of racism, Park still refused to let go of the supposed offense. In an interview with Huffington Post’s Josh Zepps, she admits to understanding the joke but remains upset.
Zepps: “Isn’t his point that there are lots of stupid racist people who, even in their attempt to be conciliatory on race, end up putting their foot in it and saying something dumb?”
Park: “I really don’t think we’re going to add [sic -“fix” maybe?] racism by joking about it. Like, I’m glad that the white liberals feel like they’re less racist because they can joke about people that are more explicitly racist, but that actually does nothing to help people of color.”
In other words, it didn’t matter that the tweet was actually meant to be an ironic anti-racist joke, or that Park’s anger was misinformed and misguided. What mattered was that she was mad and unwilling to stop.
2. The Anger Junkie purposefully ignores the intent behind a seeming offense, allowing his knee-jerk reaction to carry through while consciously aware that no offense was meant.
Exhibit B: The “female orgasm” joke.
I once wrote a piece for Disinfo about Jack Kirby, the influential comic book creator, which discussed the idea that superheroes were a kind of modern-day myth.
Being the silly goose that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make this sweet joke: “We don’t have our own myths (other than Slender Man and the female orgasm), but prefer to catalog and alphabetize other peoples’ before officially labeling them as ‘kids’ stories.’”
But one Facebook commenter didn’t find it funny, saying, “What crap! I stopped reading after the female orgasm joke.”
Now, she has already used the word “joke,” implying her recognition that the statement wasn’t meant to be taken at face value, but she is still angry at its content. By choosing to accept the statement as a literal representation of my beliefs, rather than the tongue-in-cheek silliness that it obviously is, she has deliberately ignored my intentions while being fully aware of them.
She has made the choice to be angry in this situation.
Just as I have chosen not to remind her that a mouthy woman discourages suitors.
3. The Anger Junkie, when finding no new source of rage, will begin grasping at whatever is within reach, often with ridiculous results.
Exhibit C: Peanut butter and jelly is racist.
In 2012, Verenice Gutierrez, the principal of a Portland elementary school, pointed out that the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is inherently racist as part of a training program known as “Courageous Conversations,” which educated teachers on the subtle prejudice that sneaks into our language as a result of “white privilege.”
“What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches? Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.”
I am desperately trying to come up with a witty retort, but my brain is threatening to secede if I think about this too much, so I will instead quote the brilliant Twitter user @jswifty250:
But Josh, why is it so important that I know how to pick out these “Junkies”? They’re not really hurting anybody, are they?
I’m glad you asked, because these Anger Junkies are hurting us. There are actual social injustices being perpetrated every day. Real racism. Real sexism. Real inequity. But these issues get buried under a landslide of #CancelColberts and PB&Js. Like traffic on a nearby freeway, the constant noise quickly becomes a mere hum, ignored by even the most attentive listener.